An international coalition of rights groups is calling on the European Parliament this week to reject a textile trade agreement between the EU and Uzbekistan that they say would fuel the scourge of forced labor in the cotton industry.
A letter address to the European Parliament Committee on International Trade published on Human Rights Watch’s website on November 7 said adopting the textile protocol would be to “ignore strong evidence of the government’s persistent and continued use of forced labour on a massive, nationwide scale in Uzbekistan.”
The European Parliament postponed a decision on the EU-Uzbekistan Textiles Protocol in December 2011 pending further monitoring of labour conditions in Uzbekistan by the International Labor Organization. The parliament acknowledged that the monitoring was intended to address allegations about the use of children and forced labor during the cotton harvest, but it is set to review its decision this week.
That postponement five years ago appeared to have had the requisite effect since the government in Uzbekistan relatively promptly allowed monitoring of its cotton harvests by the ILO.
A draft report in September from the European parliamentary trade committee signaled its satisfaction. It noted approvingly, citing the ILO’s findings from 2015, that “the use of children in the cotton harvest has become rare, sporadic and socially unacceptable, even if ongoing vigilance is needed.”
There is ample evidence, however, that the reduced reliance on child labor has transferred the pressure onto adults. This does not appear to have been reflected in ILO observations.
There is talk afoot that Uzbekistan is planning to rename a town near Samarkand in a tribute to the late President Islam Karimov in what would mark another progression in the leader’s post-death cult of personality.
Russian news agency Sputnik reported that rumors began circulating widely last week among resident of Kattakurgan, some 70 kilometers west of Samarkand, that their hometown of 100,000 people is set to get the name Islamabad.
Kattakurgan is best known in Uzbekistan for being the source of particularly prized Kishmish raisins and the site of an important reservoir.
Yulduz, a 50-year old resident of Kattakurgan, said that information about proposals to rename Kattakurgan in honor of Karimov first surfaced a few weeks ago.
“They are building roads and demolishing dilapidated houses and office buildings along the main road. The theater is being remodeled. A month ago, they fired the head of the city administration and he was replaced by the former mayor of a district of Samarkand,” Yulduz told EurasiaNet.org.
The re-designation of Kattakurgan, if it really happens, would come not a moment too soon. Only one factory there — a fat and oil processing plant — is still running. The cotton refinery, livestock breeding complex, meat and dairy processing plant and brick factory long ago closed shop.
“Unemployment levels are very high and young people go for work to Russia and Kazakhstan. What is more, the city suffers from chronic gas and power shortages,” one local journalist told EurasiaNet.org on condition of anonymity.
By a decision of Uzbekistan’s Central Election Commission on October 20, presidential candidate status was formally granted to Shavkat Mirziyoyev and three others for the upcoming December 4 vote.
Mirziyoyev, whose position as acting president makes him the only viable candidate, is running with backing from the Liberal-Democratic Party, which historically put forward the nominations of the late leader Islam Karimov.
In his first major post-candidacy approval outing, Mirziyoyev spoke on November 1 on three Uzbek television stations in two hour-long programs to set forth his platform.
A day later, his official biography was published on the Liberal-Democratic Party’s website. This is the first time that Mirziyoyev has been made subject of such detailed attention, despite his 13-year stint as prime minister.
One curious nugget regarded the partial naming of his wife, whose identity has heretofore been shrouded in secrecy.
First the more mundane details: “Shavkat Miromonovich Mirziyoyev was born on July 24, 1957, in Zaamin district, Jizzakh region to the family of a doctor. He is Uzbek by ethnicity and graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from the Tashkent Institute of Engineers of Irrigation and Mechanization of Agriculture in 1981. He is a Candidate of Technical Sciences and an associate professor.”
Mirziyoyev is married and has two daughters and one son, as well as five grandchildren. His wife — Z.M. Hoshimova — is an “economy engineer,” a somewhat unclear professional category. She is now a housewife, according to the biography.
Mirziyoyev has a couple of state awards — “Mehnat Shuhrati” (Labor Glory) and “Fidokorona Hizmatlari Uchun” (For Glories in Labor).
A lavish wedding in Moscow has drawn gasps of envious amazement even from Russians inured to garish displays of wealth.
Observers of the inner workings of Central Asian politics, however, may be more interested in the identity and background of the bride’s father, of whom little is known publicly.
