United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Uzbekistan, 30 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa5610.html [accessed 1 July 2015]
This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
The Republic of Uzbekistan became independent in September 1991 after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Little progress has been made in the transition from Uzbekistan's authoritarian Soviet legacy toward a more pluralistic democracy. Political life is dominated by President Islam Karimov and the highly centralized executive branch which serves him. The National Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (NDPU) is the dominant party, in many respects the successor to the former Communist party, and it is controlled by the President. Only one other party, the Fatherland Progress Party, is legally registered. It was created by a presidential advisor, apparently to give the semblance of a multiparty system. The Government continued severely to repress genuine opposition parties and movements, despite its frequently stated commitment to multiparty democracy. It justifies its repressive policy by invoking the specter of Islamic fundamentalism and the civil strife that has plagued neighboring Tajikistan. The National Security Service (formerly the Committee for State Security, or KGB) deals with a broad range of national security questions and is no longer the dominant instrument of domestic control that it was during the years of Soviet domination. The Ministry of the Interior prosecutes domestic crimes and plays the lead role in pursuing political cases against opposition figures. It has primary responsibility for maintaining the Government's control over society and, in this role, was responsible for various human rights abuses. The economy is based primarily on agriculture and agricultural processing; Uzbekistan is the world's fourth largest producer of cotton. It also has large deposits of gold, strategic minerals, gas, and oil. The Government has proclaimed its commitment to a gradual transition to a free market economy. By the end of 1993, most state-owned apartments and a number of small enterprises had been privatized, but the majority of enterprises remained in state hands. Government subsidies on most basic consumer goods were ended in 1993, except for those on bread, flour, and some energy products. Most other prices were freed. Spiraling inflation throughout the ruble zone, including Uzbekistan, contributed to a serious decline in the population's ability to make ends meet. Unwilling to agree to Russian requirements on the future operations of the ruble zone, Uzbekistan left the zone in November, necessitating the introduction of a transition currency, the som-coupon. Introduction of a new national currency, the som, is expected some time in 1994. Government observance of human rights moved backward compared to 1992. Suppression of opposition political parties and movements increased. Beatings of several prominent opposition leaders, similar to beatings in 1992, occurred in ways that suggested government involvement. Security forces frequently detained or arrested opposition activists on trumped-up charges. The Government tried two political dissidents on charges of insulting the President's honor. Both trials ended in guilty verdicts, although the defendants were released under presidential amnesty. To control the political arena, the Government used a requirement that political parties, like all other social groups, be officially registered. It denied registration to some political groups and other associations. It required groups that were already registered to reregister in what appeared to be an effort to close down the most serious opposition groups. Unsanctioned public meetings and demonstrations were banned. Although expressly prohibited by the Constitution, press censorship was pervasive, and freedom of expression was also further reduced by an atmosphere of repression which made it increasingly difficult to criticize the Government.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Extrajudicial Killing
There were no known instances of politically motivated killings nor any reports of deaths in official custody from unnatural causes. Former Vice President Shukrullo Mirsaidov, a political rival of President Karimov, survived an apparent assassination attempt when his car was exploded by a bomb on August 24. As was the case in most other attacks and beatings of opposition activists, no one was ever arrested or prosecuted for the bombing. The Government claimed that its investigation of the bombing revealed that the car did not belong to Mirsaidov. While this was technically true, the car was being used by Mirsaidov as his own personal vehicle had been confiscated by the Government.
