22 March 2005
Death Penalty Use, Prison Conditions, Widespread Violence against Women Issues Raised, as Human Rights Committee Takes Up Uzbekistans Report
NEW YORK, 21 March (UN Headquarters) -- A panel of United Nations human rights experts reviewing Uzbekistans efforts to implement the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights expressed concern today that the countrys progress towards ensuring fundamental freedoms might be undermined by troubling setbacks, including torture-related deaths in custody, appalling prison conditions, expulsion and forced resettlement of foreigners and asylum seekers, and widespread violence against women.
The Human Rights Committee, meeting in New York through 1 April, questioned Uzbekistans delegation about the large number of persons sentenced to death that had been executed, even though they had petitioned the Committee under the Conventions Optional Protocol, and in relation to whom the experts had issued a request that the executions not be carried out pending consideration of the cases.
One expert said that perhaps Uzbekistans Government had misunderstood, but the Committees request for a stay of execution pending its review had nothing to do with mercy or a moratorium; the first Optional Protocol clearly stated that a State Party to the Covenant that became party to that Protocol recognized the Committees competence to receive, consider and examine communications in a meaningful way. But the Committee could not do that if the person who had submitted a communication was no longer alive. He considered failure to live up to that obligation a serious violation of international law.
The delegation will respond to those specific concerns tomorrow morning. Earlier in the meeting, one Uzbek representative said that sentences had been commuted to long prison terms in several pending death-penalty cases. His country was also implementing a policy of reducing the number of crimes punishable by the death penalty from 13 to two. The death penalty could not be applied to women and children, or men over the age of 60. Those condemned to death were allowed monthly visits. Condemned persons could appeal for clemency, and such requests were sent to a committee under the auspices of the Uzbek President for review.
Another delegate flagged the Governments efforts to eliminate torture, based on the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on Torture. He said that the Cabinet of Ministers had developed a plan to implement the International Convention against Torture, and other measures would follow, including setting out rules for sentencing of persons found guilty of committing torture. Uzbekistan also held to the global standards for prison conditions, including the provision of nutritious food. Considerable changes had been made so that conditions were less harsh, and certain classes of prisoners were allowed to make telephone calls and receive parcels. Those detainees needing medical treatment or extra rations were among those allowed to regularly receive parcels.
Adkmal Saidov, Senator, Chairman of Uzbekistans National Centre on Human Rights of Uzbekistan, said that, over the past five years, efforts were being implemented to comply with the Covenant and the recommendations of the Committee. Among the changes over the past year, Uzbekistan was now a party to more than 60 international human rights instruments, including the six core United Nations treaties, and it was consistently implementing its international obligations in that regard. In line with the Committees initial recommendations in 2001, his country had taken several measures, including adoption by the Parliament of more than 50 new laws governing civil and political rights. In the past year alone, there was a new law on broadening the scope of the ombudsman, plus two new laws concerning funds and elections to bodies of local self-government.
But one of the experts said that, overall, the Committee had been left with the impression that there was a gap in what had been presented today and what they had learned not only from non-governmental organizations, but also from experts inside and outside the United Nations system. Others felt the delegation had provided trends and good intentions, but not specific programme information. One expert said it was positive that the State party had been willing to bring in outside experts to study and investigate allegations of torture in prisons, but he still felt that more specific information on the findings should be provided.
Also today, the Committee heard a statement by Rachel Mayanja, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, who informed the panel about the recently concluded forty-ninth session of the Commission on the Status of Women, which had reviewed developments in the 10 years since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 and the special session of the General Assembly, Women 2000.
She also highlighted some areas that deserved renewed attention in order to accelerate the achievement of the goal of womens equality, including violence against women, womens health, women and justice and temporary special measures. She said that, while there was clearly a global consensus on the unacceptability of all forms of violence against women, there were some serious gaps. On women and justice, she said that many, especially the poor and illiterate, remained unaware of their legal rights. They often had no access to legal aid and, therefore, were unable to avail themselves of judicial systems. And even when they were able to do that, they were often confronted by personnel who were rarely gender-sensitive.
In other business today, the Committee Chair, Christine Chanet, expert from France, led a discussion of preparations for a meeting next week with Kamel Filali, the inter-committee meetings designated rapporteur for January, on the issue of harmonized guidelines for States parties reporting to treaty bodies. She introduced the topic in the context of the issuance yesterday of the Secretary-Generals latest reform report, In Larger Freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all, which contains, among other proposals, sweeping changes to the structure of the Human Rights Commission.
