Human Rights Committee Concludes Consideration of Uzbekistan’s Third Report, Poses Questions on Child Labour, Use of Torture, Judicial Independence
Human Rights Committee Concludes Consideration of Uzbekistan’s Third Report, Poses Questions on Child Labour, Use of Torture, Judicial Independence
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Human Rights Committee
2693rd & 2694th Meetings (AM & PM)
Human Rights Committee Concludes Consideration of Uzbekistan’s Third Report,
Poses Questions on Child Labour, Use of Torture, Judicial Independence
Experts Stress Discussion with States Meant to Be Forum for Dialogue;
Delegation Notes ‘Moments of Tension’, But Says Welcomed Constructive Exchange
Saluting steps taken by Uzbekistan in recent years to reform its human rights legislation ‑‑ notably its abolition of the death penalty and its guarantee of habeas corpus ‑‑ experts on the Human Rights Committee nevertheless pressed that country to address potential gaps on a number of critical fronts, including the independence of its judiciary, the use of torture by various security forces and reports that child labour persisted despite laws prohibiting it.
Following an opening session yesterday that struck, as one expert described it today, an unusually spirited note, both the delegation and Committee members reminded each other that the current discussion was not an inquisition, but a forum for dialogue. Adding to requests by several experts that the tone of the dialogue should remain respectful, Committee Chairman Yuji Iwasawa, expert from Japan, said the Uzbek delegation might not agree with what was being said, but it could, through constructive dialogue, get a sense of what measures could be taken to improve its human rights situation.
To that end, Nigel Rodley, expert from the United Kingdom, expressed appreciation for the delegation’s assertion that priority should be given to enacting laws, not just writing them. That statement was, he said, the type of discourse the Committee appreciated. For his part, he pointed to gaps in prohibiting torture in Uzbekistan, suggesting the absence of an authoritative international definition of torture was an insufficient reason for ignoring those gaps.
Several experts expressed concerns about the independence of various mechanisms that the delegation highlighted as central to reform efforts, including its Human Rights Ombudsman and the judiciary. Hellen Keller, expert from Switzerland, said the Committee had received information that many judicial posts were “stuffed” by acquaintances of high Government officials. It also appeared that the Ministry of Justice had a hand in most aspects of legal professional matters in the country.
Responding to accusations by the delegation yesterday that the Committee granted more weight to what the Uzbek Government considered to be politically motivated, erroneous or confidential reports from various human rights organizations, several panel members defended their need to consider as much credible information as possible to fully probe a country’s human rights situation.
Citing information from non-governmental sources, Lazhari Bouzid, expert from Algeria, said the Committee had received information that children were sent to work in cattle fields under conditions that amounted to “inhuman treatment”. He asked how the Government reconciled such assertions with its declaration that child labour “is a thing of the past” in the country?
Michael O’Flaherty, expert from Ireland, expressed specific concern about the way civil society was discussed by the delegation, stressing that civil society was a crucial pillar in protecting human rights in all countries. Indeed, a vigorous civil society was needed to “give everyone a tough time” and hold Governments to the highest standards. It appeared, however, that human rights defenders faced a hard time in Uzbekistan, and he asked what the Government was doing to change mindsets about civil society.
Krister Thelin, expert from Sweden, said he considered Uzbekistan to be more advanced with respect to the death penalty than the country in which today’s meeting was taking place. Nevertheless, he was saddened to note that Uzbekistan had been assigned a rank of 7 in terms of its level of freedom by Freedom House. He hoped this would change by the time of the delegation’s next report.
In response to the Committee’s comments, Akmal Saidov, Director of the National Human Rights Centre, emphasized Uzbekistan’s desire for an open and constructive dialogue. There had been moments of tension, but he believed even with heated discussion the truth could be found. While it was a young country and might sometimes be “sensitive or edgy”, the Committee could “bank on” further continued dialogue.
In that respect, he noted in his closing remarks the delegation’s plan to undertake a widespread dialogue at home based on the Committee’s recommendations. An action plan would also be drafted to guide the implementation of those recommendations.
In other matters, the Committee met with Franz Baumann, Assistant Secretary-General, Department for General Assembly and Conference Management, to discuss ongoing problems with the translation of necessary documents, including written country responses.
Responding to the Committee members who asked how best to bring the matter forward, since complaints to the General Assembly had not produced any effect, he indicated that the issue was a question of resources, capacity and management. In some respects, conference services were like the restaurant business; a restaurant might be able to serve 120 meals, but not all at once due to the kitchen’s limited capacity. Among the possible solutions he cited were a reduction in the volume of documents submitted by Committee and greater predictability.
Also speaking today on behalf of Uzbekistan were: Abdukhalil Akhmedov, First Deputy Minister of Justice; Abdukarim Shodiev, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs; and Sherally Rakhmonov, Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Court.
The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 15 March, to consider its working methods.
The Human Rights Committee, the 18-member expert body which monitors global implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, met today to continue its consideration of the third periodic report of Uzbekistan on that country’s compliance with the treaty (document CCPR/C/UZB/3). (See also Press Release HR/CT/718 issued 11 March.)
Uzbekistan’s delegation was headed by Akmal Saidov, Director of the National Human Rights Centre, and included: 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.
Mr. SAIDOV agreed with Hellen Keller, expert from Switzerland, that the Uzbek delegation had, by not including a woman, violated gender equality. He pointed out, however, that the Ombudsman was a woman and she had intended to come, but had not been able to. He further noted that the last delegation Uzbekistan sent to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had been 50-50 in terms of men and women. He further indicated that the blue booklets about which Ms. Keller had asked were available in Uzbekistan.
