Each year, the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights presents independent reporting on state-orchestrated human rights violations in the cotton, silk and other sectors in Uzbekistan in the Chronicle of Forced Labour in Uzbekistan. In the first issue for 2015, we present reports that the Uzbek government continued to use forced labour in the agriculture sector, including cotton and silk production, and for public works throughout the first half of the year.
In May and June, the government forcibly mobilized citizens, primarily health-care workers and teachers, nationwide to weed and tend to the cotton fields. In the Tashkent region the forced mobilisation to the cotton weeding continues and is expected to last until the beginning of August. Some hospitals, such as the Central hospital in Buka city, sent nearly all the nurses and technicians starting the beginning of May. The government did not pay for the additional work.
Also in May 2015, regional and district-level government officials throughout the country forced employees of state institutions to deliver quotas of silkworm cocoons, for another strategic sector for the government, silk.
Throughout the first half of the year, the local officials also systematically forced public-sector workers to clean the streets and public facilities.
Teachers of Chirchik school mobilized for a filed work
Zukhra Kabilova, employee of secondary school №24, died while forced to clean the highway in Angren, Tashkent region
June 12, 2015
Zukhra Kabilova (left) and her hundred year old mother-in-law
55-year-old Zukhra Kabilova died immediately after being hit by a car on Friday, June 4, on the highway in Angren city, Tashkent region. Ms. Kabilova was a cleaning lady at the local school for 22 years. Under instruction by the city officials, her school’s administration ordered her to clean a section of the highway.
Ms. Kabilova, a resident of the Appartak village, was identifying the section of highway assigned to her, when a Volga car hit her, at approximately 10:00 Friday morning. She died on the spot with a fractured skull, ribs and legs.
Obviously, Kabilova should have been at her workplace, the school, rather than cleaning the city streets.
Why was she on the road?
Ms. Kabilova worked for the Angren school district, at school No. 24. According to her colleagues, the Angren city administration (hokimiyat) regularly orders the municipal office of the Department of Education, to send school staff to clean public spaces. The Education Department orders the school administrators, who in turn forcibly mobilize their staff. The school workers cannot refuse, or they risk losing their jobs. The government claims this forced labour is emergency community work (khashar).
There are more than forty secondary schools and nine high schools in Angren. In recent years, their administrations have regularly forced teaching and maintenance staff to work throughout the city. Each school has a site assigned by the city. School staff members clean sidewalks, roadsides, and dump sites; pull weeds; and plant flowers. In other words, they, alongside many other public-sector workers and some businesses’ employees, do the Angren municipality’s work for free.
Forced labour in Uzbekistan is traditionally associated with cotton production. However, this abuse is basically embedded in almost all forms of employment, in both the public and the private sectors. The Uzbek government misrepresents forced labour as “hashar,” an Asian tradition of charitable community work to address an emergency. Work on the improvement of the city cannot be called “hashar” fundamentally because of the involuntary character of the work done by the people. They work because they fear to be dismissed or punished in other ways. Ms. Kabilova’s death is a reminder that the Uzbek authorities have signed the UN Conventions with one hand but approve the use of forced labour with the other.
The medical report of the death of Zukhra
Zuhra Kabilova was 55 years old. Her neighbors reported that she was providing a living for her family on her own. Her husband is disabled, and her mother-in-law is 100 years old. The family has very little. Following Ms. Kabilova’s death, her school colleagues collected $50 and gave it to the family; the Education Department provided $120; and the insurance company paid $120. That’s all.
Ferghana Information Agency,
Following UN Secretary-General visit, Uzbek government continues forcing public-sector workers to work in the cotton fields
June 16, 2015
During the official visit of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Tashkent, Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyayev released the government employees from forced cotton harvesting. They hoped it was a miracle– but it was only a mirage.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov in Tashkent on June 12. During their meeting, Ban Ki-moon urged the Uzbek government to end forced labour in the cotton sector.
At the day of their meeting Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyayev convened regional, district, and city administrators and the police for a teleconference and instructed them to not mobilize any government employees for the cotton harvest in the whole country.
