COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE HEARS RESPONSE OF UZBEKISTAN
|Committee against Torture |
12 November 2007
The Committee against Torture this afternoon heard the response of Uzbekistan to questions raised by Committee Experts on the third periodic report of that country on how it is implementing the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Responding to questions raised by the Committee on Friday, 9 November, the delegation of Uzbekistan, which was led by Esemurat Kanyazov, Deputy Minister of Justice, said Uzbekistan was taking every measure to implement the recommendations of the United Nations treaty bodies. On religious tolerance, religious organizations were free to operate under the law provided they did not foment propaganda or discord. On prison conditions, prisons were less than 60 per cent full, and this allowed medical and sanitary services to operate effectively in the prison system. Inspections of penal institutions took place under the aegis of the Ministry of the Interior.
The delegation underscored that the Ombudsman’s Office had substantial authority and impact, considering complaints and promoting improvements in legislation, engaging in awareness raising activity, expanding cooperation internationally and investigating torture cases. According to law, all officials were obliged to consider and act upon complaints. Officials could be prosecuted for failing in these duties. Laws had been adopted in the 1990s to ensure complaints relating to the use of torture were followed up.
All international treaties prevailed over national laws, and Uzbekistan was working to harmonise national legislation with international norms, the delegation said. Wide ranging reform was underway to protect Constitutional rights and freedoms and to liberalise criminal and procedural systems. An Expert had said over 200 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had been closed down. Sadly, some NGOs violated their privileges. Some had received official warnings. Others had voluntarily terminated their work in the country, but the overall NGO situation was healthy.
The delegation reiterated that torture was prohibited under the Constitution and the State would not tolerate such acts.
In further questions, Committee Experts said documentation by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) stated clearly that humanitarian visits and assistance had been severely curtailed, ICRC activities inhibited, and compliance with the ICRC-Uzbek Government agreement of 2001 seriously undermined.
Experts were concerned about documented acts of torture. NGO reports had given details of numerous instances of torture. Legal representation and medical aid in some cases were seriously compromised. The Criminal Procedure Code seemed to have escape clauses that enabled law enforcement officials to circumvent the law. Independent international investigations had been called for over Andijan and this was the best way to reconcile the parallel narratives that were emerging in this and other cases.
The Committee will submit its concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Uzbekistan towards the end of its session on Friday, 23 November.
As one of the 145 States parties to the Convention against Torture, Uzbekistan is obliged to provide the Committee with periodic reports on the measures it has undertaken to fight torture.
When the Committee next reconvenes in public on Tuesday, 13 November at 10 a.m., it will start its consideration of the fourth periodic report of Estonia (CAT/C/80/Add.1)
Response of Uzbekistan
Responding to the questions raised by Committee Experts on Friday, 9 November, the delegation of Uzbekistan, led by ESEMURAT KANYAZOV, Deputy Minister of Justice of Uzbekistan, said Uzbekistan was taking every measure to implement the recommendations of the United Nations treaty bodies. The delegation began with the issue of measures to prevent torture. According to the Criminal Procedure Code, confessions were one, but not the only, criterion used in convictions. Courts were obliged to verify allegations made by accused persons, carry out expert follow up, and so on. If allegations could not be confirmed, court judgments would reflect this.
On religious tolerance, there were over 2,000 religious organizations registered, covering many denominations. All religious festivals could be freely celebrated, Hajj and other pilgrimages were permitted, and religious organizations were free to operate under the law provided they did not foment propaganda or discord. Any groups promoting terrorism, drug addiction or other anti-social practices were curbed.
On the penitentiary system, Mr. Kanyazov said there were fewer prisoners now than in former times, and the total was low by world standards. Prisons were less than 60 per cent full, and this allowed medical and sanitary services to operate effectively in the prison system. There was extensive cooperation with health bodies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) internationally. Inspections of penal institutions took place under the aegis of the Ministry of the Interior, and there were several different levels of inspection activity.
An Expert had requested information on the Ombudsman, and the delegation said that the Ombudsman’s office had established its place in the country and was active in monitoring torture issues in Uzbekistan. It had substantial authority and impact, considering complaints and promoting improvements in legislation, engaging in awareness raising activity, expanding cooperation internationally and investigating torture cases as prescribed under the 2004 law establishing the Office of the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman paid special attention to the rights of women in Uzbekistan, and was represented in all districts of the country.
