Uzbek Government Continues to Refuse Visit by UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery
Since 2008 the government of Uzbekistan has refused the request of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery to visit the country. The Special Rapporteur, Gulnara Shahinian, repeated her request to the Uzbek government in the recently released "Report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences," to the UN Human Rights Council, stating:
"The Special Rapporteur welcomes the invitations from the Governments of Kazakhstan and Madagascar to carry out country visits. She would appreciate receiving invitations from the other countries to which she has sent requests to visit: Bangladesh, Ghana, Nepal, the Niger, the Sudan and Uzbekistan."
The Uzbek government refusal to allow the Special Rapporteur into the country is consistent with their denial of access to all human rights monitors and clearly aims to maintain the state-sponsored forced labor system of cotton production, an important source of income for the central government. Every year the government of Uzbekistan forcibly mobilizes over a million children, teachers, public servants and private sector employees for the manual harvesting of cotton. The Uzbek government requires farmers to grow cotton, and local provincial government offices (khokimiyats) forcibly mobilize adults and children to harvest cotton and meet assigned quotas. The Uzbek government enforces these orders with threats; detains and tortures Uzbek activists seeking to monitor the situation; and continues to refuse to allow the International Labour Organisation to monitor the harvest. Learn more here.
The Uzbek government's refusal to cooperate with multinational organizations should send a red flag to governments and the private sector. Waiting for the Uzbek government to cooperate means continued forced labor of children and adults in the cotton sector. Prompt action to address the slave-like conditions in the state-controlled cotton sector is needed. Governments and companies should utilize their diplomatic and economic leverage to build political will in the government of Uzbekistan to ending the forced labor system.
On 25 July, the human rights activist Akromhodzha Mukhitdinov was killed in a brutal attack, reportedly by a group of men who beat him and then stabbed him. Mukhitdinov was a human rights activist, a member of the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan (HRAU), and a leader of the political opposition movement "Birdamlik." Right up to his tragic death, Mukhitdinov defended farmers’ rights, and throughout his life, he bravely spoke out against child labor and other human rights violations. A husband, father and community activist, he also actively spoke out on environmental issues and led the call to action to address a cholera outbreak in 2011 in Yangiyol district of Tashkent.
The Cotton Campaign extends condolences to the family of Akromhodzha Mukhitdinov. He will be remembered for his admirable pursuit of social justice.
The horrific murder of Mukhitdinov also demands thorough and transparent investigation by the local authorities. Elena Urlayeva, leader of the HRAU, reported to UZnews that the murder of Mukhitdinov was linked to his human rights activities. Colleagues of Mukhitdinov in the Yangiyul district of Tashkent expressed skepticism that his murder will be adequately investigated.
The Cotton Campaign echoes the call of Uzbek citizens on the Uzbek government to ensure that the rule of law is upheld and justice pursued. Failure to thoroughly and transparently investigate his murder would convey a threat to all human rights defenders in Uzbekistan.