There were no confirmed abductions or politically motivated disappearances. However, the whereabouts of Abdulla Uttaev, Chairman of the banned Islamic Renaissance Party, are still unknown. Unidentified gunmen forced him into a car on December 15, 1992. Although it is widely believed that he is in official custody, the Government denies holding him.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
There were credible reports that police often beat political detainees and criminal suspects while taking them into custody or in the period between arrest and trial. Continuing a pattern from 1992, several opposition figures were beaten in the streets in 1993 by persons who were never caught or prosecuted. The circumstances suggested a calculated effort by government officials to intimidate the opposition. The most serious of these incidents occurred on September 18 when unknown assailants severely beat former Vice President Shukrullo Mirsaidov. He suffered a broken rib, internal injuries, and open head wounds. The May 5 beating of Shukrat Ismatullaev, Cochairman of the Birlik (Unity) movement, closely resembled the assault in June 1992 on Birlik's other Cochairman, Abdurahim Pulatov; Ismatullaev, too, was attacked in the street and beaten, sustaining skull fractures. On October 4, four unidentified men attacked Samat Murad, chief secretary of the Erk (Freedom) Party, near the train station in Karshi, beating him unconscious. When he regained consciousness after several hours, they again beat him unconscious. On December 7, in an apparent attempt to prevent Mamura Usmanova, head of the Birlik women's organization, Tumaris, from traveling to a human rights conference in Bishkek, assailants broke into her apartment. They held her and her daughter at knifepoint while they beat her husband seriously with brass knuckles. Prison conditions are inadequate and worse for male than for female prisoners. Due to limited resources, prison overcrowding is a problem.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Laws on detention have not changed since independence. According to the law, police may hold a person suspected of committing a crime for up to 3 days. At the end of this period, the suspect must be either officially charged or released. A procurator's order is required for arrests but not for detentions. A court case must be scheduled within 15 days of the arrest, and the defendant may be detained during this period. A defendant may not have access to counsel while in detention but only after formal arrest. The legal provision permitting detention without the filing of charges led to dozens of cases in which opposition figures were detained for questioning and then released without prosecution. The Government used this provision to harass and restrict the actions of opposition figures. For example, government authorities on April 29 detained several opposition activists, putting them under house arrest to prevent them from attending an April 30 conference in the capital, Almaty. During the April 21-22 visit to Uzbekistan of Swedish Foreign Minister and Chairman-in-office of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) Af Ugglas, several opposition activists were detained to prevent them from attending a meeting scheduled at her request. They were released following the delegation's departure. Similarly, when American Ambassador at Large Strobe Talbott visited Tashkent on September 13-14, law enforcement officials prevented participation of two opposition activists, although several others were allowed to attend. In addition to the beating of Mamura Usmanova's family to prevent her participation in the December 8-9 human rights conference in Bishkek, several other activists planning to attend the Bishkek conference were detained in Tashkent by the militia on December 7. Similarly, during a private visit of Zbigniew Brzezinski, several opposition activists were detained to prevent their participation in a scheduled December 13 roundtable discussion. In some cases, opposition figures were charged with offenses unrelated to their criticism of government policy, such as drunkenness, drug possession, or disorderliness. Punishment for political activities was the likely motive behind the arrests of Inamjan Tursonov and Pulat Akhunov. Tursonov, regional chairman of the Erk Party in the Fergana district and a former deputy in the Uzbekistan Parliament, was sentenced in February to 2 years in prison on trumped-up charges of hooliganism. After what appears to have been a manipulated street fight, Akhunov, regional chairman of Birlik in the Andijan region, was found guilty of hooliganism in 1992 and sentenced to a year and a half in jail. In July 1993, while still in jail, he was accused of having narcotics in his prison cell and sentenced to an additional 3 years in prison.