President Islam Karimov has led the government since 1990 and was reelected to a third term in December 2007 in an election that was neither free nor fair. The president dominates the government, and the bicameral parliament has no independent authority. The government's human rights record remained poor in 2007, although it took some modest steps forward in early 2008. There were no genuinely independent political parties; the few existing opposition groups faced official harassment and were denied registration. The judiciary remained under government control; trial verdicts were usually predetermined, with some criminal defendants deprived of legal counsel. In November 2007 the UN Committee Against Torture concluded torture and abuse were systemic throughout the investigative process. The government restricted freedoms of assembly and association, and religious activity. Authorities sought to control all NGO activity and continued to enforce the closure of international human rights organizations. Other than a few often-blocked Internet news sites, there were no genuinely independent media, and self-censorship was widely practiced. The government pressured other countries to return Uzbek refugees forcibly and jailed several who were returned. While the government took limited steps to combat trafficking in persons, it remained a significant problem. Child labor continued to be widespread.
The U.S. government's democracy and human rights goals are to promote respect for human rights and prevent abuses, especially the use of torture in the investigative process and abuse in prisons; to promote a strong civil society sector and freedom of the press; to encourage political pluralism, legal reform, and accountability; to promote religious freedom; and to promote the rights of women and the disabled. The United States, in cooperation with other diplomatic missions, international organizations, and human rights groups, encourages transparency in human rights practices and continues to urge the government to allow an independent investigation of the 2005 Andijon violence. The United States urges the government to end harassment of U.S. implementing partners and local NGOs, eliminate restrictions on U.S. grants to local NGOs, and allow the reopening of NGOs. The United States also provides programmatic support to activists and dissemination of materials to the media, civil society, and government.
The United States continues democracy and human rights efforts despite setbacks in 2007. The government reacted to U.S. criticism of its record by severely restricting contact with U.S. officials until the last half of 2007. In May 2007 a court order suspended the operations of two U.S.-funded NGOs. In July 2007 the government effectively forced the closure of a U.S.-based international human rights organization after refusing to accredit its last remaining expatriate staff member. None of the more than 15 U.S.-funded organizations closed temporarily or permanently by court decisions in 2006 have reopened. Although one U.S.-based NGO reopened in February 2008, its director has yet to be accredited. The government hampered the operation of U.S.-funded educational and other exchange programs, although exchange programs continued, some at a reduced level. The United States continued to withhold funding to programs involving the government because the secretary of state could not certify that the country had made progress on commitments made to the United States in 2002, including on human rights. Exceptions were made for government participation in U.S. programs to promote democracy and human rights and prevent trafficking in persons.
Despite obstacles, the United States continues to engage with the government and to support human rights and democracy programs. High-level U.S. officials, including the deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs in February 2007, the commander of the U.S. Central Command in January 2008, and the acting deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs in March 2008, conveyed that respect for human rights is a crucial element of the bilateral relationship. Following the closure of one of the last international NGOs in the country, the United States urged the government to allow the NGO to operate. Although frequently barred from court rooms, U.S. officials routinely attempt to attend trials of human rights and religious figures. U.S. officials coordinate with other governments and human rights groups to monitor court cases and press the government to hold trials meeting international standards. While the law prohibits registered political parties from participating in foreign-sponsored programs, a U.S.-funded program maintains contact with and assists political parties within the limits of the law. This program funded a U.S. academic to discuss elections and democratic political processes at a September 2007 conference and cooperated with the country's Regional Policy Fund to organize a forum on democracy and human rights in November 2007. U.S. officials observed the December 2007 presidential election.
Combating torture remains at the top of the U.S. human rights agenda. Due in part to U.S. and international engagement with the government, in March 2008 the International Committee of the Red Cross resumed prison monitoring on a trial basis. Monitoring had been suspended since December 2004. In 2007 the embassy provided small grants to local NGOs for ongoing projects, including to open centers offering free legal assistance, resolve some human rights issues with local government in a collaborative fashion, and create a medical worker coordination center to monitor prison conditions and advocate against torture.
In the face of severe government pressure, the United States continues to support the development of civil society. Through an ongoing U.S.-funded program, a cadre of professional nonprofit lawyers renders legal assistance to civil society groups. U.S.-sponsored organizations provide legal advice to the government on how to reform the legal and regulatory framework for NGO and media operations. In 2007 the embassy awarded small grants to 30 NGOs and media outlets to develop civil society institutions and mass media. The United States continues to support a program that fosters dialogue between civil society and law enforcement. U.S. officials emphasize publicly that U.S. support for NGOs is not aimed at regime change but at promoting reform and human rights. The United States supports press freedom through a variety of activities, including production of informational programs on events in the country and a report on the situation of its print media. Journalists participate in U.S.-sponsored training and exchange programs focused on media freedom. The embassy regularly hosts discussions with local journalists and others on media in the United States and the importance of press freedom. The United States engages with the government on decreasing government harassment and arrests of independent journalists and human rights activists.
The United States vigorously engages in highlighting respect for religious tolerance and pluralism through exchanges, contact with religious leaders and institutions, and distribution of informational materials. The United States monitors individual cases and maintains contact with educators, journalists, and leaders of all religious groups. U.S. officials raise these issues with government counterparts at every opportunity and emphasize that religious tolerance and political security are complementary goals. In June 2007 the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom met with senior government officials to discuss ways in which the government could promote greater religious freedom and work toward removing its designation in 2006 as a Country of Particular Concern for religious freedom violations. The embassy hosted discussions of religious freedom, tolerance, and Islam in America.
The United States actively promotes the rights of women and persons with disabilities. A U.S.-sponsored organization provides technical assistance to civil society leaders to strengthen their organizational skills and carry out advocacy campaigns. U.S. small grants provided in 2007 have enabled a privately owned Ferghana Valley television station to air monthly programs aimed at raising awareness of women's rights and domestic violence and a local NGO in Bukhara to open a shelter for domestic violence victims and their children, with support from the provincial administration. The embassy sponsored four women's rights advocates to travel to the United States in June 2007 to learn about creating equal opportunities for persons with disabilities and also provides small grants to local NGOs. In December 2007 the embassy hosted a video conference among U.S.-based advocates and government officials, practitioners, and advocates for the disabled.
The United States continues to support programs to prevent trafficking in persons, promote public awareness, provide assistance for victims and training for law enforcement officials, and facilitate cross-border collaboration. A U.S.-funded nationwide NGO network provides counseling and information through 10 public hot lines, which received more than 17,000 calls in 2007, as well as through local seminars and discussions. In 2007 U.S.-supported NGOs offered repatriation assistance to 497 trafficking victims. Two U.S.-funded shelters provide medical, psychological, legal, and educational assistance to repatriated victims, and three U.S.-funded centers provide consultations for labor migrants. In 2007 U.S.-supported NGOs provided 10 training programs on awareness and sensitivity toward victims for more than 200 law enforcement officials. The United States also supported the establishment of a Central Asian NGO network, which facilitated cooperation and information exchange on cross-border trafficking issues.