Mr. RAKHMONOV said that holding someone in custody was one form of seven types of detention, and there were broad rules governing each of them. Long prison sentences were established only for two types of crimes: premeditated murder with exacerbating circumstances and terrorism. These types of sentences could not be given to women or those who committed a crime before age 18 and after age 60. Life imprisonment was an exceptional measure, and there were two places of solitary confinement, as well as other prison facilities throughout the country.
Turning to the questions on domestic violence, he underscored that Uzbekistan’s national legislation regarding crimes against women, and freedoms of dignity and self-worth were qualified by the appropriate article of the Criminal Code. Regarding the question raised by Nigel Rodley, expert from the United Kingdom, on the 72-hour limit for detention, he noted that the law excluded any extension of that by even one hour. The measures of detention or other types of detention did uphold that limit. Thus, the law guaranteed the detainees had all their rights stemming from Uzbekistan’s national legislation.
Mr. SAIDOV added that, in the report’s preparation, the delegation had taken account of general comment 8, which said “States parties must establish a maximum limit for pretrial detention and that period should not exceed a couple of days.” He noted that the general comment contained was no indication of what should be a maximum or a minimum, so in Uzbekistan there was a 72-hour minimum. Mr. Rodley had expressed surprise that this could be extended by 48 hours, but this was not surprising, since there was no bill before Parliament on this matter.
Taking the floor, Mr. AKHMEDOV said Uzbekistan’s law on emergency situations was being prepared. It would indicate how citizens and organizations should act during such events. To that end, special attention would be paid to the rights of citizens in emergency situations and no limits on their fundamental rights and freedoms would be imposed. Moreover, it could not allow for the back-dating of any prosecutions. Citizens would also be given a right to compensation.
On the number of prosecutions for polygamy, he said that, of the 21 cases mentioned, 19 were criminal cases that came to the court and investigations were continuing on the other 2. The Criminal Code did not have any special rule on punishing those who kidnapped young women, because this was covered in the general rule related to the kidnapping of persons. He further noted that sexual violence against women was punishable, as were attacks on dignity, among other things. Forced marriages were prohibited by law. In communities where this custom continued, it was usually symbolic. Once the marriage was recorded, the rights of the bride were respected. Young people were not supportive of this “old custom” and, in the areas where it existed, efforts were being made to change opinions and to end bride abduction. Fewer than 30 persons in 2009 were summoned in this connection.
Turning to family relations, he said women in Uzbekistan had the same rights as men. There was a law protecting mothers and children, but the Family Code codified equality between men and women. He said that women participated in all spheres of life in the country, including the political and private sectors. The Uzbek Government had also set the marriage age for women at 18. He went on to say that the Government worked with the media to publicize measures aimed at protecting and promoting the tenets of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
He said that the Government had also held seminars that targeted specific segments of the population ‑‑ medical professionals, lawyers, law enforcement officials ‑‑ to sensitize them to issues regarding the rights of women, including how to spot and counsel victims of domestic violence.
Further on that issue, Mr. RAKHMONOV said that the Government had established 56 centres throughout the country to provide safe haven to more than 1,000 victims of domestic violence last year. Also in 2009, those centres had begun to provide free legal services. To that end, some 322 people had received training in helping to prepare their cases against the perpetrators. He added that the Ombudsman’s Office and the Mahalla Council also provided assistance to women and girls.
On the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention, Mr. SAIDOV added that Uzbekistan had a very open relationship with that Convention’s monitoring body and his Government had recently moved to expedite action on its concluding comments and recommendations. Responding to a question that had been raised yesterday, he said his Government was aware of the stereotype that polygamy was associated only with Islam and believed in fighting against such stigmatism. As for Uzbekistan, legislation banned polygamy and criminal liability was assessed to those who practised it. Uzbekistan was a secular State, and even though about 90 per cent of the population was Muslim, sharia law had been banned in 1928, he added.
Turning to the issue of combating terrorism, Mr. SHODIEV described in detail Uzbekistan’s definition of what acts constituted terrorist acts in the country. Responsibility for terrorism was stipulated in the Criminal Code, which also set out the means by which the human rights of those charged with carrying out terrorist acts were protected.
Mr. SAIDOV added that Uzbekistan’s efforts had not led to a comprehensive legal definition of terrorism. Many countries were struggling with that issue. He believed his country was moving forward on coming up with such a definition, but, in the meantime, it had ratified the core international terrorism conventions and believed that the combat against that scourge must be carried out according to human rights norms. He then turned to matters regarding prisons, detention centres and the treatment of detainees, emphasizing that children were not being held with other prisoners. Indeed, child detention centres were closely monitored and frequently visited by representatives of non-governmental organizations.
He went on to refute the call made by experts yesterday that Uzbekistan rewrite its anti-torture laws. He said that, while his Government was going to re-examine its laws in light of the Committee’s suggestions, he believed that, currently, Uzbekistan’s law was broader than the tenets of the anti-torture Convention. A decision regarding changes of such laws must, therefore, be weighed seriously. Since Uzbekistan’s anti-torture measures were “so bad”, he asked Mr. Rodley, expert from the United Kingdom, to give the Uzbek delegation his definition of torture. Perhaps that might be more constructive than what happened yesterday when the experts commented on that matter.
Continuing on that point, he had been offended by the experts’ accusatory tone. “‘We don’t trust you and everything is bad in your country.’ That is what we heard yesterday,” he said. That attitude was not constructive, when, for example, the prison population in Uzbekistan had been cut in half during the past decade. “Is that good or bad? Well, perhaps it’s bad because Human Rights Watch says so,” he said, adding that Uzbekistan would never be a European country, and that the experts must respect its values.