The Committee will reconvene tomorrow at 11 a.m., to continue and conclude its consideration of Uzbekistans second periodic report on compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and begin consideration of Greeces initial compliance report.
The Human Rights Committee met today to begin its examination of the second periodic report of Uzbekistan on compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It was also expected to hear and address from the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, and to hold a brief discussion on its methods of work.
Address by Special Adviser on Gender Issues
RACHEL MAYANJA, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, said the major focus of her work so far had been the recently concluded forty-ninth session of the Commission on the Status of Women, which had held a review and appraisal of developments in the 10 years since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 and the special session of the General Assembly, Women 2000.
That review had adopted a declaration on 4 March which reaffirmed the commitments made at Beijing and Women 2000, and the Commission pledged to take action to further accelerate their implementation. Importantly, Member States recognized that implementation of the Beijing Action Plan and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women were mutually reinforcing in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women.
She went on to highlight some of the recent developments in the work of the Womens Anti-Discrimination Committee, including its work under article 2 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention -- its communications procedure. The Commission had declared its first registered communication inadmissible last July, and in its second registered case, A.T. v. Hungary, involving domestic violence, found several violations of several articles of the Convention and adopted views on the methods in January.
The Committee also requested interim measures to be taken in connection with the request of the complainant, but considered that the State party had not dealt with that aspect in a satisfactory manner. She said the Committee made two sets of recommendations: the first concerning the complainant herself, and the second, of a more general nature, ranging from a recommendation to act with due diligence to prevent domestic violence, to another to enact a specific law on domestic violence that would provide for protection and exclusion orders, as well as support services, including shelters.
Turning to the issue of working methods, she said one of the Committees biggest challenges was handling its workload: the reports of some 50 States parties currently await consideration. And, if the Committee takes up an average of 16 reports a year, the waiting period once a report had been submitted would be an average of three years. The Committee had requested the General Assembly for an extension of its meeting times and hoped that a favourable decision would be taken this fall. While the Committee had considered the option of meeting in parallel working groups, so far it had not proposed that option, but rather asked for an extension of its meeting time, eventually to three annual sessions. The Committee would take up that matter again in July, taking into account the situation of other treaty bodies.
She went on to say that the Womens Anti-Discrimination Committee had started using a country task force for consideration of some reports and would be looking especially at the Human Rights Committees experience, as it further developed that approach. For the first time, the Womens Committee had invited two States parties to submit long-overdue reports within a specific time-frame, and had further indicated that it would consider the implementation of the Convention in the absence of a report should it not be forthcoming. She added that the Committee had also given very serious attention to the proposals for harmonized guidelines on reporting and for a common core document and treaty-specific reports in follow-up to the recommendations of the sixteenth meeting of the treaty-body chairpersons. The Committee hoped to have a discussion with Kamel Filali, the designated special rapporteur on that issue. In the meantime, the Womens Committee acknowledged that, while that specific reform issue did offer some opportunities, the situation of discrimination against women required special attention.
Ms. Mayanja closed her statement by highlighting some areas that deserved renewed attention in order to accelerate the achievement of the goal of womens equality, including violence against women, womens health, women and justice and temporary special measures. She said that while there was clearly a global consensus on the unacceptability of all forms of violence against women and a strong understanding of the normative international framework for combating that scourge, there were some serious gaps, including shortcomings in the implementation of global treaty obligations at national levels, and ongoing and widespread impunity for perpetrators. On women and justice, she said that many, especially the poor and illiterate, remained unaware of their legal rights. They often had no access to legal aid and, therefore, were unable to avail themselves of local judicial systems. And even when they were able to do that, they were often confronted by personnel who were rarely gender-sensitive.
RUTH WEDGEWOOD, expert from the United States, said that the Human Rights Committee was considering examining the gender records of international organizations, and asked whether the Womens Committee had a mandate to look with a friendly, but critical eye, at such organizations, including the United Nations Secretariat.
Noting that the creation of shelters was often used to help women victims of violence, especially domestic violence, NISUKE ANDO, expert from Japan, asked the Special Adviser whether she had a network of information among the various bodies concerned about the effectiveness of such shelters.
As Special Rapporteur on the follow-up to the Covenants Optional Protocol, he asked Ms. Mayanja to share lessons learned on follow-up to the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, especially given the necessary flexible country-by-country, case-by-case approach.
