Natalya Pozdnakova, Deutsche Welle
Participants of the recently formed "Uzbek-German Human Rights Forum" focus on problems of using child labor during cotton harvest in Uzbekistan.
Several representatives of the Uzbek civil society who have to live abroad at the moment decided to form a human rights organization - "Uzbek-German Human Rights Forum". The participants of the "Uzbek-German Human Rights Forum" focuses on situation with human rights and use of child labor during cotton harvest in Uzbekistan.
At present it is almost impossible to be engaged in human right activity in Uzbekistan, one of initiators of the forum and employee of international Human Rights Watch organization Germany branch Umida Niyazova said.
Umida Niyazova was persecuted by the authorities and lives in Germany at the moment. Niyazova said unfortunately, the government's attitude toward criticism of the regime remains stably hostile. "Therefore, some activists - Uzbek citizens in Europe, as well as some German citizens decided to form the human rights organization," she said.
"International community must know about a real situation with human rights in Uzbekistan"
In February, the founding meeting took place and organization's regulations were developed. Many German politicians and representatives of international organizations approved an idea to form the forum, Niyazova said. "We could gain support of some parliamentarians of the German Bundestag. Some human rights organizations in Germany render all possible support to us."
The human rights activist said the organization aims to monitor a situation with human rights in Uzbekistan. "As we worked in human rights field in Uzbekistan, of course, we have a great network of friends, our counterparts-activists who need to spread the information. Our main task is to publicize a report on monitoring of local human rights group to large community, both in Europe and Germany."
Child labor is applied regardless of international obligations
For near future, the participants of the Uzbek-German Forum have three main tasks: to strengthen legality and independence of juridical system in Uzbekistan, provide right to freedom of speech and press and forced child labor, particularly in cotton harvest in Uzbekistan.
The issue of a child labor still stands on agenda. Because, as human right activists say, Uzbekistan does not fulfill international commitments. "According to the legislation, it is forbidden to use labor of children under 15. Uzbekistan has recently ratified many international agreements banning child labor and prudential labor. The international agreements include International Labor Organization on Minimal Age Convention, the Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor and Convention on Children's Rights. However, begriming from mid-September the government closes schools, liceiums and universities and send pupils and students to pick cotton," human rights activist said.
She said this fact is attributed to lack of reforms in Uzbek agriculture. "The situation of farmers' rights must be described. According to the law, they are independent entrepreneurs and government's interference with farmers' business is not appropriate. Farmer must grow cotton; otherwise he/she will not get land."
Umida Niyazova said it is not beneficial farmers to grow cotton and they are not able to gather harvest with their own force. Cheaper labor force is the only way out of the situation.
Uzbekistan does not admit presence of problem
Nevertheless, the problem of using child labor in harvest does not exist on government level according to human right activist and Uzbek officials who claim it in international meetings. "Uzbek delegation made a report on human rights situation in Dec. 2008. Over ten countries raised the issue of using child labor at that time," Niyazova said.
Representative of delegation from Uzbekistan National Human Rights Center Akmal Saidov rejected this accusation. He said children do not pick cotton in Uzbekistan. First of all, certain conventions have been signed and there are laws prohibiting child labor. Secondly, farmers who grow cotton are not dependent on state.
She said these arguments are ungrounded. Using child labor is obvious. Umida, who has been born and brought up in Tashkent, said did not work on the field as schoolchildren and students were not sent to pick cotton at that time. "Nevertheless, everybody who has grown up in Uzbekistan can see child labor. It is inherent in national tradition.
Problem, not visible for world
"Problem not visible for world" - the latest study on labor child in cotton fields conducted by London University School of Eastern and African Studies was named in this way. "Though the problem is obvious in Uzbekistan, it is not paid attention on international arena. However, this issue has been raised by international organization frequently for the last years". Niyazova is confident that the world should further be informed about the situation in Uzbekistan. "Business companies such as Tesco and Walmart have boycotted Uzbek cotton and refused to buy it," human rights activist said. However, the situation has not changed. Last year children worked in cotton fields despite national program adopted in September.Opinions expressed in this article may be different of those held by Trend