UZBEKISTAN: HOPELESS YESTERDAY, AND MOST PROMISING TODAY
Director of Europe and Central Asia Division,
Human Rights Watch INGO
Uzbekistan is certainly an unlikely good news story. The Central Asian country famous for its fabled Silk Road cities of Samarkand and Bukhara had for decades one of the worst human rights records in the world. Torture and the jailing of political prisoners were commonplace.
While many countries are moving in the wrong direction on human rights it’s sometimes the unlikely ones, such as Uzbekistan, that show signs of hope.
The country’s president since 2016, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, has ushered in some major human rights improvements. The release of dozens of political prisoners and the elimination of forced labor in the country’s annual cotton harvest, among other steps, are important.
What is happening in Uzbekistan, the largest country in Central Asia with 33 million people, is relevant for Germany for reasons that go beyond these changes on their own. The distance Uzbekistan has travelled in two years, its strategic location between Russia, China and Europe, and Berlin’s own, at times controversial, relations with Tashkent underline this.
Caution is called for as Mirziyoyev’s reform process is almost entirely top-down, so could be stopped or reversed. That said, the changes in Uzbekistan offer some lessons for policymakers, businesspeople and others in Germany.