United States takes strong stand against forced labor in cotton

Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan downgraded in annual anti-trafficking report

(Washington, DC): Today the U.S. State Department gave the governments of both Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan well-deserved downgrades to Tier 3, the lowest possible ranking, in its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. Both governments continue to coercively mobilize citizens to grow and harvest cotton each year in two of the world’s largest remaining systems of state-sponsored forced labor. The decisions were lauded in a letter sent today to Secretary of State John Kerry by the Cotton Campaign.

“The U.S. Government is to be commended for holding these government accountable for their pervasive abuses of human rights,” said Nadejda Ataeva, president of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia. “Today, the State Department sent a strong message that states that use violence and fear to coerce citizens into forced labor belong on the lowest tier of the report’s rankings.”

The 2015 Uzbek cotton harvest was marked by a dramatic rise in attacks against independent civil society monitors, as reported in the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights’ annual reporting on the cotton harvest. Elena Urlaeva endured multiple detentions with invasive body cavity searches, Uktam Pardaev was arrested and placed under a form of house arrest, and Dmitri Tihonov was forced to flee after his house was burned down and he was threatened with arrest. As these monitors documented, the Uzbek government’s forced labor system continued unchanged from previous years. Officials forced more than a million Uzbek citizens to grow and harvest cotton under threat of penalty including loss of work or social security benefits, expulsion from school, and fines. Teachers, medical professionals and other public servants are particularly impacted, and public services such as education and healthcare are severely limited during the cotton harvest.

Forced labor in cotton production in Turkmenistan is also state-orchestrated, systematic and widespread. According to reports from the Alternative Turkmenistan News, the Turkmen government forces farmers to deliver state-established annual cotton production quotas and thousands of workers to pick cotton under threats of loss of land, employment or wages. Forced-labor cotton production was noted as a reason for Tier 3 designations in the country reports for both Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
“It is absolutely shocking these egregious worker rights abuses have persisted so long,” said Cathy Feingold, director of International Affairs for the AFL-CIO. “It is incumbent on governments and international institutions to firmly press the Uzbek and Turkmen governments to end forced-labor cotton production, and the United States took a positive step toward that goal today.”

Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are the world’s fifth- and seventh-highest exporters of cotton, respectively. The Uzbek and Turkmen governments both funnel hundreds of millions of dollars from annual cotton sales, by conservative estimates, into non-transparent, unaccountable funds only accessible to government elite. The cotton makes its way through opaque global supply chains and eventually winds up in the products of well-known global brands.

“With this year’s report, the US government sent the right message to the Uzbek and Turkmen governments,” said Pat Zerega, senior director of shareholder advocacy, Mercy Investment Services. “Progress towards fulfilling a state’s duty to protect its citizens’ right to freedom from forced labor must start with the state itself not using forced labor. We now urge the US government to use the report rankings to press the Uzbek and Turkmen governments to eliminate state-orchestrated forced labor in their cotton sectors.”

For more information and recommendations on how the U.S. Government can effectively advocate for an end to state-sponsored forced labor in cotton, please see the Cotton Campaign’s letter to Secretary of State Kerry.


The Cotton Campaign is a global coalition of labour, human rights, investor and business organizations to end forced labour of children and adults in the cotton sector of Uzbekistan.


Uzbekistan: Investigate alleged torture and death in custody!

Ilhom Ibodov (right), who died in custody on 13 September 2015, and his brother Rahim Ibodov (left), who was subjected to torture by officers of the Uzbekistani police and National Security Services and is currently serving an eight-year prison term.

Brothers Rahim and Ilhom Ibodov were businessmen running a car accessories business in Bukhara, central Uzbekistan. In recent years officials of the local National Security Services and others reportedly extorted bribes from the brothers in exchange for letting them run their business, an arrangement that is reportedly common in the business sector of Uzbekistan. When the brothers fell out with these officials over the financial arrangements and threatened to expose them, they were arrested on 16 August 2015 and accused of financial crimes. 

