2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Uzbekistan
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||19 June 2012|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Uzbekistan, 19 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fe30c8435.html [accessed 25 January 2015]|
UZBEKISTAN (Tier 2 Watch List)
Uzbekistan is a source country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and women and children subjected to sex trafficking. Domestic labor trafficking remains prevalent during the annual cotton harvest, when many school-age children as young as 10 years old, college students, and adults are victims of government-organized forced labor. There were reports that, during the cotton harvest, working conditions included long hours, insufficient food and water, exposure to harmful pesticides, verbal abuse and inadequate shelter. The use of forced mobilization of adult laborers and child laborers (over 15 years of age) during the cotton harvest was higher than in the previous years. A UNICEF pilot project during the reporting period reduced forced child labor in one region, including by ensuring that schools were kept open.
Uzbek men and women who have emigrated in search of work are forced to labor in Kazakhstan, Russia, and – to a much lesser extent – Ukraine, in domestic servitude and agriculture and in the construction and oil industries. Women and children are subjected to sex trafficking, often through fraudulent offers of employment, in the United Arab Emirates, India, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkey, Thailand, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Japan, China, Indonesia, and also within Uzbekistan. In 2011, small numbers of victims from Uzbekistan were identified in the United States, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Belarus, and Georgia. Tajik and Kyrgyz victims were identified in Uzbekistan in the reporting period. In 2011, shelter administrators in Uzbekistan noticed an increase in the number of victims who were targeted due to a mental handicap or learning disability.
The Government of Uzbekistan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government has not shown evidence of increasing efforts to address human trafficking over the previous year; therefore, Uzbekistan is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for a fifth consecutive year. Uzbekistan was granted a waiver of an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3 because its government has a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute making significant efforts to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is devoting sufficient resources to implement that plan.
The Uzbek government continued to force children and adults to pick cotton. As in previous years, the government set a quota for national cotton production and paid farmers artificially low prices for the cotton produced, making it almost impossible for farmers to pay wages that would attract a voluntary workforce. Provincial mayors and governors were held personally responsible for ensuring that the quota was met; they in turn passed along this pressure to local officials, who organized and forced school children, university students, faculty, and other government employees to pick cotton. The government continued to refuse to allow the ILO to monitor the cotton harvest and denied that forced labor of children or adults in the cotton sector exists in Uzbekistan. The government identified fewer sex trafficking and transnational labor trafficking victims during the reporting period.
Recommendations for Uzbekistan: Take substantive action to end the use of forced labor during the annual cotton harvest; investigate and prosecute government officials suspected to be complicit in trafficking, particularly those who forced children and adults to pick cotton during the annual harvest, and convict and punish complicit officials; allow international experts, such as the ILO, to conduct an independent assessment of the use of forced labor during the annual cotton harvest; provide financial support and continue to provide in-kind support to anti-trafficking NGOs to assist and shelter victims; continue efforts to investigate and prosecute suspected trafficking offenses and convict and punish trafficking offenders; and work to ensure that identified victims are not punished for acts committed as a result of being trafficked.
The Government of Uzbekistan demonstrated mixed law enforcement efforts, including efforts to combat sex and international labor trafficking and a lack of efforts to address forced labor in the cotton harvest during the reporting period. Article 135 of the criminal code prohibits both forced prostitution and forced labor, and prescribes penalties of three to 12 years' imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with punishments prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Law enforcement data is opaque in Uzbekistan. In 2011, law enforcement agencies reported conducting 951 trafficking investigations, compared with 529 investigations in 2010. Authorities reported prosecuting 444 trafficking cases in 2011, compared with 632 trafficking cases in 2010, and claimed convictions of 636 trafficking offenders in 2011, compared with 736 and 1,198 offenders purportedly convicted in 2010 and 2009, respectively. The government reported that 434 convicted trafficking offenders were sentenced to time in prison, compared with approximately 476 convicted offenders reportedly sentenced to time in prison in 2010. In 2011, the government reported facilitating and funding four workshops on combating sex trafficking and transnational labor trafficking for law enforcement officials. The government reportedly shared data with several foreign law enforcement agencies to assist in criminal cases against suspected traffickers.