Recalling Ms. Mayanjas emphasis on the need for education, particularly to raise womens awareness of their rights, he said that that took a lot of work and a lot of time, but in the end it was worth it. Education, enlightenment and concrete programmes to put that knowledge into practice were important.
The expert from Australia, IVAN SHEARER, noting the comments about achieving substantive equality through temporary special measures, asked whether Ms. Mayanja saw any inconsistency in the practice of this Committee and the notion of temporary special measures, which had been sanctified by the Womens Convention.
The expert from Argentina, HIPOLITO SOLARI-YRIGOYEN, said the Committee was actively involved in womens rights, particularly in the context of the Covenants articles 3 and 40. The work of the Womens Anti-Discrimination Committee was of special significance, and the Human Rights Committee had followed it very closely. He hoped there would be continued fruitful dialogue, leading to a culmination of the work by the two Committees.
ROMAN WIERUSZEWSKI, expert from Poland, said the issue of trafficking in women and girls had not been mentioned, but that was a very serious problem. Unfortunately, United Nations peacekeeping missions also had a very bad record in that regard. To what extent did the Special Adviser believe that treaty bodies could be more effective in fighting trafficking -- that tragic phenomenon?
He also asked to what extent the Womens Committees concluding observations were analysed and followed up. In terms of the Womens Committees delay in analysing State reports, he said the Human Rights Committee had encountered a similar situation some years ago, but it was now managing to do that on time. The efforts of the Womens Committees should be supported in that regard, but he still wished to know if that Committee was analysing the effect of its concluding observations on the various countries.
On the question of temporary special measures, he asked whether any analysis had been done on the effectiveness of that particular method on advancing womens position and combating discrimination. The problem had been discussed for many years now, and he wondered to what extent those measures had been helpful.
The expert from Switzerland, WALTER KALIN, sought more information on the Womens Committees mandate to address trafficking and other human rights violations outside countries borders, and in the context of peacekeeping and other similar missions.
He also sought more information about temporary special measures, specifically the Special Advisers response to the case in Belgium last year where a man brought to court the allegation that he had been discriminated against because of the use of quotas in line with the Covenant. He also sought information about drafting general comments, since he was responsible for drafting the general comment on the Covenants article 14, which states that all persons were equal before the courts and tribunals.
MAURICE GLELE-AHANHANZO, expert from Benin, asked for further information about womens representation in international organizations. Noting that his delegation had submitted a report last year on the question of genital mutilation of women, he asked what importance the Special Adviser attached to that problem, and what education programmes had she intended, in order to change peoples thinking on that profoundly cultural issue and persuade them to give up that ancestral practice, which would not be eradicated overnight.
The expert from the United Kingdom, NIGEL RODLEY, asked if any thought was being given to the possibility of maximizing the integration of womens rights in the human rights dimension of the United Nations work. If only the Division and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights were not separated by 3,000 miles of water, he said.
Special Advisers Response
Responding to the experts comments, Ms. MAYANJA began by saying that part of her mandate was to follow up with international organizations, including within the United Nations system, on their efforts to ensure gender balance. She said that the United Nations womens machinery needed help -- not only to ensure gender mainstreaming, but to attract women to senior level positions in major organizations. It had been her experience that once women had achieved a certain level of seniority or experience, they were often reluctant to leave on job for another.
She agreed that ensuring womens rights in the area of access to justice was time-consuming and letting people know about those rights was time-consuming, but what was the point of having rights on the books, if no one knew about them? So, she believed that every effort should be extended to education and raising awareness. She went on to say that trafficking was a top priority for the Womens Anti-Discrimination Committee and had been consistently discussed during the run-up to last months Beijing Review.
On the effectiveness of treaty bodies, she said that the Womens Committee had been particularly successful in providing advice and follow-up information to State parties. The Committee had decided to discuss follow-up on its general comments, however, particularly in light of its backlog of reports. Ms. Mayanja said she hoped that the General Assembly would look at that issue closely in the fall and take a decision soon.
Importantly, she noted that she was closely watching the recent allegations of sexual misconduct made against United Nations peacekeepers, at the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) and elsewhere. And while wider investigations were under way, she stressed that there was no need to wait until such allegations were raised or other incidents occurred. It was necessary to take preventive measures, including peacekeeper training, as well as raising awareness in the host communities. Their expectations of peacekeepers and relief workers had to be realistic, she added. She hoped that work would include religious leaders, womens groups, local chiefs and tribal leaders, who could get the message across.
