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Freedom of religion is ‘vital investment’ for Uzbekistan reforms – UN expert

Russian | Uzbek

GENEVA / TASHKENT (12 October 2017) – The raft of reforms under way in Uzbekistan must invest in the promotion and protection of human rights, including freedom of religion or belief, a UN expert has concluded at the end of an official visit to the country.

“Religions or beliefs should not be seen as a threat to Uzbekistan, where many ethnic and religious communities live together peacefully,” said the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed in a statement at the end of his 11-day visit.

“Resilience against religious extremism can be built on strengthening diversity as well as freedom of religion or belief.”

The Government should invest more in freedom of religion or belief in its ongoing reforms, to bring existing regulations more into line with international standards, he said.

“The rights to freedom of religion or belief cannot be sacrificed in preventing or countering violent extremism,” the Special Rapporteur cautioned. “This will further shrink rather than open up space as hoped for in the current reforms.”

Mr. Shaheed said the recent reform efforts by the country’s president could be a turning point in Uzbekistan’s development, if they were implemented systematically. But he noted that the country faced numerous human rights challenges, and would require sustained and transparent commitment to make enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief a reality.

As well as focusing on legal reforms, the government needed to embrace an “operational” approach to human rights, including institutional and policy reforms, he added.

“Freedom of religion or belief requires widening the space for the freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression, as well as strengthening the rule of law and guaranteeing the independence of the judiciary,” said Mr. Shaheed.

“While Uzbekistan is a secular State, freedom of conscience, thought, religion or belief is over-regulated, if not restricted, in the country. Religious communities can only function within the given limits of registration and the authorities tend to stay watchful of all religious activities.”

The Special Rapporteur continued: “The tradition of harmonious co-existence among diverse communities in Uzbekistan provides fertile ground for encouraging inter-religious communication and societal flourishing through the expression of the self-identity of every individual.”

“People should not have to activate auto self-censorship whenever they speak of religion or practice their faiths.”

Mr. Shaheed said he had seen good initiatives in youth education, especially in increasing religious literacy. “Literacy on freedom of religion is just as important and needs to be promoted simultaneously,” he noted.

During his mission, Mr. Shaheed met government officials and local authorities in Tashkent, Fergana, Bukhara, Nukus and Jaslyk Prison. He also held meetings with representatives of ethnic and religious or belief communities, civil society organizations, the diplomatic community and the UN.

The Special Rapporteur will present a report containing his conclusions and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2018.

ENDS

Mr. Ahmed Shaheed (the Maldives) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016. Mr. Shaheed is Deputy Director of the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex, UK and Senior Fellow of the Raoul Wallenberg Human Rights Centre in Canada. He was Foreign Minister of the Maldives from 2005 to 2007 and from 2008 to 2010. He led the country’s efforts to sign and ratify all nine international human rights Conventions and to implement them in law and practice. Mr. Shaheed is the former Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

An e-Digest on Freedom of Religion or Belief – 25 years of thought by four UN Special Rapporteurs (download your copy):

Check the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief:

OHCHR Country Page – Uzbekistan

For more information and media requests please contact:
In Tashkent, during the visit: Chian Yew Lim (+998 93501 7455/ clim@ohchr.org)
In Geneva, before and after the visit: Chian Yew Lim (+41 22 928 9310 / clim@ohchr.org) or write to freedomofreligion@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Bryan Wilson – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9826 / mediaconsultant2@ohchr.org)

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