On 21 and 23 June 2021, the European Union and the Republic of Uzbekistan held the 17th meeting of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement’s Sub-Committee on Justice and Home Affairs, Human Rights and related issues. The meeting was held via a video link.
This annual meeting covered a wide range of topics, including human rights- and democracy-related issues, counter terrorism, migration and border management, drugs policies, and the fight against corruption. The EU and Uzbekistan are intensifying their dialogue and cooperation across a broad range of activities, reflecting the EU’s 2019 Strategy on Central Asia, and Uzbekistan’s ongoing ambitious programme of reforms. This was the first meeting of this Sub-Committee since Uzbekistan was granted the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) unilateral trade preferences in April 2021. The GSP+ allows beneficiaries preferential access to the EU market. It is conditional upon the effective implementation of 27 core international conventions on human and labour rights, environmental and climate protection, and good governance.
The Sub-Committee reviewed and discussed recent developments in Uzbekistan and in the EU relating to human rights, democracy, justice and home affairs. Participants agreed on the important role of civil society in providing checks and balances and for the rule of law. The Sub-Committee reflected on how best to enable civil society organisations to fully perform their important role to foster Uzbekistan’s resilience and prosperity.
Uzbekistan outlined the efforts being undertaken, and progress achieved, in rooting out child and forced labour, as recognised by the latest International Labour Organisation’s Third-Party Monitoring Report. The importance of continued monitoring and, more generally, cooperation with international and regional organisations, such as the UN, the ILO, and the OSCE, was emphasised. In line with Uzbekistan’s new membership of the UN Human Rights Council, the EU welcomed the country’s openness to UN scrutiny and called the country to continue to strengthen its involvement with UN Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures, as well as to implement decisions of UN working groups such as the one on arbitrary detention.
Notwithstanding positive developments in the context of Uzbekistan's reform programme, the EU registered its concerns at a number of challenges existing in Uzbekistan related to the freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, registration of Non-Governmental Organisations, and anti-discrimination. The EU called on Uzbekistan to do more to defend the rights of journalists, independent bloggers and human rights defenders to carry out their activities without harassment, and to promptly investigate cases where bloggers or protesters have been attacked, ensuring that the perpetrators are brought to justice. The EU also emphasised the need to investigate alleged case of torture and to guarantee unhindered monitoring of detention facilities. Uzbekistan presented its priorities and measures to modernise its legal system and to improve the business climate, as well as to fight corruption. Domestic violence, gender equality and freedom of religion or belief were also discussed. The EU reiterated its commitment to support Uzbekistan in the pursuit of its reform agenda.
Participants also exchanged views on issues including violent extremism and radicalisation, migration and border management, and the fight against illicit drugs. Cooperation and dialogue programmes such as BOMCA (Border Management in Central Asia) and CADAP (Central Asia Drug Action Programme) provide an important platform for cooperation and support in these policy areas.
During its preparation of this Sub-Committee meeting, the EU met representatives of local and international NGOs, EU Member States, as well as other international partners.
The EU delegation was headed by Mr Boris Iarochevitch, Head of Division for Central Asia in the European External Action Service. The delegation of Uzbekistan was headed by Mr Ikrom Saipov, Acting Head of the International Legal Cooperation Department in the Ministry of Justice.