In addition, the issue of female genital mutilation was very high on the Committees agenda, she said, stressing the need to eliminate all customs that violated the rights of women and the Convention and national laws. But that was proving to be a major problem, because in some countries national legislation, cultural practices and international laws were all too often at odds.
Committees Working Methods
Following a brief suspension of the meeting, Chairperson CHRISTINE CHANET, expert from France, recalled the news of the weekend, in which the Secretary-General announced a proposal to dismantle the Human Rights Commission. She would disseminate copies of his document today, including paragraphs of the text concerning the treaty bodies, which was relevant to the work of the Committees experts. That was fresh off the press, she said, adding that the document had been issued this morning. Paragraphs 146 and 147 dealt respectively with the obligation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to submit an action plan, within 60 days, of the Commissions dismantling, and rendering the treaty bodies more efficient and more effective.
In his report, the Secretary-General had noted that there was insufficient familiarity with the system, and that several Member States did not submit reports on time, he said. He had also pointed to a duplication of effort, which, of course, undermined the recommendations and their effectiveness. In addition, he proposed the further harmonization of guidelines on reporting for all treaty bodies, in order to develop a system that would ensure that those treaty bodies were able to function in a unified system. The wording was a bit ambiguous, but experts would find that the report would cause a great deal of controversy among Member States, above all with respect to dismantling the Human Rights Commission.
She suggested that on the core document, which was a key matter of concern, the Committee should strive to adopt a common position, in a way that contributed towards that harmonizing process without sacrificing specificity. As a treaty body, the Committee could not fail to take the Secretary-Generals report into account. Turning to the inter-committee meeting held last October, including on the question of the treaty bodies, she said that former Committee Chairperson Abdelfattah Amor, expert from Tunisia, had drafted an outcome document, which experts had before them (document CCPR/C/83/CRP.1). Her position, and she thought members agreed, was that the single document mentioned by Mr. Amor in his draft was no longer a question. The only question now concerned an expanded core document, she said.
(Next week, the Committee would have an exchange with Kamel Filali, the inter-committee meetings designated rapporteur for January, on the issue of harmonized guidelines.)
In the ensuing discussion among the experts, the point emerged that, given the Secretary-Generals attention in his latest reform document to treaty body reform, whatever was produced at the current Committee session must take specific account of that report. In the Commissioners action plan, to be formulated in the next 60 days, the Committee should stress that significant attention should be devoted to the Committees work in connection with the work of other United Nations bodies. A system-wide approach should be taken to the treaty bodies if the problems, as stated by the Secretary-General in rather stark terms, were to be seriously addressed.
Another expert suggested that the key dialogue was on the basis of the questions the Committee posed to the States parties, and he did not see any move away from that as being helpful. To ease the burden on the States that wanted that, the Committee could suggest that those States did not have to produce the usual big report, but could produce a tailored report that responded to the experts questions. The Committee should stick to our guns in the meeting next week with the rapporteur, the expert said.
Another cautioned against taking a starchy position, when so much was in flux on the thirty-eighth floor of the United Nations Secretariat, by announcing we wont negotiate. At the very moment when the Secretary-General was asking Member States to conceive of a totally different human rights body to be chosen on the grounds of performance and not popularity, she was troubled by the do or die quality of the Committees current draft report.
The human rights system was not unified, another expert asserted, and thus it might not be possible to ask the relevant treaty bodies to function as a unified system. As for a unified report by countries, and a unified examination of them by all relevant treaty body personnel, say over a weeks time, it seemed impossible to find such a unified system unless the very basis on which that system had evolved could be changed. Maybe abolishing the Human Rights Commission was only a start. It seemed that Mr. Amor had in mind to reject a single report for all committees, as the treaty bodies were different legal instruments requiring different treatment.
The CHAIRPERSON said that Mr. Amors text, although a bit abrupt and ambiguous, had reflected past and present discussions. He seemed to rule out the idea of a single report once and for all, believing that it would be difficult to reach agreement on that point. The nature of the core report should be changed, however, in a way that expanded it. It also needed to include specificities pertaining to the various constitutional frameworks, and so forth. Mr. Amor had referred to initial and subsequent reports, and the need to distinguish between the two. The Committee could very well suggest the contents of an initial report and then the contents of a targeted report, applicable to all of the human rights-related committees. Subsequent reports would then contain the Committees recommendations and follow-up information, as well as new elements that had cropped up since the previous report. She thought a new document would be submitted at the end of the present discussion.
