Uzbek human rights defender Elena Urlaeva has been detained against her will in a psychiatric hospital in Tashkent and the government should release her immediately, the Cotton Campaign said today. The Cotton Campaign is a coalition of worker rights and human rights groups that includes the Solidarity Center.
“Holding Elena Urlaeva in a psychiatric hospital without a clear medical rationale is a grave breach of medical ethics,” says Umida Niyazova, director of the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights (UGF). “She should be released immediately, and the Uzbek government must cease using hospitals as extrajudicial detention centers.”
Urlaeva’s Efforts Key to Reducing Child Labor
Urlaeva for years has documented forced labor in Uzbekistan’s cotton fields, where some 1 million teachers, medical professionals and others are forced to toil during harvest seasons. She has been credited with helping significantly reduce child labor in cotton fields, and this month was among human rights defenders in Uzbekistan to receive the International Labor Rights Forum 2016 Labor Rights Defenders Award.
Urlaeva was detained last year after interviewing and photographing teachers forced by government officials to work in the cotton fields, and says that she was physically assaulted during the subsequent interrogation.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) has pushed the Uzbek government to end forced labor. Following a complaint by Uzbek civil society, the World Bank attached covenants stipulating its loans to Uzbekistan could be stopped and subject to repayment if forced or child labor was detected in project areas by ILO monitors contracted by the World Bank to carry out labor monitoring during the harvest. In March, members of the Cotton Campaign urged the World Bank to make good on its promise.
Uzbek Government Targets Human Rights Defenders
The Uzbek government has responded to global pressure to end forced labor by cracking down on Uzbek labor rights activists who monitor cotton harvests.
Uktam Pardaev, another Uzbek labor rights activist was jailed while he was monitoring last fall’s cotton harvest in Uzbekistan and now is serving three years’ probation at his home, where he is under constant surveillance by security services. (You can take action to help Pardaev.)
Also last fall, Uzbek human rights defender Dimitry Tikhonov reported that his home office was burned and all the equipment and documentation he collected on Uzbekistan’s use of forced labor in the country’s cotton harvestsm destroyed. No other room in his home was touched by the fire, he said. Tikhonov also was arrested and beaten by police as he took photos of some 20 busloads of teachers and school employees forced into the cotton fields for the annual harvest. Tikhonov has since fled the country.
The stories of all three Uzbek human rights defenders are featured in a video created as part of the Labor Rights Defenders Award ceremony, in which a voice-over points out that “the Uzbek government treats them as enemies of the state because of their peaceful human rights activities.”
More than two dozen worker, union and human rights experts from around the world gathered last week in Kenya to discuss some of the most intractable global labor issues: informalization of work, gender inequality, migrant worker rights and the erosion of workers’ freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association.
The two-day “Expert Consultation on Freedom of Association and Assembly for Workers” was convened by Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association (FOAA), in collaboration with the Solidarity Center. Shawna Bader-Blau, Solidarity Center executive director, co-facilitated the meeting.
Maina Kiai (left) opens the discussion, with Wisborn Malaya (center) representing informal workers in Zimbabwe and Phil Robertson from Human Rights Watch. Credit: UN
High-level representatives from key organizations—Asia Monitor Resource Center; Asia Network for Rights of Occupational & Environmental Victims; Escuela Nacional Sindical (ENS, National Union School, Colombia); Human Rights House Foundation; Human Rights Watch; International Center for Not-for-Profit Law; International Corporate Accountability Roundtable; International Domestic Workers Federation; International Labor Organization; International Trade Union Confederation; Kenya National Union of Teachers; Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers (KUDHEIHA); Labor Research Service; National Guestworkers Alliance; Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales (ProDESC, the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Project, Mexico); Social and Economic Rights Institute of South Africa; UNITE-HERE; World Movement for Democracy; and Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Employment Organizations—discussed the status of vulnerable workers and their rights, gender-based violence and discrimination, the ability of workers to exercise their rights to freedom of association and assembly, particularly in global supply chains.
The experts closed the meeting by looking at ways to bolster FOAA for vulnerable workers, including strengthening legal frameworks at the national level, monitoring and improving the practices of non-state actors, and establishing global governance mechanisms.
Discussions and conclusions from this consultation will feed into the Special Rapporteur’s next thematic report on the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, which he will present to the UN General Assembly in October 2016.
“The Special Rapporteur’s focus on these very serious labor issues can have a real impact, and the organizations consulted during this kick-off meeting were excited to support the effort,” said Bader-Blau. “This is a critical moment for working people around the world, so many of whom are seeing their rights as workers deteriorate because the freedoms of association and assembly are under assault.”
