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Helsinki Watch Issues Report on Uzbekistan

Washington, May 13 (RFE/RL) - An international human rights organization says that there are still abuses of human rights in Uzbekistan, although the government has "changed its attitude" on the issue.

In a new report titled, "Uzbekistan: Persistent Human Rights Violations and Prospects for Improvement," Human Rights Watch-Helsinki says "the last 18 months of slow diplomatic thaw have dramatically improved the climate in which the government will discuss human rights with outsiders and may, with time, lead to changes in current abusive practices; however, the improved diplomatic climate has as yet resulted in almost no tangible improvements in these practices."

The 43-page report outlines many of the alleged human rights abuses, including media censorship, punishment for individuals who criticize the government and illegal surveillance of the homes and telephones of dissidents. The report also says that law enforcement officials are pressured to "carry out the will of the authoritarian regime", citing incidents of corrupt police officials planting narcotics and weapons on suspects and stating that there is "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" of people in detention.

The report expresses particular concern about a crackdown started in 1994 against members of the Islamic community. It cites arrests, arbitrary detentions firings, harassment, threats and disappearances. The report names three individuals in particular: Abdulla Utaev, Abduvali Qori Mirzoev and Ramazanbek Matkarimov, and demands a full investigation into their disappearance.

In spite of this, the report also notes that Uzbekistan is taking steps in the right direction even if they are slow.

Holly Cartner, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki says: "The government's change in public attitude toward the human rights dialogue was unthinkable only two years ago."

She says that for two and a half years, rights monitors were banned or expelled from the country, letters of concern went unanswered, requests for meetings with government officials were ignored and activists were attacked in the Uzbek press as enemies of the people.

Now, Cartner says, Human Rights Watch has begun a dialogue with Uzbek officials to help improve the situation. She says there is talk of a regional Human Rights Watch office in the country.

To give the government guidance, the report lists a series of recommendations, urging officials to take short-term steps to demonstrate its good will in striving toward genuine improvements in its human rights record. In particular, the report recommends that the Uzbek Ministry of Internal Affairs "cease immediately" the surveillance and wire-tapping of citizens except in cases which are in strict accordance with the international standards of civil protections.

The report also urges the international community to condemn human rights violations in Uzbekistan and monitor the government's efforts to comply with its obligations. If specific goals are not met, says the report, international donors who offer human rights-related assistance programs to Uzbekistan should be prepared to withdraw their funds.

Cartner says: "By releasing our report now, we hope both to shed light on the abuse that persists despite government rhetoric to the contrary, and to take advantage of the crack in the door to push the opening wider into this otherwise relatively closed society."