Rahim and Ilhom Ibodov were held in a temporary detention centre (IVS) at the Bukhara City Department of Internal Affairs for 25 days and were not allowed to speak to a lawyer for three weeks. During this time four fellow inmates beat the brothers every day and told them that they were acting on official orders in order to force them to provide false testimony. On 12 September, two days after being transferred to an SNB pre-trial investigation facility (SIZO), Rahim reportedly saw how his brother was beaten to death by three high-ranking SNB officers in the cell opposite. Ilhom’s body was returned to his family on 13 September for burial. They took photos and videos documenting injuries all over his body. On 11 November 2015 the family was given a death certificate stating that Ilhom had died of a heart attack. On 15 February 2016 Bukhara City Court sentenced Rahim to eight years‘ imprisonment based on evidence allegedly extracted under duress. The authorities failed to conduct an effective investigation into the the circumstances of his death and allegations that the brothers were severely beaten. Ilhom and Rahim’s relatives have been repeatedly threatened with reprisals for speaking out about the case.

Support Ilhom and Rahim‘s family in their efforts to find out the truth and obtain justice by sending an email to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan at info@tiv.uz with the subject “Justice for Ilhom and Rahim Ibodov“ copying the following text:

Dear Minister,
There are allegations that Ilhom and Rahim Ibodov were severely beaten while in detention facilities under the Bukhara City Department of Internal Affairs and the Bukhara City National Security Services. On 12 September 2015 Ilhom was reportedly beaten so severely by three SNB officers that he later died from his injuries. Despite hearing allegations of torture on 15 February 2016 Bukhara City Court sentenced Rahim to eight years‘ imprisonment based on evidence allegedly extracted under duress.

We call on you to do all within your remit to ensure that a thorough, impartial and independent investigation is conducted into the circumstances of Ilhom Ibodov’s death and into the torture of Rahim Ibodov. In addition, Rahim Ibodov’s criminal case should be reviewed in a fair trial and all evidence obtained under duress should be excluded. We ask the Uzbekistani authorities to take all measures to ensure that the Rahim Ibodov and his family are protected from reprisals.
Yours sincerely,


On 16 August 2015 Ilhom and Rahim Ibodov were detained by security officials in Bukhara in relation to charges of violating trade laws and illegally trading foreign currency, of illegally travelling to Mecca on a pilgrimage and of forcing ten Russian citizens to work for them. Ilhom and Rahim were held in a detention facility of the Bukhara Department of Internal Affairs for 25 days and were told on the first day that if they signed a confession they would be released quickly. Both brothers reportedly signed confessions without reading them. However, they were reportedly subjected to further torture and ill-treatment including beatings by four “lokhmachi’” (detainees used by police and SNB officers to carry out torture in pre-trial detention) in order to force them to give further details to substantiate their false confessions.

An initial remand hearing took place on 26 August, and another on 12 September 2015 at Bukhara City Court. Ilhom and Rahim’s family were reportedly not informed about the first remand hearing but at the second they noticed that Ilhom could barely walk into the courtroom and had to be supported by two officials, his head lolling onto one of their shoulders. The judge did not allow the relatives into the courtroom. On 10 September Rahim and Ilhom were transferred to the Bukhara pre-trial detention centre (SIZO) under the National Security Service (SNB). In the cellar of the SIZO, Rahim, who was being held in a cell opposite his brother’s, reportedly saw three high-ranking SNB officers beat Ilhom as he lay on the floor. During the beating one of the officials reportedly held Ilhom while another put his foot on his chest and told him “If we kill you no one will ever ask us the reason why.” Then they began to beat him again. Ilhom had already lost consciousness. Rahim Ibodov asked the doctor of the SIZO who was present to provide Ilhom with medical assistance but she allegedly refused, telling him “I’ll help him once he’s dead”. Ilhom died on 13 September 2015.

On 13 September his body was given to his relatives who buried him on 14 September. Only on 11 November 2015 was Ilhom’s family given a death certificate stating that he had died from a heart attack. Photographic and video images of Ilhom Ibodov’s body taken by the family show bruising as well as bleeding on the nails of the hands and feet. 

