UNITED NATIONS: Uzbek atrocity apologist elected to UN Human Rights Committee

“Did no-one check his CV?”


By Aaron Rhodes for Human Rights Without Frontiers


HRWF (08.06.2024) – Akmal Saidov, who heads the Uzbek National Center for Human Rights and is notorious for defending his government’s human rights violaions, was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Committee on 29 May 2024.  This threatens the integrity of a respected intergovernmental human rights institution, and calls into question the judgment of governments that supported his candidacy.

The Human Rights Committee is the group of experts that monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), signed and ratified by 173 countries.  According to an official UN document, “new members of the Human Rights Committee are elected by secret ballot by the States parties from a list of nominees, with due consideration being given to equitable geographical distribution, relevant legal experience and balanced gender representation.”  While nominated by governments, members of the Committee are expected to act as independent experts, objectively evaluating the implementation of legal treaty obligations under the Covenant.

Saidov is anything but independent; he has been the voice of the Uzbek regime in intergovernmental human rights forums for decades, during which the country has come under harsh criticism by civil society human rights monitors, some liberal democratic governments, and UN human rights bodies.   

His election to the august group has shocked the civil society human rights community. On the X account of the Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, the group asked, “Did no-one check his CV?”

Indeed, Saidov has accused UN authorities themselves of bias in their effort to hold Uzbekistan accountable for upholding its human rights obligations.  At a meeting in 2013, as reported by Radio Free Europe,

the UN Committee Against Torture expressed grave concern about reports of widespread torture in Uzbekistan, including allegations of torture, illegal detentions and forced exile of civil-society activists and human rights defenders, and the pervasive ill treatment of detainees.  Experts also raised the issue of forced labor and the use of child labor, especially for cotton harvests in Uzbekistan…Akmal Saidov, chairman of the National Human Rights Center and the head of the Uzbek delegation, accused the committee of a politically motivated assessment.

Saidov claimed that information provided by Uzbek authorities was objective, while that compiled by independent nongovernmental organizations was politicized. 

During Saidov’s tenure, many human rights defenders have been forced into exile, and regularly beaten, subjected to forced psychiatric confinement and drug treatment, and falsely prosecuted for crimes.  But when confronted with cases, Saidov claimed that “The absolute majority of those people you name were convicted for specific crimes, not for their human rights activities.”

In May 2005, at least hundreds, and many more according to some local NGOs, mainly peaceful protesters were massacred by Uzbek security forces in the city of Andijan. According to Human Rights Watch, “Following the massacre, the Uzbek government cracked down ferociously on independent civil society and anyone believed to have either participated in or witnessed the events.”  Uzbekistan refused calls by UN authorities and NGOs for an independent investigation.  As recorded by the Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, Saidov claimed that “Andijan is a closed issue.”

Uzbekistan has notoriously bad prison conditions and documented torture of political prisoners, including many jailed for religious affiliations.  A former prisoner described Jaslyk prison as “the cruelest and most violent of all prisons.” But Saidov asserted, “The conditions there are fully consistent with national legislation, which also meets international standards.” 

Researchers documented a program of forced sterilization affecting tens of thousands of women.  Saidov defended the state’s program, stating that “Uzbekistan has the right to pursue its own demographic policy.” 

Among post-Soviet states, Uzbekistan has among the worst human rights records, one that has not significantly improved despite a change of government. Among other problems, consensual homosexual relations are punishable by up to three years imprisonment.    Today, independent journalists, bloggers, political opposition activists as well as human rights defenders are at risk of human rights violations.  They face psychiatric confinement and drug treatment and imprisonment for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, and their families have faced harassment and intimidation.  As these abuses continue, Saidov’s elevation to the top tier of global human rights influence is a victory in the government’s charm offensive.  

Although the Human Rights Committee election was by secret ballot, Uzbek authorities brag that Saidov received more votes than any other candidate from among the 174 parties to the ICCPR.  While these include numerous human-rights abusing states like Azerbaijan, Belarus, Egypt, Iran, and Tajikistan, it can be assumed that many liberal democracies also supported Saidov over other nominees.  With his election, the danger of the Human Rights Committee using its authority not only to excuse cooperating governments for violations of basic rights and freedoms, but to justify repression by twisting the meaning of the articles of the Covenant, increases markedly; that is the expertise Saidov will bring. 

Aaron Rhodes is president of the Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe, and author of The Debasement of Human Rights (Encounter Books, 2018).  He was executive director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights 1993-2007.