This article was originally published by Tula Connell on the Solidarity Center blog here.
An Uzbek victim of forced labor in cotton production and three human rights defenders filed a complaint against the World Bank’s private lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), according to a coalition of human rights groups.
The June 30 complaint seeks an investigation into forced labor connected to a $40 million loan to Indorama Kokand Textile, which operates in Uzbekistan. The forced labor victim, who requested confidentiality, and the rights defenders Dmitry Tikhonov, Elena Urlaeva and a third who requested confidentiality, presented evidence that the loan to expand the company’s cotton manufacturing facilities in Uzbekistan allows it to profit from forced labor and sell illicit goods.
“The IFC should support sustainable rural development in Uzbekistan, not projects that perpetuate the government’s forced-labor system for cotton production,” says Tikhonov, who lives is in exile in France following possible retaliation--including the burning of his home—for his efforts to document forced labor in Uzbekistan.
“The ombudsman should investigate the IFC loan to Indorama, which we believe violates international law and the IFC’s own policies prohibiting forced labor.” The Cotton Campaign, the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, the International Labor Rights Forum, and Human Rights Watch jointly announced the complaint.
1 Million in Forced Labor Each Year
Each year, the Uzbek government, which controls all of the country’s cotton production and sales, forces more than 1 million teachers, nurses and others to pick cotton for weeks. Last year, the government went to extreme measures—including jailing and physically abusing researchers independently monitoring the process—to cover up its actions.
Uzbekistan was downgraded to the lowest ranking in the U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report which was released last month.
The World Bank has invested more than $500 million in Uzbekistan’s agricultural sector. Following a complaint from Uzbek civil society, the bank attached loan covenants stipulating that the loans could be stopped and subject to repayment if forced or child labor was detected in project areas by monitors from the International Labor Organization (ILO), contracted by the World Bank to carry out labor monitoring during the harvest.
The World Bank approved the loan to Indorama in December 2015, despite an ILO report reaffirming the problem of forced labor.
In March, Cotton Campaign, a coalition of labor and human rights groups that includes the Solidarity Center, presented a petition signed by more than 140,000 people from around the world to World Bank President Dr. Jim Yong Kim, calling on the bank to suspend lending to the agriculture sector in Uzbekistan until the Uzbek government changes its policy of forced labor in the cotton industry.
Read the complaint here.
This article originally appeared on UGF, June 29, 2016, here.
The khokim (head) of the Kushtepa district in the Ferghana region Bahrom Djumanov locked up local farmers in a bus, and then decided to check their fields. The district prosecutor, together with the police chief and the governor, insulted and beat farmers whose fields did not meet the requirements of the local authorities.
According to “Radio Ozodlik” (the Uzbek service of Radio “Liberty”), on the first days of June, Bahrom Djumanov gathered farmers from the whole area in a bus and drove them across the fields.
According to one of the farmers who witnessed the incident farmers whose fields were overgrown with weeds, were insulted and beaten by local officials.
"One day they drove us farmers to one location, the next day to another. In the bus were the khokim, the prosecutor and the police chief. If a field was out of order, the three officials abused, beat and then pushed farmers off the bus”, one of the local farmers who asked not to disclose his name told “Radio Ozodlik”.
But this was not yet the end of problems for the farmers.
According to a witness, the bus was followed by a “Damas” car with police escort. The policemen took the farmers who had been pushed out of the bus in the police car. I saw with my own eyes what they did to farmer Alijon in the Yassavi district. He was taken to the police department and locked up there. Two days ago, he felt sick and a doctor came. The doctor gave him an injection, and after that the farmer was released”, a local farmer told “Radio Ozodlik”.
Another farmer from the Kushtepa district told “Radio Ozodlik” who wished to remain anonymous that assaulting farmers by a khokim was commonplace.
“I personally saw how a khokim insulted and beat farmers Askarali from ‘Pakhtakor MTP farming‘ and Murodilla from ‘Yassavi farming’, said a farmer from the Kushtepa district in the Ferghana region.
“Radio Ozodlik” asked the Qo’shtepa District administration for a comment on these accusations. The official who introduced himself as the khokim’s assistant Solijon confirmed that an action called “Bus” had taken place. But he said that all questions could be answered only by the head of the district. He recorded the telephone number of the editorial office of “Radio Ozodlik”. However, “Radio Ozodlik” did not receive a call from the head of Qo’shtepa District.
