Uzbekistan, Presenting Third Periodic Report, Highlights 2008 Death Penalty Ban, Says Wants to Work Closely with Human Rights Committee on All Areas of Concern
Uzbekistan, Presenting Third Periodic Report, Highlights 2008 Death Penalty Ban, Says Wants to Work Closely with Human Rights Committee on All Areas of Concern
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Human Rights Committee
2692nd Meeting (PM)
Uzbekistan, Presenting Third Periodic Report, Highlights 2008 Death Penalty Ban,
Says Wants to Work Closely with Human Rights Committee on All Areas of Concern
Experts Acknowledge Difficulties Country Faces, but Say Civil Society Reports
Show Progress towards Democracy, Rule of Law Halted, Even Reversed in Some Cases
From the very beginning of its independence just 18 years ago, Uzbekistan had sought to protect and promote the civil and political rights of all its citizens and had moved swiftly to adopt legislative, administrative and other measures to that end, such as abolishing the death penalty in 2008, the Director of the country’s National Human Rights Centre told the Human Rights Committee today.
Introducing his country’s third periodic report on compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Akmal Saidov said 10 new laws had been adopted and 15 codes had been amended as Uzbekistan moved to implement the recommendations of the Committee, promote fundamental rights and shore up legislation that would, among other things, combat human trafficking and domestic violence, and protect the rights of women and children. What the country had achieved, including abolishment of the death penalty, had been due, in part, to its open and consultative dialogue with the Committtee, and it was keen to work closely with the Committee on all matters of concern.
On institutional changes, he said both chambers of the Uzbekistan Parliament were now charged with handling implementation of the Committee’s recommendations. Parliament had also strengthened support to the National Human Rights Centre and expanded the duties of the Human Rights Ombudsman. Uzbekistan had also adopted some 58 laws to improve the judicial system, leading to serious reforms. The prison system had been improved, law enforcement agencies had been upgraded and the independence of judges had been strengthened.
He also acknowledged the challenges Uzbekistan faced, saying that, like so many other countries today, the Central Asian nation was experiencing the effects of the global economic downturn, impacting on the most vulnerable members of its society. Turning to domestic obstacles in implementing the Covenant, he cited the shift, after independence, to democratic systems in the country’s legislative, executive and judicial spheres. That move had required, among other things, strenuous efforts to expand knowledge about human rights.
Another challenge was the dire humanitarian situation regarding the Aral Sea, which affected food security as well as efforts to protect the environment. He said it was also important for the Committee to remember that Uzbekistan was located in a region that experienced major security problems. His country had been seriously affected by the general insecurity in Afghanistan, as well as that troubled nation’s association with illegal drug trafficking. There was also the threat of terrorism and religious extremism, which were largely security matters, but also diverted precious resources from human rights initiatives.
When the Committee’s experts took the floor, however, they expressed serious concern that the progress noted by the Uzbek delegation was being undercut by a raft of repressive measures and lapses characterized by widespread torture and pretrial detention, insufficient judicial independence and ongoing persecution of rights activists.
While acknowledging the steps taken by the Government of Uzbekistan to protect the fundamental rights of its citizens, several of the experts cited numerous reports from respected non-governmental human rights watchdogs -- strenuously denounced by Mr. Saidov -- defining Uzbekistan as “a totalitarian State that cared little for promoting the rule of law and protecting human rights”.
The experts said that reports from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other groups noted that the most widespread violations appeared to be torture, arbitrary arrests, harassment of rights activists and journalists, and various restrictions on freedoms of speech and press, and of free association and assembly. Despite the Government’s declarations of human rights reform, positive steps such as the abolishment of the death penalty and increased support for habeas corpus had little practical impact in the face of a human rights record that had only worsened after a Government attack on demonstrators in Andijan in May 2005.
Krister Thelin, expert from Sweden, acknowledged the problems that a former Soviet-bloc country might have to transform itself into a full-fledged democracy, but he was concerned that the progress towards democracy and the rule of law in Uzbekistan had halted and even reversed in some cases. He also wondered if the Government had considered integrating the tenets of the Covenant into domestic law; such a move would allow citizens to invoke the Covenant directly in judicial proceedings.
On other matters, he was seriously concerned about the independence of the Human Rights Ombudsman. Civil society groups had reported that that official actually seemed to be working for the Government. He was also troubled that representatives of Human Rights Watch and several other such groups were currently being denied access to the country. Finally, he urged the Government to at last launch an independent investigation into the Andijan matter.