A secondary school director from the Jizzakh region reported:
“The Prime Minister instructed everyone that state employees, including health professionals and school staff would no longer conduct agricultural work, effective immediately. I could not believe it, really?! I wondered, ‘Is there a miracle happening?’ Some claim that perhaps this decision was the result of the meeting with Ban Ki-moon. After the teleconference, we all went home happily”
However, the miracle did not happen.
After the UN Secretary General left the country, state employees of the Jizzakh and Tashkent regions, including teachers and doctors, were once again forcibly mobilized to work in the cotton fields.
In an interview with Ozodlik, a Jizzakh farmer, who asked not to be named, said that those who took part at the meeting with Shavkat Mirziyayev hoped that the Prime Minister’s order will be permanently valid.
“The Prime Minister ordered hakims not to mobilize teachers, school, college and university students for the field work. ‘Otherwise, I will flay you! It’ll be your head! Now all institutions have their own farms,’ Mirzijaev said. But the next day they still sent state workers to the cotton fields” – reported the farmer with clear disappointment.
Uzbek service of Radio Europe / Radio Liberty
Deliver or pay: Authorities in Jizzakh forced people to deliver silkworm cocoons by any means necessary
Deliver or pay the fine
The governor of Jizzakh region Akmal Abdullayev strongly scolded every farmer who failed to fulfil the quota for the production of raw silk at a meeting on Wednesday, June 17th.
One of the farmers present at the meeting reported that the governor ordered each farmer, school principal, and even a doctor from the district to procure silkworm cocoons.
“He told everyone: “Get the cocoons at any cost, or pay the money”. This spring, mulberry trees were damaged by frost, so no one attempted to grow silkworms. Now, every farmer must deliver 250 kilograms, each school director – 75 kilograms, each head of a kindergarten – 50 kilograms of silkworm cocoons to the state or pay the value of their quota,” said the farmer.
According to the farmer, the governor demanded 15,000 soms (about $3.50 USD) per kilogram of cocoons.
Upon further investigation, Radio Ozodlik discovered that Governor Abdullayev ordered even the elders in the region to deliver silkworm cocoons.
“We, like many others, were told to grow silkworms. But I did not take caterpillars, because I feared that I could not find enough mulberry leaves to feed them and produce the cocoons. Now I need to find 55 kilograms of cocoons,” said of one of the elders of Jizzakh.
Silkworms are a source of foreign currency for the Uzbek government. Most of the crop is exported. Therefore, silkworm cultivation is an obligation for the citizens in Uzbekistan.
Uzbek service of Radio Europe / Radio Liberty
Verbal abuse by the authorities in Uzbekistan led a farmer to commit suicide
July 4, 2015
Another farmer committed suicide in the Izbaskan district of Andijan region. 29-year-old farmer Nodirbek Khaydarov hanged himself after harsh treatment at the hands of local officials.
Swearing, indecent words and threats preceded the latest farmer suicide in Uzbekistan. On July 2, after a meeting in the Paytug city mayor’s office (hokimiyat), Nodirbek Khaydarov was found hanged. Mr. Khaydarov was the 29-year-old head of the farm “Hasanboy hoji Barakat.”
Another local farmers who participated in the meeting reported :
“They were mainly abusing and swearing at the farmers who did not fulfil the quota for the wheat harvest. This year, Nodirbek Khaydarov had delivered 25 tons less than his assigned quota to the state. At the beginning of the meeting, he was severely abused by the mayor, and afterwards by the prosecutor. Both swore harshly at the young farmer, and threatened him with imprisonment,” said the farmer.
The district police confirmed the farmer’s suicide.
“After the meeting, he was found hanged in the bathroom of the agriculture department. There was no suicide note. A criminal case has been initiated. There is an ongoing investigation,” – said the police.
A resident of the district and acquaintance of Mr. Khaydarov shared the background, while also requesting anonymity. The resident reported that Mr. Khaydarov had committed suicide due to the enormous pressure exerted by the authorities.
“For several years, he could not meet the quota, but the local authorities told him: ‘No matter what, you have to comply with the plan and fulfil the quota.’ Not knowing what to do, the young man has committed such an act. It is a pity for the guy,” said the resident.