Source: “Как наказывают узбекских фермеров: «Сначала их заперли в автобусе, а затем избили”, http://rus.ozodlik.org/content/article/27790816.html, 11.06.2016
This article originally appeared on EL Tuz, July 5, 2016, here.
Aggressive cotton worms threaten this year's harvest and the latest downgrading in the US annual Trafficking Report brings bad publicity for the country
Teachers and doctors in the eastern Uzbek Fergana Region have been forcibly taken to the cotton fields to collect worms. They are picking worms from the cotton plants by hand. The news coincided with the release of an annual report by the US Department of State on 30 June presenting the latest findings in the fight against human trafficking in which Uzbekistan has been downgraded to the lowest ranking this year.
It was reported that the deputy governor of the region Tolqinoy Tojiyeva, who is also responsible for women’s affairs, visited all districts and called on teachers and doctors to go to the cotton fields and help the farmers.
“Some sort of aggressive worm is attacking the cotton plants,” said one of them. According to the farmer, each school had to allocate 10 staff members every day for this campaign. He added that Tolqinoy Tojiyeva had held a meeting at the school where she stressed that cotton was the national wealth and symbol of Uzbekistan that brought fortune to the state and had further called on teachers and doctors to help to protect it. In reality, she had not asked but demanded this.
Failed biological method in the fight against worms
Technically, a center under the patronage of the Uzbek Ministry of Agriculture and Water would deal with issues such as pest control. However, a correspondent of Eltuz.com found out from experts at the center that the biological method was not effective. The experts said that there were four to ten biological laboratories in each district.
An expert of one of the biological laboratories said that their method of fighting the cotton worms was effective only during the initial phase of the worms’ development.
Uzbekistan rated poorly on the basis of its ongoing forced labour practice
The campaign of forcibly mobilizing teachers and doctors to remove the cotton worms coincided with the release of a report on the latest developments in the fight against human trafficking where Uzbekistan has been added on tier 3, the blacklist of those states not putting much effort to control human trafficking and forced labour.
On 30 June, the US Department of State released its annual Trafficking in Persons Report. It reveals that Uzbekistan’s efforts in combatting human trafficking were not enough to avoid the downgrading to Tier 3 , the lowest ranking among the 188 investigated countries.
The report notes the increase in the number of attacks on activists who conducted monitoring during the cotton-picking campaign in Uzbekistan in 2015. It further annotates that, although Uzbekistan has laws prohibiting the use of forced labour, the government is violating these laws itself. The report finds that, consequently, the system of forced labour remains unchanged in Uzbekistan, and that under the threats of punishment, dismissal from jobs, depriving of social benefits and dismissal of students from universities, at least one million people were involved in forced labour.
This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty here.
Thirteen media and human rights organizations have sent a joint letter to the President of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, calling for the release of freelance journalist Saparmamed Nepeskuliev. Nepeskuliev, who contributed to both RFE/RL's Turkmen Service and Alternative Turkmenistan News, has been kept in incommunicado detention since July 7, 2015, when he disappeared while visiting the Caspian Sea resort city of Avaza. Convicted in closed proceedings on fabricated charges of narcotics possession on August 31, 2015, nothing has been heard from or about Nepeskuliev since September 2015.
The text of that letter follows:
June 30, 2016
His Excellency Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow
President of the Republic of Turkmenistan
c/o H.E. Meret Orazov, Ambassador
Embassy of the Republic of Turkmenistan in the U.S.
2207 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20008
Dear President Berdimuhamedow:
July 7, 2016 marks one year since Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, a freelance journalist who contributed to RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service and Alternative Turkmenistan News, has been in custody. For much of that time he has been in incommunicado detention. We the undersigned, are writing to call for an end to his wrongful imprisonment and urge his prompt release.
Prior to his disappearance, Mr. Nepeskuliev reported on economic development, infrastructure, social services, and education in Turkmenistan’s western regions with the aim of informing citizens about challenges facing their communities and of helping them to improve their lives. He went missing in Avaza on July 7, 2015 and, after three weeks, on July 28, his family learned that he was being detained in a prison in Akdash. On August 31, 2015, in closed proceedings, Mr. Nepeskuliev was convicted on fabricated charges of narcotics possession and sentenced to three years in prison by a Turkmenbashi city court.
In light of concerns expressed by the UN Human Rights Committee about conditions in detention in Turkmenistan and the risk of ill-treatment including torture (See the Human Rights Committee, CCPR/C/TKM/CO/1, para. 9), we fear for Mr. Nepeskuliev’s health and safety. We have not been able to obtain any information about Mr. Nepeskuliev’s welfare since September 2015. Our concern for Mr. Nepeskuliev is intensified by our recollection of the fate of Ogulsapar Muradova, an RFE/RL contributor who died in a Turkmen prison under suspicious circumstances in September 2006.
