“We are very happy to have visited Uzbekistan in an official capacity. During our visit we had a series of informative meetings with the authorities and human rights defenders. I hope our visit will lead to stronger cooperation with both the government and Uzbekistan’s inspiring human rights defenders”, said Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.
Together with Deputy Secretary General, Gunnar Ekeløve-Slydal, and Regional Representative in Central-Asia, Marius Fossum, Engesland visited the capitol Tashkent and the historic city of Bukhara on September 9-16.
The historic visit took place on the backdrop of ongoing reforms and signs of positive developments on human rights, where dozens of political prisoners have been released and the government has taken steps to combat forced labor in the cotton industry.
“An important goal of the visit was to learn more about the ongoing reforms, obstacles to democratic development and improvements on human rights, as well as the current rights situation, and to establish and strengthen ties with Uzbek human rights defenders and authorities. It is now important that the government continues the process with the reforms. This we want to contribute to”, says Engesland.
It is now important that the government continues the process with the reforms. This we want to contribute to
Apart from discussing reforms the NHC also highlighted human rights issues in meetings with the authorities, raising issues such as torture, freedom of the media as well as political prisoners of which Uzbekistan is still home to hundreds.
“Meeting with authorities and activists alike we learned a great deal about the obstacles to positive development. We believe that the Uzbek society needs strong and independent media in to order to secure reforms and lasting improvements on human rights,” says Deputy Secretary General Gunnar Ekeløve-Slydal.
“We call on the government to lay the grounds for an independent media sector and to allow the BBC, Fergana.ru and others to establish a presence in the country”.
In Tashkent the NHC met with the deputy foreign minister, the deputy justice minister as well as the deputy prosecutor general, the Ombudsman, the director of the National Human Rights Centre and representatives from the interior ministry.
In Bukhara the NHC met with the governor and other local government officials. Apart from official meetings the NHC delegation also met with numerous local human rights defenders and civil society activists.