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Uzbekistan: the World Bank must speak out when rights activists are beaten and detained for documenting forced labour in cotton

17 November 2015 Urgent Action
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957The government of Uzbekistan continues its brutal crackdown on human rights defenders documenting the massive use of forced labour in the cotton harvest. In recent years, the Uzbek authorities have sought to deflect international criticism of forced child labour in the cotton fields by substituting coerced adult labour. The World Bank, which is financing the 'modernization' of Uzbek agriculture, is supposed to be monitoring the presence of forced labour. What is it doing in the face of this crackdown?  CLICK HERE TO SEND A MESSAGE TO THE WORLD BANK!

"For years", writes Human Rights Watch, "the government has relied on the forced labor of over a million people each year - including children, teachers, medical workers, college and university students, and public employees - to pick cotton. It uses coercion, including intimidation and threats of loss of job, social welfare benefits, utilities, expulsion, and even prosecution to force people into the fields." And for years the government has persecuted rights defenders documenting this coercion.

As part of an agreement with the Uzbek government and the World Bank, the ILO is monitoring compliance with the Conventions prohibiting child and forced labour. The World Bank has pledged to withdraw over USD 450 million in funding for agriculture if forced labour is confirmed in project areas.

On September 19, police arrested Elena Urlaeva, who heads the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan, together with her husband and young son, for photographing and interviewing workers harvesting cotton in the Tashkent region. They were later released after police confiscated the photographs. Urlaeva has been detained at least four times in the last 4 months and regularly harassed over the past decade. In May this year, Urlaeva was drugged, interrogated and brutalized by the police for documenting the forced mobilization of education and health workers for cotton work. Among the materials confiscated by the police was her fact sheet on ILO Conventions. Two days later, police detained and beat another rights activist, Dmitry Tikhonov, for documenting busloads of people sent to the cotton fields by government officials .

"Elena Urlaeva and Dmitry Tikhonov are standing up for the rights of millions of workers in Uzbekistan," says Human Rights Watch.  "Uzbekistan's international partners, along with the ILO and World Bank, need to stand up for them and send the message to the Uzbek government that continued brutal treatment of peaceful activists will bring serious consequences."

CLICK HERE to send a message to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and officials involved in the cotton project, telling them that they have an obligation to speak out when courageous rights defenders are persecuted for documenting the abuses the World Bank claims to be monitoring!