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Uzbekistan: Human Rights Concerns for the 61st Session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights

Objective  
 
The Commission on Human Rights should adopt a resolution condemning the Uzbek government's appalling human rights record. The resolution should call on the Uzbek leadership to undertake a number of urgent steps including: expediting the implementation of the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on torture; ceasing any further arrest and harassment of human rights defenders; registering independent human rights non-governmental organizations and opposition political parties; and ceasing informal censorship of the media.

Background  
 
In the past few years, the Uzbek government has come under increased pressure from the international community to improve its human rights record. The government has made some reforms in legislation, but these have not been implemented in practice. It has also increased its engagement with select local and international actors on specific human rights issues, but these gestures have not translated into more systemic change and have been undermined by other setbacks to human rights, particularly the deepening of restrictions on civil society.  
 
Persecution of Human Rights Defenders. Authorities steadfastly refuse to allow independent domestic human rights groups to register, restricting their operation and rendering them vulnerable to harassment and abuse. Since May 2004, at least four human rights defenders have been beaten by unknown assailants and numerous others have been subject to arbitrary detention or house arrest.  
 
Uzbek authorities have harassed, detained or held under effective house arrest activists who tried to stage demonstrations. In a vivid example of this, in June 2004 police prevented Bahodir Choriev from protesting the government's confiscation of his farm by confining him and his relatives in their apartment. Police then forced them onto a bus and drove them outside Tashkent, interrogated them and confiscated their passports.  
 
In some cases, the government uses the law on psychiatry to silence and persecute human rights defenders and activists. For example, in August, a court in Tashkent in absentia ordered that Larissa Konakova, who provides assistance to victims of government abuse of power, be forcibly committed to a psychiatric institution for observation, and instituted competency proceedings against her to strip her of her legal rights. After the hospital gave testimony in Konakova's favor, a judge dismissed the case, but did not preclude her from being subjected to such proceedings in the future. In November a Tashkent court ordered the commital of activist Lydia Volkobraun, also for observation as a prelude to a competency determination. Without informing Volkobraun or her attorney of the court's decision, police forcibly committed her to a psychiatric hospital. Competency and guardianship proceedings are ongoing.  
 
Torture. The government has made no visible progress on ending the use of torture in practice and only minimal progress on implementing the recommendations made by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture after his visit to Uzbekistan in 2002. Torture and ill-treatment remain pervasive throughout the Uzbek criminal justice system, and occur with near-total impunity.  
 
The government has to date failed to come up with a plan to implement the specific and clear recommendations of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture, despite its promise to do so. In March 2004, it published a National Action Plan to implement the Convention against Torture. That plan, however outlines actions that are vague and linked to unnecessarily attenuated timelines. The Plan focuses on roundtables and conferences rather than on implementation of concrete reforms.  
 
Although the government claims to have increased prosecutions of law enforcement officials for using torture and other illegal methods, no information about these convictions has been made available, despite requests, rendering them impossible to verify. Countless reports of torture remain without remedy; legal safeguards against torture that have been introduced are rarely implemented in practice, despite persistent recommendations to that effect by international monitoring bodies.  
 
The Supreme Court issued an instruction to judges to exclude defendants' testimony and confessions extracted under torture. In reality, however, judges do not implement this instruction. Judges routinely accept as evidence testimony and confessions in cases where torture is alleged as well as base convictions solely on confessions made by defendants during the investigation. Human Rights Watch continued to receive credible allegations of torture in investigative and pre-trial custody as well as in prisons.  
 
Repressive Campaign against Independent Muslims. The government's violent crackdown against independent Muslims, whom the government claims are "religious extremists," continues unabated, with no progress on the sorely-needed legal reforms that would improve the climate for religious freedom. The government justifies this campaign by referring to the "war on terror," failing to distinguish between those who advocate violence and those who peacefully express their religious beliefs. In the past year alone, Human Rights Watch gathered materials on the trials of hundreds of individuals on charges based on their religious practices and affiliations.  
Thousands of people remain imprisoned for their peaceful religious activities.  
 
Crackdown on Political Opposition and Media Freedom. The government denied registration to independent political parties last year, depriving them of the opportunity to participate in the December 26 parliamentary elections.  
 
Although the law allows unaffiliated candidates to run through initiative groups, in practice, independent candidates faced intimidation, harassment, and other serious obstacles obtaining registration, and few ultimately ran.  
 
Violations of press freedom, including arbitrary and abusive lawsuits and harassment against independent journalists continue despite the lifting of formal censorship in May 2002.  
 
Recommendations  
 
The Commission on Human Rights should adopt a resolution calling for the Uzbek government to:  
 

  • Implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on torture. The Commission should call on the Uzbek government to expedite the process of implementing the recommendations issued by the Special Rapporteur on torture following his 2002 visit to Uzbekistan. Further, among the most urgent reforms required in this regard is introduction of habeas corpus (judicial review of detention). The authorities should be called on to ensure thorough and impartial investigations of claims of torture or ill-treatment, and hold accountable those found responsible for abuse. The government should also be called on to make a declaration under Article 22 of the Convention against Torture recognizing the competence of the Committee against Torture to consider complaints filed by individuals alleging violations of the Convention. In addition, the government should be encouraged to provide detailed description and statistics on all cases of investigations and prosecutions of law enforcement officials for torture or other illegal methods.  
     
  • Stop harassment and persecution of human rights defenders. The Commission should call on the Uzbek government to end such persecution immediately.  
     
  • Register civil society groups. The Commission should call on the government to lift unjustified restrictions on the operation of civil society groups and to cease using the law punitively to harass them and restrict their activities. The government should register independent human rights groups, including the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, Mazlum, the Committee of Legal Assistance to Prisoners, Mothers against the Death Penalty and Torture, and the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders. The Commission should call for the lifting of obstacles to the registration, accreditation and operation of international groups.  
     
  • Register political opposition parties, such as Erk, Birlik and Ozod Dekhonlar, and cease any harassment against opposition political activists. The Commission should call on the government to cease harassment that interferes with the operation of parties and movements.  
     
  • Ensure genuine media freedom, including by allowing newspapers closed since early 2002, when censorship was officially lifted, to reopen. The government should be called on to end the use of registration, tax, and defamation laws to unreasonably impede the operation of the media.  
     
  • Reform the 1998 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations to bring it into conformity with international law, as per the recommendations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, issued in June 2003. In particular, the Commission should call on the government to decriminalize proselytism, private religious instruction, and unregistered religious association.  
     
  • Release from custody those convicted solely on the basis of religion-related charges (criminal code articles 216, 216-1, 216-2, 244-1 and 244-2), and cease the arrest of independent Muslims for their religious beliefs and practices.

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