(Geneva) – The Uzbekistan government should urgently act on recommendations made on November 8, 2023, during its fourth Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of its human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should take particular action to uphold the rights of human rights defenders, journalists and bloggers, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.
Several UN member states also said that Uzbekistan should ensure accountability for human rights abuses during protests in 2022 in Karakalpakstan, an autonomous region of Uzbekistan.
“The range and scope of concerns and recommendations that governments expressed during Uzbekistan’s review shows just how much work Uzbekistan has to do to meaningfully improve human rights conditions in the country,” said Mihra Rittmann, senior Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “It’s important for Uzbekistan to act upon all the recommendations and not to pick and choose among the issues raised.”
All UN member states participate in the UPR process, a comprehensive review of the human rights record of each UN member state every four and a half years. The country under review, local and international organizations, and the UN itself can provide written input to inform the review process. Human Rights Watch submitted a briefing on Uzbekistan’s human rights record in March.
The Uzbekistan government claimed that out of 198 recommendations received at its last review, in 2018, it had fully implemented 171. At the review, countries praised Uzbekistan, including for ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, criminalizing domestic violence, and progress in eradicating forced labor in the cotton fields since its last review.
Yet, despite noting improvements in Uzbekistan’s law, countries from across all regions called on Uzbekistan to take concrete action to end gender-based violence, to uphold the rights of women and children, and to uphold the rights of people with disabilities.
Over a dozen UN member states urged Uzbekistan to improve the environment for nongovernmental organizations and to better protect the rights of human rights defenders, including streamlining the burdensome registration process for civil society groups. At the review, the Uzbekistan delegation dismissed the criticism. Human Rights Watch and other rights organizations have documented that the registration process is a barrier to independent human rights groups carrying out their activities in Uzbekistan.
Norway recommended that the Uzbekistan government commission a “genuinely independent impartial and effective committee” to investigate human rights violations committed in July 2022 at protests in Karakalpakstan, during which at least 21 people were killed and hundreds were wounded. Canada and the Czech Republic made similar recommendations regarding the Karakalpakstan events. Human Rights Watch documented that law enforcement used excessive force to quell the protests.
It is disappointing that other countries that had previously urged Uzbekistan to carry out an independent investigation into the human rights violations committed during the Karakalpakstan events, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and EU member states other than the Czech Republic, did not reiterate that call during the review process, Human Rights Watch said.
Over a dozen countries commented on rights issues pertaining to sexual orientation and gender identity, urging the Uzbekistan government to decriminalize consensual same-sex conduct and stop subjecting detainees in prosecutions of gay men to forced anal exams, an abusive practice that constitutes cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment that can rise to the level of torture and sexual assault under international human rights law.
The Uzbekistan government supported all the recommendations expressed by states, except for the 15 recommendations related to the rights of LGBT people. The government official’s reference to “generally accepted norms” to deny LGBT people’s rights deflects responsibility for abusive state practices and laws that exclude LGBT people from accessing their basic human rights, Human Rights Watch said.
With a notable increase in prosecutions of bloggers and journalists in the last two years, 14 countries spoke to the worrying situation for media freedom in Uzbekistan, making recommendations that Uzbekistan should create a “safe environment” for journalists, bloggers, and media workers, and ensure they can “work free from intimidation” both online and offline. Norway urged Uzbekistan to “immediately grant pardons” to all imprisoned journalists, bloggers, and activists.
Multiple countries also urged Uzbekistan to investigate allegations of torture, and to hold those responsible for torture and other forms of ill-treatment accountable, with a view of ending impunity. Many countries, including Brazil and Maldives, recommended that Uzbekistan ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.
“Given how serious the human rights situation is in Uzbekistan, it’s important for UN member states to follow up with the Uzbekistan government directly,” Rittmann said. “The work begins now to ensure that Uzbekistan takes concrete, meaningful action to advance the human rights of everyone, including LGBT people, in line with the UPR recommendations and international human rights law.”