But to the wedding first. Madina Shokirova has provoked jealously all around with her flowing $600,000 dress designed by British haute couture fashion house Ralph & Russo. As online tabloid life.rureported, the dress was made of several layers of tulle, embroidered with metallic threads and inlayed with silver and several thousand pearls and Swarovski crystals.
As is customary for such events, a number of Russian rent-a-celebrities turned out to entertain the guests.
The man paying for all this was Shokirova’s father, Ilhom Shokirov. His wealth ostensibly stems from his ownership of several hotels — the high-class Grand hotel in the capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, and several hotels outside Moscow. life.ru reported that he also has a 65 percent stake in the Demir shopping and entertainment complex in Tashkent.
And there is speculation that there are some dynastic and political dimensions to these nuptials.
A Khujand-based writer for ferghana.ru, Aziz Rustamov, recently reported rumors that Shokirov offered up his daughter in marriage to a relative of the acting president of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. It isn’t immediately clear, but it is possible that this was an allusion to the wedding that just took place in Moscow.
Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have reached an agreement on 49 non-demarcated sections of the border, signaling another positive development in neighborly relations.
Uzbekistan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on November 1 that the accord was the result of field surveys by working groups in the Kyrgyz cities of Osh and Batken on October 22-31.
This momentum is the result of a telephone conversation on October 26 between Kyrgyzstan’s President Almazbek Atambayev and acting Uzbek leader Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who discussed the mutual advantageousness of successfully concluding joint work on delimitation, the Uzbek statement said.
Further working group coordination is due to take place in Uzbekistan.
The language about the agreements on disputed sections of the border remains provisional so far, but the number is impressive all the same. The border between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan is almost 1,400 kilometers long, but 324 kilometers of it in almost 60 separate locations have heretofore remained unresolved.
Such uncertainty has precipitated on occasion in flareups along unmarked portions of the border. Earlier this year, Uzbek troops parked armored personnel carriers along a Kyrgyz road in one such spot in a reprisal at Kyrgyz unwillingness to allow Uzbek workers to travel freely to a reservoir under their management.
About 1,000 members of Uzbekistan’s business community assembled late last week at a Tashkent conference hall to parley with the Interior Ministry, tax officials and the General Prosecutor’s Office about how to protect themselves from the threat of corruption.
News of the event, which took place on October 27, was broadcast on the state evening news and several internet sites and newspapers.
The spur for dialogue came in the form of a decree signed by acting President Shavkat Mirziyoyev earlier in the month intended to ensure “the rapid development of business, protection of private property and the qualitative improvement of the business climate.” Improving life for private enterprise appears to be one of the many promises of reset being dangled before Uzbeks since the death of the late President Islam Karimov.
While television and state newspaper reports about the conference were skimpy on the details, online outlets delved a little further. For example, Gazeta.uz cited the chairman of the State Tax Committee, Botir Parpiyev, as admitting to the proliferation of unauthorized inspections on companies and that these were harming the prospects of business development in the country. A starling admission by anybody’s standards.
“According to [State Tax Committee] data, an average of about 4,000 unscheduled inspections were carried out in Uzbekistan [NB: no timeframe provided],” Gazeta.uz reported, citing Parpiyev. “More than 1,500 case files were sent for investigation.”
Parpiyev carried on to say that 200 companies are closing yearly as a result of these unannounced inspections, causing damages worth several million dollars in total.
“This has created major inconveniences and halted the operations of companies and the delay of salary payment to employees,” Parpiyev said.
Uzbekistan’s acting president Shavkat Mirziyoyev has ratified the International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 87, formally recognizing freedoms of association and the protection of the right to organize.
Tashkent’s prior resistance to adopting the convention has been linked to repressive practices in the country’s cotton industry, which involves the forcible annual mobilization of state workers for weeks of grueling labor in the fields during harvest season.
On the face of it, Uzbekistan adoption of this international standard fits into Tashkent’s ongoing charm offensive following the death of President Islam Karimov in September. The government has been working hard in recent years to persuade the international community that it is attempting to address some of its more unsavory practices.
Still, the significance of a largely bureaucratic move should not be overstated before results are seen and Karimov’s passing was likely only incidental to the development. Uzbekistan’s adoption of Convention No. 87 has been a few years in arriving. Tashkent signed a memorandum of understanding with the ILO in April 2014 committing it in principle to ratification this year.