The mayor Ulugbek Abdullaev declined to comment. After the reporter introduced himself on the telephone, the mayor hung up, and he did not respond to Ozodlik’s additional attempts to contact him.
Leave or suicide
In the twenty-five years since Uzbekistan’s independence, the government has subjected farmers to fines, humiliation and criminal prosecutions for not fulfilling the state-assigned quotas for wheat and cotton production. In response, some Uzbek farmers fled the country, and some committed suicide.
Over the past two years, the Ozodlik radio reported about at least four cases of farmer suicides.
In November 2013, the 54-year-old farmer Nemat Sulaymonov committed suicide, succumbing to the pressure from authorities in the Bayavut district of Syrdarya region.
In August 2013, the farmer Ismat Shodmonov hanged himself after being beaten up in the administration office in the Qo’shrabot district of Samarkand region.
In 2014, Habibullo Egamberdiev did not meet his assigned annual cotton quota. The mayor of his district, Khazarasp in Khorezm region scolded and threatened him at a meeting October 17. Thereafter, the farmer hanged himself at his home.
On June 22, 2015, the 44-year-old farmer Kurbontoy Usmonov hanged himself in his summerhouse in the Chust district of Namangan region. According to local residents, the farmer had problems with his farm.
Uzbek service of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
Violence and abuse drove 27 Uzbek farmers to appeal to the President
July 10, 2015
On July 7, Azizbek Astrakulov, the head of the Azizbek farm in Akkurgan district of Tashkent region, was mowing the wheat that remained after delivering his production quota when the police arrived, beat him up and arrested him.
One of the local farmers who witnessed the incident, told “Ozodlik” that Astrakulov had fulfilled his annual, state-assigned quota for wheat production and that, according to the contract, the remaining wheat on his field belongs to him as head of the farm. However, the police took it away from him.
“Sobir-aka, the police chief of the Akkurgan district and Shukhrat Yuldashev, the head of the Department for Combating Corruption of the Tashkent Regional Directorate of Internal Affairs, arrived that day and tried to force Azizbek to hand over the remaining wheat. Azizbek refused to comply. Police officers tied his hands, put him into a car and drove him to the local police station,” said a local farmer, who requested anonymity.
According to him, the law enforcement officers began to insult Azizbek and his 63-year-old father, who also tried to protest the officers’ action. After eight hours of detention, Azizbek was released, but by then the local authorities had already managed to mow all the wheat from his field.
The same day, the local authorities forced another farmer, Shukhrat Astrakulov, head of the “Jahongir Agro” farm and Azizbek Astrakulov’s uncle, to turn over the rest of the wheat on his fields.
“They tied Shukhrat-aka’s hands too, put him into a car and took him to the police department of Akkurgan area. After having mowed all wheat from his field, the police released him,”– reported an observer to Ozodlik.
An officer the Akkurgan district police told “Ozodlik” that Colonel Shukhrat Yuldashev was sent from the regional police to Akkurgan to control the wheat harvest. Mamurjon Dadajonov, the mayor of Akkurgan, was unavailable for the comments, his phone was switched off.
On July 8, twenty-seven farmers from the Akkurgan district went to Tashkent and filed a complaint with the Prosecutor General. A representative of the Prosecutor General informed them that their complaint will be reviewed within ten days. The farmers then made their way to Aksaray, the residence of the president of Uzbekistan. A member of the presidential administration redirected the farmers to the governor of Tashkent region, Ahmadjon Usmanov.
“The governor said that this year the state had problems fulfilling the plan for grain harvest and asked farmers to hand over the remaining wheat to the state. He promised that our wheat will be sold for the market price to those farmers who had not been able to fulfill their quotas. Therefore, we were forced to give the state all our excess wheat,” said one of the farmers who filed the complaint.
It should be noted that the farmers in Uzbekistan work under difficult conditions. Every year, the authorities require them to fulfil quotas of cotton and wheat or to pay a monetary compensation, and they enforce the quotas with intimidation, verbal and physical abuse, threats to take away the farmland, and criminal charges.
