Thank you, Ambassador von Arx for your report to the Permanent Council and congratulations on your new role as Project Co-Ordinator.
We note the breadth of activity undertaken by your office over the last year, reflective of the host country’s on-going reform agenda, and welcome the efforts undertaken to strengthen co-operation between the Government of Uzbekistan and the various OSCE offices; as well as co-operation between the field mission and the international organisations and diplomatic missions in Uzbekistan.
I would like to draw special attention to three areas in the report.
First, media freedom. A free press, with skilled and uncensored journalists, play a crucial role in providing credible information; allowing citizens to recognise problems that must be addressed and to hold their governments to account. This is particularly true as governments worldwide seek to respond effectively to the pandemic. There has been encouraging progress on media freedom in Uzbekistan over the past year, but we have witnessed journalists there coming under increasing pressure to censor or edit their work.
This is why we particularly welcome the online media training courses for male and female media professionals, journalists, and bloggers from across Uzbekistan. Our colleagues at the British Embassy in Tashkent were glad to be able to support the training workshop for local media professionals on the use of social media, legislative and regulatory frameworks, journalistic ethics, and the rights of journalists and bloggers.
With Presidential elections taking place in October this year, we are glad ODIHR Director Matteo Mecacci had the chance to visit Uzbekistan. We hope that the government will seek to implement the recommendations made following ODIHR’s report of the Parliamentary elections of December 2019, including the recommendation on ensuring freedom of expression and equal access to information for journalists; and repealing criminal defamation in favour of proportional civil sanctions.
Second, on Women Peace and Security. We support the focus on gender equality throughout the Office’s activity and the work on empowerment of women in the political, security and economic spheres. We welcome, in particular, the initiatives undertaken to improve the economic resilience of women during the COVID-19 crisis and the Office’s efforts to strengthen the response to violence against women which, as in many countries worldwide, saw an upsurge last year. Also, women play a significant role in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peace-building and their participation is key to the success and longevity of peace processes.
We were pleased to learn of the work done with the OSCE Secretariat’s Programme for Gender Issues on building local capacity on drafting National Action Plans, to achieve the objectives of UN Security Council Resolution 1325. We congratulate the Government of Uzbekistan in drafting its own National Action Plan and look forward to hearing more from the subsequent expert review.
Finally, I would like to commend the Office of the Project Co-ordinator for their work on combatting trafficking in human beings. The pandemic has made trafficking more prevalent and new methods of operation more difficult to disrupt, so it was encouraging to read that the Office continued delivering capacity-building events with ODIHR for police and prosecutors on new challenges in preventing and identifying trafficking in relation to COVID-19.
We also welcome the work done with ODIHR on developing a National Referral Mechanism for victims of trafficking in human beings, especially the inclusion of the principle of non-punishment of victims; and are pleased to learn that the Republic of Uzbekistan has adopted a resolution on the approval of a national referral mechanism.
I would like to thank former Ambassador John MacGregor and his team in Uzbekistan for their hard work over the last year helping the government implement their reform agenda, which the UK continues to support. And I would like to wish you Ambassador von Arx every success in your new role.