Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions
President Islam Karimov has led the government since 1990 and was reelected to a third term in December 2007 in an election that was deemed neither free nor fair by international observers. The president dominates the government, and the bicameral parliament has no independent authority. The government's overall human rights record remained poor in 2008, although it took positive steps in some areas. There were no registered independent political parties; the few existing opposition groups faced harassment. The judiciary remained under government control. Law enforcement officials continued to commit torture and abuse during criminal investigations. The government restricted freedoms of assembly and association, and controlled NGO and religious activity. The government often blocked independent news-oriented Web sites, and self-censorship was widely practiced. The government pressured other countries to return Uzbek refugees forcibly and continued to pressure Afghan refugees to return home. Although trafficking in persons and child labor remained problems, the government took some steps to address these issues.
Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives
The U.S. Government's democracy and human rights goals are to promote respect for human rights (particularly eradicating the use of torture in the investigative process and abuse in prisons); legal reform and accountability; political pluralism and a strong civil society sector; freedom of the press and religion; and the rights of vulnerable groups, including children, women, persons with disabilities, and refugees. As the United States begins to reengage with the government on security issues, U.S. security interests in the country are inseparable from its efforts to secure democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, as these will ultimately form the underpinning of the country's long-term stability and development.
U.S. officials, including high-level civilian and military visitors to the country, continue to advocate with government counterparts in favor of democratic reform, human rights, and religious freedom. The United States supports the development of civil society, political pluralism, and independent media. The U.S. Government also provides assistance to those working with vulnerable groups. The United States continues to withhold funding to certain programs involving the government because the government has not made progress on its commitments under the bilateral 2002 Strategic Partnership and Cooperation Framework, including on human rights. Exceptions have been made for government participation in U.S. programs to promote democracy, human rights.
Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance
The United States regularly engages the government on issues related to human rights and democracy, and it supports a number of human rights and democracy programs in the country. High-level U.S. civilian and military officials convey to their counterparts that respect for human rights is a crucial element of the bilateral relationship and that progress in other areas of the relationship must coincide with progress on human rights. The United States, in cooperation with other diplomatic missions, international organizations, and human rights groups, urges the government to end the harassment of independent activists and NGOs and to release political prisoners. The U.S. Government funds a program that provides political parties with capacity-building training. The embassy awards small grants to NGOs and media outlets to develop civil society institutions and mass media, as well as cooperation between them. A U.S.-sponsored organization provides technical assistance to civil society leaders to strengthen their organizational skills and carry out advocacy campaigns. The United States also supports 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 hosting monthly discussions with local media and inviting local journalists to participate in training and exchange programs focused on media freedom. The United States encourages the government to accredit independent journalists and to cease harassment of independent media.
U.S. officials coordinate with other governments and human rights groups to monitor court cases, and they press the government to hold trials that meet international standards and to end torture and abuse. The 2008 habeas corpus law provided an opening for the U.S. Government to fund an NGO to coordinate a conference on law enforcement, human rights, and civil society in March 2008 and follow-up workshops for defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges on the practical application of the legislation. The United States also funded NGOs to provide training to local groups on monitoring habeas corpus implementation; those groups then began documenting courtroom application of the law. The U.S. Government will continue to seek opportunities to provide additional human rights-related training to government officials and civil society representatives and to promote reforms. The U.S. Government also provides support to human rights groups to observe trials, provide legal assistance, and monitor the human rights situation. U.S. officials consistently advocate for the continuation of International Committee of the Red Cross prison monitoring.
The United States vigorously engages in highlighting respect for religious freedom, tolerance, and pluralism. U.S. public diplomacy employs exchanges, contact with religious leaders and institutions, and distribution of informational materials. U.S. officials monitor individual cases; maintain contact with educators, journalists, and leaders of religious groups; host discussions; and raise these issues with government counterparts, emphasizing that religious freedom and tolerance and political security are complementary goals. Following up on a June 2007 visit, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom again traveled to Tashkent in May 2008 to negotiate a course for the government to improve religious freedom and work toward removing its designation as a Country of Particular Concern for religious freedom violations. In 2008, with U.S. support, an NGO convened a roundtable on religious tolerance at the general prosecutor's office.
The United States actively promotes the rights of vulnerable groups, including children, women, persons with disabilities, trafficking victims, and refugees. U.S. officials coordinate efforts with stakeholders representing NGOs, socially responsible investment firms, industry associations, and retailers to call for the independent monitoring of the use of child labor during the annual fall cotton harvest and to urge the government to continue cooperation with international organizations on finding alternatives to child labor. In 2008 the United States assisted women's rights groups to lobby parliament on gender equity legislation and to draft a shadow report for the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and it supported a local NGO to produce informational materials to advocate for the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Disabled, which was adopted by the government in early 2009. Embassy small grants fund vocational training for youth with disabilities and women and the expansion of youth center activities. 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, as well as through local seminars and discussions. In 2008 these NGOs offered repatriation assistance to 308 victims of trafficking, and from October 2007 to September 2008 they trained more than 25,000 persons, including law enforcement officials and ordinary citizens, in trafficking prevention and response. U.S. funds also help two shelters to provide medical, psychological, legal, and educational assistance to trafficking victims. The United States supports two local NGOs providing humanitarian assistance to vulnerable Afghan and Tajik refugees in the country and continued to accept Afghan refugees for resettlement. The U.S. Government also funds the work of NGOs outside of the country providing humanitarian and legal assistance to Uzbek refugees in third countries, including those facing forcible extradition back to the country.