Uzbek service of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
In Uzbekistan, as temperatures hit 50 degrees Celsius, forced labourers faint in the cotton fields
July 27, 2015
Dilbar Djurabaeva, the nurse of the central hospital of Buka city, Tashkent region, fainted in the cotton field, where hospital administrators sent her to the cotton weeding, on July 24.
Ms. Djurabaeva, a 19-year old nurse at the hospital, reported the incidents in an interview with radio Ozodlik. According to her account, her two colleagues, Iroda and Mahliyo, were already sick after drinking dirty water brought by a local farmer. Iroda confirmed the account to Ozodlik, adding that during the cotton field work many people drink the dirty water from the irrigation canal.
According to eyewitnesses, the day when young girl fainted was unbearably hot, the air temperature having reached 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).
Initially, Ozodlik received a letter from Buka written by woman named Khilola reporting concerns about her child’s health while being forced to work in the cotton fields. Khilola is the mother of Dilbar Djurabaeva. As detailed in her letter, for the past five months the administration of the central hospital in Buka sent the staff to the cotton fields three or four times each week. She worried that her daughter’s health was suffering.
“It turns out that if the mayor of the city is coming, the workers are given bottled water. When he leaves, no more bottled water is provided. Yesterday the farmers did not bring any water. When the girls said that they were very thirsty, the farmer brought dirty water from somewhere, with floating algae and tadpoles,” the letter stated.
Khilola said that she works in the public education department of Buka. She reported that during the last five months high-school teachers and kindergarten teachers were also forcibly sent to the cotton fields.
“No one can say ‘no, we don’t want to go.’ Each school and kindergarten is instructed to send 5 to 10 employees each day, and on the weekends everyone should show up, ” she wrote.
Ozodlik called the mayor of Buka city for his comments, but the mayor’s office hung up the phone when we asked about the reports.
According to the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan, these days public-sector workers are forcibly sent to the cotton fields all across the country.
“According to our monitoring, within two months, people in Almalyk, Buka, Chirchik, Chinaz and other places have been sent to the fields. In addition, in the Republic of Karakalpakstan, all the students and staff of higher education institutions were forced to work in the cotton fields starting July 16,” reported Elena Urlaeva, the head of the Alliance.
Uzbek service of Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty
In Uzbekistan, an elderly woman died while forced to work in the cotton fields
July 28, 2015
Momohol Daminova, 58-year-old resident of the village “Rabotak” in Kizirik district, Surkhandarya region died while picking weeds from a cotton field, on July 14.
Ms. Daminova, maintanence worker in secondary school №2 was sent to weed the cotton field by the school director.
A resident of Kizirik district and an eyewitness of the incident reported, “On that day, she felt very bad, but the director forced her to go to the field. Fearing that if she refused, she might fire her, she went to the fields. The extreme heat clearly worsened her condition. She wastaken home, and she died that evening.”
Another eyewitness told, that despite of the extraordinarily high temperatures and the death of Ms. Daminova, the local authorities continue to send the public-sector workers to weed the cotton fields. In an interview she said, “The mayor (hokim) and the prosecutor gather the heads of the state institutions every night for a meeting. They ask only one thing: ‘How many people have you brought to the field?‘ For three months, employees of hospitals, schools and colleges are weeding cotton fields. –It‘s a real hell. After the death of Momohol Daminova people began to be sent less, but it still continues.“
“We have not yet seen such a tough policy”
An administrator of one of the public institutions in Kizirik district reported to Ozodlik that the tough policy on forcing people to work is from district prosecutor.
“Every morning, the prosecutor personally counts the number of people who went to the field. Then he begins to divide people, ’20 to one farmer, 50 to another farmer.‘ However, there is not a single word on how to provide people with lunch or water. We have not yet seen such a tough policy.”
“Ozodlik” telephoned to the head of the department of education in Kizirik district, Akbar Yuldashev. He denied that Momohol Daminova was forcibly sent to the field. “No, no, no one forced this woman to go out in the field. The woman died at home due to illness,” the official reported.
After an “Ozodlik” reporter called the Kizirik district prosecutor Uktam Yusupov and introduced himself, the official hung up and stopped responding to the calls.
Uzbek service of Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty