This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Uzbekistan has been party since 1995. And yet Uzbekistan is still categorised as a Consolidated Authoritarian regime, according to Freedom House’s 2023 annual study on the state of democracy in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. While human rights reforms adopted by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in 2016 initially led to some improvements, human rights groups claim their pace stalled or even backtracked on some issues, including freedom of speech and the media as well as registration of independent human rights groups and criminalisation of consensual same-sex relations.
According to UN Common Country Analysis on Uzbekistan, discrimination, exclusion, and inequalities, particularly against sexual minorities, who are among the most vulnerable and discriminated groups in Uzbekistan, continue to be the key human rights challenges facing the country. LGBT persons face persecution by law enforcement authorities and “are subjected to physical assaults, insults, and discrimination at the workplace. They also face denial of services, including adequate medical care, damage to their property, and rape attempts based on their sexual orientation”. Discriminatory policies and practices against sexual minorities include forced anal exams, criminalisation of homosexuality, and the recent introduction of forced HIV tests.
As Human Rights Watch points out, “Forced anal examinations are a form of cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment that can rise to the level of torture.” These examinations violate the Convention against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Torture is also forbidden under Article 26 of the Constitution of Uzbekistan.
Despite such a gruesome human rights situation in the country, Uzbekistan’s historic city of Samarkand has been chosen as the 2023 World Tourism Capital. Uzbekistan is now actively welcoming international travellers and being widely promoted as an exotic and highly attractive travel destination. In October 2023, Samarkand will host the 25th General Assembly of the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). This gathering, as stated on UNWTO’s website, is “considered the most important global meeting of senior tourism officials and high-level representatives of the private sector”. This event will inevitably attract numerous travellers from all over the world to Uzbekistan, which has already been experiencing significant increases in the number of visitors over the last few years.
In 2022, 5.2 million foreign citizens visited Uzbekistan for tourism purposes. This is an almost threefold increase compared to 2021, when 1.8 million tourists visited the country. According to Uzbek Government estimates, 7 million foreign tourists are expected to visit Uzbekistan in 2023.
Hotels are among the first places that welcome foreigners in any country. Just like any other business, hotel companies have a responsibility to respect human rights under international standards – including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) – which call on companies to have policies and systems in place to prevent, mitigate, and remedy harmful impacts on human rights throughout their operations and business relationships. Under the UNGPs, companies also have a responsibility to share information about how they address risks and impacts with external stakeholders as part of their human rights due diligence. This is even more important in high-risk contexts and countries, such as Uzbekistan.
For this reason, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited 10 major hotel companies that operate 17 hotels in Uzbekistan to respond to questions about human rights due diligence related to their operations in Uzbekistan. The purpose of this process is to identify gaps and improve the transparency of business human rights due diligence practices related to hotel companies operating in Uzbekistan, including examples of good practice.
Just one hotel – Radisson Blu Hotel Tashkent – provided responses to most of our questions (Radisson has a second hotel in the country which did not respond). Accor provided detailed information on its policies but failed to answer most of our questions. Marriott submitted a general statement answering some of the questions. Hyatt, Hilton, InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, Minyoun Hospitality Group, The Leading Hotels of the World, Reikartz Hotel Group, and Wyndham did not respond.
The responses we have received so far illustrate the lack of comprehensive human rights due diligence by hotel companies operating in Uzbekistan. Even though all three companies which did respond indicated having human rights and/or diversion and inclusion policies and commitments in place, they did not mention any risk assessment results, risk mitigation strategies or challenges with the implementation of these policies in Uzbekistan.
For example, even though Uzbekistan enforces discriminatory laws against sexual minorities, Radisson Blu Hotel Tashkent has not identified any material, legal and/or reputational risks of doing business in Uzbekistan. The hotel further indicated that criminalisation of homosexuality does not interfere with its work and asserted it has yet to identify it as a salient human rights issue. At the same time, the hotel said it does not provide accommodation for gay couples. This policy and practice contradict Radisson Hotel Group’s commitments to respect diversity, which state that Radisson Hotel Group believes its “guests and… talents deserve a safe environment where they are valued for who they are”.
While Marriott noted it “implements an ongoing due diligence and risk management process to prevent, identify, and mitigate human rights risks”, it failed to indicate whether it had identified any salient human rights issues or risks for its operations in Uzbekistan. The company said it condemns discrimination in all forms and strives “to create safe and inclusive environments for all who walk through our doors”. However, it did not specify if it takes any steps to address risks related to discriminatory practices against sexual minorities in Uzbekistan.
Accor provided detailed information about its ethics and CSR charter, human rights policy, diversity and inclusion policy as well as steps to prevent and fight gender-based violence and child abuse. The company conducts an annual human rights risk mapping based on six key risks, including discrimination. Accor noted a risk assessment had been conducted for Uzbekistan but neglected to specify the outcomes of this assessment. Accor stated it welcomes all guests regardless of their race, sexual orientation or abilities, but it is unclear how the company can guarantee the safety of its guests given Uzbekistan’s criminalisation of homosexuality.
Multiple attempts to encourage other hotel companies to respond to questions about human rights due diligence related to their operations in Uzbekistan did not yield results. We are following up with the hotel companies which did not provide any response and will continue updating this page with new responses as we receive them. We encourage once again all those who have not yet responded to do so.