Uzbekistan (Tier 3*) is a source country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and women and children subjected to sex trafficking. Internal labor trafficking remains prevalent during the annual cotton harvest, in which children and adults are victims of government-organized forced labor. There were reports that working conditions in some fields during the cotton harvest included verbal and physical abuse and lack of freedom of movement. According to a variety of sources, the Government of Uzbekistan enforced a decree resulting in a sweeping reduction of the number of children under 15 years of age in the 2012 cotton harvest, but the government continued to subject older children and adult laborers to forced labor in that harvest. Some reports contend that the numbers of older children and adults subjected to forced labor in the harvest were higher than in previous years in several of Uzbekistan’s regions. Some activists allege that children were forced to weed cotton fields in the spring of 2012. One activist reported at least one case of a mental hospital subjecting its patients to domestic servitude. In addition, there are recent reports that teachers, students (including children), employees in private businesses, and others have been forced by the government to work in construction, agriculture, and in cleaning parks.
Some Uzbekistani men and women are subjected to forced labor in Kazakhstan, Russia, and—to a much lesser extent—Ukraine in domestic service, agriculture, and the construction and oil industries. Uzbekistani women and children are subjected to sex trafficking, often through fraudulent offers of employment, in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, India, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkey, Thailand, Lebanon, Ukraine, Greece, Pakistan, Malaysia, the Republic of Korea, Japan, China, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, and within Uzbekistan. Small numbers of Tajikistani and Kyrgyzstani victims have been identified in Uzbekistan. NGO and government officials continued to express concern that Uzbekistani women and girls raised in orphanages were particularly vulnerable to human trafficking. In 2012, civil society groups reported a growth in the number of Uzbekistani transnational labor trafficking victims, including an increasing number of women.
The Government of Uzbekistan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and has been placed on Tier 2 Watch List for the last six consecutive years. In the 2011 and 2012 TIP Reports, Uzbekistan was granted consecutive waivers from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3 on the basis of a written plan to bring itself into compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) authorizes a maximum of two consecutive waivers; a waiver is no longer available to Uzbekistan, which is therefore deemed not to be making significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards and is placed on Tier 3. The Government of Uzbekistan remains one of only a handful of governments around the world that subjects its citizens to forced labor through implementation of state policy. According to a variety of sources, including UNICEF, the government vigorously implemented for the first time a decree banning the use of labor by school children up to 15 years of age in the annual cotton harvest; however, the government continued to force older children and adults to harvest cotton. As in previous years, the government set a quota for national cotton production and paid farmers artificially low prices for the cotton produced, making it almost impossible for farmers to pay wages that would attract a voluntary workforce. Provincial mayors and governors were held personally responsible for ensuring the quota was met; they, in turn, passed along this pressure to local officials, who organized and forced Uzbekistani citizens to pick cotton. The government continued to refuse to allow the ILO to monitor the cotton harvest and denied the existence in Uzbekistan of forced labor of children or adults in the cotton sector. There were reports of government-organized forced labor in other sectors, as well. The government identified an increased number of sex trafficking and transnational labor trafficking victims in 2012, compared with 2011.
Recommendations for Uzbekistan: Take substantive action to end the use of forced child and adult labor during the annual cotton harvest; allow international experts, such as the ILO, to conduct an independent assessment of the use of forced labor during the annual cotton harvest; reissue and enforce the prime minister’s decree to ban child labor in the cotton harvest for 2013, and extend the decree to ban the mobilization of all children and adults in the cotton sector; advertise this decree widely, including in local papers; investigate and prosecute government officials suspected of being complicit in human trafficking, and convict and punish complicit officials; in order to better identify trafficking victims, train border guards and police officials to understand that some trafficking victims without documents may claim to cross the border individually, rather than with a group, to avoid the higher penalties of illegal border crossing with a group; work to ensure unidentified victims are not punished for acts committed as a result of being trafficked; develop formal procedures to identify trafficking victims and refer them to protection services; continue to provide in-kind support to anti-trafficking NGOs to assist and shelter victims; continue efforts to investigate and prosecute suspected trafficking offenses and convict and punish trafficking offenders; encourage long-term victim rehabilitation by reserving state employment positions for qualified rescued trafficking victims where practicable; and include in the anti-trafficking interagency commission a government official who works on cotton harvest and agricultural issues, as well as a registered NGO that works on labor rights issues in the cotton sector.
The Government of Uzbekistan demonstrated mixed law enforcement efforts; although there were efforts to combat sex and transnational labor trafficking, there were no efforts to address forced labor in the country’s own cotton harvest. Article 135 of the criminal code prohibits both forced prostitution and forced labor and prescribes penalties of three to 12 years’ imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with punishments prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Uzbekistani law enforcement data are opaque and unable to be verified. In 2012, law enforcement agencies reported conducting 1,013 trafficking investigations, compared with 951 investigations in 2011. Authorities reported prosecuting 531 trafficking cases in 2012, compared with 444 in 2011, and reported that 626 people were convicted on trafficking-related offences in 2012, compared with 636 in 2011. The government reported that 357 convicted offenders were sentenced to time in prison and 34 traffickers were sentenced to correctional labor, compared with 434 convicted offenders sentenced to time in prison in 2011. The government reported that it held four seminars, two roundtables, two conferences and 16 trainings for national and local law enforcement personnel in 2012. The government reportedly shared data with several foreign law enforcement agencies to assist in criminal cases against suspected traffickers.
