CHRI urges Swiss authorities to commit to promoting human rights and responsible asset return in consultations with the Uzbek government

30 Oct 2019

Fatima Kanji


Earlier this week, the Uzbek Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it was due to hold its sixth round of political consultations with the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 30th October 2019 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. This consultation also included meetings with Uzbekistan’s Oily Majlis, the Ministry of Justice, as well as the Uzbek National Centre for Human Rights, an entity closely connected to the government of Uzbekistan. 


The Swiss-Uzbek consultation takes place against the backdrop of the Swiss Attorney General’s decision in June 2019 to formally begin the asset repatriation of CHF 130 million to Uzbekistan. This decision stemmed from Swiss criminal proceedings against a relative of Gulnara Karimova, the daughter of former Uzbek President, Islam Karimov. Karimova who was found to be the assets’ beneficial owner. The ‘Karimova case’ is one of the largest known on-going asset recovery cases internationally, with assets held across various jurisdictions, at an estimated of over $1 billion USD. It is unclear whether the Karimova case will be discussed.


Whilst consultation between the Swiss and Uzbek Governments are welcomed, there is a need for continued vigilance over any discussions on the potential return framework for the stolen assets. The Corruption and Human Rights Initiative’s (CHRI) recent investigation into the return of ‘Kazakh II’ assets (USD$48.8 million) to neighbouring Kazakhstan, found that the assets were covertly repatriated through a high-risk framework with evidence of ‘conflicts of interest, political patronage, fraud and serious breaches of transparency and reporting requirements’. The report found that the assets were in part used by Zhas Otan, the youth wing of Kazakhstan’s authoritarian Nur Otan party to fund propaganda campaigns. The funds were also steered by a group of GONGO’s headed by the then  President of Kazakhstan’s daughter, Dariga Nazarbayeva, who is also Chairperson of Kazakhstan’s Senate. The funds were misleadingly framed as Swiss ‘development aid’ rather than restituted corrupt assets, which resulted in a diluted framework for returning, disbursing and monitoring these assets. A formal investigation into this flawed return process remains on-going at the World Bank, though funds are still being disbursed. 

CHRI calls on Swiss stakeholders to prevent a recurrence in Uzbekistan. This requires a transparent and accountable asset return framework based on agreed prerequisite areas for reform, as proposed by Uzbek civil society. 


We, therefore, urge the Swiss delegation in their consultations with the Uzbek Government to: 


1. Promote international principles for responsible asset return using the GFAR principles as foundational benchmarks to build on; 

2. Ensure international human rights obligations are respected and adhered to including due process rights, rights to fair trial, independence of the judiciary, and prevention of torture and cruel and inhuman and degrading treatment of individuals;

3. Prevent the stark failings of Kazakh II, ensuring assets are not misappropriated or re-laundered, and are committed to developing the lives of the Uzbek people in a manner reflective of their needs

4. Prioritise the principles of transparency, accountability and due diligence in on-going negotiations on asset return and beyond, to ensure the public are informed and able to monitor developments, especially in light of recent evidence documenting improper relations and transactions between senior government officials and private business (see CHRI’s recent report uncovering the Mayor of Tashkent receipt of state ‘aid and preferential treatment);

5. Urge the inclusion of Uzbek civil society when negotiating the framework for return of assets stolen, including deliberations over the repatriation, disbursement (project choice + oversight), monitoring and audit procedures.