Ilhom and Rahim’s mother, Khursand Radzhaba has lodged numerous complaints with the Uzbekistani authorities about the treatment of her sons but they have failed to launch a thorough and impartial investigation into the torture and death in custody and family members have been repeatedly threatened with reprisals for speaking out about the case.

On 15 February 2016 Bukhara City Criminal Court sentenced Rahim Ibodov to eight years in prison after finding him guilty of illegal purchase or sale of foreign currency (Article 177 part 3 items "a", "b" of the Uzbekistani Criminal Code), tax avoidance (Article 184 part 3), violating trade regulations (Article 189) and money laundering (Article 243). Rahim Ibodov partially admitted violating Article 189 for accounting discrepancies. 

Rahim Ibodov told the court that he had signed confessions without reading them and that he and his brother had been subjected to torture by SNB officers but the judge reportedly told Rahim that he should say nothing about the torture. Reportedly no proof of the brothers’ guilt was presented to the court and the prosecution case relied on testimony obtained under torture from the deceased Ilhom Ibodov and other prosecution witnesses who were not present in court.

In March 2016 Rahim Ibodov’s lawyer appealed the eight-year sentence on the grounds that the court of first instance had not taken into account the violations of the criminal procedural regulations and the allegations of torture. Nevertheless the appeal court left the first sentence in force. The court also failed to take into account the regular death threats received by Rahim Ibodov from SNB officers while he was in detention.

Rahim Ibodov is currently serving his sentence in prison colony UA 64/3 in the village of Tavaksai in the Bostanliq district of Tashkent region.

Supporting victims of torture in Central Asia on International Anti-Torture Day

Sergey Ignatyev

Continuing reports of torture indicate that the authorities of the five Central Asian states need to do much more to end torture and impunity, although victims of torture and local and international human rights defenders have reached important milestones in their joint struggle for justice in some of these countries in recent years. Please help us mark this year’s United Nations (UN) International Day in Support of Victims of Torture (26 June) by joining our online action for torture victims in Central Asia (here).

In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, in the framework of the countries’ national preventive mechanisms (NPMs), human rights defenders have access to detention and prison facilities. Since early 2015 the NGO Coalitions against Torture in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have recorded 241 and 132 new cases, respectively, of people with credible reports that they were subjected to torture or ill-treatment. The Tajikistani authorities allow human rights activists only limited access to detainees and prisoners in the framework of the Monitoring Group under the Ombudsman’s Office and in many cases this country’s NGO Coalition is approached by the victims’ relatives. Since January 2015 it has registered 82 new cases.

“These figures reflect the tip of the iceberg. Many victims and their relatives prefer to keep silent about the abuse for fear of reprisals by law enforcement officers,“ said Roza Akylbekova, head of the Coalition against Torture in Kazakhstan, on behalf of the groups jointly issuing this statement.

In Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan the repressive nature of the regimes means that independent human rights groups are unable to operate and it is therefore impossible to comprehensively study the situations of torture. Turkmenistan is the only Central Asian country that has never invited the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and Uzbekistan has allowed no visit since 2003. However, the NGOs-in-exile Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, Turkmenistan’s Independent Lawyers Association and Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights receive regular and credible reports indicating that torture is pervasive and has become an integral part of the criminal justice systems. From January 2011 to date AHRCA received over 58 letters from prisoners and their relatives and 171 other reports alleging abuse during investigation and detention.

In recent years members of the Coalitions in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have assisted numerous victims in filing complaints and persistently pursuing their cases through the countries’ legal systems. Several perpetrators have been brought to justice and convicted to prison terms as a result. NGOs have also assisted victims of torture from all five Central Asian states to apply to UN treaty bodies, which have issued decisions on dozens of cases urging the relevant authorities to conduct effective investigations into the allegations, bring the perpetrators to justice and adequately compensate the victims.

