Uzbekistan: Most Atrocious Human Rights RecordUzbekistan is a landlocked country located in Central Asia that has consistently held the record for some of the worst accounts of human rights injustices. It is important to understand where these injustices originate from. Uzbekistan was a part of the Soviet Union in the late 1900s and like its other Central Asian neighbors, they were subject to Russia’s direct control and supervision, and also embedded within their economy. When it gained its independence in 1991 under President Islam Karimov, it had to stand on its own two feet. This lead to the exploitation of the cotton industry, which was referred to as “white gold” in the region during the time. Cotton was the only industry in which Uzbekistan could use in order to generate enough income to stand alone, without the supervision of Russia. Even to this day, much of their economy relies on the production of cotton (Central Intelligence Agency, 2016). As a result, the government has exploited the use of their population into working for the sole purpose of manufacturing more cotton, the only thing keeping their economy from falling (International Labor Rights Forum, 2016). With the exploitation of their people, they are also prosecuting their own citizens if they do not agree with the current regime. Anyone that can potentially threaten the legitimacy of the current regime will be prosecuted, tortured and often times, killed. Although there are several organizations such as the Human Rights Watch and the United Nations who are pushing Uzbekistan to reform their policies and ideals, Uzbekistan is an extremely resource-rich country that will not force into submission any time soon. It is extremely important that we work to free the oppressed citizens of the country and implement human rights laws within the country that will protect the people and return the liberties that rightfully belong to them.
To begin, the biggest issue that threatens the people of Uzbekistan is the lucrative cotton industry that funds the state and political officials. Uzbekistan’s economy and agricultural industry is still largely centered on the production of cotton. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, it is the world’s fifth largest cotton exporter and the sixth largest producer (2016). The government employs its citizens to do much of the work for producing cotton and in exchange, they are giving absolutely nothing back to the people in return for their labor. The government is implementing compelled forced labor for its annual cotton harvest. They are deliberately pulling out children from schools for free, manual labor. The children are told that if they do not comply, they will be forced to buy their own textbooks in order to study. The state is threatening their population by refusing to give them their right to education. Every year, "the government forces more than two million adults to harvest cotton under abusive conditions" (Human Rights Watch, 2016). Those harvesting cotton are not receiving anything in return for their services, but instead told that if they do not participate, they will somehow be losing something of important human value.
Moreover, those who defy the regime, attempt to reveal the situation of the state, or anyone who the government can pin as a threat to its own legitimacy is “taken care of.” Uzbekistan is known for having underground torture centers that are often disguised as repair shops and others. These “detention facilities” allow for the police to detain people and torture them to their pleasing. The main issue at hand starts with the police of Uzbekistan, who are merely puppets of the current regime, who do not protect the people, but instead are the ones committing the violence and lying to its people (Amnesty International, 2016). Like many of the cases we have studied in class like in the Guatemalan case, the police in Uzbekistan also are in control of the investigations of missing persons, even though they are the ones conducting the kidnappings and killings. This has become a vicious cycle that does not cease to end and it is inherently corrupt and is extremely imbalanced. Although the government targets people who they deem are a threat to their own rule, they also targets gays, bisexuals and transgender people. These groups are also typically discriminated against within the society and stems from homophobia of the state. In the same way, Muslims and Christians who practice their religion outside of state-sponsored beliefs are prosecuted and tortured (Human Rights Watch, 2016). With the freedom of expression being severely limited and the police operating off of corruption and bribery, Uzbekistan is in need of reform and change in order to free the people of this repressive lifestyle.
Uzbekistan, as previously mentioned, is untouchable to many organizations as well as the United States and Europe. It is not only resource-rich, but it is an advantageous geographical region for fighting off terrorism (Amnesty International, 2015). Although the United Nations attempts to convince Uzbekistan to review their human rights laws, the country refuses to comply. The case of Uzbekistan is a human rights injustice because the government institutions that are set in place, that are there for the purpose of protecting and maintain the well-being of its state and citizens, are the same institutions that are running corruption and targeting innocent people. To make matters worse, the people who are committing these crimes are sponsored by the regime. Therefore they are immune, not susceptible to punishment and are granted amnesty by the government.
In terms of what needs to be done, change starts with the institution and foundations, itself. The Uzbekistan government and President Karimov need to understand that the benefits they rake are endangering their own people. The government need to overall stop the state-sponsored crimes, punishing those who are coercing forced labor and those who are torturing innocent people. There should be minimum wages set in place in exchange for the work that the people provide and the police need to be protecting, instead of prosecuting individuals who are not actually a threat. Citizens should be given at least a standard of freedom of speech, because they are not allowed to, there is no facilitation of ideas that could potentially make a better state. Moreover, the World Bank needs to stop funding the Uzbek government’s “projects in agriculture.” Although there have been reports sent to the World Bank about forced labor, they have not yet suspended their loans of $500 million dollars (International Labor Rights Forum, 2016). Although there are many organizations that we can donate to in order to help this tragic situation in Uzbekistan, they will not have much impact. In addition, writing letters to the Uzbekistan embassy has been noted as futile. Professor Grodsky, who has worked as a diplomat in Uzbekistan, stated that the only way we can force a change in Uzbekistan is by internationally shaming them. Uzbekistan cares about their image. Therefore, by donating to funds, signing petitions, writing reports that are specifically targeted towards them, such as the “Cotton Campaign,“ this will gradually urge the regime and officials to make changes in their laws (B. Grodsky, personal communication, April 7, 2016). Uzbekistan is a country that is in dire need of justice and reform, it is important to spread the word and help the people of the country who cannot expedite change themselves.
References1. Amnesty International. Stop the secrets and lies. Retrieved April 10, 2016, from https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2015/04/uzbekistan-stop-torture/
2. Amnesty International. (2015, April 15). Uzbekistan: US and Europe turning a blind eye to torture. Retrieved April 10, 2016, from https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/04/us-and-europe-turning-blind-eye-to-uzbekistan-torture/
3. B. Grodsky, personal communication, April 7, 2016
4. Central Intelligence Agency. (2016, March 22). Central Asia: Uzbekistan. Retrieved April 10, 2016, from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/uz.html
5. Human Rights Watch. Uzbekistan. Retrieved April 10, 2016, from https://www.hrw.org/europe/central-asia/uzbekistan
6. Human Rights Watch. Uzbekistan: Events of 2015. Retrieved April 10, 2016, from https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2016/country-chapters/uzbekistan
7. International Labor Rights Forum. World Bank: Stop support for forced labor in Uzbekistan! Retrieved April 10, 2016, from https://laborrights.z2systems.com/np/clients/laborrights/survey.jsp?surveyId=5
8. International Labor Rights Forum. About the Cotton Campaign. Retrieved April 10, 2016, from http://www.cottoncampaign.org/about.html
Link to the “Cotton Campaign” http://www.laborrights.org/industries/cotton