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UN chief pushes Uzbekistan to stop forced labor in cotton sector

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (© AFP)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on the government in Uzbekistan to end forced labor in the country’s lucrative cotton sector.

Ban made the plea in a Friday meeting with Uzbek President Islam Karimov in the capital, Tashkent, saying that the progress made in reducing the number of children forcibly working in the lucrative harvest has not been enough.

The UN chief also criticized the human rights situation in Uzbekistan, saying the “maltreatment” of prisoners in country’s jails should be stopped.

Uzbekistan cannot expect peace and development without respecting human rights, Ban added.

International rights groups have repeatedly criticized Uzbekistan’s practice of forced labor, maintaining that the country has been repressing dissent and activists under Karimov.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov (© AFP)


Rights groups like Amnesty International had been urging Ban to raise such issues as torture and forced labor in his meeting with Uzbek officials.

In a statement on Tuesday, the London-based group expressed regret over the continued use of torture in Uzbekistan’s prisons regardless of Ban’s impending visit.

“The Uzbekistani police and security apparatus continues to brazenly commit acts of torture,” said John Dalhuisen, director of Amnesty’s European and Central Asia Program, adding, “For more than a decade, Uzbekistan has thumbed its nose at every UN attempt to confront it with its grievous human rights abuses.”

There also was pressure on Ban to highlight the fate of Elena Urlaeva, an Uzbekistani human rights activist, who has been incarcerated over documenting forced labor in a cotton farm near Tashkent.

Elena Urlaeva, Uzbekistani human rights activist


Rights group says she has been subject to “cruel and degrading treatment” during her time in jail.

Ban’s visit to Uzbekistan is part of a regional tour of five ex-Soviet nations in Central Asia, with Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan being his previous stations. His last trip will be to Turkmenistan.


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