“We will stand for our national interests. We are not [bolstering human rights] for you or the United Nations. We are doing it for our own people. We are trying to build an island of democracy in Central Asia,” he declared. He also took exception to the experts who questioned the independence of Uzbekistan’s Human Rights Ombudsman. That official had ties to all international human rights agencies and had been serving for the past 15 years. Moreover, the Government had recently taken measures to strengthen that office.
He urged the experts to consider that some human rights groups’ assessment of the situation in his country might be politically motivated. The experts should measure the situation in Uzbekistan in light of the changes that had taken place over the past 18 years. The Government considered the improvement of human rights a long-term goal and it was working hard to implement international standards, in that regard. It was not seeking to recreate a European-based system.
On questions regarding the death penalty, Mr. Saidov recalled that it had taken France some 150 years to completely ban such punishment, while Uzbekistan had moved to abolish it much more swiftly. Indeed, Uzbekistan had always considered it necessary to effect a complete ban; a moratorium was, in fact, a form of torture, because, as in some prisons in the United States, prisoners had been on death row for 15 years or more.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
KRISTER THELIN, expert from Sweden, expressed appreciation for the spirit with which the delegation had responded, and assured them that he was not a proponent of imperialism. Rather, he believed the human rights supported by the Human Rights Committee and elaborated in the Covenant were universal. Also, he considered Uzbekistan to be more advanced with respect to the death penalty than the country in which today’s meeting was taking place.
Nevertheless, he wanted to know where the decisions were taken when it came to compliance with the committee’s views, such as when it proposed that compensation should be given. He asked for more information regarding the statistics mentioned by the delegation. As for the events in Andijan, given the delegation’s answer yesterday, he suggested it would be necessary to agree to disagree. However, even though it happened five years ago, there was an ongoing concern that he still wished to raise. The Committee had heard reports from family members that those who had fled were being pressured. Could more information be provided?
He also wondered what the rules were regarding the use of firearms by security forces against civilians and whether those rules were in compliance with international norms. He would, he said, be the first to salute Uzbekistan on reforming its Criminal Code and procedures regarding habeas corpus. But, as the delegation had pointed out, having the laws in place was one thing, and carrying them out another. To that end, he wanted to know if the judge deciding issues of pretrial detention was ultimately the judge sitting in decision on the ultimate proceedings. He would also like to know to what extent the prosecutor was successful in bringing a pretrial detention motion before a judge, as the success and failure rates could be illustrative of the how pretrial proceedings unfolded.
ABDELFATTAH AMOR, expert from Tunisia, said the commentary offered on polygamy indicated that in Uzbekistan, the citizenry was overall in favour of that practice. Therefore, on the social level, he wondered if the State was taking any steps to help change people’s mindsets. On the legal level, he was still unclear. It seemed that a woman could legally be a “second wife”, provided she had a second home. But in the laws of Uzbekistan, was there an explicit prohibition of polygamy? If there was not ‑‑ and bearing in mind general comment 8 ‑‑ was there any intention to draw up such a law?
He further noted that the term “extremism” was a term used in political discourse, not legal discussions. Thus, he wanted to know if judges had used that term. If they had, could the delegation provide information on those cases? This was a practical, not just a theoretical, matter, he added.
MICHAEL O’FLAHERTY, expert from Ireland, acknowledging that a weakness of the current process was that a country’s success was not typically celebrated, expressed hope that the Uzbek delegation could respond to his questions from yesterday with respect to revisions of the criminal code, particularly regarding the freedom of expression and same-sex couples. He suggested his question on the Ombudsman’s office may have been misunderstood yesterday. He wanted to know if the Government would consider application to the coordinating framework for its Ombudsman office. Given reports from other Ombudsman mechanisms about how helpful that framework was, would this added layer of partnership be considered?
With respect to the delegation’s comments about information from civil society and non-governmental organizations, he stressed that he had simply checked for himself if the Ombudsman was a member of this group. He was also concerned about the way civil society had been discussed yesterday and today. It was a crucial pillar in protecting human rights in all countries. A vigorous civil society was needed to “give everyone a tough time” and hold them to the highest standards. Nevertheless, it appeared that human rights defenders faced a hard time in Uzbekistan, particularly given comments by some high-level officials. If the goal was to change mindsets, he wanted to know what Uzbekistan was doing to change mindsets on the topic of civil society. Finally, he asked if responses to the situation could be given regarding the list of names he had mentioned yesterday. Particularly, could assurances be given that these people would be protected?
NIGEL RODLEY, expert of the United Kingdom, said there was absolutely no confidential information shared with the Committee from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). It was intemperate to suggest this confidentiality had been breached. He then took up the matter of the report by the special rapporteur on torture, Theo van Boven, requesting to know the “chapter and verse” for the delegation’s assertion yesterday that Mr. van Boven had not written, but merely signed, his report on torture in Uzbekistan.
As for the definition of torture, he agreed there was no authoritative international definition. There was, however, case law and in that regard he cited the definition of the European Court of Human Rights, which he himself had used as a former special rapporteur. He appreciated the statement from Mr. Saidov that priority should be given to enacting law, not just writing it. Indeed, this was the type of discourse that the committee appreciated. Very often in countries, legislation might look good, but nothing was done to make it work.
Continuing, he said he had no definition of torture. In his own work he had been guided by article 1 in the Convention against Torture and he was not saying that Uzbek law was not consistent with that. He was saying, however, that on its face, there were parts of the definition that did not seem to be covered in Uzbek law and he was asking how those parts might be covered. To that end, what he would appreciate was not merely an assertion that these were covered, but an explanation of how they were covered.
On the issue of the 72-hour limit to detention, he said this was possibly a matter on which there would have to be disagreement. He had been out of the room when the delegation’s explanation was given, but having been briefed on its answer, he remained concerned specifically about detention in police custody.
He felt he had given his most assured support for Uzbekistan’s becoming part of the death penalty abolition movement and hoped that nothing had taken away from that. But, he did have questions on that issue, particularly regarding how families were notified of the execution of their family members before that law was changed. Further, he had asked for more information on the commutation of sentences when the death penalty was abolished.
HELLEN KELLER, expert from Switzerland, said she was glad to hear about the 21 cases concerning article 26 of the Criminal Code, but she had not heard the year this referred to. On the laws about marriage age, she said she had understood that there was an exception clause in the old law that allowed the marriage age to be lowered. Would that exception be closed in the new law?
IULIA ANTOANELLA MOTOC, expert from Romania, said she felt that a real dialogue was developing between the Committee and Uzbekistan and she thanked the delegation for their responses. Regarding the delegation’s response to Mr. Amor’s question on Islam, in which it referenced cultures where prejudice against Islam existed, she stressed that the Committee sought to end all prejudice. Therefore, it had been very conscious of the delegation’s comments regarding cultural customs. She noted that the Uzbek report provided an interesting description of the Government’s attempts to reach a definition of terrorism. As everyone knew, there was no one definition that was widely agreed to. However, she wanted to know the number of persons in prison in Uzbekistan on charges relating to those articles in the Criminal Code that mentioned membership in prohibited organizations. She also wondered how the State distinguished between those who were in such groups and those who merely practised their Islamic faith peacefully and privately.
Mr. SAIDOV said that his delegation would try to answer those questions it could, but would provide detailed statistics-based information later. He went on to say that the Supreme Court of Uzbekistan was the only body that could commute the sentences of those persons that had been sentenced to death prior to the punishment’s abolishment. He added that all relatives of persons executed while their cases were under review by the Committee had received information regarding the time and place of death. On other matters, he said that he would also send detailed information on the cases before the Ombudsman.
He reminded the Committee that, as far as Uzbekistan was concerned, the question of Andijan was closed. He disputed the expert’s assertion that 7,000 people had died in that incident. The official Government tally was less than 250 people. The numbers cited by the Committee had been “conjured up” by others. Moreover, he refuted the notion that the demonstrators were “peaceful,” especially since so many of them had weapons. “To us, Andijan was a real tragedy […] we are more concerned about than you are”, but throwing around the figure 7,000 dead was not helpful.
On polygamy, he said that the Government was taking active measures to ensure that marriage was between two people. He could not say “what people believed in their minds” about polygamy. To questions about the use of information provided by non-governmental organizations, he said specifically that such groups did not correctly characterize the Human Rights Ombudsman. That official acted independently of the Government. The Government was, nevertheless, working to strengthen its cooperation with non-governmental organizations and enhance participation of those groups in the country. The Government also wanted to ensure equal partnerships between civil society and Government bodies.
He went on to stress that Mr. Rodley had indeed said that the ICRC and Amnesty International had provided the information he had cited yesterday. How could he provide such detailed information unless confidentiality rules had been breached? He also noted that Mr. Rodley had given examples of European case law, while Uzbekistan was an Asian country. “We cannot take European law and replace our laws with it,” he declared. On other matters, he stressed that a person could be held in pretrial detention in Uzbekistan for up to 72 hours “and not one hour past that”.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
Mr. THELIN said that yesterday, he had said that 700 people had been killed at Andijan ‑‑ not 7,000. If that was the figure the delegation heard then it must have been a mistake in translation. That number, 700, was the figure most frequently used by independent non-governmental organizations. Finally, he looked forward to the specifics to be provided by the delegation on the use of firearms by security officials against civilians.
Mr. Rodley said that he addressed any delegation that came before the Committee in a moderate voice and would appreciate the same courtesy. He did not take kindly to finger-pointing and being personally addressed in a loud voice. The Committee was involved in an exchange of views with a Government delegation and he would appreciate that the discussion continued in a respectful manner.
Returning to the matter of information provided on detainees being hidden from representatives of the ICRC, he said that information, “and I insist on having the last word on this”, had not been provided by that agency. For all he knew, the ICRC may not even be aware that the individuals in question had indeed been kept from its representatives. But, there were other credible ways of finding out such information.
Turning to questions regarding Mr. van Boven’s anti-torture report, he said, while it was no secret that human rights mechanisms depended on assistants to help compile such surveys, he really wanted specifics from the delegation regarding that assertion that Mr. van Boven had merely signed off on a report that he had not read. Finally, he had very much appreciated the tone of the latter part of the response, and appreciated information on matters regarding detention.
FABIÁN OMAR SALVIOLI, expert from Argentina, said that everyone present must adhere to the appropriate level of respect. The Committee respected the delegation and the Uzbek representatives must show the same respect. On torture, he said that there were international bodies of the United Nations that assessed such situations and determined the existence of “systematic practice”, regardless of whether there was an internationally agreed definition of the acts or not. Finally, he said that this was not an inquisition, but a forum for dialogue.
Also on that point, Committee Chairman YUJI IWASAWA, expert from Japan, said that, while the delegation might not agree with what was being said, through an exchange of views and constructive dialogue, the delegation could get a sense of what measures could be taken to improve the human rights situation in its country. He hoped the Uzbek delegation understood the sprit of the forum.
