Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Uzbekistan has carried out "some" human rights reforms in recent years, but continues to "severely" hinder the work of independent nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) with "excessive and burdensome" registration requirements.
The government of President Shavkat Mirziyoev should amend the legislation and allow independent groups to register NGOs that seek to work on sensitive issues, including human rights and forced labor, the New York-based human rights watchdog said in a statement on January 7.
HRW said the Uzbek government has taken “some important steps” to ease the registration process since Mirziyoev took over Central Asia's most populous nation of 32 million in 2016, including reducing the registration fee, cutting the time period for government review of registration documents, and opening a portal that allows submission of applications by independent groups online.
However, “vague and burdensome” rules remain in place despite a commitment made by the president in 2018 to sweep away restrictions on NGOs, according to HRW.
It quoted representatives of six independent groups that have sought registration in Uzbekistan in recent years as saying that their registration applications had been rejected, often “for minor alleged mistakes, including grammar or even minor punctuation mistakes, missing information, or the language used in application documents.”
The legislation includes “excessive requirements for registration and an extensive list of reasons for rejection, making decision-making by authorities appear arbitrary,” according to the representatives.
One of the NGOs was finally allowed to register on its third attempt, HRW said.
Vladislav Lobanov, assistant Europe and Central Asia researcher at HRW, said the Uzbek government needs to respond to international calls for civil society be allowed to act freely.
Last year, the United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed concern that “current legislation continues to impose restrictions on the right to freedom of association” and over “the small number of independent self-initiated NGOs registered [in the country, and] the high number of rejections for registration.”
The European Union and the United States have also expressed concern over registration barriers for NGOs.