Uzbekistan’s president-elect Shavkat Mirziyoyev casting a ballot at a polling station during the presidential election on December 4, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

(Tashkent) – The Uzbek government should take advantage of the country’s new political era to act on its international human rights obligations, Human Rights Watch said today. A Human Rights Watch delegation is visiting Uzbekistan the week of September 4, 2017, the organization’s first full delegation to visit Uzbekistan since 2010, when its representatives were banned from working inside the country.

Human Rights Watch urged the Uzbek government to release all prisoners held on politically motivated charges, cease torture and ill-treatment in detention, and end forced labor in the cotton fields.

“This is a real moment of hope for the human rights of the Uzbek people,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The key is for the Uzbek government to transform the modest steps it has taken thus far into institutional change and sustainable improvements.”

Since assuming power in 2016 following the death of the country’s long-time authoritarian leader Islam Karimov, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has taken some actions to improve human rights in the country. These include the release of several political prisoners and increased public accountability of government institutions.

Over the past year, the government has established a complaints mechanism that is widely used by ordinary citizens, and there have been small steps to loosen restrictions on free expression. The government has also announced an intention to eliminate the Soviet-era practice of requiring citizens to obtain state permission for travel outside the country.

During its visit, the Human Rights Watch delegation is meeting with senior officials from a wide array of government agencies, including the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior, Justice, and Labor; the parliament; Supreme Court; and National Human Rights Center; as well as with human rights defenders, journalists, and recently released political prisoners.

In its meetings, Human Rights Watch has called on the government to uphold the rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly, allow civil society activists to operate without fear of harassment or detention, and to cooperate fully with United Nations human rights bodies.

“We’re pleased Human Rights Watch has been able to reenter Uzbekistan. We’re keen to work with all our partners here to help improve human rights,” Swerdlow said.