Due to resource constraints, IRIN is not updating the country profile below.
Updated humanitarian country information can be found instead at the Uzbekistan country page on ReliefWeb [http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/dbc.nsf/doc104?OpenForm&rc=3&cc=uzb].
Humanitarian Country Profile
|Last update: March 2007
After the introduction of Islam into Central Asia in the eighth century, several streams of population flowed into the territory now forming Uzbekistan. Located along the ancient silk trading routes, the country was conquered by Genghis Khan in the 13th century and by Timur (Tamerlane) in the 14th century. By the late-1800s, it had been incorporated into the Russian empire. The Uzbekistan Soviet Socialist Republic was established in 1924, and its eastern region became the separate Tajik Soviet republic five years later. Independence came in 1991.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan has emerged as the regional power in Central Asia because of its relatively large population, extensive natural resources, cohesive military and the dominant authoritarian regime of President Islam Karimov.
Peace and security
The armed and banned Islamic Party of Turkestan, formerly known as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), has threatened to create an Islamic state in the region and has operated from Afghanistan and Tajikistan, reportedly with the support of Afghanistan's former Taliban regime.
The party sometimes attracts sympathy from dispossessed and impoverished people, particularly in the south and eastern Ferghana Valley, and reportedly controls lucrative narcotics routes throughout Central Asia. The threat from the IMU and other radical groups has been used as an excuse for widespread repression by the government.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are 1,415 refugees, mostly Afghans. In March 2006, the Uzbek government expelled UNHCR from the capital, Tashkent, giving the agency one month to leave. Uzbekistan is the only former Soviet republic that has acceded neither to the 1951 Refugee Convention nor the 1967 Protocol.
Democracy and governance
Uzbekistan adopted a new constitution in 1992 to replace the Soviet-era document adopted in 1978. The new constitution provides for democracy but in reality gives the executive almost all the power.
The president is the head of state and is elected for a maximum of two consecutive five-year terms, but the term can be extended by referendum. President Karimov’s first term was extended in December 1995, and another national referendum in January 2002 extended it to 2007.
The media watchdog Freedom House describes the press as “not free". Journalists, especially those working for foreign media outlets, have been attacked, according to Freedom House in 2006.
In 2006, a number of international non-governmental organisations were closed down, including the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute (NDI), as well as Freedom House. Political opposition is suppressed and although the Uzbek parliament in 1998 approved constitutional measures to promote press freedom, the media remains rigidly controlled. Human rights groups have accused Uzbekistan's secular regime of using its fight against fundamentalism as a pretext for cracking down on its political opponents.
The government owns the three national dailies and several other publications and does not allow the general distribution of foreign media. Four state-controlled television and radio stations dominate the broadcast market, according to Freedom House.
Internet use is rising rapidly in Uzbekistan, but there are still few Uzbek language news sites.
Uzbekistan is the world's fourth-largest producer of cotton and the world's second-largest exporter; cotton accounts for about 45 percent of the country's exports. Minerals and mining are also important for the economy. The country is the world's seventh-largest producer of gold and holds the fourth-largest reserves.
The 2006 UN Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index placed Uzbekistan at 113 out of 177 countries. Private enterprise is not encouraged and foreign investment is minimal outside the energy and mineral sectors.
Uzbekistan is the most populous country in Central Asia with an estimated population of 27 million, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).
The major ethnic group is Uzbek (80 percent); others are Russians (6 percent), Tajiks (5 percent) and Kazakhs (3 percent). Uzbek is the official language, but Russian is the de facto language for inter-ethnic communication, including much day-to-day technical, scientific, governmental and business use. Almost half the population can speak Russian. The people are 88 percent Sunni Muslims; 9 percent are Eastern Orthodox.
One-fifth of the population lives on less than US$1 a day, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). About 70 percent of the whole population lives in rural areas and 30.5 percent of the poor are there, compared with 22.5 percent in urban areas, according to UNDP.
According to official statistics, the infant mortality rate is 15.4 deaths per 1,000 live births, while independent studies in 2006 suggest it could be as high as 48. Life expectancy in Uzbekistan for men is 70 years and 74.7 for women.
About 99.3 percent of the population is literate – one of the highest rates in the world, according to UNICEF.
