Uzbekistan, the most populated republic in Central Asia with almost 25 million in-habitants, became independent, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, on 31 August 1991. Its constitution, adopted in 1992, is rather liberal in its statement. It introduces a Presidential system with a Parliament (Oly Majlis/Supreme Council) elected by universal suffrage, enabling several parties to present candidates. Mr Islam Karimov, former head of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Uzbekistan and head of the People’s Democratic Party (the former communist party), was elected President of the new republic in December 1991 with 86% f the votes.
In 1995 a popular referendum approved the extension of President Karimov’s mandate until the year 2000. The presidential election took place on 9 January 2000. President Karimov was re-elected with 91. 9% of the votes cast, against only one opposition candidate. The OSCE and European Union expressed a negative opinion on the way in which this election took place. On 27 January 2002 a nationwide referendum agreed with the extension of the president’s constitutional term in office from five to seven years.
The Parliament elected in March 1990 was maintained in function until the eneral election of 25 December 1994 which was attended by international observers. At the time of the latter the candidates of the presidential majority obtained 80% of the votes. The following general election proceeded on 5 December 1999 and gave results favorable to the ruling regime. The OSCE decided not to send an observation mission as the basic criteria for a democratic election were not met. On 27 January 2002 the same referendum (see above) authorized the election of a bicameral parliament for the second convocation of the parliament in December 2004.
The general elections are prepared by an Electoral Commission met by EU Ambassadors in November 2003. Despite having taken some transitional democratic measures (opposition parties were granted legal status, an ombudsman was appointed, etc. ), and even though President Karimov had shown an early interest in Western (and in particular European) institutional systems, it seems that over the past five years (since the bombing on 6 February 1999 in Tashkent) the democratic process in Uzbekistan has taken a step back to practices inherited from Soviet times.
Freedom of expression is today severely estricted in Uzbekistan, with essentially no independent press. All but two newspapers are government-owned and require approval from the Committee for the Control of State Secrets for all published news articles. Moreover the right to organize political demonstrations is constrained. Even if Uzbekistan has moved ahead since 11. 09. 1 with NGO registration (on 4 March 2002 the first formal NGO registration by the Ministry of Justice took place for the Independent Human Rights Organization) or trial of policemen involved in the killing of prisoners, basic human rights are not pplied in Uzbekistan. Reports on alarming incidents in the prisons of the country (torture of detainees, death in custody) and on the increasing number of detentions of pious Muslims and their families who practice their religion outside state control, caused the EU to express deep concerns about the deteriorating situation of human rights in Uzbekistan.
In the Conclusions of the second meeting of the EU-Uzbekistan Co-operation Council which took place on 23 January 2001 in Brussels the Uzbek side agreed to permit representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross ICRC) to inspect places of detention and to concede authorization to foreign representatives, to observe trials of individuals accused of acts against the state and the constitutional order.
The Red Cross visits prisons on a regular basis since then and has reported that the conditions were correct but the implementation of this agreement is difficult. The EU has raised this point during the 4th Cooperation Council on 27 January 2003. The rise of radical Islam and drug trafficking, especially in the Ferghana valley, are two of the major dangers facing Uzbekistan today. Fear of the
Islamic fundamentalist threat (in particular in the Ferghana Valley, the most densely populated region in Central Asia, with the IMU, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan), regional isolation (border delimitation problems with its neighbours Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, borders closed by the Uzbek authorities, borders sometimes mined as in the Ferghana valley) and the emergence of organised terrorism (on 6 February 1999, 6 bombs exploded in Tashkent, killing 16 and injuring 184; other bloody events occurred throughout summer 2000 have all led to strengthened epression measures against opposition and enhanced security controls which further isolated the country. However it seems that IMU capacity to conduct terrorist activities is reduced. Most of its Afghan support has disappeared with the fall of the Taleban and the death of its leader (Namangani) in fights with American troops in early 2002. However the transformation of IMU into a wider movement IMT (Islamic Movement of Turkestan) which includes Chinese Uighurs and the absence of peace settlement in Afghanistan are worrying for the Uzbek leadership.