Mr. Nepeskuliev’s case has been reviewed by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which in December 2015 designated his detention “arbitrary” because he “has been held incommunicado with no access to a legal representative; he was deprived of his right to legal assistance of his own choosing” and he “has been deprived of liberty for having peacefully exercised his right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” The Working Group called for his release and that he be compensated.
Numerous rights groups and NGOs have protested Mr. Nepeskuliev’s detention, and called on EU officials to raise his case during the recent EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue in May.
As representatives of our respective organizations and leaders of the international NGO community, Mr.President, we are committed to promoting and protecting the same international conventions and standards guaranteeing international law and human rights that Turkmenistan has pledged to uphold. Mr.Nepeskuliev’s conviction on trumped-up charges and his incommunicado detention are violations of his rights as guaranteed by Turkmenistan’s constitution and its commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Turkmenistan is a party. We call for his immediate release.
Thomas Burr, President, National Press Club
Ivar Dale, Senior Adviser, Norwegian Helsinki Committee
Matthew Fischer-Daly, Coordinator, Cotton Campaign
Judy Gearhart, Executive Director, International Labor Rights Forum
Delphine Halgand, U.S. Director, Reporters Without Borders
Robert Herman, PhD, Vice President for International Programs, Freedom House
Ryota Jonen, Director, World Movement for Democracy
Thomas Kent, President, RFE/RL, Inc.
Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director (Research), Europe and Central Asia Regional Office, Amnesty International
Ruslan Myatiev, Editor, Alternative Turkmenistan News
Nina Ognianova, Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator, Committee to Protect Journalists
Kate Watters, Executive Director, Crude Accountability
Hugh Williamson, Director, Europe and Central Asia Division, Human Rights Watch
This article originally appeared on Responsible Sourcing Network, here.
As the country with the smallest population in Central Asia, Turkmenistan has rarely been in the spotlight on the global stage. This changed today, when the U.S. State Department downgraded Turkmenistan for using forced labor in its cotton sector in the annual Trafficking in Persons report. (RSN has written extensively about forced labor in the cotton sector of Uzbekistan, and over the last two years has worked in an increasing capacity with the Cotton Campaign to end forced labor in Turkmenistan, as well. Our partner Alternative Turkmenistan News (ATN) has documented the Turkmen government’s use of systematic forced labor throughout its cotton sector since the 2013 harvest.
ATN’s reporting, conducted with a network of informants throughout Turkmenistan, details the state-orchestrated, forced mobilization of farmers and public and private sector workers. The mobilization is a remnant of the former Soviet Republic’s centralized command economy. Since the collapse of the USSR, the authoritarian Turkmen government has exacerbated the issue, orchestrating a system in which citizens are exploited to meet yearly cotton quotas. In ATN’s report, public-sector workers detailed being threatened by their superiors with dismissal, docked pay, or forced to pay a fee if they refused to participate in the harvest. This state system of forced labor violates the fundamental human and labor rights of tens of thousands of Turkmen citizens each year.
After placing Turkmenistan on the Tier 2 Watch List for the fourth consecutive year in 2015, the State Department was forced to either upgrade or downgrade the country’s ranking in 2016. To our satisfaction, the State Department downgraded Turkmenistan from the Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 3. This downgrade allows the country to be sanctioned under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act for Tier 3 countries, which provides more incentive for the Turkmen government to take definitive action to end its use of forced labor in the cotton sector.
Independently determined but aligned with the State Department’s position, earlier this month the ILO’s Committee on the Application of Standards urged the government of Turkmenistan to“take effective measures in law and in practice to ensure that no one, including farmers and public and private sector workers, is forced to work for the state sponsored cotton harvest.”The committee also stated that the Turkmen government should prosecute officials who participate in the forced mobilization of workers; seek the ILO’s assistance in applying international labor standards; and allow workers, employers, and civil society organizations to monitor the harvests without fear of repercussion.
We were also pleased to see that the State Department downgraded Turkmenistan’s neighbor Uzbekistan from the Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 3 as well. In Tier 3, similar to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan can now be subject to sanctions, which places more international pressure on the government to combat forced labor in its cotton sector. The decision is also in line with the ILO’s recommendations to the Uzbek government, to take measures that ensure the complete elimination of the use of forced labor and achieve concrete results.