Government officials’ widespread complicity in human trafficking in the cotton harvest persisted. Authorities applied varying amounts of pressure on government institutions, universities, and businesses to organize high school and university students, teachers, medical workers, government personnel, military personnel, private sector employees, and local residents to pick cotton in the 2012 cotton harvest. There were several reports of children and adults subjected to physical abuse and threatened with retaliation—such as expulsion from school, loss of student housing, termination of employment, or denial of critical social benefits—if they refused to pick cotton, and authorities threatened some families who protested with police visits. The government exerted pressure on private companies to mobilize their employees for the harvest and threatened private sector workers with “taxes” and fines to compel their service. Furthermore, some who were unable to meet their quotas or who left the cotton fields without permission were reportedly physically abused by police or school officials, or financially penalized. Sources, including UNICEF, noted the government decree banning the labor of young children in the cotton harvest was effective; however, there were isolated instances of local government officials closing rural schools and forcing children to go to the fields to pick cotton. School administrators and local officials closed schools for those aged 15 to 17 to subject those children to forced labor. The government did not investigate, prosecute, or convict government officials complicit in the use of forced labor during the 2012 cotton harvest.
There were also reports of government officials’ complicity in other forms of trafficking. Border guards and low-level police officers were allegedly involved in falsifying or selling travel documents or exit visas, and there have been allegations of individual police officers accepting bribes from traffickers. In at least one highly publicized case, allegations by an Uzbekistani citizen that several law enforcement and local officials were involved in facilitating the labor trafficking of her two brothers in 2011 to Kazakhstan resulted in what appeared to be an effort to silence her. In 2012, she was convicted of extortion and sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment. She was released under the government’s annual amnesty after serving seven months of her sentence. The government reported it convicted and sentenced eight officials in 2012, including a former head of the Fergana regional foreign labor bureau, to five and a half years’ imprisonment for complicity in sex or transnational labor trafficking, but the government did not provide further case details confirming these were trafficking offenses.
The Government of Uzbekistan demonstrated mixed efforts to identify, assist, and protect victims of trafficking—including efforts to assist victims of sex and international labor trafficking—though it demonstrated no efforts to assist victims of forced labor in the cotton harvest. The government does not have a systematic process to proactively identify victims and refer those victims to protective services. The government reported it recognized 1,647 people as trafficking victims in 2012, compared with 1,635 in 2011. Of these 1,647 victims, 114 were exploited within the country, while the remaining victims were Uzbekistani citizens subjected to human trafficking in other countries. Civil society groups identified over 1,200 trafficking victims in 2012. Police, consular officials, and border guards referred potential female trafficking victims returning from abroad to an NGO for services; the NGO noted improvements in the referral system in 2012. Government-provided protection services were contingent on victims assisting in investigations. The Ministry of Labor operated and funded a shelter for trafficking victims, the majority of whom were adult males, but did not provide data on how many victims it assisted in 2012. The shelter provided medical, psychological, legal, and other services as well as vocational training and, when necessary, continued to assist victims once they left the shelter. Adult victims were required to inform shelter staff to temporarily leave the premises. The government continued to provide shelter and office space to two NGO-run shelters. Trafficking victims were eligible for medical assistance from the government; in 2012, 872 trafficking victims received medical examinations and follow up care, if needed. Uzbekistani diplomatic missions abroad helped repatriate 80 victims: 22 from the UAE, 17 each from Russia and Kazakhstan, 14 from Ukraine, seven from Turkey, six from Thailand, four from Pakistan, and two each from India and China. An NGO also reported the Uzbekistani embassy in Indonesia provided temporary shelter to Uzbekistani trafficking victims prior to their repatriation. NGOs reported victims who cooperate with law enforcement receive some informal protection during the trial process.
Some unidentified trafficking victims were penalized for acts committed as a result of being trafficked; internal sex trafficking victims were charged with administrative prostitution offenses, which are penalized by a fine and up to 15 days’ imprisonment, and transnational sex and labor trafficking victims who had illegally crossed the Uzbekistani border faced a criminal penalty of a substantial fine and imprisonment. Only formally recognized victims were exempt from prosecution for acts committed as a result of being trafficked.
The government continued public awareness efforts on transnational sex and labor trafficking. The government vigorously implemented a decree banning the use of labor by school children up to 15 years of age in the cotton harvest; however, the government did not invite any international organizations to independently assess the use of forced adult and forced child labor during the 2012 cotton harvest and continued to deny the existence of those crimes. It again welcomed UNICEF’s observations of labor practices during the harvest. UNICEF consistently maintained that its observations cannot substitute a potential assessment mission by the ILO. There were reports that at least two human rights activists who independently monitored the cotton harvest were harassed, arrested, physically abused, and detained by government officials.
An interagency commission chaired by the prosecutor general coordinated government efforts against sex trafficking and transnational labor trafficking. The government had a national anti-trafficking action plan. State media continued to broadcast programs on transnational sex and labor trafficking. The government reported that through its local neighborhood committees, it held over 72,000 events dedicated to raising awareness of human trafficking in 2012, reaching over 2.5 million Uzbekistani citizens. The government continued to provide venues for NGO training programs and awareness-raising activities as well as free billboard advertising space. Ostensibly in an effort to combat human trafficking, the government required male relatives of women aged 18 to 35 to submit a statement if they were departing the country pledging the women would not engage in illegal behavior, including prostitution, while abroad. The government reported conducting a vigorous campaign to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts; however, media reports and local activists have accused some police of facilitating prostitution.
* Auto downgrade from Tier 2 Watch List