In primary and secondary education, there is almost no difference between the number of girls and boys (90 percent of boys to 90.5 percent of girls) attending.
In rural areas, children are often expected to help with cotton picking, domestic labour or work in bazaars, thereby preventing attendance at school during particular times of year, according to UNICEF.
The main factors that undermine the quality of education are the lack of textbooks and their high cost; lack of qualified and low-paid teachers; and financial shortages in households, according to UNDP.
The government launched the National Programme for Personnel Training in 1997, which aims to extend compulsory education from nine to 12 years by 2009
There are almost 3,600 children in orphanages in Uzbekistan and there has been an alarming rise in the number of street children, according to UNICEF. Many of the children have been placed in institutions as a result of parental poverty and unemployment, rather than because of the loss of parents.
Uzbekistan signed up to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has raised the issue of police officers ill-treating children and young people in police custody in Uzbekistan, according to UNICEF.
Cases of child trafficking have also been reported, UNICEF says.
The health status of the population has suffered over the past decade due to deteriorating access to quality health services, especially at the primary healthcare level, according to UNFPA.
Immunisation rates for the most common childhood diseases exceed 98 percent, UNICEF says, and the country is polio-free, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Anaemia is found in 60 percent of women between 15 and 49 years - a major factor in worsening maternal mortality rates. Twenty percent of children under five are estimated to be malnourished. Almost a quarter of children under three experience stunted growth, according to UNICEF.
The country is plagued with serious environmental problems that affect the life and health of the population. The Aral Sea remains one of the world's worst socio-environmental disasters. Additional problems include water pollution from industrial waste and the heavy use of fertilisers, pesticides and soil contamination from agricultural chemicals, mainly in the cotton sector.
Recent data indicate a rising trend in HIV/AIDS infections in the country. The accumulative number of registered HIV/AIDS cases in Uzbekistan is the highest recorded in Central Asia. In 2004 the greatest number of HIV cases was noted in Tashkent city (39.7 percent) and in Tashkent province outside the city (27.3 percent), according to UNDP.
Most cases since 2000 can be attributed to intravenous drug use, though cases resulting from sexual transmission are growing, UNFPA says.
There is a lack of access to affordable, effective and appropriate services, accurate information, clean injecting equipment, condoms, voluntary, confidential counselling and testing, effective treatment of sexually transmitted infections and drug-related problems. Comprehensive services are not widely available and cover no more than 1 percent of the most vulnerable groups, according to UNDP.
Use of water from the Aral Sea for irrigation has led to 60 percent salination of crop land in some districts close to the water. Poisonous dust and salt clouds, compounded by the recent drought, continue to affect the health of local residents and leave them vulnerable to food insecurity.
Women’s role in society has deteriorated over the past decade as traditional gender stereotypes made a comeback as Soviet influence waned. According to activists in Uzbekistan, the sources of violence against women are rooted primarily in cultural stereotypes. There is practically no public discussion, in the media or otherwise, of violence against women, including domestic abuse of women by parents, husbands and in-laws.
Women make up more than half of the population; 52 percent of the female population is of childbearing age and nearly 65 percent of women over 16 are married.
Gender equality in education is guaranteed by the constitution.
Uzbekistan’s devastating human rights record deteriorated further in 2005 after the Andijan massacre of 13 May 2005 in which more than 1,000 people may have been killed when government troops fired on demonstrators protesting against the government of Karimov, according to rights groups. The Uzbek government says 187 died.
The government committed major violations of the rights to freedom of religion, expression, association and assembly, and such abuses increased after the May massacre. The government has up to now not taken any steps to investigate the atrocity, according to Human Rights Watch. There has been no independent international inquiry into the killings.
Death sentences and secret executions continue on a large scale, according to Amnesty International. Systematic torture is widespread. Concern over the use of torture by the Uzbek government has also been raised by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak.
Uzbek authorities blamed a series of suicide bombings against the US and Israeli embassies in the capital on 30 July 2005 on the Islamic Party of Turkestan and the Islamist opposition party Hizb-ut-TahrirI. It also blamed them for a series of explosions and attacks on police checkpoints in Tashkent and the city of Bukhara between 28 March and 1 April 2005, which killed more than 40 people.