In April 1999, the Uzbek government, seeking to control mahallas and bring them into the state structure, adopted a law governing the operation and activities of mahalla committees.
Pursuant to the Law on Institutions of Self-Government of Citizens (hereinafter, the Mahalla Law),17 the general meeting of citizens within the mahalla is the “supreme body of self-government of citizens,” with the power to make decisions on behalf of the mahalla.18 A general meeting must be held not less than once every three months.19 The committee, which carries out the daily activities of the mahalla, must meet at least once a month and is headed by the chairman (aksakal).20 Subcommittees can be set up on such areas of work as weddings and funerals. The deputy chair is always a woman who heads a subcommittee on women and families within the mahalla.
Although the mahalla general meeting is given supreme power by law, information gathered by Human Rights Watch, including interviews with members of three different mahalla committees, indicates that the activities of the mahalla committees are actually directed by the district and city hokimiat—administrative government authorities. Hokimiats, in turn, are directly accountable to the central government, as the president directly appoints and dismisses regional hokimiatleaders(hokims). Although the chair and members of the mahalla committee are elected by mahalla residents, their election must meet the approval of the respective hokim, giving the president a direct line of control over mahallas. 21 In practice, the hokimiat regularly appoints the mahalla committee chair, the elections being merely formal in nature.22 Mahalla committees are also financially dependent on the hokimiat, though they are also funded through voluntary donations.23 Hokims, “serve as heads of both representative and executive authorities of their respective territories.”24 In practice, they are the executive branch of government at the various regional levels. Citizens are required by law to comply with decisions of their mahalla committee.25
In April 1999, several days after the Mahalla Law was passed, the Cabinet of Ministers issued a statute, known as the Posbon Law, creating the position of “neighborhood guardian” (posbon).26 The posbon is paid by the state to work with the mahalla committee and the local police to prevent crime, maintain public order, and to strengthen the social and moral environment as defined by the government. The number of posbons assigned to each mahalla depends on the size of the population and the perceived need. For example, one Tashkent mahalla with a population of 3,400 has nine posbons;27 another, with a population of 3,000, has only four.28
17 The basis for regulation of mahalla committees or “self-governing bodies” is enshrined in the Uzbek constitution (article 105), which states that the procedure for elections, organization of the work, and the powers of self-governing bodies shall be specified by law. The territorial units of self-government defined in the Mahalla Law include three categories (settlements, kishlaks, and auls) found only in rural areas, whereas mahallas are found both in rural and urban settings. The law does not distinguish in any large degree between these categories, and often people will refer to them all as mahallas. For these reasons and the sake of simplicity, the report will refer to mahallas when discussing these territorial units of self-government. Ed Harris, “Rural mahallas, links to the health system, and recommendations for further action—A report for Abt Associates Inc.,” An unpublished report of Abt Associates (an international health NGO) Uzbekistan, 1999.
18 Article 9, Mahalla Law. Translation provided by the United States Agency for International Development, Tashkent Office.
19 Article 18, ibid.
20 Article 19, ibid. Aksakal means white beard or elder in Uzbek.
21 Article 20, ibid.
22 Human Rights Watch interview with mahalla committee chairman, Tashkent, January 3, 2002, and Human Rights Watch interview with a member of the international aid community who did not want to be identified, Tashkent, December 19, 2001. The names of mahalla officials interviewed for this report have been withheld for fear of repercussions.
23 Article 24, Mahalla Law. The hokimiat and its functions are defined by Chapter 21 of the constitution. There is a hierarchy of hokimiats from the local to the regional levels, each directed by the larger administrative body above.
24 Article 102, Chapter 21 of the Constitution of Uzbekistan, official translation.
25 Article 16, Mahalla Law.
26 Second Addition to the Cabinet of Ministers’ decision number 180 of April 19, 1999, “About the “Neighborhood Guardians” Public Organizations Statute,” (hereinafter the Posbon Law).
27 Human Rights Watch interview with mahalla committee chairman, Tashkent, January 3, 2002.
28 Human Rights Watch interview with mahalla committee deputy chair, Tashkent, January 11, 2002.