Freedom of conscience and freedom of expression are provided under article 29 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan, which states, "Each person has the right to freedom of thought, speech, and belief. Each person has the right to seek, receive, and disseminate any information, with the exception of information directed against the existing constitutional order and other limitations established by law."4
The right to free association is spelled out in article 34: "Citizens of the Republic of Uzbekistan have the right to associate in trade unions, political parties, and other public associations, as well as to participate in popular movements."5 Moreover, this provision specifies that, "No one may abridge the rights, freedoms, or dignity of persons who represent an opposition minority political party, public association, popular movement, or representative agency of power."6
The United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (referred to hereinafter as the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders) sets the standards by which the international community assesses states' treatment of rights defenders.7 Article 1 of this instrument states clearly that, "Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels," while article 12 (1) elaborates: "Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms." Article 5 guarantees the right to assembly and to join and participate in nongovernmental organizations, associations, or groups for the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights.8 Of particularrelevance to human rights defenders in Uzbekistan, who have seen their human rights documents confiscated by police and who have been threatened with criminal action because of their content, is the right, "...freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms."9
Since February 1999, the government of Uzbekistan has arbitrarily denied local human rights defenders access to nominally open trials, in contravention of the standard set by article 9 (3.b) of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which provides everyone the right, "to attend public hearings, proceedings and trials so as to form an opinion on their compliance with national law and applicable international obligations and commitments."10
Two fundamental human rights treaties, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), recognize not just the right but the duty of individuals to act as guardians of the rights provided under international law. The preambles to these covenants set out that the states parties agree to the following provisions, "realizing that the individual, having duties to other individuals and to the community to which he belongs, is under a responsibility to strive for the promotion and observance of the rights recognized in the present Covenant."11
Specific provisions in the ICCPR relate to rights defenders' ability to live and work unhindered by arbitrary harassment or punishment. The right to freedom of expression, article 19 of the ICCPR, is essential to human rights defenders' ability to carry out their work. Even unpopular speech is protected under this provision of international law. A government's sensitivity to criticism is not enough to provide grounds for silencing individuals or punishing those with dissenting views. For rights workers, the ability to impart information and to gather with others in exercise of their right to free assembly, guaranteed under articles 19 and 21, are also essential to their role as monitors and as reporters on rights abuses.
Human rights defenders were convicted on trumped-up charges at court proceedings that can be described only as show trials, in gross violation of the standards of due process guaranteed under article 14 of the ICCPR. The state has also violated article 7, which prohibits the use of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment when it has taken human rights activists into custody. In several instances, the government has arbitrarily prevented activists from leaving the country, in violation of article 12, which provides for freedom of movement, including the right to leave or enter one's own country.
4 Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan, December 8, 1992.
7 The Declaration was adopted by the General Assembly on December 9, 1998. General Assembly Resolution 53/144, A/RES/53/144, March 8, 1999.
9 Ibid., article 6 (b).
10 Ibid., article 9 (3.b)
11 Uzbekistan ratified the ICCPR and the ICESCR in 1995.