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Under the Constitution, the President appoints all judges for 10-year terms. They may be removed for crimes or failure to fulfill their obligations. Power to remove judges for failure to fulfill their obligations rests with the President, except for Supreme Court judges, whose removal must also be confirmed by Parliament. No judges are known to have been removed for political reasons. In political cases, government direction influences the judiciary. Uzbekistan still uses the Soviet judiciary system which features trial by a panel of three judges: one professional judge and two "people's assessors" who are chosen by the workers' collectives for a period of 2 1/2 years. The professional judge presides and directs the proceedings. There is a three-tiered court system: the people's court on the district level, the regional courts, and the Supreme Court. District court decisions may be appealed to the next higher level within 10 days of the ruling. The new draft criminal code reduces the list of crimes punishable by death to murder, espionage, and treason, eliminating the economic crimes punishable by death in the former Soviet code. Officially, most trials are open to the public but may be closed in exceptional cases, such as those involving state secrets, rape, or young defendants. During 1993, however, the militia frequently prevented interested persons, such as human rights monitors, journalists, and diplomats, from observing court proceedings in political cases. On January 19, a U.S. Embassy officer sent as an observer was ejected from the courtroom of the Supreme Court while proceedings examining the legality of the opposition movement Birlik were under way. This happened again on May 27 during the trial of former Vice President Mirsaidov, who was convicted of having misused his former office. Although granted amnesty, his conviction disqualified him from ever running for President. Defendants have the right to attend the proceedings, confront witnesses, and present evidence. The State will provide a lawyer without charge, but by law the accused has the right to hire an attorney. In some political cases, lawyers were denied access to their clients. For example, Babur Shakirov, accused of treason in connection with the alleged plan to create an alternative Parliament, the Melli Majlis, rejected the lawyer appointed by the authorities and chose Sergei Kotov, a lawyer from Russia. However, the procurator refused to meet with Kotov, and thus he was never recognized as the defendant's lawyer. When Kotov tried to file a formal protest, police detained and expelled him. In the trial of Abdumannob Pulatov, charged in January with insulting the honor of the President, the lawyer he chose, Yuri Schmidt, also from Russia, was initially refused permission to defend Pulatov. Because permission was finally granted only on the day the case opened, he did not have the opportunity to review the documents in the case. Detainees deemed not to be violent may be released on their own recognizance pending trial. No money need be posted as bond, but in such cases the accused must usually sign a pledge not to leave the city. The Government denies that there are any political prisoners in Uzbekistan. However, by all evidence, the Government does hold political prisoners. The defendants detained during 1993 for the Melli Majlis trial were political prisoners, although following the trial all were granted amnesty and released. In the cases of Pulat Akhunov and Inamjan Tursonov, circumstances suggest they are political prisoners (see Section 1.d.). There is not enough information available to determine whether other prisoners are jailed for political offenses.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence.
By law, search warrants issued by a procurator are required. There does not appear to be a legal mechanism for authorizing telephone tapping or monitoring. There is no direct relationship between the procurator's office and the security services. However, it is very likely that they cooperate to the extent that the procurator would issue search warrants at the request of the security services. There is no provision for judicial review of search warrants. Security agencies nonetheless monitor telephone calls, and there is evidence that they employ surveillance and wiretap telephones in the cases of persons involved in opposition political activities. Certain high-profile opposition activists were the subject of very visible surveillance, including round-the-clock police monitoring of all movements. In several cases this intense surveillance was the prelude either to arrest or a street-beating incident.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Freedom of speech, already severely limited, was further restricted in 1993. The fear of expressing views critical of the President and Government increased as the Government widened its general crackdown on all forms of opposition. A February 15, 1991 law (before independence) against "offending the honor and dignity of the President" limits the ability to criticize the President. In 1993 the Government tried two cases under this law in the Supreme Court. A poetess, Vasilya Inayatova, was found guilty in February of insulting the President's honor through publication of a poem, "A last letter to the President," which expressed her anguish about political violence and her desire for democracy. She was sentenced to 2 years in prison but then granted amnesty under a presidential decree. Abdumannob Pulatov, chairman of the Human Rights Association, was tried in January on the same charge, based on his purported involvement in making a poster insulting