Report of Uzbekistan
ADKMAL SAIDOV, Senator, Chairman of the National Centre on Human Rights of Uzbekistan, introduced the members of his delegation, as follows: Alisher Sharafutdinov, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Uzbekistan; and Ulugbek Gaziev, Head of the Department of Human Rights, Ministry of Justice of Uzbekistan.
Presenting his countrys second report (document CCPR/C/UZB/2004/2), Mr. Saidov said that since the submission of the first report in 2001, efforts were being implemented to comply with the Covenant and the recommendations of the Committee. Among the changes over the past year, Uzbekistan was now a party to more than 60 international human rights instruments, including the six basic United Nations instruments, and it was consistently implementing its international obligations in that regard. In line with the Committees initial recommendations, his country had taken several measures, including adoption by the Parliament of more than 50 new laws governing civil and political rights. In the past year alone, there was a new law on broadening the scope of the ombudsman, plus two new laws concerning funds and elections to bodies of local self-government. Amendments had also been made to the election law, and an institutional basis for the protection of civil and political rights had been established.
He said that national institutions, such as the parliamentary ombudsman, a constitutional court, and the National Centre for Human Rights, as well as a monitoring mechanism for existing laws, had also been set up. And, within the United Nations decade for human rights, his country had set up an educational system, which integrated human rights education in all schools and universities. Success had also been achieved in implementing a national legal training programme, and within the United Nations information campaign his country was implementing advocacy and awareness programmes on the protection of civil and political rights, and had translated more than 100 international legal human rights instruments, including the Covenant. The media also paid particular attention to the issue of the protection of human rights and freedoms. In addition, a system had been set up for complaints.
Along with those successes, a number of problems still affected the human rights situation in Uzbekistan, he said. The main problems were linked to the justice system; for the first time, the State was seeking to integrate global international legal norms into national laws. The scant knowledge of human rights among the majority of the population, combined with the rapidly changing legal system since the countrys independence, was also problematic. Nevertheless, Uzbekistan was cooperating with the relevant international bodies to comply with its international obligations in a number of ways. In cooperation with the treaty bodies, for example, his country had already presented six national reports. Particular attention was being paid not only to presenting periodic reports, but to implementing the treaty bodies recommendations, for which the Government had developed a national action plan. It was also implementing the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on Torture.
Among the main activities of the past year, he highlighted the first consultations between representatives of the main investigative body of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and a human rights organization, Freedom House, aimed at studying new ways to ensure an open dialogue on human rights between the Government and civil society. A three-day symposium had also been held in September to consider the national human rights situation and implementation of the relevant instruments, methods and programmes. The Ministry of Internal Affairs was working closely with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to train employees of the justice system on monitoring the national human rights situation and preparing the required documentation. So far, 20 employees of the Ministry had been trained in such areas as international standards of arrest, detention and the prevention of torture. To date, 120 officials of the Ministry in 13 regions had been trained in human rights. Libraries dealing with human rights had been set up, and the creation of an information centre for use by government employees and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) was being considered. Moreover, NGOs were being encouraged to take up the cause of human rights, and the number involved in that area had doubled in the last five years to more than 5,000.
Clearly, his country had embarked on a totally new concept of the justice and legal system, he said. Several new measures aimed at ensuring the independence of the courts had been adopted, and a democratic legal mechanism for the selection of court employees had been put in place. The prison system overall had been softened, with the number of detainees in special prisons increasing from 7 per cent in 1990 to 21 per cent today. Future goals concerned the liberalization of the justice and legal system. That involved, among other aspects, improved court control of initial investigations and the preparation of a habeas corpus bill. Reform was under way to abolish the death sentence, but pending that, no death penalty could be imposed for women, minors or persons over the age of 60.
Delegations Response to Experts Written Questions
A member of the Uzbek delegation said that in several of the pending death penalty cases, the sentences had been commuted to long prison terms. Uzbekistan was implementing a policy of reducing the number of crimes punishable by the death penalty from 33 to two.
The death penalty could not be applied to women, children and men over the age of 60. The Courts had held that premeditated killings and terrorist acts could trigger the death sentence. Those condemned to death were allowed monthly visits by relatives. Condemned persons could appeal for clemency, and such requests were sent to a committee under the auspices of the Uzbek President for review. There had been discussions of total abolishment of the death penalty and replacing that punishment with life prison terms. Another member of the delegation added that maximum punishment for genocide was imprisonment of 10 to 20 years.
