The Case against former Uzbek Interior Minister Zakir Almatov
On 12 December 2005, a criminal complaint against then-Uzbek minister of interior Zakir Almatov, the Uzbek head of secret service Rustan Inojatov, and others, was filed before the German Federal Public Prosecutor by Wolfgang Kaleck, founder of ECCHR and now its Secretary General, on behalf of Human Rights Watch and eight Uzbek victims, for torture and crimes against humanity. The complaint, based on detailed witness testimonies, contains concrete allegations of torture in government custody and lays out the factual and legal responsibilities of Almatov and eleven other high level members of the Uzbek national security circle for the 13 May 2005 Andijan massacre and its following crackdown.
On that day in May 2005, in the eastern city of Andijan, heavily armed troops from the Uzbek Ministry of Interior and National Security Service had fired into a large crowd of protesters, most of them unarmed, killing several hundred men and women. Following a violent crackdown on civil society in the aftermath of the massacre, human rights organizations, media outlets, and various UN agencies were expelled from the country. The Andijan massacre led to the European Union’s targeted sanctions on Uzbekistan, including visa bans against top Uzbek officials, with Almatov prominently featured on the list.
Despite this, Germany allowed Almatov’s to enter its territory on “humanitarian grounds” in December 2005 for a cancer treatment. In response, the criminal complaint was filed on behalf of Uzbek victims. Almatov’s presence on German soil rendered local jurisdictions competent to investigate and try him, but he departed following the filing of the complaint.
The German Federal Public Prosecutor rejected the opening of investigations in early 2006. When Inojatov, the Uzbek head of secret service also prominently named in the criminal complaint, visited Germany in November 2006, the Federal Public Prosecutor refused to commence any action, and argued that Germany’s official invitation to Inojatov granted him personal immunity from prosecution. It is still unclear which German authority had officially invited Inojatov and for what reason, but he, like Almatov, remains one of the main suspects for the massacre in Andijan, for which no Uzbek official has been, to date, held accountable for.
The Cases against European Cotton Traders
Every fall in Uzbekistan, hundreds of schools are forcefully closed down. From 1.5 to 2 million Uzbek children, but also their teachers, civil servants, and private employees are forced every year by the state to spend weeks during the harvest season working in precarious conditions to pick cotton.
Uzbekistan is the world’s third to fifth largest cotton exporter; cotton generates about 20% of Uzbekistan’s GDP, accounting for over 1 billion US Dollar. Uzbekistan implements a command economy with a quota system for the whole country’s cotton production, over which the government has the monopoly. Such command economy is the root cause of forced labor of both children and adults, in violation of International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 105. As such, children working within that command economy are suffering from the “worst forms” of child labor, in violation of ILO Convention 182. Most, if not all cotton profits end up in the hands of elites at the top of the Uzbek government, while farmers, workers and children families do not benefit from any of it. Despite repetitive requests from the ILO to monitor the harvest season in the Uzbek cotton fields, Uzbekistan has to this day refused to invite the ILO to do so, despite having ratified the ILO Conventions.
Between October 2010 and January 2011, ECCHR submitted seven complaints to National Contact Points (NCPs) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Germany, Switzerland, France and Great Britain. The complaints targeted European traders who directly or indirectly purchase Uzbek cotton that was harvested through forced child labor. They were submitted in collaboration with the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights (UGF), Sherpa (France) and Swiss attorney Guido Ehrler. All of the complaints were accepted by the local NCPs.
In all the seven complaints filed, final agreements were reached. The companies who have acknowledged that they purchase Uzbek cotton directly or indirectly (with one exception) have pledged to implement specific measures – negotiated with ECCHR – to positively influence the local situation. The parties have expressed their intention to remain in contact while these actions are being carried out, and - in the majority of the cases - will meet after a year has passed, in order to evaluate progresses done by the companies on their commitments. ECCHR has reserved the right to refile a complaint against some of those actors, depending on the results obtained.
The French firm Devcot S.A., while it had not bought any Uzbek cotton in the last few years, committed formally to the NCP in 2012 not to resume its cotton trade with Uzbekistan until forced labor had ended. The French OECD NCP in September 2012 formally found, in the context of the ECCHR-Sherpa-Devcot case, that the trade of products issued from forced child labor does in fact constitute a flagrant violations of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.
ECCHR and its partner organizations had accused the corporations of violating the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises by purchasing Uzbek cotton. Forced child labor in Uzbekistan differs from that in other regions of the world in that it is organized comprehensively and systematically by the State itself. The vast majority of the price paid to state-owned trading companies is streamed directly or indirectly into the state treasury. Neither the impoverished farmers nor the children’s families profit from the system. For ECCHR, maintaining trade relations there means participating to enabling a flagrant situation of widespread human rights and labor rights violations.
OECD procedings’ final statementsFinal statement British NCP - Cargill (135.5 KiB)
Reports and other documents
High Level Hearing, March 2012
In a high-level filmed hearing on Uzbekistan organized by ECCHR with the support of several partners, entitled “From the Uzbek Cotton Fields to the Termez Military Base” in March 2012, prominent experts participated in the hearing to discuss Uzbekistan’s state-sponsored forced child labor in the cotton production and the relationship with the West. Former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray referred to the country as a “totalitarian dictatorship”, while Scott Horton, Harper’s Magazine, called the government “the world’s largest family-owned business.”
With a southern border with Afghanistan, Uzbekistan is considered an important strategic partner for the countries involved in the NATO-led efforts against the Taliban. For a decade now, Germany has leased from the Uzbek government for millions of Euros a year the Termez military base hosting German troops. In the meantime, the human rights situation in Uzbekistan still dramatically fails to improve, including since the EU lifting of the sanctions imposed in the aftermath of the Andijan 2005 massacre.
View seven compelling short films of the experts’ testimonies, realized by ecofilm sustainable film production.