to the President, which was used in a student demonstration in January 1992. In clearly manipulated proceedings, Pulatov was found guilty and sentenced to 3 years in prison but freed on amnesty. Although the Constitution prohibits censorship, it is widely practiced, and the Government tolerates little, if any, criticism of its actions. Newspapers may not be printed without the censor's approval. Journalists and writers who want to ensure that their work is published report that they practice self-censorship. The majority of Uzbekistan's newspapers are government owned and controlled; the key papers are organs of government ministries. State enterprises control the printing presses. Newspapers must be registered with the Government to receive permission to publish. The opposition movement Birlik was never granted permission to register its newspapers. During 1992, issues it published in Russia and "smuggled" into Uzbekistan were confiscated as contraband. By 1993 Birlik had ceased attempting to publish a newspaper. The last opposition newspaper to be published was the paper of the Erk Party. Although censors often deleted entire articles, it continued to publish in 1992. In January 1993, however, the newspaper was banned altogether and has not been published since then. In November the editors and the key bookkeepers of the erk newspaper were put on trial for "misappropriating government funds" in connection with an investigation on charges that they had not properly paid honoraria to all contributors. Erk activists claim that the charges were totally trumped up as the Government had never provided economic assistance to the newspaper, and so only private party funds were involved. The Government also censored material in locally printed editions of newspapers originating in the Russian Federation and forbade the distribution of foreign newspapers and publications critical of Uzbekistan. The publication of the local editions of Izvestia and Pravda and the sale of the Moscow edition remained suspended throughout 1993. In June all newspapers, magazines, and weeklies had to undergo reregistration, which includes providing information about the source of funding, means of distribution, founders, and sponsors. Simultaneously, by resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers, private persons and journalists' collectives were banned from founding newspapers or magazines. Television broadcasting is state controlled. Although there are local stations in various regions, nationwide programming is on two state-run channels that fully support the Government and its policies. Through an agreement with Russia, two Moscow channels are broadcast as well. The Russian channels are Ostankino and Russian Television (Rossiskaya Televideniya). It appears that Ostankino's programs play uncensored. The more liberal Rossiskaya Televideniya sometimes abruptly and without advance notice has its programming replaced by Turkish television in what many interpret to be censorship of its programming. Radio Liberty and the Voice of America are among the few sources of uncontrolled news, although there is evidence that these broadcasts are jammed by the Government. There are no private publishing houses, and government approval is required for all publications. In an attempt to circumvent the requirements of state-controlled publishing, Erk party supporters had a booklet by party Chairman Mohammed Solikh published in Almaty. After border authorities discovered copies of the book, those involved were questioned, and 15,000 copies already in Tashkent were confiscated. Political repression enveloped academia as well. During 1992 and 1993, various figures from Birlik and Erk were fired from their academic positions because of their political activities or beliefs. Leaders of the Erk Party estimate that some 100 party members were forced from their jobs for political reasons. Among Birlik activists, Shukhrat Ismatullaev and Marat Zakhidov were both dismissed from their jobs at Tashkent State University, Talib Yakubov was fired from the Tashkent State Pedagogical Institute, and Yadgar Obid and Gulchekhra Nurallaeva from the Writers' Union. While at one time it appeared that the Government might permit independent academic institutions, it refused to register the independent, private Tashkent International Business University, and in September attempted to shut it down on the grounds that it was functioning without a license. Students were notified that they should go to other universities.