While noting that Uzbekistan’s abolition of the death penalty was “a very fine development”, Nigel Rodley, expert from the United Kingdom, emphasized that several issues remained, citing in particular the situation of those who had been executed before the abolition of the death penalty. In those cases, it was reported that the families of the executed had not been informed of their relative’s burial and many had not received death certificates.
He also wanted to know more about commutation of the sentences of those on death row at the time of the death penalty’s abolition. What criteria were used by the Supreme Court in deciding whether someone with a death sentence was given a life sentence or something shorter? What laws did the Court reference? The Committee had heard that those decisions were taken in secret, and neither the convicted nor their families had been given the chance to make any representation.
For her part, Ruth Wedgwood, expert from United States, said reports from respected bodies had described the prisons in Uzbekistan as “islands of torture”. While the Committee could not fix that problem for Uzbekistan, it wished to bring those cases -- and the fact that any system to deal with instances of torture did not seem to be working -- to light, so the Uzbek Government could address that “disgrace” and clean up its report card.
Vehemently rejecting the Committee’s assessment, Mr. Saidov said his delegation was proud of Uzbekistan’s third periodic report and he was highly offended by the experts’ condemnatory tone. The current dialogue should be one of equals. No one should be considered a priori as the defenders of human rights. He highly commended the contribution civil society organizations had been making, calling it an honour when 19 groups had prepared alternative reports. His delegation had studied those with interest and highly welcomed their points. However, that did not mean Uzbekistan agreed with them. Moreover, 18 organizations had participated in the preparation of its third periodic country report. Given that, he did not think some information should be trusted over other information.
The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. Friday, 12 March, to continue and conclude its consideration of Uzbekistan’s third period report on compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Human Rights Committee met this afternoon to consider the third periodic report on Uzbekistan’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (document CCPR/C/UZB/3). According to the report, which was prepared by key Government bodies, with assistance from non-governmental organizations, Uzbekistan has undergone significant changes in the years since the consideration of its second periodic report in 2004.
Over the past six years, Uzbekistan has, among other things, extended the practice of dedicating individual years to tackling the major social and economic aspects of human rights: Year of Health (2005); Year of Voluntary Associations and Health Workers (2006); and Year of Social Protection (2007). All the measures carried out in these years were ultimately designed to enhance the people’s well-being and the living standards of every family, to extend the rights and options of institutions of civil society and to consolidate human rights and freedoms.
This period has also seen the adoption of legislation designed to secure the country’s fundamental renewal and modernization and improvement of the relationship between the State, society and individuals, including, among others, on the Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsman) of the Oliy Majlis act of 2004; the mass media act (new wording) of 2007; the non-profit non-governmental organizations (safeguards) act of 2007; the voluntary associations act of 2007; and the act on strengthening the role of political parties in the renewal and further democratization of the governance and modernization of the State, also of 2007.
The report says that the abolition of the death penalty by Uzbekistan had a major impact around the world. In its general comment no. 6 of 30 April 1982, on article 6 [right to life], the Human Rights Committee stated quite clearly that measures to abolish the death penalty must be regarded as progress in the realization of the right to life. The European Union not only welcomed the abolition of the death penalty from 1 January 2008, but also expressed the hope that the decision would prompt other countries of the region to follow Uzbekistan’s example.
The report indicates the progress made in the development of social, political and legal thinking in Uzbekistan with regard to various aspects of human rights; and will help international bodies to understand the current situation in country regarding the promotion, observance and protection of human rights. Further, the report explains in detail the legislative, administrative and organizational arrangements for the realization of human rights in Uzbekistan.
In addition, the report gives a full description of the current human rights legislation, indicates the goals and mandates of the institutions which have to apply that legislation in practice, and furnishes information on the ways and the areas in which the activities of the State agencies responsible for delivering human rights are coordinated.
Uzbekistan ’s Report
Introducing his country’s third periodic report on compliance with the international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, AKMAL SAIDOV, Director of the National Human Rights Centre, said that, 18 years ago, his country had become a member of the United Nations. Since that time, it had been actively working with the Organization’s agencies, programmes and monitoring bodies. Some 32 Government and civil society organizations had contributed to the preparation of the periodic report. From the start of its independence, Uzbekistan had sought to protect and promote the civil and political rights of all its citizens and had moved swiftly to adopt legislative, administrative and other measures to that end.
