For anyone following the reform process in Uzbekistan, it is apparent that the country is changing rapidly, particularly with regard to the economy. As foreign investors queue up to take advantage of a new business-friendly environment, civil society remains chained to a totalitarian legacy that shows little respect for human rights. Today, it takes about 30 minutes to register a business in Uzbekistan while an NGO can wait for months, even years.
The Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations of Uzbekistan has published a list of officials who were given administrative punishments for the use of forced labor during the 2019 cotton harvest.
According to the document, 43 officials were punished during the period October 2019 to February 2020 according to article 51 of the administrative code: “administrative coercion to work, except as otherwise provided by law”. The article stipulates the payment of a fine equivalent to between 10 and 30 minimum wages, approximately $230 to $690 US.
Eight years after the infamous massacre of striking oil workers and their supporters at Zhanaozen in western Kazakhstan, human rights defenders in the oil-rich republic are still seeking answers. How many victims were there, on top of the 16 dead and nearly 100 wounded acknowledged by the authorities? Who gave the order to open fire? What was the role of agents provocateurs? And Kazakhstan’s beleaguered trade union movement continues to count the cost of the killings – which brought to an end an eight-month strike, the longest and largest in the country’s history, and heralded a crackdown on all forms of opposition.
A tough economic situation while President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov’s relatives live the highlife with Versace-themed parties; shortages of essential foodstuffs while the president’s nephews scatter money like trash at their celebrations; banking restrictions, bans on leaving the country, no jobs. What was life like in 2019 for the people of Turkmenistan, one of the richest countries in the world in terms of oil and gas reserves?
The government, which is still highly authoritarian, needs to make good on its many promises of reforms that include creating an independent judiciary, allowing non-governmental human rights groups to operate, ending forced labour, allowing opposition parties to contest elections, and stopping censorship. At present these are distant dreams for ordinary Uzbeks.