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of assembly is not guaranteed. The Government must sanction demonstrations and does not routinely grant this permission. The 1992 Constitution states that the authorities have the right to suspend or ban rallies, meetings, and demonstrations on security grounds. After cordons of militia prevented attempts to hold unsanctioned demonstrations in 1992, the opposition made no attempt to hold public meetings during 1993. The Government also limited the exercise of freedom of association by refusing to register opposition political parties and movements. The Constitution provides no general guarantees of freedom of association; it places broad limitations on the types of groups that may form and requires that all organizations be formally registered with the Government. The Government frequently and seemingly without legal basis denies such registration to groups in any way opposed to the established order. To be considered a public association, organizations must be registered in accordance with the procedure prescribed by law. To register, a party must submit a list of at least 3,000 members and meet other requirements, such as providing an official address. Government control over buildings and office space limits the ability of unofficial groups to get an official address. The Government has repeatedly denied the Birlik movement permission to register as a party, first claiming irregularities on its membership list, then complaining about the group's name, and finally noting its lack of an official address. The Supreme Court on January 19 suspended all activities of Birlik for 3 months on charges that the movement's leaders failed to observe its charter, that they had intended to hold officially forbidden demonstrations, and that 166 members of the group had been detained and 20 had criminal charges lodged against them. Birlik was accused of holding 29 meetings and rallies during 1992, 14 without obtaining permission. A Cabinet of Ministers decree of March 12, 1993, required all public organizations and political parties officially registered in Uzbekistan to reregister by October 1, 1993, or be suspended. This decree provided a quasi-legal mechanism for the elimination of various organizations that were already registered. The mainstream NDPU and Fatherland Progress Party applied for and quickly received their reregistration. The Erk Party did not submit papers, holding that the decree was unconstitutional as only the Supreme Court has the right to withdraw registration. Although the Birlik movement attempted to submit reregistration papers, the Ministry of Justice did not accept their papers. The Government considers both the Erk Party and the Birlik movement to have officially lost their registration. Nonpolitical associations and social organizations usually do not encounter comparable difficulties in registering, although an independent ecological organization and several foreign humanitarian assistance groups found it difficult to obtain registration.
c. Freedom of Religion
Freedom of religion is provided for in the Constitution, as is the principle of separation of religion and state. After the enforced atheism of the Soviet period, religious communities are experiencing a significant revival. Mosques long closed during Soviet rule are reopening, and many new ones are being built. While before independence there were less than 100 working mosques in Uzbekistan, by the close of 1993 there were approximately 5,000. Religious education is becoming more widespread, although it is not included in state schools. While Islam is the religion of the majority, ethnic minorities may also practice their religion in relative freedom. Synagogues for the Jewish community are openly functioning; Hebrew education, long banned under the Soviets, Jewish cultural events, and the publication of a community newspaper take place undisturbed. In 1993 the German Lutheran Church, built in 1899 and closed by Stalin in 1937, was returned to the German community. Permission was granted to the Roman Catholic Church for the reconstruction of the Polish cathedral built during World War I and subsequently destroyed, and a reconsecration ceremony took place in 1993. A December 1991 amendment to the law on political parties bans those of a religious nature. This principle is cited for denying registration to religious parties, including the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP). Fearing the destabilizing influence of extremist Islamic forces, the Government has tried to temper the extent of this spiritual renaissance by controlling the Islamic hierarchy, the content of the Imam's sermons, and the extent and substance of Islamic materials published in Uzbekistan. In March Mufti Mohammad-Sadiq Mohammad-Yusuf was ousted from his position as leader of Uzbekistan's Islamic community in a government effort to place a more compliant and less political leader in the position of Mufti. Mufti Mohammad-Yusuf, fearing that he would be tried on trumped-up criminal charges, fled the country to Saudi Arabia in July. The new Mufti, Mukhtar Abdullaev, was the leader of the Naqshibandi Sufi sect's shrine outside of Bukhara.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Constitution provides for free movement within the country and across its borders. However, foreign travel is still restricted by difficulties in obtaining an overseas passport and by a law that requires all citizens to have an exit visa. Local authorities frequently withhold passports for political and administrative reasons to prevent persons from making short trips abroad, including some individuals selected to participate in official exchange programs. Others allegedly received their passports or exit visas only after paying bribes. Government authorities frequently withhold exit visas when they do not approve of the travel purposes. Those who leave without an exit visa may be subject to severe penalties upon return. Most barriers to emigration