[ Human Trafficking, Country-by-Country ]

UZBEKISTAN (Tier 2) Extracted in part  from the U.S. State Dept 2023 TIP Report

The Government of Uzbekistan does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Uzbekistan remained on Tier 2.  These efforts included investigating, prosecuting, and convicting more traffickers; increasing support for labor migrants abroad; and increasing funding for Uzbekistan’s only shelter dedicated for trafficking victims.  However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.  Existing laws establishing forced labor as an administrative violation at first offense continued to constrain effective enforcement.  The government identified fewer victims.  While the national government continued to enforce a ban on forced labor in the cotton harvest, some local officials allegedly continued to impose unofficial cotton production quotas in contravention of the national ban on the practice, which could perpetuate incentives for coercion in the cotton harvest.

Prioritized Recommendations

Amend the provision, under Article 148 (2) of the Criminal Code, to remove the option for administrative violations for first time offenders of adult forced labor and ensure criminalization.

Streamline the victim identification process by allowing authorized ministries and local officials to grant official victim status and train all first responders to identify potential trafficking victims, refer them to care, and collaborate with civil society in the process.

Vigorously enforce the national ban on cotton production quotas and prohibit the utilization of similar practices that may pressure local authorities to mobilize citizens at local levels and strengthen efforts to ensure all citizens are aware of their “right to refuse” participation in other work outside their professional duties.

Respecting due process, increase investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of trafficking crimes and adequately sentence convicted traffickers, including complicit officials, and strengthen training for law enforcement on anti-trafficking legislation and understanding human trafficking.

Enable civil society and labor activists to operate freely, including by ensuring local governments do not interfere with the formation of labor unions and by removing obstacles to streamline and increase the registration of anti-trafficking NGOs and facilitate their work.

Establish a fund for victim protection and reintegration support, including legal assistance, which can also be used by regional governments to assist victims, and ensure victims are aware of the benefits they are entitled to.

Continue to grant and expand the access of independent observers to monitor cotton cultivation and fully cease the harassment, detention, and abuse of activists and journalists for documenting labor conditions.

Sufficiently increase the number of labor inspectors and provide them with systemic, specialized training to identify forced labor victims and report potential trafficking cases to law enforcement, including by allowing unfettered access to farms, cotton and silk clusters, factories, and construction sites for unannounced inspections.

Amend Article 135 of the Criminal Code to prevent allowing house arrest in lieu of imprisonment for sex trafficking crimes and ensure penalties are commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.

Increase oversight of worker contracts in the cotton and silk sectors, and ensure workers have bargaining power, the choice of cluster-affiliation, access to copies of contracts, and ensure workers are aware of mechanisms to report complains and forced labor cases

Establish a victim-witness program to ensure a victim-centered approach to any participation in criminal justice proceedings and train prosecutors and judges to proactively seek victim restitution in criminal cases.

Amend legislation to ensure victims are not inappropriately penalized solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, particularly for illegal border crossings or loss of personal identification documents.

Improve anti-trafficking coordination between government agencies, NGOs, and the international donor community by establishing a secretariat within the government’s National Commission on Trafficking in Persons and Forced Labor (The Commission), allocate adequate funding, and ensure that both sub-commissions work jointly on anti-trafficking efforts.

Screen any North Korean workers for signs of trafficking and refer them to appropriate services, in a manner consistent with obligations under United Nations Security Council resolution 2397.