Statement by Helena Fraser, UN Resident Coordinator at Civil Society Festival, “On progress made and recommendations on the civic space development in line with Uzbekistan’s international commitments”
It is a great pleasure to be here today.
Allow me to start by quoting our UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in his “Call to Action for Human Rights” published last year.
He said: “Society is stronger and more resilient when women and men can play a meaningful role in political, economic and social life, contributing to policymaking that affects their lives, including by accessing information, engaging in dialogue, expressing dissent and joining together to express their views.”
Indeed, the UN places a fundamental emphasis on public participation and civic space, specifically on supporting and facilitating:
- Effective mechanisms that bring diverse communities and groups into policy debates;
- Safe channels and a vibrant and diverse media landscape that enable the peaceful airing of grievances;
- Conditions that allow people to freely organize for collective action.
Here in Uzbekistan, the United Nations Country Team is working together with Government and civil society partners to support and expand civic space in a number of ways:
- We advocate for and wherever possible facilitate inclusive, diverse, independent and meaningful civil society participation in decision-making, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development;
- We actively promote an open civic space, including legal and policy frameworks that facilitate debate online and offline and allow civil society to organize freely, without undue restrictions.
As previous speakers have noted, Uzbekistan has made significant progress in expanding civic space in the past four years. A few examples:
- Robust engagement by independent civil society activists in monitoring forced labour in the cotton harvest over the past two years;
- Visits by the Ombudsperson, with representatives of NGOs and individual independent human rights activists, to a number of detention places and quarantine zones in various regions of Uzbekistan;
- An open dialogue with independent civil society activists and organisations on the draft national human rights strategy;
- Over 120,000 young Uzbeks actively provide feedback and input to Government policy-making through U-report platform, in a number of cases directly influencing Government decisions.
Over the last four years in Uzbekistan, I have personally met with hundreds of people around the country – mothers wanting clean water for their children in Zarafshan, students passionate about the UN in Termez, people living with disabilities hoping to make Tashkent a more accessible city, young girls developing apps to address a multitude of social concerns, former prisoners looking to establish legal aid mechanisms, environmental activists in Nukus, bloggers trying to help elderly people during the pandemic, including women bloggers committed to eliminate gender based violence in their communities.
All these people passionately want to contribute to Uzbekistan’s development. They want to share their ideas, their energy, their talents.
I commend the fact that both Government and Parliament are increasingly seeking to tap into this incredible resource. And I welcome the positive intentions articulated in the Presidential Decree of 2018 on measures to radically increase the role of civil society institutions in the process of democratic renewal of the country, as well as in the President’s recent Statement.
However, while much progress has been made, I think many of us, and many of the civil society activists I’ve met, would confirm that unfortunately civic space in Uzbekistan remains excessively controlled and restricted.
The UN Human Rights Committee’ concluding observations from May 2020, set out clear recommendations to address this challenge, calling on the country to “bring its regulations and practice governing the registration of political parties and NGOs into full compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” and to “guarantee the involvement and participation of a wide range of civil society actors and experts in the preparation of the new code on nongovernmental non-commercial organizations.”
This week’s Festival and today’s Forum is an important step forward in addressing these recommendations.
The UN Country Team stands ready to support at every step of the way.