In June 2011, the prime minister reportedly demanded an abundant cotton harvest and threatened jail time for those local administrators who fail to produce state quotas. Authorities applied varying amounts of pressure on governmental institutions, schools, and businesses to organize schoolchildren, university students, teachers, medical workers, government personnel, military personnel, and nonworking segments of the population to pick cotton. Local government officials in regions where cotton is grown closed rural schools and forced children to go to the fields to pick cotton. There were some reports of government officials threatening students with retaliation if they did not work or achieve designated quotas. Teachers were often held accountable by local officials for student cotton quotas; there continued to be reports that students and adults who did not make their quotas were subject to ridicule or abuse by local administrators or police. There were reports that government officials threatened to withhold social benefit payments to the elderly until they picked cotton. The government did not report law enforcement efforts regarding official complicity of forced labor in the cotton harvest.
There were reports of official complicity in other forms of trafficking. Border guards and low-level police officers were reportedly involved in the fraudulent issuance of exit visas, and there were allegations of individual police officers accepting bribes from traffickers. The Office of the Prosecutor General reported that an officer in the city of Tashkent's Criminal Investigation Department received a sentence of nine years in prison on trafficking-related charges, and that an official of the police department in the city of Tashkent is under investigation for similar charges, but did not report additional details to confirm how the activities involved trafficking. By comparison, last year, media reports indicated that some Ministry of Labor officials were convicted for coordinating illegal employment overseas.
The Government of Uzbekistan demonstrated mixed efforts to identify, assist, and protect victims of trafficking – including efforts to assist victims of sex and international labor trafficking – though it demonstrated no efforts to assist victims of forced labor in the cotton harvest. The government reported that it identified 1,635 victims through ad hoc means in 2011 – a decrease from 2,325 and 4,660 victims purportedly identified in 2010 and 2009, respectively. Police, consular officials, and border guards referred potential female trafficking victims returning from abroad to an NGO for services. The government operates a shelter for male, female, and child trafficking victims that assisted 336 victims in 2011, compared with 225 victims assisted in 2010. Victims are not detained in the shelter; they may freely enter and leave. The government provided shelter and office space to two NGO-run shelters, and victims were eligible for medical assistance from the government. The government continued to provide a small amount of assistance to repatriated child victims of trafficking. A leading NGO identified and assisted 204 victims in 2011. NGOs report that victims who cooperate with law enforcement receive some protection during the trial process. Some victims were penalized for acts committed as a result of being trafficked; victims were sometimes charged with illegal border crossing when they returned to Uzbekistan from abroad. NGOs reported that when they appealed immigration charges against victims, these charges were often dropped; however these charges were less likely to be dropped if the victim refused to cooperate with a trafficking investigation.
The government continued public awareness efforts on transnational sex and labor trafficking. Through a pilot project with UNICEF, one provincial leader in the Ferghana valley issued orders that children were not to be used in the cotton harvest and that schools should remain open; UNICEF and local activists reported that all schools remained open in that region during the harvest season. The government did not respond to the international community's calls for an independent assessment of the use of both forced adult and forced child labor during the 2011 cotton harvest. It again permitted UNICEF to conduct observations of forced child labor during the harvest in every region. The Ministry of Labor required all regional leaders to sign an agreement stating that they would keep schools open and not mobilize children, but this was not enforced. There were reports that human rights activists who independently monitored the cotton harvest were detained by government officials. State media showed programs on sex trafficking and transnational labor trafficking. The government continued to provide venues for NGO training programs and awareness-raising activities. In addition, ostensibly in an effort to combat human trafficking, the country introduced regulations that required male relatives of women aged 18 to 35 to submit a statement pledging that the women would not engage in illegal behavior, including prostitution, while abroad; evidence suggests restrictions on migration have a negative effect on preventing human trafficking. Officials in the city of Jizzakh reduced the demand for commercial sex by arresting and prosecuting clients of prostitution. In 2011, the government began issuing biometric passports to all its citizens, in a program scheduled for completion in 2015.