Metro station in Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Political situation Ambitious reforms after a long period of standstill

After Uzbekistan became independent in 1991, it was under the authoritarian rule of Islom Karimov for 25 years. After Karimov’s death in 2016, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, for many years the country's Prime Minister, was elected as the new president and reelected in 2021. At the parliamentary elections in 2019, the governing Uzbekistan Liberal Democratic Party defended its majority.

President Mirziyoyev has presented an ambitious and economic reform programme. The aims of his “Development strategy for a new Uzbekistan 2022-2026” include increasing the effectiveness of the administration, strengthening the rule of law and developing a free civil society, developing the private sector and improving the social protection system.

The first positive effects of these reforms are already visible. Among other things, a ban has been imposed on using children and forced labourers in cotton harvesting. Measures like these have paved the way for Uzbekistan to be included as one of ten countries worldwide in the European Union’s GSP+ system of trade preferences. And there have been other remarkable achievements. For instance, the expenditure on drinking water supply has quintupled, giving 73 per cent of the population access to clean drinking water, the number of kindergartens has tripled, giving 60 per cent of children access to pre-school education, and thanks to scholarships the share of young people with a secondary education has increased from 9 to 25 per cent, including 1,000 girls from particularly disadvantaged families.

Foreign policy

In its foreign policy, Uzbekistan is committed to neutrality and non-alliance. Its heavy economic dependence on Russia makes it difficult for Uzbekistan to take a clear stance on Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. The country is working to expand Central-Asian cooperation and is scaling up its activities in regional and international organisations.

In July 2022, the European Union and Uzbekistan concluded negotiations on an Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement which includes new areas of cooperation and significantly improves the regulatory framework for trade and economic relations.t.

Deficits in the areas of rule of law and human rights

According to its constitution, Uzbekistan is a presidential democracy with a bicameral parliament. In fact, however, the country's political course is determined by the State President. In 2019 the electoral laws were improved in the run-up to the parliamentary elections, and the parliament has taken on a more active role recently. But there is still no parliamentary opposition – all political parties represented in parliament are considered being close to the government. Election monitors of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) noted deficits concerning basic rights and irregularities in the voting process both during the presidential and the parliamentary elections.

Thanks to the wide-ranging package of reforms introduced by President Mirziyoyev, Uzbekistan's human rights situation is gradually improving. Since late 2016, large numbers of political prisoners have been released and contacts with international human rights organisations intensified. Freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly remain restricted. Critical reporting is mainly found in the social media. Again and again, journalists and bloggers are being exposed to intimidation attempts and state repression. Access to the internet is state-regulated.

One area in which the rule of law falls short is the country's judiciary, which does not operate independently. Court rulings are frequently politically motivated and existing legal provisions are often not enforced.

The autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan

The autonomous republic of Karalpakstan is located in western Uzbekistan. In July 2022, violent protests broke out, leaving a number of people dead and wounded. The protests had been sparked by the constitutional changes planned by the Uzbek government. According to these changes, the constitution should no longer explicitly mention the sovereignty of Karalpakstan, which is currently enshrined in the constitution, including the right to secede from the Republic of Uzbekistan. In response to the unrest, President Mirziyoyev sealed off the region and declared a state of emergency. After the plans to amend the constitution were dropped, things calmed down again.

Karakalpakstan covers nearly 40 per cent of Uzbekistan’s territory; the autonomous republic has about two million inhabitants.

Historic background

Before the sea route to India and China was discovered, Uzbek cities such as Samarkand, Bukhara and Tashkent were major trading centres along the famous Silk Road. From 1860 onwards, the entire region gradually came under Russian rule; in 1924, the Uzbek Socialist Soviet Republic was founded. Since 1991 Uzbekistan has been an independent republic, belonging to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) along with other successor states to the Soviet Union.

As at: 27/02/2023