The Uzbek government is systematically violating civil society freedoms of expression, assembly and association. Common tactics include denying civil society organisations registration and legal status, and persecution of activists by such methods as imprisonment, physical attacks and psychological pressure. It is also common for the government to attempt to coerce local activists to cooperate with authorities and secret services, block civil society websites and other media channels, and deny exit visas and freedom of movement to control the activities of human rights defenders, independent journalists and members of the opposition.
As a result of such tactics, civil society in Uzbekistan exists in a state of attrition and fragmentation. “Fewer and fewer committed, independent civil society activists are remaining in Uzbekistan,” says Expert Working Group founder and director, Sukhrobjon Ismoilov. “Civil society remains under threat and human rights conditions are getting even worse as the regime increases its clampdown on activists.”
The situation is exacerbated by international isolation. It is ten years since the government allowed any UN officials access to discuss human rights issues. The Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment visited Uzbekistan in 2002 only after long years of repeated requests, but has been denied a follow-up visit since 2005. The Uzbek government has also repeatedly denied invitations to over 10 other UN independent experts. Activists in Uzbekistan therefore struggle to get their voices heard.
“At a time when the world is opening up and efforts are underway in a number of countries to democratise, the Uzbek government continues to isolate itself from the international community, to the detriment of its people,” says Netsanet Belay, Policy and Research Director at CIVICUS. “Uzbekistan’s international partners cannot afford to look the other way as the rights of Uzbek people are violated.”
CIVICUS and the Expert Working Group call upon the Uzbek government to respect and protect the rights of civil society actors in accordance with international human rights instruments, and ensure access for UN human rights experts and special representatives to advise on and monitor progress towards the realisation of international human rights standards.