On legislative measures, he said 10 new laws had been adopted and 15 codes had been amended as Uzbekistan sought to implement the recommendations of the Committee, and promote fundamental rights, combat human trafficking and domestic violence and protect the rights of women and children. Last year, Uzbekistan had held parliamentary elections, which had been an important step in showing the world its support for international political standards. He was also pleased that, for the second time, the result had upheld the 30 per cent quota for positions for women.
On institutional changes, he said both chambers of the Uzbekistan Parliament were now charged with handling implementation of the Committee’s recommendations. Parliament had also strengthened support to the National Human Rights Centre. It had also expanded the duties of the Ombudsman to, among other things, visit prisons and detention centres, to meet with detainees and to hear communications from them or make deliveries on their behalf.
Turning to legislative enhancements since independence, he said that acts had also been adopted that aimed to expand freedoms of the mass media, as well as to raise awareness among the general public about human rights in the country. Uzbekistan had also adopted some 58 laws to improve the judicial system, leading to serious reforms. The prison system had been improved, law enforcement agencies had been upgraded and the independence of judges had been strengthened. He added that persons accused of crimes were now given their “Miranda” rights, thus ensuring they were protected at all levels.
He went on to say that, in the ambit of the United Nations push to ensure human rights education for all, Uzbekistan had encouraged State and civic organizations to launch campaigns to raise awareness. Uzbekistan was publishing 20 legal journals on human rights and the mass media was devoting particular attention to human rights protections.
Last year, he continued, the Government had elaborated a national plan of action on following up the recommendations of the Human Rights Council after that body’s Universal Periodic Review of human rights in Uzbekistan. A special focus would be promoting and protecting civil and political rights. Some 60 bodies would ultimately be involved in that exercise. He added that Uzbekistan supported the core international human rights treaties, and had recently acceded to, among others, the United Nations Convention against Corruption, and the Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Child.
As for the challenges, he said that, like so many other countries today, Uzbekistan was experiencing the effects of the world economic downturn, impacting on the most vulnerable groups of its society. Turning to domestic obstacles in implementing the Covenant, he cited the shift, after independence, to democratic systems in the country’s legislative, executive and judicial spheres. That move had required, among other things, strenuous efforts to expand knowledge about human rights. Another challenge was the ongoing dire humanitarian situation regarding the Aral Sea, which affected food security and efforts to promote environmental protection.
He said it was also important for the Committee to remember that Uzbekistan was in Central Asia, a region that had experienced major problems regarding security. His country had been seriously affected by the general insecurity in Afghanistan, as well as that troubled nation’s association with illegal drug trafficking. There was also the threat of international terrorism and religious extremism, which were largely security matters, but also diverted precious resources from human rights initiatives.
Along with Mr. Saidov, Uzbekistan’s delegation consisted of Abdukhalil Akhmedov, First Deputy Minister of Justice; Abdukarim Shodiev, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs; Sherally Rakhmonov, Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Court; Ildar Shigabutdinov, Acting Head of United Nations and International Organizations Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Murad Askarov, Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
Before the delegation delivered its response, Mr. SAIDOV addressed the Committee’s concerns that the country’s written responses had not been translated into English. He agreed with those concerns, but pointed out that Russian was an official United Nations language.
Addressing questions regarding the constitutional and legal framework within which the Covenant and Optional Protocol were implemented [article 2], Mr. RAKHMONOV said that, when handing out rulings, judges in Uzbekistan did indeed refer to international law, particularly in Supreme Court decrees, which were binding. Some examples included a decree dated 2 May 2007 on judicial sentences, which was a fundamental document in the nation’s judicial system, and contained a direct reference to the Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. A decree handed out on 24 November 2009, on human trafficking, contained a reference to the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime and its Optional Protocol on Human Trafficking.
In response to the Committee’s recommendation to curb the use of death sentences against certain people, the Supreme Court had ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant, he said. As a result, the death penalty had been abolished for all crimes, even those conducted during times of war, and replaced by life sentences. The Committee had requested measures to curb sentences in the case of three people, which the Supreme Court had managed to satisfy by giving them life sentences. However, it did not apply to cases that were decided before the Committee’s request was made.
