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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 9,949 9,713 11,300 91
GNI per capita
 US $ 420 450 550 173
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (date from the World Bank)

Books on Uzbekistan

Update No: 330 - (30/06/08)

What colour is cotton?
The Uzbeks lack the 'black gold' that is impelling the economy of Kazakhstan forward at a hectic rate, oil. But they have a valuable resource for all that, cotton. As the second-biggest exporter of cotton in the world, the government of Uzbek President Islam Karimov is keen to keep the cotton industry thriving. 

As is well known, it is not overburdened with scruples. Abuses of human rights are commonplace in Uzbekistan. Western objections are regarded as hypocritical. 

The British after all initiated their industrial revolution, which has changed the world, by profiting hugely from the slave trade and using extensive child labour. The slaves were put to work on the New World's cotton and sugar plantations, notably in the US South. The children were toiling at turning the cotton into clothing in Lancashire and elsewhere, for sale to the world market. 

A lucrative trade triangle emerged and drove forward the British economy, slaves from Africa to the New World; cotton and sugar from there to Liverpool and Bristol; cotton textiles from thence to the emergent world market under British hegemony. Winning global dominance is not about being nice.

Child labour keeps the economy going
The Uzbek leadership feels it is now their turn to be in the sun. But members of the international Coalition Against Forced Child Labour In Uzbekistan -- comprised of three European NGOs -- say they hope to show how prevalent child labour is in harvesting Uzbek cotton. The coalition was one of the organizers of an anti-child labour roundtable held in Bremen, Germany, on April 3, timed to coincide with the 29th International Cotton Conference, also held in Bremen. 

Shahida Yakub heads the London-based Uzbekistan Initiative group, a member of the coalition. "The main goal of this event is to attract the international community's attention to child labour in Uzbekistan," she said. "We also hope that certain pressure will be put on the Uzbek government to force it to stop using child labour."

As the world's second-largest cotton exporter, Uzbekistan has used children to pick cotton since the Soviet era. But the practice continued after the country gained independence in 1991 and joined several international agreements that ban child labour. Human rights activists say as much as half of the country's "white gold" harvest comes from child labor.

Cotton is a major source of hard currency for Uzbekistan, bringing in around $1 billion in annual exports, giving Uzbek authorities a great incentive to continue using children to harvest and help produce cotton, activists say. That's why they're calling for international corporations to boycott Uzbek cotton in order to force officials in Tashkent to change their policy on child labour.

Boycotts of Uzbek cotton
Since the first appeals were voiced in November 2007, several European clothing chains decided to stop buying Uzbek cotton or clothes made from it. Finland's Marimekko and Estonia's Krenholm were the first. They were joined by Swedish retail giant H&M, Gap, Tesco (the world's third-largest retailer), Britain's largest retailer Marks and Spencer, as well as Debenhams, another British clothing chain.

The move was significant as it could shake Uzbek cotton's position in Europe -- where one out of every four garments is made of Uzbek cotton.

Vasila Inoyatova heads the Uzbek human rights group Ezgulik, which has conducted research and several surveys on the use of illegal child labor and campaigned against the practice.

"Of course, Uzbek officials should not be indifferent to this [boycott]. And they are not. [But] I don't believe a boycott from one or two companies will have a great impact on the Uzbek cotton industry and force Uzbek authorities to change their practice. But if there are many more such companies, the problem is going to catch global attention." 
Past denials of wrongdoing

Activists like Inoyatova say the Uzbek cotton industry, which involves some 450,000 children, is especially lucrative for the ruling elite, such as President Karimov's family and friends. They say the boycott will not affect ordinary Uzbeks.

Neither authorities in Tashkent nor Uzbek officials participating in the international cotton conference in Bremen reacted to the roundtable. However, Uzbek officials have in the past denied the use of forced child labour in the country's agricultural sector, saying Tashkent adheres to international conventions on child labour and "forbids any form of child labour in cotton fields and other agricultural sectors."

The state-controlled Uzbek media has remained silent on the subject. An Uzbek journalist who spoke to Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty ( RFE/RL) on the condition of anonymity says official control of the media does not allow journalists to write about child labour in Uzbekistan. "Uzbek journalists who work for state broadcast and print media know perfectly well that they cannot cover this subject at all," he says.

How to treat Tashkent?
Uzbek matters matter after all. It is the very heart of Central Asia. What to do with Tashkent?
Bobomurod Mavlonov quickly joined his family in the central Uzbek city of Navoi after spending 2 1/2 years in an Uzbek prison for charges that he says were politically motivated.