“In Central Asia, most perpetrators of torture continue to walk free, but thanks to the courage and persistence of survivors and their families and the professionalism of NGOs and lawyers, several perpetrators are currently serving prison terms. We will build on these successes and push for justice in further cases“, said Nigina Bakhrieva, head of the anti-torture Coalition in Tajikistan, on behalf of the NGOs issuing this statement.

In recent years members of the Coalitions against Torture in Tajikistan and Kazakhstan have successfully supported five and six victims of torture respectively, in attempts to obtain compensation for moral harm. Although the compensation payments have not been adequate, these are important precedents. Member groups of the Coalitions have also provided hundreds of victims with rehabilitation services, such as medical and psychological support to heal injuries and trauma.

In recent years some Central Asian states significantly improved their legislation following recommendations by UN human rights bodies and local and international NGOs. For example, Kazakhstan’s Criminal Code that came into force in 2015 excluded those charged or convicted of “torture“ from prisoners amnesties and abolished the statute of limitations applicable to this crime. Legal safeguards protecting detainees from torture in detention were significantly strengthened in the new Criminal Procedure Code, although, in practice, detainees are often not given access to them. Tajikistan adopted legal amendments in May 2016 strengthening safeguards against torture in detention. In 2014 the Ministries of Health in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan obliged medical personnel – when conducting examinations of detainees – to document their findings based on standards of the UN Istanbul Protocol.

A major obstacle to achieving justice for all torture survivors in Central Asia is the lack of independent and transparent investigation mechanisms. Victims in Turkmenistan are in a particularly dire situation as the authorities blatantly deny that torture exists; no one is known to have been charged with “torture“ since this crime was added to the Criminal Code in 2012. In Uzbekistan the lack of independent judges and independent complaints mechanisms results in impunity for many state actors guilty of torture. In the other countries investigations are often not instigated either and when they are opened they are frequently not conducted promptly, thoroughly and impartially; in many cases the investigators are officials of the same Ministry whose employees reportedly perpetrated the abuse.


Tajikistan: Verdicts of Opposition Activists Travesty of Justice

US, EU Should Protest Deepening Crackdown

(Washington) – Tajikistan’s Supreme Court sentenced leaders of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) on June 2, 2016 to lengthy prison terms on charges of attempting to overthrow the government, Human Rights Watch, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia said today. The sentences, including two life terms, followed an unfair trial initiated in retaliation for their peaceful political opposition and reflect the government’s pervasive manipulation of the justice system and egregious violations of the right to freedom of expression.

The US, EU member states, and Tajikistan’s other international partners should respond to the sentences with targeted punitive measures against Tajik officials unless concrete human rights improvements are made, including setting aside the opposition leaders’ convictions.

“If allowed to stand, these draconian sentences will not only strike a blow to Tajikistan’s peaceful opposition but to every Tajik citizen,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “These sentences show that anyone in Tajikistan any time can be labeled a criminal and punished simply for disagreeing with the government.”

Following a politically motivated trial, the Supreme Court sentenced the IRPT’s first deputy and deputy chairmen, Saidumar Husaini and Mahmadali Hayit, to life in prison.  Rahmatulloi Rajab, Sattor Karimov, Kiyomiddini Azav, and Abdukahhori Davlat, other party leaders, all were sentenced to 28 years in prison. The senior IRPT legal adviser, Zarafo Rahmoni, the only woman among the defendants, was sentenced to two years.

Other sentences were: Zubaidullohi Rozik 25 years; Muhammadalii Fayzmyhammad, 23 years; while Vokhidhoni Kosiddin and Sadiddini Rustam, 20 years; Hikmatulloh Sayfullozoda, editor of the now banned IRPT newspaper “Najot,” 16-years; Muhammadsharif Nabiev and Abdusamad Gayratov, 14 years.

Several of the defendants, including Hayit and Rahmoni, are well-known in Tajikistan and internationally for their many years of peaceful advocacy on human rights, freedoms of expression, assembly, and religion.

While the Social Democratic party is also part of the opposition, IRPT was by far the largest and most viable opposition party in Tajikistan. Group 24, a peaceful opposition movement made of activists mainly outside the country, has also been persecuted and declared a terrorist organization by the government.