Saying that he was “a very passionate person”, Mr. SAIDOV apologized to Mr. Rodley. Further to Mr. Rodley, he said that the Uzbek delegation was not accusing Mr. van Boven of anything. However, United Nations experts must be very careful about the statements that were made in their reports, especially when such assertions might call into question serious matters regarding State sovereignty. He went on to thank Mr. Thelin for his clarification and agreed that he must have misunderstood the figure on the number of deaths in Andijan.
Mr. SAIDOV said that Uzbekistan also sought an open and constructive dialogue with the Committee, adding that: “We are a young country and sometimes we might be sensitive or edgy.” He respected the Committee and looked forward to the remainder of the dialogue.
Beginning the delegation’s response to written questions 16 to 29, Mr. AKHMEDOV said Parliament had adopted a law countering human trafficking. Among other things, it aimed to help victims, providing them with health, social, legal and other kinds of services. Victims and their relatives were also informed of their rights. Other structures existed throughout the country to help victims of violence, including 69 women’s centres. From 2008 to 2009, more than 1,000 women had come to one centre, which had also provided legal assistance to 35 clients.
Turning to question 17 on children’s rights, Mr. SAIDOV said many laws had been adopted to support Uzbek children, including a type of constitution for children. Also, the Convention on the Rights of the Child had been ratified, as had relevant International Labour Organization conventions on child labour. The working age had been raised from 14 to 15. Special provisions also existed to punish employers who hired children under that minimum age. The ILO standards set three criteria for work, namely that it should not harm children’s health, it should not interfere with their schooling and it required parent’s consent.
Responding to question 18 on applications for exit visas, Mr. SHODIEV said the Government used an address registration system to issue “propiskas” on both a permanent and temporary basis. He further outlined the lengths for the temporary propiskas, noting that the system was administered by the Interior Ministry. He said that both the propiska system and the exit visa system complied with the Covenant and noted that, over the last three years, there had been no complaints bout the rejection of an exit visa.
Turning to question 20 on the status of refugees, he said a bill had been developed that revised Uzbekistan’s legal provisions regarding legal assistance in extradition cases. He noted the long list of regulations regarding extradition from Uzbekistan. Currently, there were a number of refugees from Afghanistan. Given the changed situation in that country, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had closed down its facilities in 2006, leaving its functions under the purview of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). He pointed out that his country had not ratified the 1951 Convention nor the 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees.
Mr. AKHMEDOV said the reports about the prosecution of journalists referenced in question 20 had no foundation. No journalist in Uzbekistan had ever contacted the Union of Journalists on this issue. In Uzbekistan, the system was based on laws that guaranteed the rights of the media and right to expression. More than 10 laws had been adopted in this area. Currently, the national legislation met the generally recognized standards of international law. Journalists could visit court proceedings and only had to leave the court setting if they violated the court order. Another law enabled journalists to carry out investigations with the guarantee of immunity.
Turning to question 21 on the continued use of evidence obtained through ill treatment, despite a decision by the Supreme Court to bar such evidence, Mr. RAKHMONOV said further explanations had been given in line with article 235 on torture.
On matters related to judicial independence, he said the question of whether judges were still not independent was completely unfounded. He went on to say the courts had been specialized in terms of criminal and civil cases. In the most recent period, 65,000 criminal cases and 250,000 civil cases were examined. A reconciliation and mediation centre had been set up and over the last eight years prosecutions had been mediated, with non-custodial sentences being rendered. A research centre was also set up as part of the Supreme Court to liberalize the court and to ensure the independence of the judicial system.
Regarding question 25 about the prosecution of religious activists, he said “much could be said on the subject”. However, the Supreme Court and the Criminal Court considered their procedures in line with law. Moreover, the reasons for bringing any case against someone always fell under a specific article of the Criminal Code.
On question 24 about the ability of lawyers to freely exercise their profession, Mr. AKHMEDOV said there was a unified bar system. Mandatory membership existed because the chamber of advocates could not bring together all the lawyers. There was an agreement to set up a “higher qualification committee” for training lawyers and providing them with licenses to work on new legal topics. Licensing lawyers allowed them to properly carry out their work and the application process took three months. There was also a basis for withdrawing a license. Previous legislation had not addressed lawyer’s qualifications, meaning that people practising law in the past did not always have the knowledge necessary. The law restricting lawyers from other opportunities merely meant that they could not carry out any other activities apart from research and teaching activities. The law also sought to improve the discipline of lawyers.
Turning to question 26 on the rights of conscientious objectors, he noted that compulsory military service applied to those aged 18 to 27. However, citizens had the option of carrying out alternative service. They worked in areas across the country and the professions in which they could be involved were determined by the Government. These citizens gained military knowledge that was not linked with weapons, he added.
Continuing with question 27 on the registration of political parties and public associations, he said four political parties and three public movements were registered in Uzbekistan. Some citizens continued to apply as non-governmental organizations. There was a law about social groups and funds, falling under the Civil Code. There had not been a single incident of an unjustified denial of association. He also noted that fees were paid and State taxes did not have to be paid by registered non-governmental organizations. He underlined the high number of non-governmental organizations, cultural centres, friendship societies and women’s organizations, stressing all of them were part of a developing civil society. There were also over 40 branches of international organizations registered in Uzbekistan. Non-governmental organizations could get funding from a number of government sources.
On national minorities, Mr. SAIDOV said Uzbek law did not use that specific term, but nevertheless, such legislation applied to all the people of the multi-ethnic, multilingual country. All people could exercise all rights in Uzbekistan. The country hosted nearly 150 cultural centres. He stressed that the Roma people, who were considered a problem in Europe, were assimilated into Uzbek society.
