Modern day slavery in Uzbekistan’s cotton sector

Published on 23 Mar 2020, 03:00 PM

Human Rights Committee – 128th session – March 2020

Uzbek citizens picking cotton in 2001. This practice still continues to this day because of quotas and pressure from the government of Uzbekistan during the harvest time. Credit: Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press

On the 2nd and 3rd of March 2020, Uzbekistan underwent its fifth periodic review by the Human Rights Committee on the implementation of the ICCPR.  Uzbekistan became a member of the United Nations exactly 28 years ago on March 2, 1992 and first ratified the ICCPR in 1995. During this review, the delegation started the conversation by noting their most recent accomplishments. The Head of the Delegation mentioned their recent parliamentary elections and the high number of women in parliament. But, the delegation admitted that human rights are a difficult issue for many states, including Uzbekistan, and that they have shortcomings in that area. The Head of the Delegation ended on a positive note when he said “we need to further enhance the level of interaction between the state authorities and civil society.”

Among the concerns raised by the Committee were the conditions of detention due to reports that NGOs were not allowed to enter prisons, forced labor during the cotton harvest and discrimination of the LGBT community, since the Committee received multiple reports of arbitrary arrest, extortion, and physical abuse of LGBT persons. Additionally, they discussed torture, women’s rights, corruption, counter terrorism, ombudsmen and other topics. 

In response to these concerns, the Uzbekistan delegation seemed slightly offended. They were not pleased by the duplication of questions revolving around statistics, the ICRC and LGBT discrimination. Although the delegation was happy to respond to questions regarding the Ombudsperson: Uzbekistan was proud to report that they are the first state in CIS to have established the Ombudsperson. They also noted that the Ombudsperson has the right independently to visit any prison. 

The webcast is available here: Part 1 and Part 2.

"I would underscore that all the interpretations of the committee have a recommendatory nature to them. When you recommend the government of Uzbekistan do this or that, those are recommendations."

- Head of Uzbekistan Delegation

Forced Labor

NGOs reported in 2019, that at least 102,000 people have been forced to pick cotton in Uzbekistan. They believe that these numbers are underreported and that the real numbers are much higher. This practice has been in place for many years and the government is well aware of the ongoing issue. The government recently published a list of 43 people who were engaging in this practice. This list is however not comprehensive and unfairly punishes people in the private sector who are forced to pick cotton by the government, who is imposing the cotton quotas.

The Committee pressured the delegation to eradicate this practice. The Committee cited the terrible conditions of workers, the number of deaths and the blatant disregard for personal liberty associated with the cotton harvest. Additionally, there are major corruption challenges in the cotton sector which the Committee addressed. Some questions raised by the Committee, were what methodology is put in place if allegedly corrupt practices are detected and whether or not the State was planning on criminalizing any corrupt offenses? Overall, the Committee wanted to know how they plan to completely eliminate forced labor of cotton harvesting.  

The Delegation responded to these allegations with recent reports from the ILO and the president's address to parliament. The ILO Report shows that the country has made significant progress with labor rules in the cotton industry and even eradicated child labor. Additionally, their president set the goal of excluding the role of government from the cotton harvest. Therefore, their plan is that the government will effectively no longer interfere with the cotton harvest. But, according to civil society, forced labour remains a challenge in the country.


NGOs in Uzbekistan have documented the pervasive discrimination faced by LGBT persons. These targeted assaults on the group are committed by both individuals and state actors. This includes but is not limited to arbitrary arrest, extortion, physical abuse and murder. The lack of action by the States is dangerous for the LGBT population, not only because their lives are at risk, but also because it directly impedes HIV prevention and treatment since the LGBT community are hesitant to get tested due to their fear of prosecution. 

The Committee urged the State Party to introduce comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation which protects all citizens. Additionally, they suggested that law enforcement receive training around issues of discrimination and LGBT rights. The Committee also inquired as to whether or not the Ombudsperson was able to consider discrimination complaints from individuals and requested further statistics in this regard. 

The Delegation claimed they are making progress in this area since there are currently discussions, as part of the new process on drafting the criminal code, considering the decriminalization of consensual acts between males. Unfortunately, no progress has been made on this draft and the timeline of completion is still unknown. Additionally, the delegation highlighted their majority Muslim population’s dislike of same-sex relationships. They claimed that the decriminalization of same-sex relation sparks outrage amongst their entire population. 


Today in Uzbekistan torture and ill-treatment are still widespread throughout their detention and legal system. Despite previous attempts to stop this practice, forced confessions are continuously used in courts, amnesties for perpetrators continue to be granted, and there has been little progress in the area of investigating allegations of torture in detention facilities. 

The Committee questioned Uzbekistan over how they intend to investigate all allegations of torture and ill treatment of detainees. Additionally, some committee members named specific individuals who had allegedly been victims of torture and requested inquiries into those cases so that their perpetrators could be held accountable. Finally, the Committee raised additional concerns in relation to access to reparations for victims of torture and the definition of who can be a victim and perpetrator of torture under Article 235 of the criminal code. 

The Delegation responded by saying that combatting torture is a priority for their government. Recently, the president of Uzbekistan condemned all forms of torture. Additionally, they have created a confidential hotline through which citizens can make a complaint about any correctional officer. While, there are still concerns about what safeguards are in place to ensure the independence and impartiality for those reporting torture and ill-treatment. Additionally, the delegation claimed that they had fully harmonized the criminal code with Article 1 of the Convention against Torture. Although, members of the committee recommended various revisions to the definition of torture under this article.

Recommendations of the Human Rights Committee

The State party is requested to provide, by 28 March 2022, information on the following recommendations from the Committee’s Concluding Observations.

Views under the Optional Protocol 

The State party should take all necessary measures to ensure the implementation of all pending Views adopted by the Committee, through appropriate and effective mechanisms, so as to: 

  • Guarantee the right of victims to an effective remedy when there has been a violation of the Covenant, in accordance with article 2 (3) of the Covenant. 
  • Ensure that national legislation is not interpreted in a way that constitutes an obstacle to the implementation of the Views of the Committee. 

Prohibition of torture and ill-treatment 

The State party should: 

  • Amend article 235 of its Criminal Code with a view to ensuring that the definition of torture is in full compliance with article 1 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and with article 7 of the Covenant, ensuring that any person can be considered a victim and that it is applied to acts committed by all persons acting in their official capacity, outside their official capacity or in a private capacity when the acts of torture are committed at the instigation of, or with the consent or acquiescence of, a public official or other person acting in an official capacity; 
  • End the practice of granting amnesties to persons convicted of torture or ill-treatment, which is incompatible with article 7 of the Covenant. It should also consider including article 235 of the criminal code in the list of articles for which there is no statute of limitations. 

Liberty and security of a person

The State party should bring its legislation and practice into line with article 9 of the Covenant, in particular by ensuring that: 

  • Persons arrested or detained on a criminal charge are brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power, within 48 hours, in order to bring their detention under judicial control; 
  • All fundamental legal safeguards are guaranteed in practice to all persons deprived of their liberty from the very outset of their deprivation of liberty; 
  • The judicial review of the detention of anyone who is deprived of his or her liberty satisfies the standards required under article 9 (4) of the Covenant, including the standards set out in General Comment No. 35 (2014) on liberty and security of person, indicating, inter alia, that a public prosecutor cannot be considered as an officer exercising judicial power under article 9 (3) of the Covenant; 
  • Alternative measures to detention and imprisonment are used for juvenile offenders where appropriate. 

The next constructive dialogue with the State party will take place in 2028 in Geneva. 

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