On February 6, the Russian-language website Uzmetronom.com ran an article on a new project to attract foreign tourists to Uzbekistan. Uzbektourism, which identifies itself as “an authorized state body for the tourism industry” that “report[s] to the Cabinet of Ministers on its activities,” was planning to give tourists the once in a lifetime opportunity to visit rural Uzbekistan in the fall to pick cotton! No star accommodation to be provided in 100-person barracks; with drinking water from the irrigation system – loaded with pesticides. Yummy!
The publicity may have caused Uzbektourism to reconsider – at least for now. When you click on the article’s links to the firm’s website you are now told that the “page can’t be found.”
In their blog "Why Nations Fail," Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson highlight one of the hidden costs of large scale forced child labor in Uzbekistan: the decline in educational achievement of students forced to spend weeks and sometimes months harvesting cotton rather than attending school.
"This type of coercion is actually all too common," Acemoglu and Robinson conclude, "and is indicative of the sorts of institutions that not only fail to impart human capital to children, but are at the root of much more widespread economic and social failure. And it is not in place by accident or as an inevitable remnant of some past practices..."
Obama Administration Waives Human Rights Sanctions on Uzbekistan Despite Lack of Progress on Child Labor, Other Human Rights Problems
On January 18, Secretary of State Clinton exercised the authority Congress granted the Administration late last year to waive human rights-related sanctions on the provision of security assistance to Uzbekistan. You can watch State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland explain the decision. Asked if it represented a “free pass” to the Uzbek government on its atrocious human rights record, Nuland rejected the notion, saying that Secretary Clinton had discussed U.S. concerns with President Karimov during a recent visit to Tashkent.
Nuland went on to say that in Dushanbe the day before that meeting, the Secretary spoke out in public about U.S. concerns regarding the human rights situation in Tajikistan. What Nuland didn’t say was that Mrs. Clinton made NO such public remarks while in Uzbekistan.
The State Department justified invoking the waiver as being in the U.S. national interest, apparently because of the need to grease the skids for greater Uzbek government cooperation with the Northern Distribution Network, which is now the only over-ground route the U.S. has to bring supplies to troops in Afghanistan. We can’t say for sure, however, because the justification Clinton sent to Congress was classified. It did come with an unclassified – and Congressionally-mandated – analysis of human rights conditions in Uzbekistan. According to that analysis, the use of forced adult and child labor remains systematic during Uzbekistan’s cotton harvest, when “many thousands of schoolchildren, university students, and teachers, among others, are required to work in the fields as a result of government mobilization.”
Frontline Defenders, a UK-based human rights organization, has noted in its annual report that the problem of forced child labour continues in Uzbekistan:
In Uzbekistan, HRDs [human rights defenders] denouncing the use of forced child labour in the cotton fields were threatened, questioned and detained.
Among those facing repeated reprisals for her reporting was Elena Urlaeva.
Frontline has covered some of the past attacks on Urlaeva, including psychiatric internment which only ended after an international outcry.
In the past year, authorities have become more sophisticated in pressuring Urlaeva by constantly intervening in her family's privacy to attempt to remove a small boy from her custody. She and her partner care for his nephew, as the boy's mother has been unable to care for her son. So officials have continued to attempt to remove the child into state custody, using as a pretext the complaints filed by a pro-regime lawyer often found in cases harassing defenders.