A number of domestic human rights groups operated in the country, although the government often hampered their ability to operate, investigate, and publish their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views, but at times the government harassed and intimidated human rights and civil society activists. A new decree and administrative orders on civil society sought to encourage its growth, and offered procedural rules and some new limitations for the actions of Ministry of Justice inspectors (see section 2.b.).
The government officially acknowledged two domestic human rights NGOs, Ezgulik and the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan. Ezgulik representatives reported that authorities’ harassment, intimidation, and threats of judicial proceedings against members continued to hamper their activities. Other groups were unable to register but continued to function at the national and local levels.
Organizations that attempted to register in previous years and remained unregistered included the Human Rights Alliance, Najot, the Humanitarian Legal Center, the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, the Expert Working Group, and Mazlum (Oppressed). These organizations did not exist as legal entities but continued to function.
Government officials spoke informally with domestic human rights defenders, some of whom were able to resolve cases of human rights abuses through direct engagement with authorities if they did not publicize these cases.
Human rights defenders and journalists have reported being under surveillance. In October the International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) reported witnessing the surveillance of several civil society activists, including Agzam Turgonov and former prisoner Bobumurod Abdullayev. On October 20, IPHR observed that Turgunov’s residence was under surveillance by plain-clothed individuals. Turgunov, who was in the process of trying to register a human rights NGO, also reported that on October 18, two representatives of the local Mahalla committee warned him that law enforcement officials had been asking about him and also reported he was being followed. On the same day, Abdullaev reported on Facebook that he was followed from a teahouse by 10 to 12 individuals, including several officers he believed had previously tortured him.
IPHR and Human Rights Watch reported several other human rights defenders and journalists subjected to surveillance or harassment in the past year.
The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government cooperated with and permitted visits by UN representatives, as well as those from UN specialized agencies such as the International Labor Organization (ILO) and other international organizations that monitor human rights. The government hosts the regional office of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and has signed a “roadmap” with UNODC that includes, among other things, projects on criminal justice reform.
The government approved several proposed OSCE projects during the year, including in the “human dimension,” the human rights component of the OSCE’s work. The government hosted the Asian Forum on Human Rights in November and granted visas to critics of the government who had previously been barred from visiting. Following the forum, the government issued the Samarkand Declaration, in which it pledged to implement a national human rights protection system to respect, promote, and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The goals of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office included promoting observance and public awareness of fundamental human rights, assisting in shaping legislation to bring it into accordance with international human rights norms, and resolving cases of alleged abuse. The Ombudsman’s Office mediated disputes among citizens who contacted it and made recommendations to modify or uphold decisions of government agencies, but its recommendations were not binding. In July 2017 the president strengthened the powers of the Ombudsman’s Office by permitting it to make unannounced inspections of prisons and established a separate division to investigate government abuse of businesses.
The National Human Rights Center is a government agency responsible for educating the public and officials on the principles of human rights and democracy and for ensuring that the government complied with its international obligations to provide human rights information.