The State Department’s downgrade, in combination with the ILO’s recommendations, sends a strong message to global apparel and home goods brands that they should have rigorous processes to identify and eliminate Turkmen and Uzbek cotton from their value chains. Only by aligning trade practices with company commitments to fundamental labor conventions will we be able to end forced labor in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan’s cotton sectors. If the international community builds on the pressure of the downgrades to Tier 3, the citizens of these Central Asian countries may have reason to hope for light at the end of the tunnel.
This article originally appeared on Open Democracy, June 3, 2016, here.
Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, both vital nodes in the textile industry's supply chain, compel citizens to pick cotton, prevent worker organisation, and suppress critics. Could the ILC 2016 change that?
Cotton: we all wear it. Its trade has contributed to the evolution of the global economy, and abusive, exploitative, and unfree labour have plagued its production from the outset. This continues today in the cotton sectors of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. This is why we’re urging the governmental, employer, and worker members of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to discuss Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan during the 2016 International Labour Conference (ILC) session on decent work in global supply chains.
While international businesses must be accountable to the workers in their supply chains, decent work also requires governments to apply core labour standards. These include freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, along with the elimination of forced labour or discrimination at work. As the UN Principles on Business and Human Rights have highlighted, governments have a duty to protect their citizens from human rights violations, including violations of their labour rights. Yet for the 30 million citizens of Uzbekistan and the five million people of Turkmenistan, that remains a long way off.
The governments of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan routinely use state-orchestrated systems of forced labour to produce cotton for global supply chains. Annually, the two governments force more than one million citizens and farmers to pick cotton and deliver production quotas, all under the threat of punishment. This practice violates national and international law, while the income it generates benefits only a small cadre of elite government officials in each country.
During the 2015 harvest, for example, the Turkmen president publicly pressured officials to forcibly mobilise ever greater numbers in order to make up for the low yield. In Uzbekistan, under orders from the prime minister, officials confiscated the property of farmers who fell short of fulfilling their quotas. In both countries, people with the means to do so avoided harvest work only by hiring others to pick ‘their’ cotton quotas for them or by bribing their supervisors.
Keeping workers isolated
Neither the Turkmen nor Uzbek governments permit freedom of association, and both regularly threaten, detain, and imprison citizens who attempt to report on abuses. The Uzbek government has not ratified ILO Convention No. 87 concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, and it appoints the leadership of the national union federation itself. Unsurprisingly, that union consistently stands by the government, which has imprisoned and tortured a number of independent union organisers since 2014. In 2015, officials arrested, attacked, and detained independent labour monitors including Dmitry Tikhonov, Elena Urlaeva, and Uktam Pardaev.
The Turkmen government also refuses to permit independent trade unions or civil society organisations. Prior to the 2015 cotton harvest, it intimidated many human rights monitors into silence through acts such as the arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, a journalist for Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and Alternative Turkmenistan News. He has reported on state corruption and human rights abuses, including in the cotton sector. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UN WGAD) concluded that his detention was arbitrary and in retaliation for exercising his right to freedom of expression.
Important suppliers to global systems
As members of the ILO, the governments of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have committed to applying core labour standards, yet not only are they failing to fulfil their duties but they are actively violating the fundamental rights that the ILO exists to defend. This is especially relevant to the 2016 ILC, since the cotton that the two countries produce is traded through global supply chains. Eighty percent of Turkmenistan’s cotton exports go to Turkey, the second largest source of apparel for the European Union, while 66% of Uzbekistan’s cotton exports go to China and Bangladesh, two of the major supplier countries for the world’s apparel industry.
Ending the use of labour abuses by the Turkmen and Uzbek governments is a fundamental step along the path to decent work in global supply chains. The governments, employers, and worker members of the ILO have a significant opportunity to influence these two governments during their discussion of supply chains at this year’s ILC. We want to see them look at effective enforcement and just prosecution of labour law violators, complaint systems that protect complainants and provide remediation, and respect for independent organising of trade unions and collective bargaining. The ILO member states, employers organisations, and trade unions should use their respective leverage to lead the Turkmen and Uzbek governments to practice these foundations of decent work. This would be a major step towards decent work in global supply chains.
