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Uzbekistan: Politics and Government

Volume 474: debated on Wednesday 2 April 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment his Department has made of (a) the human rights situation and (b) the transparency of (i) law enforcement agencies and (ii) the court system in Uzbekistan; and if he will make a statement. (197035)

We remain concerned about the overall human rights situation in Uzbekistan for reasons set out in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office 2007 Annual Human Rights report launched on 25 March 2008. Harassment of human rights defenders is common-place and we are disturbed by reports that Mutabar Tojibaeva has been moved from prison in Tashkent and that her family do not know her whereabouts. Restrictions remain on civil society, non-governmental organisations, media and religious organisations. Set against this, however, the Uzbek authorities have recently taken some positive steps which we welcome. These include the release in February of prominent human rights defenders, the ratification by the Uzbek Parliament in March of two international labour organisation conventions, including on the worst forms of child labour, and the resumption of prison visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross. We hope that this overall positive progress will continue.

There is little transparency in the work of the law enforcement agencies. There is no system for systematically investigating all allegations of torture or corruption, although small numbers of police are punished. There is no independent watchdog to hold police and other law enforcement bodies to account. Transparency in the court system is a little better and most trials are open to the public. Uzbek law provides for closed trials to preserve state secrets or to protect victims and witnesses, but over the past 12 months our embassy in Tashkent has been unable to gain access to trials where these circumstances did not apply.

In January new habeas corpus legislation came into force which transferred the authority to issue arrest warrants from the prosecutor to the courts. This has required comprehensive amendments to the criminal justice system, including to court and police procedures, which should increase transparency and protection of detainees’ rights. We, and our EU partners, stand ready to assist the Uzbek authorities with support for its practical implementation.