A global union campaign is calling on the Uzbek government to reverse its conviction of Uzbek human rights activist Uktam Pardaev, who was sentenced to three years’ probation in January and is under constant surveillance by security services at his home. Officials also continue to harass Uktam Pardaev’s relatives and friends, who have been watched, questioned and threatened, according to global union and human rights groups.
Human rights activist Uktam Pardaev was jailed while he was monitoring last fall’s cotton harvest in Uzbekistan. Credit: IUF
ardaev, a member of an independent cotton harvest monitoring group, was arrested in November 2015 on trumped-up charges of fraud and taking a bribe. He was held for eight weeks in pre-trial detention, where he was locked in a damp, cold cell with only a dirty mat to sleep on and little food. Pardaev says he witnessed officials torturing and mistreating detainees to coerce confessions and was beaten severely on one occasion.
Pardaev was among human rights activists monitoring last fall’s cotton harvest in Uzbekistan, where more than 1 million teachers, nurses and others are forced to pick cotton for weeks each harvest season. A report released in March documented how the government took extreme measures to cover up its actions last fall, jailing and physically abused those independently monitoring the process.
“The government unleashed an unprecedented campaign of harassment and persecution against independent monitors to attempt to cover up its use of forced labor while taking pains to make widespread, massive forced mobilization appear voluntary,” according to The Cover-Up: Whitewashing Uzbekistan’s White Gold.
Uzbekistan, which gets an estimated $1 billion per year in revenue from cotton sales, faced high penalties for not addressing its ongoing forced labor. But rather than end the practice, the government sought to cover it up, according to the report, produced by the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights.
Take action now and send a message of support calling on the Uzbek government to reverse Pardaev’s conviction; conduct a prompt, independent, and impartial investigation into his credible allegations of ill-treatment by prison officials; and bring those responsible
Iraq unions successfully pushed for a new labor law because of their unified solidarity and with strong support of the U.S. and global union movements, according to a new documentary.
“Finally, after 12 years of persistent and consistent work, the Iraq labor movement was able to succeed with their international partners and with Iraq civil society … to get worker rights in Iraq,” says Michael Zweig, speaking in the video. Zweig is director of the Center for Study of Working Class Life at Stony Brook University, which produced the video.
“It’s a very big deal,” he said.
“Light from the Darkness: The New Iraq Labor Law” looks at the key role of U.S. Labor against the War in rallying support of the U.S. union movement in support of Iraqi workers’ struggle for labor rights after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
“Labor solidarity was something a … steel worker or paper worker or janitor in the United States could understand. They knew that every worker in the world should be treated fairly,” said Gene Bruskin, co-founder of USLAW.
Also speaking the video, Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau says, “the role of U.S. Labor against the War was so important in galvanizing the support of American workers for…reaching out and educating thousands of thousands of American workers through their unions around the U.S. and around the world through their global outreach.”
Passed by the Iraqi Parliament in August, the labor law allows for collective bargaining, limits child labor, improves rights for migrant workers, provides better protections against discrimination at work and is the country’s first legislation to address sexual harassment at work. The law also enshrines the right to strike, banned since 1987.
Says Bader-Blau: “The Solidarity Center and U.S. Labor against the War were there for Iraqi workers.”
Check out “Light from Darkness.”
Guatemala is still one of the most dangerous places in the world for worker rights activists, with 14 incidents of anti-union violence documented and verified in 2015, according to a report issued today by the Worker Rights Defenders Network of Guatemala.
The incidents—including the October 2015 murder of Mynor Rolando Ramos Castillo, a municipal worker in southeastern Guatemala, and the sixth member of his union to be assassinated—were tracked by the Protection Unit of Human Rights Defenders-Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) and the Worker Rights Defenders Network in their ”Annual Report on Anti-Union Violence.” The group also documented the arbitrary and illegal detention of a trade unionist, anonymous death threats received by activists, and illegal firings and intimidation, including surveillance of the home of one trade unionist. Half of the cases involved public-sector workers.
Between 2004 and 2013, 70 trade unionists were assassinated in Guatemala, most with impunity. Only 18 cases from that period were investigated and successfully brought to trial. In November 2015, the Guatemala government reported to the International Labor Organization that the 52 other cases were still open.
The lack of credible police probes into harassment, threats and violence—including murder—against workers attempting to improve their working conditions, treatment and wages, and exercise their legal right to join a union has a dampening effect on workers’ voice. According to the report, when perpetrators of violence escape justice, human rights are denied and the right to freedom of association is co-opted, weakened, attacked and destroyed.
The Worker Rights Defenders Network of Guatemala was formed in 2014 to ensure observance and promotion of human rights in Guatemala. Its sister organization, the Network against Anti-Union Violence in Honduras, released its annual accounting of anti-union violence. Both organizations are Solidarity Center allies and received support to produce their reports.