ISTANBUL (29 May, 2013): On 27-28 May, I visited Uzbekistan where I had meetings at the ministerial level with State authorities, top justice officials and representatives of the international community and civil society. The level of interlocutors I met while in Tashkent and the quality of discussions indicates a window of opportunity to strengthen cooperation.
While some progress has been made, a number of serious human rights concerns remain in Uzbekistan, including torture, arbitrary detention, the lack of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, the harassment of civil society, journalists and opposition, as well as forced labour. All of these, as well as a number of other issues, were discussed in a constructive spirit, informed by the recommendations of the UN human rights mechanisms.
During the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) held in Geneva in April 2013, Uzbekistan received 203 recommendations from the UN Human Rights Council: accepting 101, noting for further review 14, considering 30 as implemented and rejecting 58. The Government expressed the intention to develop an action plan for the implementation of UPR recommendations, with participation of civil society and all international partners, including the UN. Such an action plan, broadly owned by both State authorities and independent civil society, inclusive also of recommendations from Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures, and supported by international partners, would constitute a comprehensive framework for coordination of efforts in human rights and the rule of law at the national level. The UN Human Rights Office is interested in working alongside the UN country team and others to support such efforts, considered most critical and of priority to the Office.
In my meetings with the Ministers of Justice and Interior and the Prosecutor General, they reconfirmed the acceptance of the UPR recommendation to establish an independent mechanism for monitoring all places of deprivation of liberty. I encourage that this be done in line with international standards as set out in the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. If so established, such a mechanism will be an effective means, among others, to prevent torture that was recognised by several of my interlocutors as still being a concern in the country.
I was interested to note that Uzbekistan has a number of bodies that make up a complex national human rights architecture. I met with some, including the Parliamentary Ombudsperson, the Head of the National Centre for Human Rights, and Heads of the departments for human rights in various ministries. I discussed the work done by these bodies and encouraged the development of an independent Paris Principles compliant national human rights institution.
At the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court, I discussed the on-going judicial reform. Some positive steps were taken; however, much more is needed to strengthen the rule of law, the independence of judges and the separation of powers.
In my talks, I expressed concern about limited space for independent civil society to operate freely and also raised some individual cases. I highlighted the irreplaceable role of independent civil society in the process of the democratic modernisation of the country. I encouraged the authorities to widen the democratic space for the exercise of the freedoms of expression and opinion, association and peaceful assembly, as well as religion and belief.
In a number of meetings I raised matters related to the 2005 Andijan violence and referred to the calls made by the UN for an independent international investigation into the events. I stressed that any solution in the context of security operations should be grounded in human rights. Equally, human rights should not be compromised in the fight against terrorism. Long-term peace and stability - including effective prevention of terrorism – can result from, and be sustained through the full respect for human rights and the rule of law.
I also discussed other issues of human rights concern, including legislative and legal reforms, forced labour - in particular child labour, corruption, juvenile justice, conditions of detention, education, healthcare, person with disabilities and HIV/AIDS and the UN Secretary-General’s human rights due diligence policy.
With reference to pending requests for visits from 11 Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council, I emphasised the importance of granting their requests, and prioritising the visit of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders. At the end of the visit, the Minister of Foreign Affairs indicated the Government’s willingness to engage in cooperation with the UN Human Rights Office and despite different views on some issues, I think that there is a window of opportunity to do so.
UN Human Rights, country page – Uzbekistan: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/ENACARegion/Pages/UZIndex.aspx
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