Принудительный труд в Туркменистане: Мировые бренды, инвесторы и правозащитники выразили Бердымухамедову свою озабоченность
Мировые торговые марки, среди которых известные бренды “Adidas”, “Esprit”, “H&M” и другие, а также ряд инвесторов, бизнес сообществ, профсоюзов и правозащитных организаций обратились с письмом к президенту Туркменистана Гурбангулы Бердымухамедову, в котором выразили свою озабоченность по поводу сообщений об использовании принудительного труда в хлопковом секторе страны.
Авторы письма призывают главу Туркменистана обратить внимание на данную проблему.
«Репутация торговой марки является неотъемлемой частью успеха в конкурентной текстильной и швейной промышленности, — говорится в письме президенту. – Это подразумевает не только качество продукции, ее стиль и ценность, но также включает в себя социальные и экологические составляющие производства. Компании заинтересованы в том, чтобы продаваемая ими продукция была произведена в законных и гуманных условиях на протяжении всей цепочки поставок: от заготовки сырья до торговых прилавков».
В письме говорится, что многие компании имеют регулятивные требования к отчетности, в которых компании обязаны сообщать о своей деятельности, во избежание материалов или продукции, произведенных с использованием принудительного труда, рабства или торговли людьми.
«Компании просто не могут использовать материалы или продукцию, произведенные таким способом», — говорится в письме.
Авторы письма ссылаются на многочисленные сообщения о том, что для выращивания и уборки хлопка власти Туркменистана насильно мобилизуют десятки тысяч госслужащих и дехкан. Они напоминают, что использование принудительного труда противоречит конвенциям №29 и №105 Международной Организации Труда (МОТ) об упразднении принудительного труда.
В нынешнем году МОТ выразила «глубокую озабоченность» масштабностью использования принудительного труда, что негативно сказывается на дехканах, предпринимателях, работниках государственной и частной сфер, включая врачей и учителей. Все это делается под угрозой увольнения, урезания зарплаты, потери земли или внезапных проверок.
Авторы письма главе Туркменистана также выражают глубокую обеспокоенность сообщениями о репрессиях в отношении людей, пытающихся задокументировать и сообщить случаи нарушения прав человека. В качестве примера они называют Сапармамеда Непескулиева – нештатного корреспондента проекта «Альтернативные новости Туркменистана» (АНТ) и Радио Свободы, арест и тюремное заключение которого признано ООН произвольным в качестве мести за реализацию Непескулиевым своего права на свободу самовыражения.
С учетом всего этого, подписавшиеся под письмом 60 компаний и организаций, включая АНТ, призвали Г. Бердымухамедова принять безотлагательные меры, чтобы положить конец принудительному труду в хлопковом секторе Туркменистана. Авторы письма, в частности, предлагают следующие шаги:
Uzbek officials forced small business to close as punishment for not contributing to the cotton harvest, reports shop owner
The following article was originally published in the Uzbek language by Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty "Ozodlik," and the interview recording can be heard here.
Assia Schatilova, the owner of a small shop in the city of Chirchik, claimed that her business was ruined. because of her refusal to pay 750 thousand som ($120) during the cotton harvest in the autumn of 2015. Here is her account:
"I have owned a small shop since 2009. I paid all taxes, the rental costs and purchased the license for entrepreneurial activity. I conducted my business as required by law. Last year, when the cotton harvest started, I was told to pay over 750 thousand som for cotton. I refused. I am a single mother with two children, I have to feed and clothe them, I pay taxes, why should I have to pay for cotton?"
"Because of my refusal, on December 29, most of my property was seized. The deputy governor of the city of Chirchik, the chief of the city police and someone from the tax office came to my shop. They simply took a product from the shop in the value of approximately 85-90 million som ($15000). They took away my property for nothing, without a reason, without showing an order of confiscation. When they entered the store, I asked them who they were. In response, the police chief shoved me, I hit and damaged my finger straining a tendon and I am still being treated for it."
"On March 28, officers from the Tashkent regional tax office came back to check the financial documents of my store. They brought some paper, an unsigned photocopy, a document ostensibly to conduct a tax audit. They seized the remaining items in the store worth about 7.5 million som ($1300). Now I have to close my shop."
"Me and my two children were left without a livelihood. My children cried and asked why it happened. They kept asking, when there were so many people who traded without any permits, why would they go against me? My only fault is that I refused to pay the contribution for cotton."
By Judy Gearhart, Executive Director at the International Labor Rights Forum, and Abby McGill, Campaigns Director at ILRF, originally published on the Huffington Post here.