Grounds for refusing to institute legal proceedings included absence of fact on the commitment of a crime. The offence of slander was considered only viable if a case was brought by a victim of slander.
According to law, all officials were obliged to consider and act upon complaints, the delegation said. Officials could be prosecuted for failing in these duties. Charges of improper and untimely consideration of complaints had led to prosecutions this year. Compensation included a special chapter for moral damage.
On the events in Andijan in 2005, when armed terrorists attacked military units and freed over 600 dangerous prisoners, it had been alleged that witnesses were beaten up so they would corroborate the Government’s version of events. Such actions were not necessary given the video cassettes that showed the violence carried out by the terrorists themselves, and the crimes they committed on the civil population. Lawyers had direct access to the authorities dealing with the Andijan case. During trial, NGOs were present and could ascertain that witnesses were providing truthful testimony. Some witnesses feared intimidation by the terrorists, and this was why closed hearings were held.
On cases thrown out through insufficient evidence, there were examples available if required, and courts were determined in their judgments on inadmissibility, and ready to acquit those accused in the absence of evidence.
All international treaties prevailed over national laws, and Uzbekistan was working to harmonise national legislation with international norms. Wide ranging reform was under way to protect Constitutional rights and freedoms and to liberalise criminal and procedural systems. This included court reform, reform of the judicial appointments system, abolition of the death penalty, introduction of habeas corpus, and other measures. There had been good results on qualitative improvement of courts’ workloads and division of oversight for different types of crime.
On relationships between the Ministries of Justice, the Interior, and the Prosecutor’s Office, these were regulated by laws to ensure clarity, guarantee performance and carry out monitoring. The Prosecutor was responsible for the objective pursuit of justice and was empowered to annul decisions taken.
On holding suspects under article 235 on torture, the delegation said officials based their decisions on criminal behaviour. On complaints relating to the use of torture, laws had been adopted in the 1990s to ensure complaints were followed up. If procedural norms had been violated, actions of the law enforcement agencies were assessed and disciplinary measures taken. In the case of allegations of torture, criminal punishment rather than disciplinary measures were available. Violations of Constitutional rights (excessive detention, unwarranted search, etc) could also be met with punitive measures.
On the issue of lack of guarantees, the delegation said the Constitution clearly said that torture was illegal, and the allegation that there were inadequate guarantees was rejected.
The delegation noted that an Expert had said over 200 NGOs had been closed down. Sadly, some NGOs violated their privileges. Some received official warnings. Others had voluntarily terminated their work in the country. The reality was that NGO activity was growing and government support for NGOs was on the increase. Monitoring of NGOs was naturally carried out in the framework of national legislation.
There were structures for the defence of human rights in the Ministry of Justice and in all oblasts and territorial units. The Procurator General was directly responsible for these structures.
On individual cases mentioned by the Committee, first, concerning alleged police violence perpetrated against a named Uzbekistan citizen, investigations had shown that the victim’s injuries had been sustained at home, and that there had been no police involvement. On extraditions from Kyrghyzstan, mentioned in Committee questions, these had been carried out according to international standards. On cases against named human rights defenders, those named had been tried for seizing property, extortion, tax crime and other midsdeeds, not for their human rights activities. On alleged denial of access to lawyers and families in the light of arrests after Andijan, detainees were held in temporary facilities and records showed that relatives had been notified. The delegation reiterated that torture was prohibited under the Constitution and the State would not tolerate such acts. Monitoring of prison facilities by international bodies had been carried out in several facilities. The Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights carried out the duties entrusted to it. There had been abundant interaction with detainees themselves, including explanation of prisoners’ rights.
On returning refugees, the delegation said none of the refugees returning after the Andijan affair were locked up. European Union experts had been fully and openly briefed on all aspects of the Andijan case and seemed satisfied with the result.
On the question concerning the closing of the offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the delegation said Uzbekistan regarded the office’s mission as complete, and this was why the UNHCR Tashkent office was terminated in July 2006. The comments made on this issue did not correspond to the reality of the situation in Uzbekistan. Ms Gaer’s claim regarding the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Tashkent was also untrue. The Red Cross was not scaling down operations in Central Asia, but quite the opposite. ICRC and the Ministry of the Interior had worked together in late 2006 to resume visits to penitentiaries. Claims concerning closure of the BBC office were also inaccurate.