Next, Mr. SAIDOV responded to questions concerning the Office of the Ombudsman. He said a new law had broadened its independence and had the effect of strengthening it. The Ombudsman was now permitted to meet detainees; communications submitted to the Ombudsman were protected from censorship; and the Ombudsman had the right to visit individuals in jail when conducting investigations. To further strengthen the Office of the Ombudsman, it was now housed in new building and provided with extra staff.
Specifically addressing the 2005 Andijan events [when troops fired into a crowd of protesters], he said it was an internal matter for the State and did not require an international investigation. Moreover, there was no legal basis for an international investigation, since Member States of United Nations were not obliged to agree to an international investigation and, in any case, the country had already conducted its own investigation. That was not to say the country had not cooperated with the international community on that issue ‑‑ from December 2005 to June 2006, Uzbek officials had visited over 700 diplomats at international organizations, including the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Bank, the European Parliament and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), illustrating its willingness to cooperate. He noted that the European Union had lifted the sanctions it had imposed on Uzbekistan because of the Andijan event.
Regarding the use of emergency laws, Mr. AKHMEDOVsaid the Constitution stated that public emergencies were to be declared on an exceptional basis in response to threats to national security, or in situations of catastrophe, natural disasters and epidemics. Emergency situations were “regulated by the law”, in that laws were established to protect people’s rights during emergencies and disasters. The country’s emergency regulations had been drawn up in 2007 through an exercise on “forecasting emergencies”. Other emergency-related legislative acts that were fully in line with the Covenant included those that secured property rights during emergencies; guaranteed protection during emergencies; stipulated “where people could be”; and provided for benefits such as free medical assistance and compensation for conducting clean-up operations.
The State was currently drafting a law that would add more guarantees during emergencies, as well as define “appropriate conduct” of local governing bodies, State bodies and non-governmental organizations during emergencies. The new law would uphold freedom of conscience and religion. The Government planned to hold a conference on rights and freedoms during emergencies, which ministries, department officials, civil society and international experts were expected to attend.
Turning to domestic violence and women, he stressed the voluntary nature of marriage and said that forced marriages were banned. Despite customary practices, forced marriage ‑‑ through abduction or other means ‑‑ had been made criminally punishable in 2007. So far, 31 people had been punished. On polygamous marriages, a man was criminally liable for having many wives or living with two or more women in the same household. “Household” referred to a unit that had a shared income and shared responsibilities. If a man wanted to continue living with a second woman, he must conclude a new marriage. In 2008, 16 cases had been brought forward in that regard.
Questions regarding terrorist acts and torture were addressed by Mr. SHODIEV, who assured the Committee that terrorism laws contained provisions as per the Covenant. It recognized and protected people’s civil and political rights and contained a definition of the act of terrorism. As for the use of torture, he said national laws were in line with the anti-torture Convention and there was an “absolute and total ban” on it. Those responsible were held criminally liable. To prevent a misinterpretation of the law, the Government had convened a working group in May 2005 under the purview of the Ministry of Justice, which had developed commentaries on article 205 of the criminal code. It had taken steps to ensure punishment for persons who had committed torture.
He said a special structure under the Ministry of Justice and in the Office of the Prosecutor addressed citizens’ complaints. The Prosecutor’s Office conducted ongoing analyses of Uzbek law and monitored the work of those working in law enforcement. A study in 2006 showed that there had been over 1,000 complaints about illegal action by law enforcement officials; 1,500 in 2007; in 1,200 in 2008; and just over 1,000 in 2009. There were also complaints against Ministry staff and customs officials, ranging from illegal imprisonment, “steps taken without legal advice” and illegal searches. As a result, 203 criminal cases were brought against persons working in law enforcement, including the military, judiciary, customs and Office of the Prosecutor.
He said that 2008 had seen eight cases of torture and several cases of illegal detention. It was found that several persons from the Ministry of Interior and the Customs Department were involved. In 2009, several cases had been raised against police. Persons found guilty were imprisoned, and not a single case of torture had gone unpunished. Prohibition of torture was a key principle in law enforcement, and much discussion was taking place on proper dealings with detainees.
Next, Mr. RAKHMANOV turned to the question of criminal liability in domestic violence cases, and access to effective remedy for victims. He said the criminal code stipulated criminal liability for rape, including marital rape. Paragraph B of the criminal code stated that criminal responsibility for rape extended to rape of a close relative, defined as a parent, cousins, siblings, spouses, children ‑‑ including adopted children ‑‑ and grandchildren. It also included spouse’s parents and siblings.
