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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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