“Abysmal” and “atrocious” are two adjectives commonly used to describe the current state of human rights in the Central Asian Republic of Uzbekistan. World Audit placed its rights records as the third worst in the world as of January 2015, only nudging out Turkmenistan and North Korea. Let’s investigate what makes this little-known nation’s human rights records so heinous.
The liberal use of torture by Uzbek authorities is arguably the most notable of all the rights abuses. Torture runs rampant in jails, and is even encouraged amongst law enforcement officers, reported Steve Swerdlow of Human Rights Watch in an interview with Radio Free Europe. Although denied by the government, forced sterilization is reported to be a torturous method of population control for women who have had two or more children. Human Rights Watch reported that although authorities introduced habeus corpus in 2008, there have been virtually no changes in the arbitrary detentions or the amount of torture used.
Political opponents are another notable group of people on whom torture, as well as detainment, is routinely used. Political opposition is not state-authorized and anyone who acts contrary to state interests is subject to incarceration or torture. But how would authorities know whenever someone acts contrary to state interests, you ask? Surveillance cameras posted in public places keep a look out for any political dissidents, as well as “Mahalla” committees, which function as official government surveillance posed as neighborhood organizations.
Despite the fact that 90% of Uzbekistan’s population is Muslim, Muslims and other religious groups are heavily targeted by authorities on the grounds of being contrary to state interests. Anyone who practices their religion outside of state controls is subject to detainment, interrogation and, as you likely guessed, torture. According to EurasiaNet, the government has rejected claims of religious persecution on the grounds that it is combating “real” terrorism by targeting these unauthorized groups.
In September 2014, roughly 4 million people were forced into working in the cotton fields in conditions that resembled modern slavery. It is not uncommon for anyone, from working professionals to children, to participate in these harsh conditions every year from September through November.
We’ve only examined the tip of the iceberg as there are numerous other human rights offenses, such as the treatment of LGBT people, the prevalence and acceptance of domestic violence against women or sex trafficking, but given the facts at hand, what can be done about the atrocities? Right now the state of Uzbekistan’s human rights looks pretty hopeless, as the nation’s leaders have ignored all UN requests for improvements. The US has been hesitant to express any public scorn over Uzbekistan’s actions, likely due to its support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, although the relationship between the two nations has deteriorated in recent years. The EU has also abstained from expressing public contempt on the matter.
For more information on Uzbekistan’s treatment of Muslims, click here.
*Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.