On matters related to the treatment of prisoners, Mr. SHODIEV said the country’s prison system was working with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). That agency had carried out 12 visits to detention centres in 2008, and it had open access to all such prisons and centres, as well as to police stations. Women and children detainees were held separately from general prison populations. Juvenile detention centres were open to visits from parents and non-governmental organizations. The Government also ensured that, three months before a juvenile was released, he or she attended training workshops and other reintegration services.
Continuing, he said that the most acceptable period of detention without charge was 24 hours to a maximum of 72 hours. During that time, such detainees were allowed to participate in all aspects regarding their cases. He added that it would be 15 years since the Uzbek Parliament had ratified the Covenant and Optional Protocol. What had been achieved, including abolishment of the death penalty, had been, in part, thanks to its open and constructive dialogue with the Committee. Uzbekistan was keen to work closely with the Committee on all matters of concern.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
KRISTER THELIN, expert from Sweden, said reports from civil society seemed to reveal that the situation of human rights in Uzbekistan “is not as positive as one would hope”. Indeed, such reports showed that progress towards democracy and the rule of law had halted and even reversed in some cases. He acknowledged the problems that a former Soviet-bloc country might have to transform itself into a full-fledged democracy.
He was also cognizant that Uzbekistan was in a region where insecurity and conflict seemed to be the norm, rather than an aberration. Despite the positive presentation, the picture provided by groups such as Human Rights Watch was of a totalitarian nation that persecuted human rights defenders and cared little for promoting the rule of law and protecting human rights.
He wondered if the Government had considered integrating the tenets of the Covenant into domestic law; such a move would allow citizens to invoke the Covenant directly in judicial proceedings. He acknowledged that Uzbekistan had abolished the death penalty, but asked the delegation what measures were in place to provide information to the relatives of persons that had been executed in the past of the location of burial sites and the issuance of death certificates.
On other matters, he was seriously concerned about the independence of the Human Rights Ombudsman. Civil society groups had reported that that official actually seemed to be working for the Government. He was also troubled that representatives of Human Rights Watch and several other such groups were currently being denied access to the country. Finally, he disagreed with the delegation’s answers regarding the Andijan issue -- where Uzbek Interior Ministry and National Security Service troops fired into a crowd of protesters on 13 May 2005 -- and urged the Government to finally launch an independent investigation into that matter.
Next, IULIA ANTOANELLA MOTOC, expert from Romania, asked for specific information about laws on declaring a state of emergency. Were new draft laws being considered? She was also concerned that many people were arrested on suspicion of terrorism, without evidence that they were actually participating in terrorist groups. While Uzbekistan was indeed in a very volatile region, there appeared to be some abuse in that regard, especially regarding certain groups and individuals from Turkey, “or other individuals with certain levels of education that the Government finds troublesome”. What were the specific legal standards used to accuse or arrest persons for crimes related to terrorism?
HELLEN KELLER, expert from Switzerland, said she was particularly impressed by the blue booklet the delegation had provided to the Committee. She wondered how many booklets had been printed, how they were distributed in Uzbekistan and to whom. Despite that, she was concerned that the delegation did not include a woman. Along those lines, she also had some follow-up questions on questions 7 and 8 regarding non-discrimination. The delegation had indicated that 45 cases of forced marriage had been raised -- and closed -- in 2008. How had those cases been concluded? Also, could figures for 2009 be provided? Likewise, the delegation had indicated that 16 cases of polygamy had been opened in 2008, and she wondered how those cases had been decided and if there were figures for 2009.
She asked the delegation to provide clarification on the definition of polygamy in Uzbek legislation, which appeared to say that if a person had not ceased to have one marriage, but entered into another marriage, such action did not constitute polygamy. Also, reports indicated that the majority of Uzbekistan’s population did not consider polygamy a crime. Had the State made any effort to combat the popular conception of polygamy? Could it also provide information on its awareness-raising work regarding child brides? On that issue, she also noted that Uzbekistan had not amended its age limit for marriage for girls and asked for more information on its plans in that regard.
