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UN Human Rights Chief Calls for Reforms in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan

Accountability for Protest Deaths, Action on Domestic Violence Needed

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk (L) holds a press conference at the UN Office in Astana, Kazakhstan on March 17, 2023.  © 2023 Meiramgul Kussainova/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The United Nation’s top human rights chief called for action on reform pledges and accountability in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, countries with awful human rights records, during recent visits to the two Central Asian states.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, called for independent investigations, or “after action” reviews, into the July 2022 protests in Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan’s autonomous region, calling for “accountability for the loss of lives,” as well as the January 2022 events in Kazakhstan, urging authorities to ensure “justice, reparations and truth” for all the victims. Human Rights Watch documented unjustified use of lethal force by security forces in both instances.

While investigations have led to prosecutions of protesters in recent months – dozens in Uzbekistan, hundreds in Kazakhstan – there is a glaring absence of accountability for the loss of life caused by abusive law enforcement responses in both countries.

The High Commissioner also called for the criminalization of domestic violence. Neither Uzbekistan nor Kazakhstan includes domestic violence as a stand-alone offense in its criminal code. Hundreds of women annually suffer abuse and impunity for violence is the norm in both countries. The High Commissioner also called on Uzbekistan to decriminalize consensual same-sex relations.

At a time when media workers in both countries have been increasingly targeted, including with spurious criminal charges, Türk called for “free media and open digital space,” urging both countries to take “further action on the protection of journalists and freedom of expression.”

He also called on Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to enact a zero-tolerance approach to torture.

While Türk praised both Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan presidents for their “commitment to ensure the centrality of human rights” in each country’s reform process, he said “actions always speak louder than words,” after his visit to Uzbekistan. 

It’s pointless for Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to tout a reform agenda if there is no intent to follow through. “It is vital that pledges to act on human rights are translated into action on the ground,” Türk said.

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