On dissemination of the Covenant, he said as soon as the Government had ratified that instrument, information about it had been distributed widely. In addition, the Committee’s concluding observations had been made public after its review of Uzbekistan’s second periodic compliance report. He also said that the Government had printed pamphlets on the Covenant and other human rights treaties in Uzbek, Russian and other languages.
Experts’ Questions and Comments
LAZHARI BOUZID, expert from Algeria, asked the delegation to provide more information on the technical and financial resources it was devoting to relevant agencies dealing with human trafficking. He was also concerned by the reports from human rights organizations that child labour was widespread in Uzbekistan. Indeed, the Committee had received information that children were sent to work in cattle fields under conditions that amounted to “inhuman treatment”. How did the Government reconcile such assertions with its declaration that child labour “is a thing of the past” in the country? He also asked for more information on anti-corruption measures.
Next, Ms. KELLER, expert from Switzerland, was seriously concerned by reports that confessions, evidence or other information was frequently extracted through torture. Citing specific cases, she asked the delegation to provide further information on the matter. She also asked for more information on what was being done to better train defence counsel in cases involving human rights defenders, who reportedly had not received adequate legal assistance during trials.
On other matters, she asked what the Government of Uzbekistan was doing to ensure that, in practice, all levels of the judiciary were independent. Information had been received that many such posts were “stuffed” by acquaintances of high Government officials. She was also concerned that it appeared that the Ministry of Justice had a hand in most aspects of legal professional matters in the country. Was the Government addressing that issue, especially since it could impact criminal trials?
On “alternative service”, Mr. RODLEY said that he understood that the report noted specific churches that persons must belong to in order to benefit from such service. Why was the law so restrictive? Was it true that a military body was in charge of determining whether such exception would be accepted?
Mr. THELIN asked what input the highest courts in Uzbekistan had in preparing the report.
Ms. MOTOC reiterated her request for the Government to provide statistics on the number of persons in prison because of their religion. She also asked what the delegation had done with the Committee’s earlier comment on proselytizing. Was there still an article that rendered proselytizing punishable under Uzbekistan’s Criminal Code? She reminded the delegation that the Committee was concerned by reports from non-governmental organizations that they were scared to register with the Government, because they feared different kinds of retribution and monitoring. Acknowledging that she had heard the delegation’s explanation that there were no minorities, but only nationalities in Uzbekistan, she wondered what rights were accorded to those nationalities. Also, were they provided any funding to maintain their cultural identity?
Mr. AMOR asked for more information on the practical aspects of the freedom of religion, which he thought had not received much attention from the Uzbek delegation. How were the laws in this area enforced? What difficulties were encountered? To what extent were these laws compatible with article 18 of the Covenant? He specifically wanted the delegation to address the laws that sentenced people for proselytizing. Outlining several ways in which the right to change religion was allowed under relevant international instruments, he further pointed out that the Committee’s general comment 22 discussed that right and reiterated that this right was implied in article 18 of the Covenant.
He went on to suggest that, if missionary movements were prohibited and punished, this was a rigid position. Indeed, it would be a serious problem to suggest that people could not come to a peaceful faith. He invited the delegation to address his question and encouraged them to consider introducing nuances into their approach to this practice.
Welcoming the delegation from Uzbekistan, CHRISTINE CHANET, expert from France, highlighted the difference in the atmosphere between its last appearance before the committee in 2005, when she held its chair, and today. Despite the progress, the current meeting had seen a number of sparks fly. Of course, the task of the Committee was not easy. It was not here to teach lessons, but it did have to gather all the information it could. For her part, she remained concerned about the dissemination of information on the Covenant. The delegation had produced rather attractive brochures following the Committee’s last set of concluding remarks; she thought it odd that the text of the actual observations was not included. Rather, the brochures merely included commentary on those observations that closely followed the format of official United Nations documents.
Mr. SAIDOV explained the brochure described by Ms. Chanet had been produced following the country’s second periodic review. The Committee’s questions were not reproduced on purpose, to keep the brochure compact and brief, and with the understanding that its target audience already knew what they were. Only 500 copies were made, directed at State bodies, civil society and the mass media. A second brochure had been produced, but it had not yet been translated into English. It did contain the Committee’s recommendations, along with the Government response. In future, Uzbekistan would supply information on its implementation of other international agreements as well, and in doing so would bear in mind Ms. Chanet’s proposal.
On Mr. Amor’s question, he reiterated that proselytising and missionary activities were banned, but clarified that, historically, Uzbekistan was an interfaith country which had seen the peaceful coexistence of many different religions for 3,000 years. There were people of 16 different religious faiths living there today. Before independence, there were over 200 religious organizations, which now numbered in the thousands. Of those, about 2,000 were Muslim, while more than 200 were non-Muslim, demonstrating the Government’s support for the principles of freedom of belief and conscience and its movement away from the State atheism of the Soviet period. Christians had lived in Uzbekistan before the advent of Islam, and there were thousand-year-old monasteries there. In the Uzbek delegation’s opinion, proselytising could undermine religious tolerance. Since independence, there had been no cases of interfaith conflicts, which was significant considering the country’s location in an “unstable region”. Nevertheless, he admitted the need to think further about how Uzbekistan would look at the issue going forward.
Responding to Ms. Motoc on the issue of minorities, he explained when the Constitution was being drafted, its authors had thought twice about using the term, which in Uzbek, was degrading. Fearful of compromising people’s dignity, it was decided to use the term “national ethnic group”. On the subject of aggressive versus peaceful proselytism, he said the issue was an interesting one, and that he would reflect on that issue further.
