The EU Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World 2019 is adopted by the European Council on 15 June 2020. This report, prepared annually by the EEAS and consulted with the Member States, provides an overview of EU activities to promote and protect human rights and democracy across the globe. The report is thematic and includes country specific examples of EU action.
1. Overview of the human rights and democracy situation:
Since 2016, President Mirziyoyev has pursued a programme of reforms including political reforms, aimed at progressive liberalisation of Uzbekistan’s society and gradual democratisation. Further progress in this regard was made during 2019, culminating in parliamentary elections on 22 December, which were pitched as evidence of the President’s reform ambitions. While there was a real improvement over previous elections, building from a low benchmark, the credibility of the elections was seriously undermined by the absence of independent opposition candidates and by some serious irregularities on the election day.
2019 saw marked progress in the respect for human rights in Uzbekistan, though serious concerns remain. The independence of the judiciary continues to be challenged, as concluded by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers who visited Uzbekistan in 2019. The criminal justice system saw some important developments, including the closure of the notorious Jaslyk prison. Despite some targeted measures by the authorities, there were some reports of torture and mistreatment of detainees. At the end of 2019, just one person listed by the EU as a prisoner of concern remained in custody.
The 2019 cotton harvest saw year-on-year progress in the fight against forced labour. The reporting system for violations gained further credibility with around 3,000 reports received, leading to over 200 disciplinary actions.
The EU delegation and EU Member States’ embassies continued to receive reports of discrimination and hostility targeting the LGBTI community in 2019.
While the authorities in Uzbekistan worked constructively with international NGOs visiting the country, independent NGOs continued to find it hard to register in 2019, and international NGOs were unable to register locally at all. Registering new groups, or registering in new locations, remained a challenging and opaque process.
A welcome development in 2019 was the government’s work to repatriate family members of foreign fighters from conflict zones.
Progress was achieved in 2019 on the freedom of expression. The newly created Agency of Information and Mass Communication, reporting directly to the President, has helped journalists encountering difficulties with various state bodies. In 2019, Uzbekistan graduated from the ‘black zone’ as per the classification of freedom of media by ‘Reporters without Borders’.
The Parliament legislated to raise the marriage age for women from 17 to 18 years, and toughened sanctions for forced marriages. Uzbekistan worked with UNICEF in 2019 on the
psychological rehabilitation of children and on introducing international standards at detention facilities for minors. The position of the Ombudsman for Children was introduced.
2. EU action - key focus areas:
The EU’s key focus areas for human rights in Uzbekistan during 2019 included the regulatory environment for civil society, space for human rights defenders to carry out their work, and the treatment of detainees and the prevention of torture whilst in custody.
Whilst acknowledging and welcoming the improvements that have been achieved during 2019, the EU remains concerned about the human rights situation in Uzbekistan. There are still significant challenges to overcome to translate laws and decrees into reality on the ground, and conflicting pressures at local level that make implementation difficult.
The EU will continue to monitor the situation and stands ready to assist the efforts of the Uzbekistan`s government in implementing relevant reforms.
3. EU bilateral political engagement:
The EU has continued to raise human rights and democracy issues with the Uzbek authorities at all levels, including at the highest level during the visit of President Tusk to Tashkent in May 2019, as well as during the formal annual meetings of the human rights dialogue (held in Brussels in June 2019), the Cooperation Committee (held in Tashkent in October 2019), and the Cooperation Council (held in Brussels in November 2019).
The EU delegation has regularly raised these issues with the authorities in Uzbekistan during formal and informal contacts. Human rights and democracy issues featured prominently in the negotiations for an Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and Uzbekistan. Four formal negotiating rounds took place during 2019. The EU engaged actively with Uzbek civil society organisations and human rights defenders throughout the year.
4. EU financial engagement:
The EU continued to provide financial support for projects funded through the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) and the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR).
Two projects financed by EIDHR and three projects on Civil Society Organisations/Local Actors included total EU contribution of EUR 1.78 million. They aim to reinforce the capacity of civil society in the field of human rights, the promotion and protection of women’s rights, and the protection and promotion of the social, economic and cultural rights of vulnerable groups.
5. Multilateral Context:
Uzbekistan was reviewed in 2019 by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
In addition, the UN Committee against Torture issued concluding observations on Uzbekistan.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges visited Uzbekistan in September 2019.
The Uzbek authorities also engaged actively in the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) of the OSCE in Warsaw in September.
Uzbekistan continued to cooperate with the ILO on monitoring the cotton harvest with a view to preventing child labour and forced labour.