Bishkek, Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan has taken the unprecedented step of agreeing to work closely with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) bringing it into line with the other four Central Asian republics.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein became the first such commissioner to visit Uzbekistan, a historic moment that never seemed likely to occur under the rule of long time Uzbek leader Islam Karimov who died this past September.

By invitation of the Uzbek government, now under President Shavkat Mirziyoyev who took office last December, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein arrived in the country where he received assurances that Uzbekistan intends to work with the OHCHR’s Regional Office in Bishkek.

The visit is especially relevant to Uzbekistan which for the better part of its existence as an independent state has had issues with forced labour and child labour used in harvesting cotton, something which has been the subject of strong criticism from a number of human rights groups.

President Mirziyoyev has moved to make amends for some of the previous president’s actions by releasing many wrongfully imprisoned activists and journalists among others. The list of the released includes Samandar Qoqonov, dubbed “Uzbekistan’s longest-held political prisoner”, and Muhammad Bekjon, a journalist widely seen as a political prisoner during his near 18 years behind bars.

Uzbekistan is notorious for its violations of free speech, as all news outlets in the country are controlled by the authorities and only portray the state narrative. Any dissent met with reprisals from the government during Karimov’s rule.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has also suggested that the Uzbek government should adopt “measures to quickly resolve the continuing lack of transparency about what goes on in Uzbekistan’s prisons and other places of detention, with the aim of ensuring that torture and other forms of ill treatment are halted once and for all, in line with Uzbekistan’s commitments under the Convention Against Torture.”

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