On the law on human trafficking, as put by Mr. Bouzi, he explained that a Commission on Combating Human Trafficking was created, as the result of a Presidential decree. It was a discrete body with a small secretariat, and was located in two places: the General Prosecutor’s office and the Ministry of Interior. It comprised professionals and experts, including the Ombudsman, and the ministers of interior, justice, labour, and environment ‑‑ its leading members ‑‑ alongside non-governmental organizations, and the committees on women, youth movement, and the Mahalla Fund. The Commission was tasked with monitoring Government action on human trafficking, at no extra expenditure to the State.
Regarding child labour, he noted that 4 out 12 reports by non-governmental organizations, 6 of which were from the United States, had focused on child labour. While he respected those organizations for their contribution to the national dialogue on child labour, he could not agree with some of their data. Combating child labour was an “absolute priority” for the country. It had increased the minimum age of labour from 14 to 15 years; criminalized forced child labour by parents, or otherwise; and it had ratified two related International Labour Organization conventions.
He argued that the issue was mired in ideological and political considerations, linked to the country’s policy on cotton. When Uzbek cotton was displaced in the Asian market by cotton from China and other countries, the country decided to sell its cotton on the Tashkent stock market, and not the Liverpool market. After that, many entrepreneurs had seemingly “changed their opinion” about Uzbekistan, especially when they began to incur losses. They launched an “information attack”, and accusations of child labour emerged where none existed before. Uzbekistan would now sell processed cotton, instead of raw cotton. Thus, the question of unfair economic competition from Western economic partners needed to be borne in mind. He also stressed that cotton was harvested completely by farmers, without State involvement.
On exit visas, Mr. SHODIEV said Uzbek citizens used biometric passports, and, at the moment, it was not possible to carry out the Committee’s recommendation on exit visas because of reasons of “national interest”. On the propiska system, he explained it was used primarily as a form of registration, to count the number of citizens. It applied to all States. It was pointless to draw attention to it during this meeting.
Turning to the appointment of judges, Mr. RAKHMONOV said the judges served five-year terms. Judges of the Supreme Court, economic court and pension court were nominated by the Senate and submitted to the President. Their appointment was the purview of a high qualification committee, serving under the President. The committee was made up of 17 individuals, comprising representatives of civil society, researchers, officers from law enforcement agencies and non-governmental organizations. Their decisions were taken by majority vote. That selection process was considered highly democratic.
On why members of the Supreme Court did not participate in the meeting, he noted that, with 20 to 25 per cent of the questions touching on the remit of the Supreme Court, including habeus corpus, the death penalty and other legal issues, it was understandable why the Committee had asked that that judicial body be included.
Regarding the chamber of advocates, Mr. AKHMEDOV explained that that body brought together all lawyers into a centralized body, and was similar to ones that existed in Germany, Russia, China, the United States and others. The Ministry of Justice made sure lawyers met their license requirements, and fulfilled other administrative functions. It was also responsible for maintaining a list of all lawyers in the country, which it made publicly available. The Government’s policy was to ensure Uzbek citizens access to legal advice, which the new Chamber would provide. Also, measures were in place to protect lawyers from prosecution on groundless charges.
Regarding “alternative service,” which he explained was handled by the Ministry of Defence, he said it was the purview of the Deputy Minister and ministers at the municipal and provincial level. Citizens must attend meetings to justify their position, where, instead of performing military service, they conducted “low-level work” in natural disaster prevention or emergency situations. It was mostly 18-to-26-year-olds that were involved in that kind of service. They did not use weapons.
Answering Ms. Motoc’s question on statistics, Mr. SHODIEV said about 4 per cent of the people had been sentenced under article 159. Article 242 was a separate article.
Continuing, Mr. SAIDOV said he did not agree with Ms. Motoc’s assertion that non-governmental organizations in Uzbekistan did not register with the Government because they feared retribution. Indeed, there had been no reports that an application for registration had been rejected or that a non-governmental organization was too fearful to apply. He further stressed that, unlike in Western countries, non-governmental organizations in Uzbekistan had the right to be legal entities. Moreover, the number of non-governmental organizations had grown from 206 at independence to 2,300 a decade later and more than 5,000 active non-governmental organizations today. Given that growth rate, he considered any suggestion that non-governmental organizations were scared to be baseless.
On the related question of freedom of religion, he said there were difficulties due to the fact that a religious organization was required to have at least 100 members to register. Generally, this was no problem for Islamic organizations. But, Christian organizations could face difficulties. However, in practice, the law was liberally applied, allowing smaller religious organizations to register.
Turing to the question on nationalities in Uzbekistan, he said there were three types of people living in Uzbekistan: citizens; people living without citizenship, such as the Roma people; and foreign citizens. He noted that a committee under the President had been set up to examine and review each application for citizenship.
He assured the Committee members that his delegation would swiftly provide information on people mentioned specifically by name.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
Ms. MOTOC said it was her understanding that the Committee typically did not make recommendations until after consultations among the members. However, the Committee had already raised the issue of proselytization. Given the delegation’s penchant for considering history, she wanted to point out that proselytization had included force in the past but, in general, conversion that took place today did not involve force. This was why the Committee had made a distinction between aggressive and non-aggressive proselytization. If the delegation looked at article 18, there was a fairly solid foundation there for the ability to leave an association. This included religion. Moreover, she said she had talked about article 224 of the Criminal Code, which talked about belonging to organizations that were prohibited. She had, she stressed, asked about that article many times.
