“There is no independent agricultural sector in Uzbekistan” was the message from former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray to the public hearing “From the Uzbek Cotton Fields to the Termez Military Base,” March 1, 2012, in Berlin. Prominent experts participated in the hearing to discuss the state-sponsored forced labor system of cotton production of the Uzbek government and their relationship with the West. The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) organized the hearing with the support of eight other NGOs, and presents video highlights of the experts’ testimonies here.
Participants in the hearing included Theo van Boven, former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Sanjar Umarov, Chairman of the Sunshine Coalition Uzbekistan, Patricia Flor, Special Envoy for Central Asia at the German Foreign Office, and Jan Egeland, Director of Human Rights Watch Europe and former UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs. They highlighted the importance of Western governments’ firmly supporting human rights in Uzbekistan, particularly in light of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) use of the Northern Distribution Network for its engagement in Afghanistan and the use of military bases in Uzbekistan by Germany and the U.S.
The German Foreign Office, represented by Special Envoy Patricia Flor, acknowledged that “initiating a [European Union] Human Rights Dialogue and intensifying cooperation between states has not yet moved as far as we would have liked towards a sustainable human rights situation.” Angelika Graf, Member of the German Parliament, urged the German government and all political actors to send the Uzbek government the clear message that state-controlled forced child labor shall no longer be tolerated.
Presenting the Uzbek state order system of cotton production, Craig Murray detailed the firm grip of the government of Uzbekistan over the entire cotton industry:
“You have to look on cotton not only as the means by which the Uzbek state funds itself in very large degree, but as a means of social control. The fact is that millions of people are effectively captive on state farms (…) they can’t choose not to be a cotton picker anymore. It’s not a choice open to them. If you are one of the small minorities of people in agriculture who actually figuratively own, at least a lease on your land, then you are anyway told what crops you have to grow, you’re told who you can sell them to, and you’re told what the price will be.”
While Craig Murray referred to Uzbekistan as a “totalitarian dictatorship”, Scott Horton, Harper’s Magazine, called it “the world’s largest family-owned business.”
On the urgent need for action, Jan Egeland, Human Rights Watch, urged participants, “to expect leadership from Germany,” after the German government played a central role in the removal of the EU sanctions against Uzbekistan, which had been imposed in the aftermath of the 2005 Andijan massacre. He added a plea to the EU to move from quiet diplomacy to a transparent, human rights-based policy on Uzbekistan, and to establish concrete benchmarks to effectively measure progress.
In concluding remarks, Theo van Boven, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, challenged Western leaders, stating
“We should never abandon the people of Uzbekistan because they deserve much better than what they have now under this repressive regime.”
This event was co-sponsored by the German-Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, Anti-Slavery International, Human Rights Watch, Uzbekistan Press Freedom Group, terres des hommes, Eurasian Transition Group, INKOTA-netzwerk and the Clean Clothes Campaign. The videos were realized by ecofilm sustainable film production.
The seven films are:
Part I: The state of human rights in Uzbekistan
Part II: State-sponsored child labor in the Uzbek cotton fields
Part III: The responsibility of economic actors
Part IV: The role of Germany and the EU
Part V: Termez, NATO, and conflict of democratic values
Part VI: Karimov regime: The "world's largest family-owned business"
Part VII: What should the West do?
View all videos here.