In July, even prior to Karimov’s death, Mirziyoyev told a government meeting that during this year’s cotton harvest campaign, no school or university students were to be sent out into the fields. The remarks were intended in part to salve the concerns of the ILO, which is now implementing a inspection regime designed to detect abuses. But there is strong evidence to suggest that despite those exhortations, many students were press-ganged into cotton-picking all the same.
Uzbekistan’s currency has taken a severe battering on the black market over the past week.
Back on October 22, unofficial currency traders in the capital, Tashkent, were buying dollars at around 6,400 sum. The rate as of the start of the week was just shy of 7,000 sum — although as a testament to the volatility of the currency, rates have been regaining their positions toward the end of each working day. By the close of business on October 25, the rate was 6,600 sum.
“Because of the spike in dollar rates, people have stopped selling their foreign currency and almost nobody buys it,” one black market trader called Bahrom told EurasiaNet.org. Bahrom said the sudden downward pressure on the sum was the result of the price increase for automobile gas announced by the authorities over the weekend.
Transactions in the gasoline market are largely carried out in dollars. State energy company Uzbekbeftegaz buys large amounts of fuel in Kazakhstan and Russia and pays for it in dollars. Private owners of gas stations in Uzbekistan also use the US currency to purchase their supplies.
The official exchange rate has also been registered some fluctuations, albeit only minute ones since the government is typically reluctant to admit to weaknesses in the economy. The rate last week was 3,065 sum to the dollar, but that has gone up to 3,084 sum.
Black market currency trader Rasul told EurasiaNet.org that he believes the street value of the sum could possibly break through the 7,000 psychological barrier by the end of the year, which would result in a fresh round of price increases for groceries. Other traders remain confident the sum could stay around the 6,700 figure, however.
A delegation of senior officials from Uzbekistan has paid a visit to neighboring Kyrgyzstan, reciprocating a trip earlier this month that presaged a possible thaw in relations between the two nations.
The 47-person delegation that traveled to Krygyzstan’s Osh region on October 26 was led by Uzbek deputy Prime Minister Adham Ikramov and also comprised the heads of the Andijan, Namangan and Ferghana regions, representatives of several government agencies, including the National Security Service, and members of the Kyrgyz diaspora.
As happened during the visit to Uzbekistan in early October, the officials passed through the Dustlik (“Friendship”) border crossing, which sits adjacent to Osh and has lain unused for many years.
So far, these encounters have focused primarily on pleasantries. The Kyrgyz hosts laid on a series of cultural events under the gaze of the giant statue of Vladimir Lenin in the center of Osh.
"During the visit, the delegation visited Osh State University, where they learned about the activities of the medicine faculty. Addressing the students, Adham Ikramov spoke of the inviolability of friendship and good neighborliness between the two countries. He stressed that good neighborly relations between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan should become a cornerstone for the further development of joint cooperation,” Uzbek news website gazeta.uz reported.
Uzbekistan’s national energy company has announced a sharp increase in prices for car gasoline while offering assurances it will camp down on the speculation that has made the real cost of buying fuel even greater.
In what it cast as a response to public dissatisfaction over the situation with gasoline, Uzbekneftegaz on October 22 announced that as of this week the cost of most basic and popular type of gas — AI-80 — has been set at 2,800 sum ($0.90) per liter, up from 2,075 sum.
The price for higher grade AI-91/92/93 fuels has been set at around 3,000 sum and the highest available grade, AI-95, will sell at 3,300 sum per liter.
Those prices are only a fantasy for many Uzbek motorists gouged by middlemen, many of whom obtain fuel from the capital, Tashkent, and sell it in the provinces at between 3,000 and 5,000 sum per liter. Uzbekneftegaz said it is ensuring all gas stations stick to the officially decreed prices.
Even before the price rise was announced, Tashkent had already recorded notable shortages in fuel at gas stations. The sight of large numbers of motorists lining up a fuel retailers in the hope of getting some gas is recurrent feature of this time of year. Gas stations sell fuel until around 11 o’clock in the morning and then close their doors until the next day.
Fuel shortages typically occur in Uzbekistan around the start of December, but the deficits are being seen earlier this year. Uzbekneftegaz is allocated money annually by the government to import fuel, but the amount purchased is never enough to get through to the end of the year.