The trial, which began on February 24, was closed to observers and marked by serious violations of due process. Sources close to several of the defendants told Human Rights Watch that several defendants were subjected to torture or ill-treatment in pre-trial detention. Several lawyers who attempted to represent the IRPT leaders on trial, such as Buzurgmehr Yorov, were detained on trumped up charges. A lawyer who represented one of the defendants and was present in court throughout the trial told the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA) that the government presented no evidence of the defendants’ guilt, citing the allegations made in the indictments as established facts.

“The only purpose of this trial was to dress up political repression in the trappings of legal proceedings,” said Nadejda Atayeva, president of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia. “The defendants’ crimes appear to be fabricated, yet their fate was pre-determined. This is a travesty of justice.”

On June 2, the day the verdict was handed down, the wives of several defendants announced they would hold a peaceful protest and walk to the local United Nations office to seek a consultation on the sentences. As the women proceeded toward the UN building, police detained them. They were fined for an administrative violation of “failure to obey police.”

Authorities began to arrest IRPT leaders and party members on September 16, 2015, accusing them of involvement in an alleged attempted coup earlier that month, purportedly by deputy defense minister Abduhalim Nazarzoda. Party officials, including IRPT’s chairman, Muhiddin Kabiri, and Hayit, the deputy chairman, repeatedly rejected accusations that the party was involved with or supported the alleged mutiny by Nazarzoda.

Days before the arrests, Tajik authorities formally banned the party, forcing its closure and later declared it a terrorist organization amid a long-running campaign to stamp out opposition political activity in the country and among activists abroad.

Tajikistan is in the midst of the worst political and religious crackdown since the end of the country’s 1992-1997 civil war. Over the past two years, authorities have arrested, imprisoned, and tortured members of the country’s peaceful political opposition. They have also targeted perceived critics abroad, seeking their detention and extradition back to Tajikistan, and have forcibly disappeared critics abroad only to have them reappear in Tajik custody.

Authorities have also targeted lawyers, journalists, and ordinary citizens who have posted statements critical of the government of President Emomali Rahmon on social media. Hundreds of perceived critics and their family members have fled the country, according to observers’ estimates. Constitutional changes accepted in a May 21 referendum tightened President Rahmon’s grip on power, effectively giving him unlimited presidential terms and extending a ban on the IRPT.

The United States, the European Union, and other key international actors should make unequivocal calls for the defendants’ release, Human Rights Watch, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia said. The international actors should press the Tajik government to uphold its international obligations to respect freedom of association, assembly, expression, and religion and impose targeted punitive measures, such as asset freezes and visa bans, on Tajik government officials responsible for imprisoning peaceful activists, torture, and other grave human rights violations.

On April 15, the State Department designated Tajikistan a “country of particular concern” with respect to religious freedom, allowing the US government to sanction the country, and although the administration declined to do so, it can alter its decision and impose sanctions now, and press allies to do the same.

“Tajikistan’s international partners should publicly and unanimously condemn this mockery of justice,” said Marius Fossum, Central Asia representative of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “Tajikistan’s human rights situation has been spiraling downward at a rapid pace and the time has come for Washington, Brussels, and all actors to examine the possibility of enacting targeted punitive measures unless immediate human rights improvements are made.”


Turkmenistan: Open letter on attack on justice-seeking mother

Umida Jumabaeva

Nine human rights organizations have sent a joint open letter to Turkmenistan’s Prosecutor General regarding an appalling attack on Umida Jumabaeva, a justice-seeking mother. She was physically assaulted and had acid thrown at her by unknown perpetrators on 22 May 2016, leaving her with severe burns to her face and body. The context of the attack suggests that she may have been targeted in retribution for petitions she filed regarding her son, a military conscript. The signatories call for a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into the attack, with due attention being given to this possible motive for the attack.

The letter has been signed by:  Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, International Partnership for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, Nota Bene and Voice of Freedom.

