Constitutional Reforms Lead To Bloody Protests In Uzbekistan

18 people were killed and 243 injured during bloody clashes between protesters and security forces in Nukus, western Uzbekistan, after the announcement of constitutional reforms. In the aftermath of the demonstration, the Uzbek government declared the imposition of a month-long state of emergency, which involved the blockade of internet access, the establishment of a curfew, and restriction on entry into the region.

On 1st and 2nd July 2022, thousands of protesters took to the streets to express their opposition to an amendment that seeks to strip away the right of secession of the autonomous region of Karakalpakstan’s, after it voted for independence in a referendum. After the tension had been defused, Uzbek President, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, speaking in front of Karakalpakstan’s parliament, vowed to set the clause aside.

Among the other bills proposed, as is characteristic of authoritarian regimes, the president included the amendment that extends the length of the presidential term from 5 to 7 years, resetting the years that have already been served.

“The reports we have received about serious violence, including killings, during the protests are very concerning. I call on the authorities to exercise utmost restraint,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, urging the authorities to open a transparent investigation to determine the cause of the casualties. Likewise, the U.S. State Department’s spokesperson, Ned Prince, called for the peaceful resolution of the conflict, highlighting the importance of the protection of all fundamental human rights.

The right to secede, enshrined in Article 74 of Uzbekistan’s constitution, is being treated as a groundless declaration rather than a potential backbone of the legitimate right of the Karakalpakstan region to separate. Among the former Soviet Union Republics’ constitutions, the right to secede was inherent and an embodiment of the right to self-determination that the USSR was internationally one of the most prominent advocates for, during the Cold War. Nevertheless, it was never practically implemented within its borders and therefore, considering the legislature’s veto power over Karakalpakstan’s decision to secede, in Uzbekistan it also constitutes a political façade rather than a lawful entitlement.

According to the Human Rights Watch’s report, since the beginning of Mirziyoyev’s presidency in 2016, Uzbekistan has significantly improved the standard of human rights protection. Nevertheless, reports continue to emerge regarding abuses such as ill-treatment, torture, or restrictions on the freedom of speech. Multiple international organisations, including the European Union and the UN Human Rights Commission have expressed concerns about the continuous violations of fundamental civil liberties by state entities and actors.

The demonstrations and subsequent escalation of the conflict are only a consequence of the long-lasting problems that continue to prevail over the territory of Karakalpakstan. Suffering from decades of neglect, particularly vulnerable to the Aral Sea’s death, the 2 million population has struggled economically and have been plagued by a tuberculosis pandemic.

The unlawful use of force by the Uzbek Security forces has taken a toll on Uzbekistan’s reputation among state and non-state actors. The international community continues to patiently monitor the situation in Uzbekistan, hoping for rapid processes that involves international partners.