were lifted before the Soviet breakup. Although in some instances emigrants are delayed by long waits for passports and exit visas, potential emigrants who can find a host country willing to accept them are able to leave the country. Since independence, a significant number of non-Uzbeks, including Russians, Jews, Ukrainians, and others have emigrated, although no exact figures are available. These people have not left because of any systematic human rights abuses but rather because of what they fear will be limited future economic and social prospects for non-Uzbeks. This emigration appears to have slowed considerably in 1993, compared to 1992. The travel of local citizens within Uzbekistan is not controlled, unlike travel by foreigners, including journalists. Visitors must have each city they wish to visit noted in their visa. Travel to some sensitive areas of the country, particularly the environmentally degraded Aral Sea region and the Fergana valley, is controlled even more carefully; requests for travel to these areas are turned down in some cases. Even travel to nonsensitive tourist areas is unnecessarily complicated by internal visa requirements, and tourists seeking to check into hotels without the appropriate internal visa often find themselves having to pay fines or bribes to the visa police first. The law on citizenship adopted in 1992 stipulates that citizens do not lose their citizenship if they reside overseas. However, as Uzbekistan does not provide for dual citizenship, those acquiring other citizenships will lose their citizenship in Uzbekistan. If they return to Uzbekistan as foreign citizens, they are subject to foreign visa regulations. There is no evidence that anyone was denied permission to return.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
Citizens cannot exercise their right to change their government through peaceful and democratic means. Government measures severely repress opposition groups and individuals and apply harsh limits on freedom of expression. The Government's professed desire to create a multiparty democracy is belied by its actions against other parties since independence. The year 1993 was marked by an across-the-board crackdown by the Government on actual and potential opposition groups and individuals. By the end of the year, there remained few individuals willing to challenge the Government's grip on power or even criticize it. The Government has sought to control the political process through widespread repression as well as legal requirements that all political parties and movements reregister. Restrictions on public meetings and government control of information reinforced this central political control. Parliamentary elections have been announced for 1994, but the Government shows no intention of allowing truly free and fair multiparty elections. Uzbekistan is ruled by a highly centralized presidency, comprising the President and a small inner circle of advisers and senior government officials. President Karimov, formerly the First Secretary of the Communist Party in Uzbekistan under Soviet rule, was elected in a limited multicandidate election in 1991. The election was marred by government control of the media and the Government's successful efforts to eliminate the candidacies of Karimov's rivals. The President is the Chairman of the National Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (NDPU), the country's largest party. Most government officials are also members of the NDPU, although it does not play the leading role in governance or cadre selection that was played by the Communist party during the Soviet period. There are two other legally registered parties, the Fatherland Progress Party and the Erk Party. Other political groups such as Birlik, the People's Movement of Turkestan, and the Islamic Renaissance Party have been denied permission to register as parties. The Fatherland Progress Party was created as a loyal "constructive opposition" party in June 1992. Its existence provides the appearance of a multiparty system. It is headed by a presidential adviser, Usman Azimov, and supports the President politically. The party claims a platform that differs from that of the NDPU in that it seeks more rapid economic reform and development of conditions favorable to businessmen, but in fact it is of no real significance. Although it was formally registered from September 1991, the Erk Party came under significant pressure from the Government, and lost its registration in October 1993. On April 13, law enforcement officials evicted the Erk Party from its headquarters, forcing it to move to much smaller quarters on the outskirts of the city. On November 4, those new headquarters were formally shut down. Its leader, Mohammed Solikh, was accused of treason for his alleged involvement with the alternative Parliament, the Melli Majlis. Solikh fled the country before his case could be brought to trial. Pressure on the Erk Party has included removing a number of Erk deputies (elected to the Supreme Soviet in the February 1990 elections) from their parliamentary positions in 1993. While party chairman Solikh resigned in protest from the Supreme Soviet in July 1992, Erk deputies Jahangir Mamedov, Murat Djuraev, Inamjan Tursunov, and Atajan Palvanov