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UK arms export to Uzbekistan (2012-2022)

Uzbekistan: Country overview

The Republic of Uzbekistan is a landlocked Central Asian country. President Islam Karimov, who ruled the country from 1989 until his death in 2016, granted his people very limited political freedom while subjecting them to pervasive government surveillance. In November 2005, the European Union approved Council Common Position 2005/792/CFSP regarding restrictive measures against Uzbekistan. The European Council decided not to renew any of the sanctions on Uzbekistan at the end of October 2009, but the arms embargo remained in effect until then.

Following the death of Karimov in 2016, Shavkat Mirziyoyev became president. He embarked on a series of reforms aimed at modernizing the country’s economy and political system. Whilst Uzbekistan has made significant process since Mirziyoyev assumed office, the country continues to face a number of challenges, including corruption, human rights abuses and an ongoing threat of Islamic extremism in the region. According to the Financial Times “thousands of people, mainly peaceful religious believers, remain in prison on false charges”.

Uzbekistan signed the ATT on September 25, 2013, and ratified it on October 11, 2016.

How many licenses for the sale of arms to Uzbekistan did the UK government issue between 2012 and 2021?

The number of arms export permits issued to Uzbekistan has been relatively low and stable with 15 limited and 8 unlimited licenses being approved in total and between 1 and 4 licenses being exported per year. 

What is the total value of those exports in GBP?

In total, from 2012 to 2021, £362k worth of licenses were sold to Uzbekistan by the UK. The value of the arms exports has been relatively small, but – notably – increased in 2016 and 2017 after the presidential election of former prime minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev, with £60k in 2016 and almost 50% of the total export being exported in 2017 amounting to £127k.

Notably, in 2012, 2015, and 2020 1 license was approved respectively per year, however, these did not amount to any value.

Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade, 2022

What are the top 10 types of arms exports licenses Britain is selling to Uzbekistan?

Top 10 military items exported from the UK to Uzbekistan between 2012-2022Total number of licenses
Components for military support aircraft6
sporting guns4
military aircraft pressure refuellers2
military support aircraft2
small arms ammunition2
military equipment for initiating explosives2
general military aircraft components2
military aircraft ground equipment2
components for military aero-engines2
aircraft military communications equipment2
Top 3 military export items from the UK to Uzbekistan between 2012-2022 by valueValue in GBP
ML6 ‒ Armoured vehicles, tanks£127k
ML3 ‒ Ammunition£90k
ML11 ‒ Other electronic equipment£46k

Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade, 2022

The numbers above refer to single-use military exports. If we consider dual-use exports the Uk exported £17m to Uzbekistan, including £13m in electronics and £1.5m in Telecommunications and information security.

Why should British citizens be concerned about arms sales?

The NY Times referred to Uzbekistan as “a nightmare world of pervasive corruption, organized crime, forced labour in cotton fields, and torture.” Uzbekistan’s forced child labour, especially in cotton production, is widely condemned. Freedom House rated Uzbekistan one of the world’s least free countries in 2017, citing its authoritarian regime, absence of opposition parties, tightly controlled media, corruption, torture, political prisoners, and widespread surveillance of demonstrations. The government punished human rights defenders and curtailed religious freedom. The regime’s intense surveillance of human rights defenders and political opponents has led to thousands of wrongful trials and long, arbitrary prison sentences.

Despite signs of improvement in Uzbekinstan’s human rights records, there is a real risk of enabling and even strengthening state surveillance and suppression of political opponents and human rights defenders by continuing to export arms. It is a matter of concern that the UK in recent years has resumed its arms export to an authoritarian regime.

What has the British government said about these concerns?

Over the past decade, the British government has voiced concerns about Uzbekistan’s human rights record, criticizing the regime for failing to implement the Universal Periodic Review’s recommendations on freedom of expression, criminal justice, and torture. UK “human rights priority countries” include Uzbekistan. The FCO’s latest statement lauds Uzbekistan’s human rights re-engagement. Uzbekistan allowed the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit for the first time. The FCO says it has “mutually beneficial cooperation” with Uzbekistan on political, commercial, and security problems despite its better human rights record. The FCO wants “to boost trade and investment between Britain and Uzbekistan, develop strong political, economic, cultural and defense ties, give effective consular protection to British nationals and, in partnership with the Uzbekistan government, work on shared goals in international development.”

What evidence is there of human rights abuses that the Uzbeki government has committed since 2012?

President Mirziyoyev’s reforms have made some significant improvements to the human rights situation in the country, including the ending of child and forced labour in the cotton industry and some political debate has been encouraged. However, concerns over freedom of press and speech, as well as the mistreatment of prisoners and political oppositionists persist.

Surveillance on Uzbeki citizens increased and in September 2018 the government adopted new procedures for restricting access to websites that included “banned information,” as reported by the press service of the Uzbek Justice Ministry on its Telegram channel. Despite a 2018 decree that reduced their powers, Uzbekistan’s security services continued to wield enormous power. They used treason (article 157) and other charges to detain so-called enemies of the state.

In 2019, Uzbekistan held parliamentary elections. The OSCE ODIHR stated that the elections “took place under improved legislation and with greater tolerance of independent voices but did not yet demonstrate genuine competition and full respect of election day procedures.” Uzbekistan developed a torture prevention mechanism in November 2019 but did not ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture.

Following the pandemic, the government’s US$1 billion pandemic fund, which increased several-fold within months, was disbursed without transparency, raising corruption accusations.

In July 2022, protesters in Karakalpakstan, an Uzbek territory, clashed with police forces over proposals to limit the region’s right to secede, killing at least 18 people. Plans to abolish the region’s constitutional right to secede sparked uncommon violence. President Mirziyoyev visited Karakalpakstan twice over the weekend.

Human Rights Watch talked about Uzbekistan’s human rights reforms “stalling and backtracking”, particularly in the month leading up to the elections. Oppositionists were unjustly imprisoned, like blogger Otabek Sattoriy who was sentenced to six and a half years, criminalization of same-sex relations and authorities used anal exams in the persecution of gay men, which constitutes a form of torture. “Uzbekistan’s political system remains deeply authoritarian. 

Despite this catalog of harm, the UK still deems it acceptable to sell weapons and arms to the Government of Uzbekistan.