UN Human Rights Committee Urges Uzbek Government to End Forced Labor & Respect Human Rights Defenders
This week the United Nations Human Rights Committee reported its concern about forced labour in the cotton and silk sectors and repression of the rights of citizens reporting human rights concerns in Uzbekistan.
The UNHRC is comprised of independent experts responsible for reviewing member states' implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Committee reviewed the government of Uzbekistan's application of the ICCPR on July 8 and 9, and adopted its concluding observations on July 20, 2015.
The Committee recommended that the Uzbek government
“put an end to forced labour in the cotton and silk sectors, inter alia by enforcing effectively the legal framework prohibiting child and forced labour, including by rigorously prosecuting those responsible for violations and improving working and living conditions. The State party should also review its laws and practices to ensure financial transparency and address corruption in the cotton industry and take all necessary measures to prevent deaths in connection with the cotton harvesting, investigate thoroughly such cases when they occur and provide effective remedies, including adequate compensation, to victims’ families.”
With these recommendations, the Committee highlights fundamental characteristics of forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton sector. It is state-orchestrated, so the government can end it by applying national and international laws prohibiting forced labor. It is a crime; thus, perpetrators of forced labor should be prosecuted. Corruption lies at the heart and pervades the cotton sector, and the financial system is a root cause of forced labor. Lives are at stake, and the responsibility for wrongful deaths connected with the cotton sector lie with the state.
The Committee also reports its concern about “consistent reports of harassment, surveillance, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officers and prosecutions on trumped-up charges of independent journalists, government critics and dissidents, human rights defenders and other activists, in retaliation to their work.”
It recommended the Uzbek government should:
“Take immediate steps to provide, in practice, effective protection of independent journalists, government critics and dissidents, human rights defenders and other activists against any actions that may constitute harassment, persecution or undue interference in the exercise of their professional activities or of their right to freedom of opinion and expression, and ensure that such acts are thoroughly and independently investigated, prosecuted and sanctioned, and that victims are provided with effective remedies.”
Next month, the International Labour Organization (ILO) will meet with the Uzbek government to present a plan of action to address forced labor. The World Bank expects that the plan will include monitoring of forced labor, including a mechanism for citizens to report it, which the Bank has committed to establish and asked the ILO to implement. The ILO’s ability to conduct monitoring depends not only on whether the Uzbek government approves a plan of action, but also on whether the government follows the UN HRC’s recommendations. Without freedom of expression, the more than a million citizens forced to pick cotton by their government each year, cannot safely report the crime.
Read the UN HRC report here. In addition to forced labor and denial of repression of civil society, the Committee’s list of concerns includes: lack of independence of the national human rights institutions, discrimination, deaths in custody, torture, denial of due process, abusive detention conditions, denials of exit visas to human rights defenders, insufficient independence of the judiciary, denial of freedom of religion, unreasonable and burdensome restrictions on freedom of association, and flouting of the constitutional term limits to reinstate the president.