Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported Tuesday that the Uzbekistan government has ordered the closure [press release] of the advocacy group's Uzbek office. HRW learned from the Uzbekistan Supreme Court [official website, in Russian] on March 10 that, after maintaining a presence in the country for 15 years, it would have to vacate its offices in Tashkent. In a prior correspondence, the Uzbek Justice Ministry [official website] claimed that HRW ignored Uzbek legislation and lacked experience in the region. Uzbek authorities have provided no additional grounds for the order to vacate. According to HRW, the Uzbek government has obstructed its attempts to work in the country by denying or delaying visas and accreditation to HRW representatives and threatening criminal charges against one staff member. Several human rights activists and independent journalists are currently being detained in Uzbek prisons [Telegraph report], which have been criticized for allegedly subjecting prisoners to torture and dismal conditions. The executive director of HRW, Kenneth Roth [HRW profile], criticized the Uzbek government for its decision:
With the expulsion of Human Rights Watch, the Uzbek government sends a clear message that it isn't willing to tolerate critical scrutiny of its human rights record. ... The Uzbek government's persistent refusal to allow independent rights groups to carry out our work exacerbates the already dire human rights situation in the country, allowing severe abuses to go unreported, and further isolating the country's courageous and beleaguered human rights community.This is the first time HRW has been forced out of a country in the group's 33-year history.
Uzbekistan has been criticized regularly for its poor human rights record. In April, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] gave a speech [text], calling on Uzbekistan to deliver on promises as a signatory to various international treaties banning torture and civil rights violations in order to improve its human rights record. The rapidly growing Central Asian nation has long faced accusations from the West of rampant political oppression and a litany of human rights abuses, including the use of torture on its prisoners [HRW report]. The UN Human Rights Committee [official website] in March demanded [JURIST report] that Uzbekistan conduct an independent investigation of May 2005 clashes [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] between protesters, soldiers and police in the city of Andijan that rights groups estimate left as many as 500 people dead [JURIST report]. The committee urged [report, DOC] Uzbekistan to comply with previous recommendations and supply the UN with information on Uzbek policies regarding police use of firearms on civilians. The report was the first to be issued [Reuters report] on Uzbekistan by the Committee since the Andijan clashes, which were sparked when thousands of protesters gathered [JURIST report] after rebels stormed a prison and freed a group of businessmen on trial for alleged Islamic extremism. In October 2009, the European Union (EU) announced that it would lift the last of the sanctions [JURIST report] it imposed on the country in November 2005 for its refusal to investigate the Andijan incident.