Mr. THELIN said he had listened carefully, but had not received an answer regarding the judiciary’s independence. As a parting remark, he said he had enjoyed the sometimes vigorous discussion yesterday and today. It was clear that, while progress had been made in the last 20 or so years since Uzbekistan’s independence, areas of serious concern remained. He was particularly saddened to note that Uzbekistan had been assigned a rank of 7 in terms of its level of freedom by Freedom House. He hoped this would change by the time of the delegation’s next report.
Mr. RODLEY said the Committee would be able to draw its own conclusion from the information it had, or did not have. But, he wanted to give the delegation one last chance to answer several critical questions that had not yet been answered. First, what criteria did the Supreme Court adopt to determine the commutation of death sentences following the death penalty’s abolition? Second, how did this process unfold?
Mr. RAKHMONOV said the commutation of death sentence was decided by the Supreme Court and the criteria used were the nature and level of danger to the public and the harm that was caused to society by the citizen.
Adding to this, Mr. SAIDOV said the delegation would give Mr. Rodley the relevant articles of the Criminal Code, so he could see the criteria. He went on to say that, when it considered the cases, the Supreme Court could be said to have done so under supervision.
Regarding proselytizing, he said “freedom of religion” meant that people had the right to choose their religion and that freedom to choose was not being drawn into question in Uzbek legislation. Rather, it actually was aligned with the Covenant. It was true that, in the past, there had been just two religious educational institutions, meaning there were no other training colleges for other religions. But, now there were more than 20 Muslim training colleges. However, getting someone to change from one religion to another was another matter. In that light, he recalled this was a dialogue and said that once the Committee issued observations and recommendations, his delegation would study them.
He wanted to stress that the Government was working towards an independent judiciary. He believed considerable progress had been made, but there was room for more work to be done. To that end, the Government was studying this issue. As for the involvement of the executive in the judicial branch, he noted that everyone in both branches was a citizen of Uzbekistan and, in that regard, no wall could be drawn.
Finally, he said that, with respect to the Freedom House ranking, it was important to ask what criteria were used to evaluate levels of freedom. He himself had his own criteria, based on the indivisibility of all rights, and he found it difficult to agree with the criteria used by Freedom House. He was proud of his country’s progress and, if Freedom House chose to agree with Uzbekistan on that front in the future, he hoped it would change its rankings.
Session with Department for General Assembly and Conference Management
Following its consideration of Uzbekistan’s report, the Committee held a brief session with Franz Baumann, Assistant Secretary-General, Department for General Assembly and Conference Management, to discuss problems encountered with translation of documents.
Chairman IWASAWA explained that the Committee’s working languages were English, French and Spanish. In October 2009, when the Russian Federation submitted its reply a few days later, the Committee did not receive the requisite translations. In March, timely responses were received from Argentina, Mexico, New Zealand and Uzbekistan, but they were also not translated ‑‑ although, fortunately in the Uzbek case, the Committee had managed to translate the document into Spanish, which had eased its work somewhat.
He said in 2009, the Committee had sought a meeting with relevant parties in the document services section in Geneva, where those issues were discussed. The Committee was informed that, because the Russian document had been submitted late, it had gone “to the end of the queue”. It was further informed that, translation needs were prioritized based on whether the item was “mandated” or not; State party reports were considered mandated, while written replies were not. Written replies were only translated based on the availability of resources, and it seemed that “not enough resources had been allocated to Geneva”. In the case of Russian documents, difficulties were compounded because of an apparent lack of Russian translators.
He surmised that the needs of the Human Rights Council seemed to have had some impact on the work of the Human Rights Committee and other treaty bodies. And yet, article 40 of the Covenant had charged the Committee with an important task, and so its needs should be given due consideration. As did other members of the Committee who spoke, he asked whether his analysis was correct.
Joining the discussion, several Committee members asked how best to bring the matter forward, since, complaints to the General Assembly had not produced any effect. If unresolved, the problem could affect the Committee’s credibility, and already, two States ‑‑ Argentina and Mexico ‑‑ had expressed their frustration. It would also jeopardize plans to use the list of questions and written responses as the Committee’s main method of work, replacing the traditional periodic report. A few Committee members expressed the view that, because minimum working conditions were not being met, one option was to withdraw from Committee proceedings. One Committee member noted that it was the Secretary-General’s responsibility to see that adequate resources were being allocated to treaty bodies, not the High Commissioner’s.
Responding, Mr. BAUMANN, Assistant Secretary-General, Department for General Assembly and Conference Management, said the situation had been recognized as early as 1997 and that there was no silver bullet. It could not be attributed simply to lack of resources; rather, it was an issue of resources, capacity and management. Likening conference services to the restaurant business, he said a restaurant could serve 120 meals, but not all at once because the kitchen had a limited capacity. Similarly, the work of Conference Services involved slotting and capacity planning, and the Committee could help by reducing the volume of documents it submitted and by submitting them on time.
He said the General Assembly had also contributed to resolving the situation by allocating the full budget request. It was impossible to say there was no money in March of the first biennium. However, although there had been some increase in resources, it was not commensurate with the increased in workload.
“I have heard you loud and clear. The difficulties that you were facing, not that I expect this to be a consolation, are faced by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) […] and even the UN dispute tribunal in Geneva,” he said.
“We are an equal opportunity lack-of-service provider, if you will,” he said, explaining that the Department was hoping to improve the situation by next March.
While several speakers from the Committee said they understood the complexity of the systems involved, they said that, budgeted or not-budgeted, there should be some resources to contract freelancers. However, Mr. BAUMAN explained that the United Nations system did not have standby capacity of that nature. To solve the issue, more predictability was needed.
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