On increasing the number of women participating in decision-making, he assured the Committee that gender equality was a top priority for his Government. Newly amended laws had set a 30 per cent quota for womens nominations to magistrate posts. The countrys Human Rights Ombudsman was a woman, and several women were working in senior-level parliamentary positions, he said, adding that every year, the number of women in top fields had been increasing. He was also pleased to report a dramatic increase in the number of womens NGOs.
Legislative, administrative and educational measures had been designed and adopted to eradicate domestic violence, he said. The Government had established a committee to implement gender equality throughout the country, based on the observations made by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. He added that the Parliament was considering other laws to ensure equality between men and women.
Turning to upholding the tenets of the Covenant during states of emergency, including the aftermath of natural disasters, he said that a law had been created which gave clear definition of state of emergency, and protection of civilians during such situations. Legislation on civil defence had also been adopted, which gave powers to State organs, provided resources, and stressed international cooperation in the area of civil defence.
On the right to life and freedom form torture, a delegation member reiterated that the number of crimes for which persons could be condemned to death had been reduced. On whether the country was intending to modify its practice of carrying out executions in secret, he said the Ministry of Internal Affairs was crafting laws on informing relatives of impeding death, as well as declassifying information. That bill was headed to Parliament for ratification.
Another delegate flagged the Governments efforts to eliminate torture, based on the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on Torture. He said that the Cabinet of Ministers had developed a plan to implement the International Convention against Torture and Other Inhuman Treatment or Punishment. That would be accompanied by other measures, including setting out rules for sentencing of persons found guilty of committing torture. Those found responsible for torture were subject to severe punishment. Resolving the issue was very complex and involved coordination among State agencies and training of law enforcement officers, among other things. Existing laws needed to be reviewed in order to ensure that that they were effective and could be respected.
Work was under way towards improvement in a host of related areas, including ensuring rules pertaining to people being held in detention or solitary confinement - where studies had shown torture was most likely to occur to obtain a confession. Likewise, evidentiary rules had been changed to ensure that any evidence obtained met international standards. In addition, a working group had been created to study ways to improve the guidelines for protecting detainees. The Government was also beginning to actively monitor investigations in that area. He added that the Human Rights Ombudsman could carry out investigations into allegations of torture.
He noted that Uzbekistan was only beginning to build its democratic society and had begun looking into providing more transparency with, and making more information available to, civil society actors. It had created a rapid reaction force to move quickly to monitor or investigate situations where fundamental rights were reportedly under threat. Uzbekistan was in the midst of retraining authorities and law enforcement officials, and making them aware of not only the Covenant, but other international treaties.
Another delegate said the Parliament had adopted the practice of habeas corpus, and that the rights of any person condemned to death to meet with priests had been enshrined in the laws of the State. He also stressed that the torture practised by authorities had been condemned by all branches of Government. He went on to discuss matters related to extradition of persons when their possible return could lead to torture or other inhuman treatment. That was usually regulated by norms of bilateral agreements with other States in the region or within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Uzbekistan held to the international standards and norms for prison conditions, including the provision of food. Among other things, there was a 2,500 calorie per day minimum. Considerable changes had been made so that conditions were less harsh, and certain classes of prisoners were allowed to make telephone calls and receive parcels. Those detainees needing medical treatment or extra rations were among those allowed to regularly receive particles. Overall, serious crimes had dropped throughout the country, he added. The Government had given particular consideration to the situations in Jaslik prison, which had been opened in 1999, and had opened that facility to visits from international experts, who had concluded that it met international standards. He added that health facilities, including sports training courts, were provided for the detainees.
Another delegate explained that reducing the hours in detention to 48 hours - it was currently at 72 hours - was being considered, as was transferring the detention centres to the Justice Ministry. According to the national plan of action against torture, there was a draft rule on the future improvement of the detention provisions by the Minister for the Interior and Internal Affairs. That was under consideration by the Justice Ministry, which would take a decision sometime in the future. On 25 January, in both Chambers of the Parliament, the President had spoken of the need to consider those provisions in the criminal code regarding the holding of suspects and the need for the courts, themselves, to take decisions on arrests. Reforming the criminal code had been the subject of a roundtable in Tashkent in October 2003, where the issue of habeas corpus -- presently being considered by the Parliament -- had been discussed.