were removed from Parliament in 1993 through means of questionable legality. Some were recalled by meetings of their constituents summoned for that purpose, and others gave in to threats that, if they did not resign, they would be expelled. The Supreme Soviet on September 3 approved the draft election law on its first reading. The law will provide the mechanism for electing the new 150-member Parliament. The draft law in its present form is deficient in some respects, particularly in that it provides that, if a party wins less than 8 percent of the vote nationwide, all deputies elected from such a party will be excluded from Parliament, even if they are elected in their own single-member districts. Although women participate much less than men in government and politics, there are several female parliamentary deputies.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Government disapproves of independent nongovernmental local human rights organizations and has restricted their operations. The Uzbekistan Human Rights Society, a local group organized in 1992, was denied permission to register. The Government regards international criticism of its human rights record as interference in its internal affairs. Despite the fact that Uzbekistan is a signatory to the Helsinki Final Act and the Charter of Paris, it refused entry to or expelled several international human rights monitoring delegations during 1993. On January 12, officials refused to permit a visit by a fact-finding team from the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the CSCE, which was to investigate allegations of human rights violations, claiming the visit would be "interference in Uzbekistan's internal affairs." Under the requirements of CSCE membership, the Government is obliged to receive such visits. On several occasions, human rights activists or journalists who attempted to cover political trials were deported. Alexander Petrov, deputy head of Helsinki Watch's Moscow bureau, was deported from Uzbekistan in January when he attempted to monitor the political trial of Abdumannob Pulatov. Helsinki Watch executive director Jeri Laber planned a May 4-5 visit to Tashkent as part of the group's efforts to monitor human rights in countries signatory to the Helsinki accords. Her request for a visa was turned down.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status.
The 1992 law on citizenship and the Constitution prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, language, or social status, and officially sanctioned discrimination does not occur.
There is no de jure discrimination against women; women enjoy the same legal rights as men. Despite nominal equality under the law, however, women are severely underrepresented in high-level positions. Due to traditional roles, women usually marry young, bear many children, and confine their activities within the family. However, women are not formally impeded from seeking a role in the workplace. In rural areas, women often find themselves confined to backbreaking labor in the cotton fields. However, the barriers to equality for women are cultural, not legal, and women who open businesses or seek careers are not hindered. Spouse abuse certainly takes place in Uzbekistan, although it is less common among the more educated urban population. There is a perception that wife beating is considered a personal, family affair rather than a criminal act, and thus such cases rarely come to court. A female journalist who has written on women's problems estimates that some 50 percent of the self-immolation suicides (of which there are several hundred each year in Uzbekistan) are related to seeking an escape from chronic beatings.
Uzbekistan has one of the highest birth rates in the former Soviet Union. Over half the Republic's population is under the age of 15. Children's rights are explicitly protected by the Constitution (Article 64) which states that parents are obliged to support and care for their children until they are of age. The State and society will care for and educate orphaned children as well as children deprived of parental guardianship. According to the Constitution, able-bodied children are obliged to care for their parents once they come of age.
In a population of about 22 million, official figures indicate that 71 percent are Uzbeks, 8 percent Russian, 5 percent Tajik, 4 percent Tatar, and 3 percent Kazakh. The real number of Tajiks is significantly higher, as many Tajiks have Uzbek written in their passports. Uzbekistan's citizenship law, passed in July 1992, does not impose language requirements for citizenship. Nonetheless, the language issue remains very sensitive. Uzbek has been declared the state language, and the Constitution requires that the President must speak Uzbek. The Government decided in 1993 to introduce a Latin script to replace Cyrillic but has set no date for the change. Non-Uzbek speakers increasingly feel themselves threatened. Many report unpleasant experiences with their neighbors or in stores. When government organizations and academic institutions have been forced to cut back, it is frequently the Russian speakers who have lost their jobs. However, there is no clear evidence of a government effort to promote emigration by minority groups.