She went on to ask if the State had any plans to work with the media to enhance a non-discriminatory portrayal of women. Did it intend to collect data on various forms of violence against women and girls, including domestic violence, as well as its social roots? Did it have any plans to amend its criminal code in that regard? What was the Government doing to ensure that the local community “mahalla” councils did not treat domestic violence as merely a family conflict? According to reports the Committee had received, centres for victims of domestic violence had been closed. What was the Government doing, she asked, to remedy that situation to ensure that all women fleeing from domestic violence had access to shelter and support.
Taking up question 9 on the State’s plans in the wake of its abolition of the death penalty, NIGEL RODLEY, expert from the United Kingdom, said abolition was “a very fine development”. However, several issues remained, he said, citing in particular the situation of those who had been executed before the abolition of the death penalty. In those cases, it was reported that the families of the executed had not been informed of their relative’s burial.
He also wanted to know more about commutation of the sentences of those on death row at the time of the death penalty’s abolition. What criteria were used by the Supreme Court in deciding whether someone with a death sentence was given a life sentence or something shorter? What laws did the Court reference? The Committee had heard that those decisions were taken in secret, and neither the convicted nor their families were given the chance to make any representation. Nor were they given any chance to appeal or seek recourse to those decisions.
Turing to question 10 concerning Uzbekistan’s intention to bring the definition of torture in its criminal code in line with Covenant and the Convention against Torture, he said that, unless there was a problem with the translation, the delegation’s written response seemed to be contradictory. The first sentence said article 235 was in compliance with article 1 of the Torture Convention, while the second said the National Plan of Action envisioned rendering article 235 in compliance with both the Torture Convention and the Covenant. Could more clarification be provided?
He further noted that the delegation’s response indicated torture was illegal in Uzbekistan and there were many mechanisms to ensure its repression. But, a comparison of that assertion with information the Committee had received from a wide range of non-governmental organizations, which indicated that not much had changed since the last report of the Special Rapporteur on Torture, “made it hard to get a bead on reality”. It would be nice to think that torture had ended for a whole range of issues, including visits by ICRC and the success of lawyers in bringing its use to light. But the Committee was so bombarded by stories of torture that it seemed the system did not quite work in practice the way it was intended to in theory.
To that end, he noted several examples brought to light by a number of non-governmental organizations, such as Amnesty International and ICRC, which testified to a refusal of Uzbekistan’s authorities to, in some cases, even investigate allegations of abuse and torture, and to, in those they did investigate, minimize their findings as less than torture.
He went on to say he was not quite clear on exactly which moment a lawyer was supposed to have the right of access to persons being detained. He understood there was an immediate -- and highly commendable -- right to inform the detainee’s family. But did the proceedings start from the first moment of apprehension, leaving the lawyer with the right to access from that moment? He requested further clarification on whether the State party considered 72 hours to be an appropriate limit for holding a detainee without charge. Indeed, the delegation asserted as much in its written response report. But, it then stated two paragraphs later that “the general investigation department of the ministry of internal affairs has proposed to reduce the period of 72 hours to 48 hours”.
RUTH WEDGWOOD, expert from United States, said that, with respect to question 12, which addressed the establishment of a fully independent body to monitor places of detention, “the proof was in the pudding”. Clearly, whatever device existed for visitations, it did not scare anyone. That might be because things were cleaned up before those visits, but whatever it was, something was clearly wrong. Indeed, reports from respected bodies had described the prisons in Uzbekistan as systems of torture or even “islands of torture”. While the Committee could not fix that problem for Uzbekistan, it wished to bring these cases -- and the fact that any system to fix instances of torture did not seem to be working -- to light, so the Uzbek Government could address that “disgrace” and clean up its report card. Indeed, while she commended the high-level delegation’s visit, she worried that its appearance before the Committee would only prove galling if the State did not find a way to deal with fourteenth century practices such as those.
Continuing, she asked for more information on the issue of detaining persons under 14, the practice of transporting children to court with adults and the conditions for holding children, including in cells equipped only with concrete chairs. She then turned to question 19 on control of the media, which she said she raised only because she could not attend tomorrow’s session, due to a death in her family.
“I must confess,” she said, “I would not have the courage to be an independent journalist in Uzbekistan.” That was not only because of technical things that were done, such as blocking websites, she said, but because of the practice of incarcerating journalists. While it was always possible to manufacture a case against a journalist, a pattern of imprisoning journalists was troubling. Noting that Freedom House described freedom of the press in Uzbekistan as “desolate”, she suggested such a tendentious record implied that the Government seemed to be afraid of having an open discussion of public affairs. That did not seem to be the kind of situation a newly democratic country would wish for in terms of its present and future.