Read the letter below or download it here.

To: Prosecutor General Аmanmyrat Khallyev

Minister of Defence Yaylym Berdiyev, 
Minister of Internal Affairs Isgender Mulikov, 
Minister of Justice Bekmyrat Mukhammedov, 
Minister of National Security Dovrangeldy Bayramov, 
Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov, 
Head of the Presidential Administration Shamukhammet Durdylyev

Dear Prosecutor General,

We are writing to you regarding the case of Umida Jumabaeva, a teacher, mother of four and resident of the village of Gurbansoltan-Edje who was physically assaulted and had acid thrown at her by unknown perpetrators on 22 May 2016. We urge you to ensure that this appalling attack is promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigated and that those responsible, including those who may have ordered the attack are brought to justice and given punishments commensurate to the crime. The investigation should give due attention to allegations that the attack was motivated by Umida Jumabaeva’s struggle for justice for her son.

According to information obtained by Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR), two, unidentified men approached and attacked 44-year old Umida Jumabaeva near the house of one of her friends in Gurbansoltan-Edje at around 8 pm on 22 May 2016. The two men pushed her to the ground, repeatedly kicked her and threw acid at her before running off. As a result of the attack, Umida Jumabaeva sustained a concussion, severe burns to her face and body, and multiple bruises. She was hospitalized for one week to treat her injuries and continues to undergo treatment at home.

Local police have launched an investigation into the attack. It is our understanding that the investigation is focusing on the attack as a common crime. However, the context of the attack suggests that Umida Jumabaeva may have been targeted in retribution for petitions she filed on behalf of her son. It is imperative that the investigation carefully consider this theory of the case and that the investigation is carried out in full accordance with relevant national and international standards.

According to TIHR’s information, Umida Jumabaeva has repeatedly appealed to authorities regarding her son, Rakhim Babaev, who was drafted into the army in spring 2015. Although Rakhim Babaev is an athlete and candidate for the national track and field team for the 2017 Asian Games due to be held in Turkmenistan and other international competitions, he was not admitted for service into the Turkmen army’s specialized sports unit. His parents were reportedly requested to pay a bribe of $2000 by Ministry of Defence officials in order to secure Rakhim’s admission for service in this unit. However, his parents did not agree to pay such an amount and their son ended up in the motor-rifle unit in Kerki. His parents’ refusal to pay the bribe gives rise to concerns that Rakhim was subjected to discriminatory treatment. While serving in the army unit in Kerki, Rakhim has allegedly been subjected to ill-treatment.

Umida Jumabaeva sent a series of letters to Turkmenistan’s armed forces, defence minister, the government Institute for Democracy and Human Rights and other authorities concerning her son’s case, calling for action to ensure justice and fair treatment of Rakhim and for holding responsible officials accountable. She has only received non-committal replies and her allegations of discriminatory and unlawful treatment of her son, including ill-treatment of him at his current army unit have not been adequately addressed. Given this, she has continued her struggle for justice.

Another basis for concern that the attack on Umida Jumabaeva was related to her son’s case are the facts that her neighbours noticed that she was subjected to surveillance a few days prior to the attack and that the perpetrators did not take any of her belongings. TIHR has also repeatedly received information about other individuals who have been subjected to pressure after filing complaints about the actions of officials of armed and security forces.

We thank you for your attention to this letter and trust that you will ensure that the rights of Umida Jumabaeva and her son Rakhim Babaev are safeguarded, in accordance with the guarantees set out by national law and international human rights law, as well as the commitments undertaken by Turkmenistan in its National Human Rights Action Plan for 2016-2020.[i]


Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights
International Partnership for Human Rights
Human Rights Watch
Norwegian Helsinki Committee
Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights
Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law
Association for Human Rights in Central Asia
Public Foundation “Nota Bene”
Public Foundation “Golos Svobody” (“Voice of Freedom”)

[i] In particular points 11 and 17 of part two of the Human Rights Action Plan, which promise concrete measures to ensure access to justice and adequate responses to petitions and appeals to authorities.