People with Disabilities
One of Uzbekistan's first laws, adopted only 2 months after independence in November 1991, was one guaranteeing support for invalids. This law was aimed at insuring the disabled the same rights as other people. However, little effort is made to bring the disabled into the mainstream. Society does not accept them, and for the most part the disabled are kept out of sight, either at home or in institutions. The State cares for the mentally retarded in special homes. The Government has not mandated access for the disabled.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
According to the Constitution, trade unions express and protect the socioeconomic rights and interests of the working people. The Constitution also promises citizens the right to work, the right to choose their occupation, fair conditions of labor, paid vacations, and protection against unemployment. The 1992 law on unions specifically proclaims that all workers have the right voluntarily to form and join unions of their choice, that trade unions themselves may voluntarily associate territorially or sectorally, and that they may choose their own international affiliations. Membership in trade unions is optional. The law also declares all unions independent of the State's administrative and economic bodies (except where provided by law), and states that trade unions develop their own charters, structure, and executive bodies and organize their own work. In practice, however, the overall structure of trade unions has not changed significantly since the Soviet period. Uzbekistan's independence has eliminated subordination to Moscow but has not altered the centralized trade union hierarchy which remains dependent on the Government. No "alternative" central union structures exist. A few new professional associations and interest groups have been organized, such as a Union of Entrepreneurs, a Union of Renters, an Association of Private Physicians and Pharmacists, and one of lawyers. Their role and strength is as yet uncertain. Some of these groups hope to play a significant role in licensing and otherwise regulating the economic activity of their members. According to the law, the Council of the Federation of Trade Unions (CFTU) has a consultative voice in the preparation of all legislation affecting workers and is entitled to draft laws on labor and social issues. Trade unions are legally described as organizations that defend the right to work and protect jobs. They have lost their previous role in state planning and in the management of enterprises. The emphasis now is on the unions' responsibility for "social protection" and social justice especially unemployment compensation, pensions, and worker retraining. The trade union law does not cite a right to strike. In fact, strikes are not mentioned in the law. However, the law does give the unions oversight over both individual and collective labor disputes, which are defined as those involving alleged violations of labor laws, worker rights, or collective agreements. There were no reports of strikes in 1993. Union and government officials alike assert that this reflects general support for the Government's policies and common interest in social stability. More likely it reflects the absence of truly independent, representative trade unions as the standard of living fell, and growing unemployment raised social tensions.
b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively
Trade unions may conclude agreements with enterprises. Privatization is in its very early phases, so there is no experience yet with negotiations that could be described as adversarial between unions and private employers. With very few exceptions, the State is still the major employer, and the unions do not view themselves as having conflicts of interest with the State. The wages of state employees in various categories are set by the Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Finance, in consultation with the CFTU. In the small private sector, management establishes wages or negotiates them with those who contract for employment. Discrimination against union members and their officers is forbidden by law, and no complaints are known to have been registered. There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Constitution specifically prohibits forced labor, except as legal punishment or as may be specified by law. Large-scale compulsory mobilization of youth and students (by the closing of schools) to help with the cotton harvest has officially ceased, although in some cases it continues. Young people in rural areas are expected to participate "voluntarily" in harvesting activities of all kinds, and at least in some cases universities still shut down temporarily to send both students and faculty into the fields.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The minimum working age is 16; 15-year-olds may work with permission but have a shorter workday. In rural areas, younger children and the elderly often turn out to help harvest cotton and other crops. The Labor Ministry has an inspection service responsible for enforcing compliance with these and other regulations governing employment conditions.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Ministry of Labor, in consultation with the CFTU, sets the minimum wage. The minimum wage was raised several times in 1993 as the value of the ruble fell. As of September, it was about $8 per month at the official exchange rate (or 13,500 rubles, almost five times the nominal level of January 1, 1993). Most agree that the minimum wage is not sufficient to feed a family. The workweek is set at 41 hours per week and includes a 24-hour rest period. Some factories have apparently reduced work hours in order to avoid layoffs. Overtime pay exists in theory but is not always paid. Occupational health and safety standards are established by the Labor Ministry in consultation with the unions. There is a health and safety inspectorate within the Ministry. Workers do leave jobs that are hazardous without apparent jeopardy to continued employment; but the local press occasionally published complaints about the failure of unions and government authorities to do enough to promote worker safety.