Questions and Observations by Committee Experts
FELICE GAER, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for the Report of Uzbekistan, said the most troubling response by the delegation concerned the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The ICRC Annual Report said visits had been suspended in late 2004 and the ICRC had sought to achieve the commitment needed to resume visits. ICRC documentation stated clearly that humanitarian visits and assistance had been severely curtailed, ICRC activities inhibited, and compliance with the ICRC-Uzbek Government agreement of 2001 seriously undermined.
She also asked why the Ombudsman was not accredited by the International Coordinating Committee of Human Rights Institutions. On availability of lawyers to those in confinement, the information the Committee had was very different. In one case a detainee had been unable to access an attorney since March 2006.
Ms. Gaer said she was concerned about documented acts of torture. The OMCT Rapid Response Group and Human Rights Watch reports had given details of numerous instances of torture. Legal representation and medical aid in some cases were seriously compromised. The Criminal Procedure Code seemed to have escape clauses that enabled law enforcement officials to circumvent the law.
The delegation had given a portrayal of the Andijan affair which was at odds with human rights groups who had claimed that the events were a massacre and had led to many civilian deaths. Independent international investigations had been called for repeatedly and this was the best way to reconcile the parallel narratives that were emerging in this and other cases.
Ms. Gaer queried the issue of Article 235. A police officer was stated as having been charged under six different articles of the law in question yet received only two years imprisonment. This begged the question as to whether the legal framework on torture was fully compatible with the Convention.
One Expert said he was satisfied with the answers to his questions, but the matter of the 3,000 children pressed into service in cotton plantations had not been answered. Another Expert said the issue of non discrimination was very important, and questions posed to the Uzbekistan delegation were equally likely to be posed to other delegations. He added that the matter of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was not one of closure of the Red Cross office but of whether the ICRC had been able to perform its functions. ICRC was a serious source and if there were factual discrepancies these needed to be identified. He also asked for clarification: if international instruments prevailed over national laws, could an individual go to a judge and ask for the Convention Against Torture to be applied?
Other Experts asked about follow-up concerning extradition and non-refoulement and the guarantees Uzbekistan asked for in these cases; the status and detention or otherwise of illegal immigrants; reported forced sterilization of women and preventive measures; and the need for international cooperation within the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. One Expert, asked, regarding the death penalty, if executions had stopped, and whether habeas corpus was to be applied in states of emergency, and whether, while refuting all the allegations made during the dialogue with the Committee, the delegation accepted the need to investigate each and every case of torture. Refugees remained an issue of concern, and the independence of the judiciary was another problem issue.
Response of the Delegation
The delegation remarked that Uzbekistan was a developing country. The judiciary was in development. The transfer of the penitentiary system from the Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Justice might be possible in the future, but Uzbekistan needed time to resolve the difficulties.
On independent investigations on Andijan, a delegate asked who the Uzbek Government should invite next, if the views of European investigators were inadequate. Should all and sundry be allowed to carry out such investigations? On Andijan, the Government had been open in its handling of the European investigation.
The delegation challenged some of the allegations concerning the police officer serving two years for torture. If a very serious crime were committed, one law “absorbs” another, taking all aggravating circumstances into account. The six crimes amounted to a sentence of two years, and this was a correct reflection of the crimes committed.
On whether the Convention was invoked during trial, the delegation said there was no direct invocation of the Convention but all provisions in respect of torture were being implemented. If such a need did arise, however, international legal norms would be applied. On child labour in cotton fields, the accusations of forced labour were refuted.
The delegation said there were no exclusions or exceptions concerning habeas corpus. The death penalty had not been used since 2005. Regarding Red Cross visits, the Uzbekistan Government awaited follow up from the Red Cross regarding the resumption of Red Cross visits and was satisfied it had dealt with all outstanding matters on it’s side. There had been no request received from UNHCR regarding its office in Uzbekistan. The delegation was puzzled by the suggestion of forced sterilization, and could not see how this could be forced. Prison violence involving torture was dealt with by prison officials. Inmates and prison officers might be equally responsible.
In conclusion, ANDREAS MAVROMMATIS, Chairperson of the Committee, said there had been a good dialogue and hoped the recommendations of the Committee would be studied by the State party and implemented in due course.
For use of the information media; not an official record