Uzbekistan’s ambassador in Geneva was this week elected as one of the vice presidents for 2022 of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), in the latest sign, Uzbekistan says, of its readiness to protect human rights in the international arena.
Winning such a post in fact does little to demonstrate the commitment of the authoritarian Central Asian country to human rights, either at home or abroad.
Uzbekistan joined the UNHRC for the first time in January, for a three-year term. Uzbekistan presented the move as a step to engaging more consistently with UN structures on human rights, structures that it largely ignored in the period before current president Shavkat Mirziyoyev took power in 2016.
Domestically, there has been some modest progress since 2016. Tashkent has engaged more actively with the UN at home, and has invited to the country several key UN special rapporteurs, including on counterterrorism. It has joined some international treaties, such as on the rights of people with disabilities. And it signed a pledge by incoming UNHRC members to stick to the council’s founding mandate to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.”
But significant gaps remain. Uzbekistan has yet to issue an open invitation to all UN special rapporteurs. It should seek to genuinely implement recommendations made by such experts. In July, five UN experts complained that Tashkent had ignored their advice when revising a law on religion. In March, a UN Working Group called the imprisonment of former diplomat Kadyr Yusupov arbitrary and pressed for his release. Yusupov is still behind bars. The Uzbek government should support independent civil society by removing obstacles to NGO registration.
Uzbekistan has not yet lived up to its pledge to the UNHRC. Tashkent this year abstained on most country specific resolutions, reflecting urgent issues on the council’s agenda. And it opposed important actions on Sri Lanka, Iran, and Yemen that sought to ensure effective human rights monitoring. Uzbekistan appears unwilling to address human rights issues “on their own merits”, as the pledge states.
The role of vice president of the UNHRC carries with it a responsibility to uphold the core principles on which the council is founded. Before celebrating this appointment, Uzbekistan should start delivering on its promises to be an international actor for human rights.