Uzbekistan faces crucial challenges for judicial independence, says UN human rights expert
GENEVA / TASHKENT (25 September 2019) – Important steps have been taken in Uzbekistan to dismantle an authoritarian and centralist structure that has previously severely undermined the independence of justice, the function of lawyers and the rule of law, says visiting UN rights expert Diego Garcia-Sayán.
“I emphasise that this process is ongoing and that further improvements must be made. I have also perceived an openness to criticisms and I salute this approach,” said García-Sayán, the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, presenting a preliminaryat the end of his visit.
“Substantial threats against judicial independence and the rule of law remain,” he said, referring to the heavy and constant presence of the security services throughout society and Uzbekistan’s institutions. He was also concerned about broad powers that prosecutors retain in criminal proceedings, and that limit the independence of the judge to decide the case autonomously and in accordance with his or her conscience.
“The Government must now act urgently to sustain and complete the reform process and bring to an end those practices which currently affect access to justice and threaten efforts to achieve judicial independence.”
Garcia-Sayán said he had identified a number of positive steps, including an increase in the number of acquittals in recent years, the creation of the Supreme Judicial Council and the Supreme School for Judges, and the gradual establishment of electronic procedures aimed to increase transparency and facilitate access to justice.
“An increase in the number of acquittals in criminal proceedings demonstrates a gradual move from a system where the autonomy of judges was limited to rubber-stamping decisions by the prosecutor,” said Garcia-Sayán.
In 2016, only six acquittals were recorded. The number rose to 263 in 2017, and to 867 in 2018. So far, in the first nine months of 2019, more than 500 individuals have been acquitted.
The system as a whole should have a clearer human rights focus, said Garcia-Sayan. “Not only should this be central in the training of judges, but a new provision should be included in the Constitution to recognise that international norms and standards take precedence, in case of a conflict, over legislative and regulatory provisions enacted by national authorities.
Following allegations of interference with lawyers’ access to accused persons held in detention facilities, Garcia-Sayán suggested that a legal provision establishing severe sanctions against any public official or person responsible for impeding that access should be considered.
In an effort to increase the number of lawyers in the country, the UN expert suggested that steps could be taken to promote or establish new law schools and to review the obligatory three months of internship to become a defense lawyer.
“Uzbekistan should also take action to strengthen and improve the participation of civil society in the justice process, for instance through participation in the Supreme Judicial Council. It would also be advisable for judges to play an active role in selecting members of their own ranks to sit on the council,” said Garcia-Sayán.
“Corruption and associated criminal structures within the State are a major threat against its institutions, including the judiciary”.
“Uzbekistan needs to institute investigative and judicial procedures to confront impunity. It should also ensure that adequate and trustworthy teams are in place in the judiciary and in the Prosecutor’s Office. Appropriate legal regulations on plea bargaining are also necessary in order to get at the truth in cases of corruption and organised crime.”
The Special Rapporteur will present a comprehensive report containing his findings and recommendations to the Human Rights Council in Geneva in June 2020.
Mr. Diego García-Sayán took up his functions as in December 2016. He was formerly a judge of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for two consecutive terms. During his tenure, he was elected Vice-President of the Court (2008-2009) and President of the Court for two consecutive terms (2009-2013). He has long-standing experience working on human rights issues in a variety of settings, including for the United Nations and the Organization of American States.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the 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.
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