The Memorandum of Understanding between Switzerland and Uzbekistan was signed earlier in September.
Switzerland must be fully transparent about the ways it intends to follow up on the use of 131 million Swiss Francs (CHF) returned to Uzbekistan. The amount is part of a staggering 800 million CHF total seized from Swiss accounts belonging to Gulnara Karimova, daughter of the late President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov.
“The agreement between Switzerland and Uzbekistan is an important document, but it remains very vague in terms of exactly how the money will be spent,” said Senior Policy Adviser Ivar Dale.
“Especially, we wish to see civil society, established human rights activists in Uzbekistan, taking part in decisions on how to spend the funds once returned.”
Uzbekistan has taken important steps in the right direction in recent years, carrying out reforms in the human rights sphere. However, it is still early to judge whether authorities will be successful in combating the extreme level of corruption in the country. Uzbekistan is still in the lower end of the scale on Transparency International Corruption Peceptions Index (153 of 198).
We wish to see civil society, established human rights activists in Uzbekistan, taking part in decisions on how to spend the funds once returned
There is a clear connection between high levels of corruption and human rights violations. The UN General Assembly’s Agenda 2030 for sustainable development of 2015 asks all states to ‘substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms’ and to return all stolen assets by 2030.
“We support the statement made by a number of Uzbek human rights activists earlier this week,” said Acting Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Gunnar Ekeløve-Slydal.
“Uzbekistan is on the right path, but Switzerland bears responsibility for ensuring that these funds are used to bring the country further on the road to democracy and accountability.”
Uzbekistan is on the right path, but Switzerland bears responsibility for ensuring that these funds are used to bring the country further on the road to democracy and accountability
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee believes that Swiss authorities must be conscious of the country’s role as a haven for exactly this category of persons. Switzerland’s financial regulations indirectly help enable theft of the kind seen in the Karimova case. Family members of authoritarian leaders, including Central Asian ones, are permanent residents of cities such as Geneva, where they own luxury apartments, villas and castles valued at hundreds of millions of Swiss Francs. The contrast with underdeveloped villages and the poverty evident in Central Asian republics like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan is glaring. It remains highly unclear to ordinary citizens in these counties how the elites have amassed such wealth.
While billionaires like these can afford the best lawyers to prepare their tax declarations, Switzerland surely has talented investigators of their own, to ensure that parallel cases are not left without due attention.