Continuing, he said that a conference had been held on that issue in December 2004, and following publication of a document on the future reform of the judicial process nationwide, a working group had been set up to deal with legal reform, including instituting habeas corpus and granting the courts control over investigations. With respect to holding persons for 72 hours, that would be reduced to 48 hours. As a member of the working group, he had been impressed with the United Kingdoms system, which provided for holding persons for 24 hours, with the possibility of extending that by another 12 hours. The working group had a draft on that question and it was currently working on the economic justification for the proposed changes, as habeas corpus, for example, would involve additional work for the courts. Today, the number of judges was at approximately 300, or one judge for 25,000 inhabitants, and that was not enough. Such issues would be resolved in the near future, however, and work was continuing on those matters.
Adding a few points to the question of the transfer of the courts to the Ministry of Justice, another delegation said that that issue had been broadly debated in social society, during which three basic positions had emerged. The first considered that the courts should remain within the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The second was that the courts be transferred to the Justice Ministry, and the third view was that the courts should report directly to the Cabinet of Ministers. The latter group had based its proposal on the idea that prison problems also related to employment and law enforcement issues, which did not fall only under the purview of the Justice Ministry. The question was being considered in the framework of reform of the prison system, in general.
Experts Comments and Questions
Mr. WIERUSZEWSKI, expert from Poland, said that Uzbekistan had presented its reports in a timely manner, and that the second report had been much better, richer and more substantial than the first. His first comment concerned translating the delegations written responses into the recognized language of the Committee. He then asked what procedures were used for complying with the Optional Protocol, and what procedures existed in the country with which to apply the Committees comments.
He recalled that, in March 2004, the Committee had asked about the reduction of terms of imprisonment and compensation for one of the prisoners and it had been told that the term had been reduced. The Committee then asked that it be further reduced, when it discovered that the prisoners rights had been infringed. The Committee had not received a reply to its compensation query, and it was awaiting an answer on another case. He asked whether there was a system in place for dealing with the Committees comments, particularly that made the necessary decisions to comply with them.
Noting that the Committees request for a stay of execution in 15 cases had been ignored and that those prisoners had been executed, he said that many organizations last year had made it quite clear that that was a very serious breach under the Covenants Optional Protocol. It seemed now, however, that the State party took the Committees requests more seriously, and in the case of nine petitioners to the Committee, all of them had been stayed. There was information from an international non-governmental organization that one had been executed earlier this month, but he hoped that the delegations information was still correct and that the individual was still alive. If that was not the case, that would be a very, very serious breach, about which the State party was unlikely to find an excuse for not applying the Committees request.
On the issue of violence against women and other forms of gender-based discrimination, he said that was the result of cultural attitudes, as the delegation had acknowledged in its report. Were there official statistics concerning the rate of violence against women, because he had been unable to find any? A lack of such official statistics would seriously undermine efforts to improve that situation, he added. Also, to what extent was the country developing appropriate services to support domestic violence victims and trafficked women? And, what was the Governments position towards polygamy? The norms suggested that polygamy existed in Uzbekistan. Were any efforts under way to prohibit that practice in criminal law, and what were the consequences of that clear violation of article 3 of the Covenant? he asked.
He also asked whether any attempt was being made to equalize the marriage age for girls and women. In addition, what punishment existed for perpetrators of crimes of rape and other violent crimes? He had information that such crimes still enjoyed a high rate of impunity. Why was that? Also, according to information he had received, the criminal code punished homosexual relations and, apparently, many people were being sentence for that, which was a clear violation of the Covenants article 26, he said.
Mr. RODLEY, expert from the United Kingdom, asked a series of questions about informing the families of persons under the death sentence about when the executions would take place, when they had taken place, and where the person was buried. He had heard that the State party was developing the practice of informing the family. Had he heard correctly? And, what exactly was the family being informed of? Had any family members been informed of anything yet? Committee members had been very clear during the last review that failure to properly inform both the persons sentenced to death and their families was a violation of the Covenant, particularly article 7, and it was now four years later, he said.
Recalling that the Senator had stated in his preliminary statement that 18 of the 22 recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on Torture had been fully implemented, he asked the delegate to indicate which four it had not sought to fully implement. It should be ensured that law enforcement officials knew what they were supposed to enforce, and what they were supposed to refrain from doing.
Continuing, he said he had been encouraged that lawyers would now be present during investigations. Still, he had learned of a case of someone who had allegedly died under torture, but had found not to have died that way. Nevertheless, that individual had been held for 50 days before a lawyer or anybody else was granted access to him. In another detention, in March 2004, it had taken 53 days before a lawyer was granted access to a person, detained in connection with terrorist charges, but eventually sentenced to three and one-half years for economic offences. Whatever the offence, access should have been granted. What measures were in place against investigators who denied access and what prosecutions had taken place in that regard? he asked.