This week, more than 200 labor rights advocates from unions, companies, churches and non-governmental organizations are gathering in Washington, D.C. to honor Uzbek human rights defenders who have been documenting the Government of Uzbekistan’s ongoing use of forced labor in its annual cotton harvest. Unfortunately, only one of the invited honorees was able to attend due to increasing attacks from government officials. These brave activists take incredible personal risks to ensure evidence of state-sponsored forced labor is publicly available to the global governments and institutions that could influence the situation. But in a sad irony, those same governments and institutions speak in defense of persecuted activists only in private, if at all.
Neither violent repression of civil society actors nor international complacency is new in Uzbekistan. This same week in 2005, armed security forces under the leadership of the Uzbek Government gunned down at least 700 citizens and subsequently tortured dozens more in what became known as the Andijan massacre. After Andijan, the United States and European Union imposed sanctions on the Uzbek regime for its brutality, yet quickly softened enforcement and then let the sanctions expire. The brutality of the Uzbek regime has not softened, however, and it is time that the international community took forceful action in support of those struggling to promote a culture of freedom and against a regime that continues to coerce citizens to labor in agricultural fields against their will for the benefit of a wealthy elite.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who has been in power since Uzbekistan’s emergence as an independent country after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, oversees a forced-labor system of cotton production in which officials force more than a million Uzbek citizens to work in cotton fields under threat of penalty. This system is only possible through the state’s use of fear, established with both violence and regular coercion. Average Uzbek citizens are faced each fall with the choice between weeks of picking cotton, paying bribes to officials, or facing penalties imposed by the state, including job loss, expulsion from school, denial of social benefits and punitive tax investigations. Officials routinely try to silence those who seek to document this system, but 2015 saw a new level of official repression against those who openly document this egregious violation of human rights:
The second attack against Ms. Urlaeva came only a week after the Uzbek government met with the International Labour Organization (ILO), World Bank and several diplomatic missions in Tashkent to discuss the government’s systematic use of forced labor to produce cotton. Elena, Uktam and Dmitri all met with the ILO, World Bank, U.S. and European Union (EU) diplomatic missions in Uzbekistan repeatedly throughout the 2015 cotton harvest. ILRF and our allies on the Cotton Campaign have repeatedly, though unsuccessfully, urged these international organizations, the EU and the U.S. government to speak out publicly in defense of these activists. In Uzbekistan, where freedom of association is not respected, these brave citizens are doing the work of independent trade unions. We remain deeply concerned that quiet diplomacy leaves Uzbek human rights defenders at risk of continued repression.
Urgent action to press the Uzbek government to respect civil society and end forced labor is vital. We call for principled engagement that holds the Uzbek government accountable for its crimes. We call on governments and international organizations to take a firm, public stance against the Uzbek Government’s mass use of forced labor and repression of civil society, and condition support to the Uzbek Government on concrete reform.
Follow Judy Gearhart on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ILRF
This article is by Tula Connell and was originally published by the Solidarity Center here.
A global union campaign is calling on the Uzbek government to reverse its conviction of Uzbek human rights activist Uktam Pardaev, who was sentenced to three years’ probation in January and is under constant surveillance by security services at his home. Officials also continue to harass Uktam Pardaev’s relatives and friends, who have been watched, questioned and threatened, according to global union and human rights groups.
Pardaev, a member of an independent cotton harvest monitoring group, was arrested in November 2015 on trumped-up charges of fraud and taking a bribe. He was held for eight weeks in pre-trial detention, where he was locked in a damp, cold cell with only a dirty mat to sleep on and little food. Pardaev says he witnessed officials torturing and mistreating detainees to coerce confessions and was beaten severely on one occasion.
Pardaev was among human rights activists monitoring last fall’s cotton harvest in Uzbekistan, where more than 1 million teachers, nurses and others are forced to pick cotton for weeks each harvest season. A report released in March documented how the government took extreme measures to cover up its actions last fall, jailing and physically abused those independently monitoring the process.
“The government unleashed an unprecedented campaign of harassment and persecution against independent monitors to attempt to cover up its use of forced labor while taking pains to make widespread, massive forced mobilization appear voluntary,” according to The Cover-Up: Whitewashing Uzbekistan’s White Gold.
Uzbekistan, which gets an estimated $1 billion per year in revenue from cotton sales, faced high penalties for not addressing its ongoing forced labor. But rather than end the practice, the government sought to cover it up, according to the report, produced by the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights.
Take action now and send a message of support calling on the Uzbek government to reverse Pardaev’s conviction; conduct a prompt, independent, and impartial investigation into his credible allegations of ill-treatment by prison officials; and bring those responsible