He says his release was a big surprise. "I returned to my family on the same day" that prison authorities told him of his release. One of them accompanied me -- he brought me home. I am resting now. I should get some medical treatment." 

The 62-year-old Mavlonov was one of more than two dozen human rights activists who had criminal charges brought against them in the aftermath of the bloody crackdown against protesters in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon in May 2005, when security forces shot dead hundreds of demonstrators. He was convicted of corruption and abuse of office. 

Mavlonov, a member of the Erk opposition party, said the charges were trumped up. But he and four other activists -- Saidjahon Zainabitdinov, Dilmurod Muhitdinov, Ikhtior Hamraev, and Bahodir Mukhtarov -- were freed from prison on February 2-4. The surprise release came on the eve of a key meeting in Tashkent between European Union and Uzbek officials on February 5. 

Just Window Dressing? Umida Niyazova, who was serving a suspended prison term, was also amnestied on February 3. Niyazova links her amnesty with international pressure put on the Uzbek government and a current "thaw" in relations between Uzbekistan and the West. "I was amnestied, although a month earlier I received a formal refusal" from the authorities, she says. "Therefore I am absolutely positive that there is a direct link between my amnesty and international relations. 

"But other activists are sceptical about the releases, saying they are merely window dressing and that they don't signal any true change in the Uzbek government's abysmal human rights policy. 

Dadakhon Hasan is a dissident singer and poet who was given a three-year suspended sentence in 2006 for writing and performing a song about the events in Andijon. He says the release of other prisoners that Uzbek President Islam Karimov considers his "enemies" is highly unlikely. "They will not release those who they consider dangerous [for the regime]. Many are set free after they beg [Karimov's] pardon," Hasan says. "Others refuse to ask for a pardon. Their release is out of sight in my opinion." The EU welcomed the move to release the prisoners. It also noted that a number of other human rights defenders are still jailed in Uzbekistan and it called for their immediate release. 

Human Rights Watch (HRW) also called for the further release of more than a dozen activists. Veronika Szente Goldston, HRW's advocacy director for Europe and Central Asia, says the release of the six rights activists is "extremely significant" and demonstrates that sustained international pressure on Tashkent works. International Pressure Working? "These releases show that international pressure sustained over time on the Uzbek government can be effective in securing concrete progress in human rights," Goldston says. "This proves that the sanctions policy that the EU has in place has the potential to trigger positive change." Goldston points out that more than a dozen other rights activists remain behind bars and "there is more that needs to be done." She continues: "These are significant initial steps that really show that the sanctions work as an effective leverage on the Uzbek government and it sends a message that the EU needs to maintain pressure and secure the release of all the other prisoners who are behind bars on account of their human rights work." Goldston says the EU should maintain the pressure on Tashkent and "not give away the leverage prematurely. "Some observers believe the arrest on February 19 of Deputy Prosecutor-General Anvar Nabiev -- who was responsible for the prosecution of many of those imprisoned after the Andijon events -- is also connected to EU pressure. 

The release of the jailed activists is one of the EU's demands outlined in a declaration adopted by EU foreign ministers in October 2007.The EU came under fire after it suspended a visa ban on top Uzbek officials in October. Uzbek and international human rights groups accused Brussels of being "too soft" and also putting energy and geopolitical interests ahead of human rights and democracy. The EU imposed the visa ban and a weapons embargo on Uzbekistan in October 2005 in response to the bloodshed at Andijon. The suspension of the visa ban came with a list of tough conditions attached to it. Among the conditions the Uzbek government has yet to meet are full access by international bodies to the remaining prisoners, access to Uzbekistan for UN special rapporteurs, and the ability of nongovernmental organizations -- including HRW -- to operate freely in the country. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been trying to get access to Uzbek prisons for years. The committee's representative -- who spoke to RFE/RL on the condition of anonymity -- said the ICRC has been engaged in negotiations with the Uzbek government but has not yet received access to the prisons. There is speculation that the EU will not reinstate the visa ban when EU foreign ministers review it in late April, despite the Uzbek government's failure to meet most of the conditions needed for the ban to be waived. Meanwhile, the European Parliament adopted its own initiative report on an EU strategy for Central Asia on February 20. The report noted "the slowness of implementation" of the EU's 2007 strategy for Central Asia. Members of the European Parliament also called on the European Council and the European Commission to "ensure that human rights issues should carry equal weight with the EU's robust approach to energy, security, and trade."

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