UZBEKISTAN (Tier 2 Watch List)
Uzbekistan is a source country for women and girls trafficked to the UAE, India, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkey, Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, and Israel for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. Men are trafficked to Kazakhstan and Russia for the purpose of forced labor in the construction, cotton, and tobacco industries. Men and women are trafficked internally for the purposes of domestic servitude, forced labor, in the agricultural and construction industries, and for commercial sexual exploitation. Some girls are also trafficked internally for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. Many school-age children, college students, and faculty are forced to pick cotton during the annual harvest.
The Government of Uzbekistan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the reporting period, Uzbekistan did not make significant efforts to eliminate the use of forced labor of adults and children in the cotton harvest and did not make efforts to investigate, prosecute, or convict government officials complicit in the use of forced labor during the harvest; therefore, Uzbekistan is placed on Tier 2 Watch List. In September 2008, the government amended its criminal code to prohibit forced labor and increased the maximum penalty for trafficking to 12 years' imprisonment. Also, in September 2008, the government adopted a multi-year national action plan on combating child labor and the Prime Minister issued a formal ban prohibiting the use of child labor during the harvest; both addressed the use of forced child labor. The government also reported increased efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict trafficking offenders during the reporting period. While the government again did not provide financial or in-kind support to the country's two NGO-run anti-trafficking shelters, it reported allocating $176,000 of state funds to establish a government-run shelter in Tashkent; construction of the new shelter reportedly began during the reporting period.
In 2008, the Government of Uzbekistan maintained its strict quota system in which each province in the country is required to produce a share of the designated national cotton yield. Provincial governors were held personally responsible for ensuring that the quota was met; this pressure was passed to local officials, some of whom organized and forced school children, university students, and faculty to pick cotton to ensure the national quota was met. Uzbek farmers were unable to pay higher wages to attract a consenting workforce because the government pays the farmers below-market value for their cotton.
Recommendations for Uzbekistan: Take substantive action to end the use of forced labor during the annual cotton harvest; implement the national anti-trafficking action plan; continue to work with UNICEF and improve cooperation with ILO to reduce the reliance on forced labor during the annual cotton harvest; allow international experts to conduct an independent assessment of the use of forced labor during the annual cotton harvest; investigate, prosecute, convict, and sentence government officials complicit in trafficking; provide financial or in-kind support to anti-trafficking NGOs to provide assistance and shelter for victims; take steps to establish additional shelters outside of Tashkent; and continue efforts to improve the collection of law enforcement trafficking data.
Uzbekistan reported improved law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking in 2008, although the government did not report efforts to address official complicity during the annual cotton harvest. The newly amended Article 135 of the criminal code now prohibits trafficking for both sexual exploitation and forced labor, and prescribes penalties of three to 12 years' imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with punishments prescribed for other grave crimes, such as rape. In 2008, law enforcement agencies reported conducting 900 trafficking investigations involving 670 suspects, up from 273 investigations involving 303 suspects reported in 2007. Authorities reported securing the convictions of approximately 400 suspects for trafficking in 2008, up from 185 in 2007. Approximately 300 convicted traffickers were sentenced to some time in prison. During the last year, 177 convicted traffickers, including some convicted in previous years, were granted amnesty and served a reduced sentence in prison. The government did not effectively enforce the law prohibiting the use of forced labor or the formal ban issued by the Prime Minister prohibiting the use of child labor during the cotton harvest which also addressed forced child labor. The government also did not take steps to monitor attendance at schools during the harvest to ensure students were not forced to work in the fields.
Some reports of government officials involved in trafficking-related bribery and fraud continued; allegations included the fraudulent issuance of exit visas and individual police officers accepting bribes from traffickers. In 2008, the government reported that two high-level police officials were prosecuted, convicted, and each sentenced to seven years' imprisonment for trafficking Uzbek nationals to Russia. The government did not investigate or prosecute any government officials for their involvement in organizing and compelling many schoolchildren and university students as well as some faculty to work in the fields during the annual cotton harvest.
In accordance with new 2008 legislation, the government took steps to improve assistance and protection for victims of trafficking, though the Government of Uzbekistan did not provide financial or in-kind assistance to the two foreign-funded and NGO-run shelters in the country and all comprehensive victim assistance was provided by foreign-funded NGOs during the reporting period. In late 2008, the national government reportedly allocated funding from the state budget to establish an anti-trafficking shelter in Tashkent. Local observers described a need for additional trafficking shelters in Karakalpakstan and Ferghana Valley. The government identified 2,941 victims in 2008; NGOs assisted 342 victims during the reporting period. The 2008 comprehensive anti-trafficking law and the 2008 anti-trafficking national action plan both mandate that victims receive immediate and long-term assistance. In 2008, the government reported assisting victims through existing non-trafficking social service structures including medical assistance for 164 trafficking victims, psychological help for 123 victims, access to legal counsel for 149 victims, vocational retraining courses for 32 victims, direct employment for 47 victims, and other social assistance such as housing for 92 victims. The government did not employ formal procedures to identify or refer victims of trafficking for assistance.
Some victims assisted law enforcement in trafficking investigations in 2008; however, many victims were still afraid to provide testimony or information out of cultural shame or fear of retribution by their traffickers, and the government did not have a witness protection program for victims who assisted law enforcement. The government reported that identified repatriated victims of trafficking were not punished for acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked; however, victims were required to sign documentation confessing to their illegal departure from Uzbekistan.
The government demonstrated awareness efforts in 2008. State-run print, television, and radio media significantly increased its coverage of trafficking from the previous year; efforts included television broadcasts of trafficking-themed films, radio service announcements, billboards throughout the country, and a state-financed production of a theater show about trafficking. In July 2008, the government adopted its first anti-trafficking national action plan which established the national inter-agency trafficking commission. The government-run media also focused attention on the amendments and subsequent enforcement of the criminal code which strengthened penalties and criminalized forced labor. However, the Uzbek government made limited efforts to prevent the use of forced labor during the annual cotton harvest by some local officials.