TASHKENT: Uzbekistan has sacked a deputy prime minister after he humiliated farmers and forced them to stand in a water ditch as the ex-Soviet country aims to improve its dismal rights record.
President Shavkat Mirziyoyev convened a meeting late Monday after reports emerged of a deputy prime minister and other officials addressing wheat farmers while they were standing in a ditch full of water, a government official told AFP on Tuesday.
The farmers had reportedly been forced to stand in the ditch as punishment for watering the fields insufficiently while Deputy Prime Minister Zoir Mirzayev criticised them.
Mirzayev is the highest ranked official to be sacked in Uzbekistan for abusing workers’ rights.
A government official, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said that several provincial officials including the deputy governor of the Tashkent region where the incident took place were also fired.
Mirziyoyev’s office late on Monday published a decree increasing responsibility for ensuring the elimination of forced labour which flourished under his late predecessor Islam Karimov.
The decree did not refer to the incident but said the deputy prime minister had been sacked “for serious deficiences” in the organisation of agricultural work for which his office was responsible.
The decree also called “the protection of the rights and freedoms of citizens” as a priority without specifying what punishments would be meted out to officials found violating them.
The central Asian country of 32 million people is one of the world’s largest cotton exporters.
International rights groups have long accused Uzbekistan of using child and forced labour in the cotton industry.
For many years Uzbekistan has sent schoolchildren, teachers, doctors, nurses and civil servants to pick the cotton harvest.
Since coming to power in 2016 Mirziyoyev has abandoned some of his predecessor’s more repressive policies while seeking to improve labour rights.
Last year, the Uzbek president addressed forced labour in his speech to the UN General Assembly, the first time an Uzbek leader has acknowledged the problem after years of international pressure.
In a September report, the US Department of Labour praised Uzbekistan, noting a “substantial reduction” of forced child labour for the cotton harvest.
The country’s lucrative cotton sector also got a boost, with Washington removing cotton from its list of goods produced by child and forced labour.–AFP