Focusing on what he termed Uzbekistan’s “human rights architecture”, MICHAEL O'FLAHERTY, expert from Ireland, asked for more information about the independence of the National Human Rights Commission and its Ombudsman. He also asked about the legal framework for the participation of civil society in the country and what appeared to be “profound prohibitions” in the criminal code on the work of human rights defenders and journalists that might be critical of the Government. He noted that civil society actors reported that journalists and human rights workers were frequently characterized as “traitors” and routinely assaulted on the streets as they tried to do their jobs.
Was the Government willing to review such cases not only to assess the legitimacy of arrests and detention, but also to consider providing protection for such civic actors? He also asked if the Government would consider repealing provisions that forbade same-sex couples. He said such prohibitions had serious “knock-on effects”. In countries where certain types of behaviour were forbidden, it was often difficult, for example, to make progress on treatment of HIV/AIDS.
Echoing other experts’ sentiments regarding the social acceptance of polygamy in Uzbekistan, ABDELFATTAH AMOR, expert from Tunisia, asked what the Government was doing to promote policies and measures that changed that mindset. He recalled that the Committee’s relevant general comment on the matter “is crystal clear” in that it characterized polygamy as “an attack on the woman”. While it might take time to change mindsets, he believed it was easier to change laws.
On anti-terrorism measures, he warned that the fight against terrorism could be a slippery slope, where those with whom a Government disagreed could be labelled terrorists and have their human rights abrogated for no other reason than that they were being bothersome. He also asked if the Government had a clear framework for declaring a person an “extremist”.
FABIÁN OMAR SALVIOLI, expert from Argentina, said he was extremely concerned by language in the penal code that sanctioned homosexual activity between adults. He said that combating discrimination did not just mean having a law on the books; it meant actively working to change mindsets and promote tolerance. The Committee had heard numerous complaints about harassment of gays and lesbians in the country, and he was very concerned that, in some instances, such persons were afraid to take complaints of harassment in the workplace to their employers.
Responding to those comments, Mr. SAIDOV emphasized his delegation’s pride in its report. Indeed, Uzbekistan had not yet enjoyed even 20 years as an independent State, but if it was offended by certain statements, it would deal with it. Nevertheless, the delegation was offended. Uzbeks were a dignified people and were no less concerned about the situation of human rights.
His delegation was not satisfied, he said, with the Committee’s condemnatory tone. The current dialogue should be one of equals. No one should be considered a priori as the defenders of human rights. He highly commended the contribution civil society organization had been making, calling it an honour when 19 organizations prepared alternative reports. His delegation had studied those with interest and highly welcomed their points. However, that did not mean Uzbekistan agreed with them. Moreover, 18 organizations had participated in the preparation of its third periodic country report. Given that, he did not think some information should be trusted over other information.
Taking up the Committee’s questions on the events in Andijan, he said the Government of Uzbekistan would not change its position. Nor would it ever invite international organizations to investigate that event. There was no binding article in any international instrument requiring it to do so. If someone did not like the European Union’s lifting of sanctions, then they should get the Union to introduce another round. He further noted that a number of plans to level sanctions against his country had been cancelled. Asking if that was not sufficient proof that the Government was not lying, he said the issue had been closed.
He went on to say the Uzbek Government was sometimes surprised when data was shared about its cooperation with ICRC. Indeed, Uzbekistan was one of the few countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States to have concluded an agreement with ICRC, and that had been done in 2001. Moreover, any non-governmental organization that wanted to visit Uzbek prisons could. He noted that, according to the ICRC agreement, that organization’s visits were confidential and his delegation had not itself received any reports regarding its visits in 2009. For its part, Uzbekistan did not want its agreement to be breached.
Thanking the expert panel for its comments, he noted the Uzbek proverb that “the enemy says you should laugh and the friend says you should improve yourself”. His delegation considered that when assessments were made about a situation in a country, prudence was needed. To that end, the delegation did not understand the Committee’s position, especially since the Government had also provided information.
Nevertheless, he acknowledged that there was a huge distance between adopting a law and that law’s enforcement, and Uzbekistan had a problem in closing that gap. It was working on that and was not saying everything was rosy.
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