The organization noted positive steps to improve the human rights situation during the first year of the presidency of Shavkat Mirziyoyev and called for "transforming these steps into systemic reforms and giving them a steady dynamic."
"At this moment of hope for the country, the government should move from the modest steps already taken in the right direction to ensuring lasting human rights guarantees for all citizens of Uzbekistan," said HRW researcher for Central Asia Steve Sverdlov.
According to HRW, the government should give "a clear signal that peaceful criticism of the authorities - whether by human rights defenders, journalists, creative intellectuals or believers - will not only be harassed but truly appreciated in the context of Uzbekistan's transition to a more open and democratic society."
After Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power in Uzbekistan, at least 16 political prisoners were released, restrictions on free expression of opinions were weakened, thousands of citizens were removed from the notorious "black lists" and accountability of the authorities to citizens was increased. In addition, the practice of compulsory mobilization of teachers, doctors and students for the annual collection of cotton was banned, HRW said.
Combined with the reform of foreign exchange regulation and pragmatic foreign policy aimed at normalizing relations with its immediate neighbors, the steps taken by the authorities "contribute to the formation of a sense of hope in Uzbekistan for changes that this country has not experienced for many years," the HRW publication states.
The organization notes the creation of a broad network of presidential people's reception rooms, the readiness of the country's leadership to recognize the "sustainable practice of human rights violations", including at the international level, changes introduced into legislation in accordance with the Strategy for Action in the five priority development directions of the Republic of Uzbekistan in 2017-2021. At the same time, according to HRW, human rights violations continue to occur in the country, including forced labor in cotton fields.
"The government must ensure the irreversibility of the new political course, moving towards compliance with international human rights obligations," Human Rights Watch said.
In recommendations for improving the human rights situation, HRW calls on the Uzbek government to "immediately and unconditionally release all unjustly convicted persons", "immediately abolish the system of exit visas", ensure "the real eradication of forced labor of adults in cotton growing," and simplify the conduct of activities by non-governmental organizations