Turning to the issue of misbehaviour by law enforcement officials, he sought some serious detail about actual investigations, prosecutions and compensation with respect to alleged victims of torture. There had been positive signs that the State party was willing to bring in outsiders, but could the delegation meanwhile supply a list of cases of suspicious deaths in detention that had been subjected to outside, independent investigations? Had all the doubtful cases been the subject of some kind of investigation? he asked.
Mr. KALIN, expert from Switzerland, said that some progress had been made since the last report, particularly in terms of the reduction of the numbers of prisoners to some further thinking about what constituted a serious offence, as well as the clear position taken by the Supreme Court that confessions obtained under torture could not be used. Nevertheless, he still had the overall impression that there was a gap between what had been presented and what the reality was, including troubling information about many violations, not only from NGOs, but from human rights experts in the United Nations system, as well as the mass media.
He said that the execution of 15 persons who had submitted communications to the Committee, and for whom the Committee had introduced interim measures of protections, were serious violations by Uzbekistan. Perhaps, there had been some misunderstanding on the part of the delegation - the Committees interim measures of protection had nothing to do with mercy or a moratorium; the first Optional Protocol clearly stated that a State party to the Covenant that became a party to that Protocol recognized the Committees competence to receive and examine such communications in a meaningful way. But, the Committee could not do that if the person who had submitted a communication to the Committee was no longer alive.
He added that States parties had given the Committee the competence to examine to what extent the party was fulfilling its obligations, but it could not do that if its interim measures of protection were not honoured and disregarded instead. That was the seriousness of the problem at hand, and that represented, including under other international and regional instruments, a serious violation of international law.
On conditions of detention in prisons, he thanked the delegation for providing detailed information, but expressed concern about the use of reduction of food rations to very low levels in cases or serious offences or as disciplinary measures.
The expert from the United States, Ms. WEDGWOOD, said she was pleased the heads of Ministries had taken the time to preside over the presentation of the report. On the death penalty crimes, she said it was difficult to judge the evolution in terms of numbers of executions, numbers on death row, reasons for the death sentence, and so forth. It sounded like the old Soviet times when certain statistics were State secrets, rather than normal penal statistics making it possible to judge the efficacy of State policy. Had the Government undertaken any measures to conform old convictions to new law, and how had the punishments become more liberal over time? The delegation had referred to reduced number of offences for which the capital penalty would apply, but had it gone back to the people who had been previously convicted to give them the benefit of more liberal sentencing, which, in modern times, now seemed appropriate? she asked.
In terms of the length of detention before seeing a lawyer, she stressed that it was the period out of public view that was the greatest temptation to human beings, so in thinking about the appropriate length of detention before arraignment before a judge, 24 hour was clearly better than 48, which was better than 72. The longer someone was in custody with unmonitored criminal investigators, the more tempting it was to beat him up if he did not answer.
She also asked if any of the old bosses of the problematic old incarceration centres had been retired or fired and whether anyone had considered allowing the ombudsman or some form of inspector general to gain access to those centres. She was also troubled by the fact that there were only 300 judges and that more were needed. It sounded like it would be a very long time before the country could afford habeas corpus. Also worrying had been reports of persons who had been arrested or detained on grounds of mental health conditions, with the initial grounds for the arrest being that they were political dissidents. Did the Government have any method for incarcerating persons on mental health grounds, or did that have to await habeas corpus?
Also, she asked whether it was possible to arrest someone in Uzbekistan without a warrant, and whether steps had been taken to minimize the number of times police took someone into custody in the first place without having gone to a judge to obtain a warrant. She was also worried about the language of regimes of incarceration; she understood the inevitable differences in prisons in light of the differing threats of inmates, but she did not see a difference in regimes for punitive purposes. She had the sense that some of the prisons were still deliberately kept in conditions of no recreation, scanty food rations, and temperature regimes, as part of punitive regimes. All of that had reminded her of Tolstoys novel, Resurrection. To deprive a prisoner of his or her basic human needs would be a problem for the Committee. All of that sounded like the hard labour colonies of the old Soviet times, she added.
Mr. SHEARER, expert from Australia, agreed that the lack of statistics seemed to speak of what he thought was a bygone era of State secrets. He could not overemphasize that to keep such vital information secret was totally lacking in transparency and the ability of a people -- both inside Uzbekistan and outside the country -- to understand the progress that was being made, and which the delegation had promised the Committee.
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