by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick [From Eurasia.Net]
The annual meeting of the International Labour Conference of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) proved to be a forum for a serious and methodical condemnation of Uzbekistan’s failure to eliminate the use of forced child labor in the cotton industry. Prior to the meeting, the ILO’s Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations prepared a exhaustive report based on the testimony of non-governmental groups as well as UN agencies, notably UNICEF, detailing the state-sponsored practice of removing students from school to work in the fields, and threatening them and their parents for failure to comply with orders of local administrators to meet quotas. The Committee noted that Uzbekistan had failed to submit reports about compliance and failed to implement the two conventions signed on the worst forms of child labor.
On June 6, the ILO’s Committee on Application of Standards then discussed the Experts’ report. As a result of ongoing concerns about forced child labor in Uzbekistan, the ILO Committee was set to include a paragraph in its conclusions that would flag Uzbekistan as an egregious case of violations of ILO conventions. Uzbekistan sent Botir Alimukhamedov, first deputy minister of labour and social protection to the ILO meeting, along with the smooth-talking Akmal Saidov, director of the National Human Rights Centre, who is dispatched to every international meeting to refute criticism of Uzbekistan’s human rights record.
The debate on the floor involved Uzbekistan’s allies such as Russia and Belarus defending Tashkent from any international action, and Western countries condemning the use of child labor in the cotton industry. The Uzbek delegates claimed that the alleged high rate of GDP (not independently confirmed) and the end of the Soviet collective farm system meant that there were no motivations for farmers to use child labor. They dismissed the claims of the Western delegations as motivated by competitors in the cotton market – a charge that had little weight, given the doubling of the price of cotton on global markets this year and ensuing shortages. Yet the existence of the Uzbek state quota system and heavy state control even of private farmers mean that motivation in fact still exists for exploiting children, and local administrators and school principals maintain the institution of child labor precisely because of the large profits to be had.
Employers organizations and trade unions countered with references to the numerous and credible reports regarding the systemic mobilization of schoolchildren for the harvest. Employers and workers again reiterated their call for access to Uzbekistan of an ILO mission to assess the situation and for a report to be made, and also called for technical assistance and work with the ILO International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC).
The Uzbek government simply has not responded to the ILO’s request to send a mission to investigate conditions in the fields during the cotton harvest in the fall. The International Trade Union Confederation called on Uzbekistan to respect fundamental labor rights and to allow the independent ILO mission to observe the harvest. The International Labor Rights Forum commented that Uzbekistan’s claims that state-organized commissions could do this monitoring simply weren’t credible.
A court hearing in the lawsuit of Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva against a French journalist for allegedly libeling her with the characterization “dictator’s daughter” in an article critical of her charitable activities has produced some unexpected results. Documents that were supposed to help establish the credibility of Karimova-Tillyaeva have only served to raise troubling questions about the EU’s financial relationship to the oppressive Uzbek regime — and lack of transparency about how money intended to develop civil society is spent by state-controlled “non-governmental” bodies. At the trial, Karimova-Tillyaeva’s lawyer, Antoine Germain, produced a statement “to whom it may concern” sent by Europa House in Uzbekistan, the EU’s program office, regarding his client, in which the EU confirms that it has allocated €3.7 million to the National Center for Social Adaptation of Children for mainstreaming disabled children in the state school system.
As threatened, the Kazakh government has returned at least 28 Uzbek asylum-seekers to Uzbekistan, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported. The Uzbek government requested the extradition, saying the men were allegedly charged with terrorism and membership in extremist groups. At first, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) accepted their applications for refugee status when they fled to Kazakhstan. But ultimately Kazakh authorities arrested them in a series of raids in June 2010 in various cities, and have held them in jail, claiming the Uzbek government has legitimate cases against them.
The UNHCR revoked their status, in a move that has troubling implications for future asylum-seekers in countries neighboring Uzbekistan. Kazakhstan has signed the UN Convention Against Torture which specifies that persons who would face the likelihood of torture cannot be forcibly returned to their homelands, regardless if they have committed criminal offenses, but has opted to ignore it. Human rights monitors in Uzbekistan were unable to learn the fate of the returnees, who are believed to have been immediately imprisoned.
Catherine A. Fitzpatrick compiles the Uzbekistan weekly roundup for EurasiaNet. She is also editor of EurasiaNet’s Choihona blog. To subscribe to Uzbekistan News Briefs, a weekly digest of international and regional press, write firstname.lastname@example.org