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Human rights in Uzbekistan: Achievements and tasks for the future

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Uzbekistan has been carrying out reforms on the principle of "human interests above all else" and ensuring proper protection of human rights. Thus, the country has identified human rights protection as one of the priority areas. The analysis demonstrates that work in this area has a systemic character. The country has made a breakthrough in ensuring socioeconomic, civil, and political rights, writes Eldor Tulyakov, Executive Director at Development Strategy Center Uzbekistan (pictured).

First of all, the government carried out outstanding work to eradicate forced and child labor in cotton harvesting campaigns. For many years, it is no secret that these very issues have been a "stigma" on the international image of Uzbekistan. The government succeeded in close interaction with international organizations (including the ILO) and civil activists to eliminate problems in this area. As such, the government carried out significant structural changes in the agriculture sector. The high political will of the country's leadership played an undoubted role in this. As a result, in its 2020 2 report, the International Labor Organization announced the end of child and forced labor in the cotton industry of Uzbekistan. According to the organization, the republic has made significant progress in enforcing fundamental labor rights in the cotton fields. The systematic recruitment of students, teachers, doctors, and nurses has wholly stopped. For the first time in ten years of monitoring in cottongrowing regions of Uzbekistan, the Uzbek Human Rights Forum did not record a single case of forced labor.

The following breakthrough result of the ongoing reforms to ensure human rights were transforming the notorious "propiska" system. Society viewed it as an obstacle to citizens' freedom of movement for many years. President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev called it shackles on the feet of a citizen and took measures to change it radically. According to the efforts to transform this system, there is a transition to a notification registration system. These measures also favorably affected the property rights of citizens. For many years, citizens from other regions of the country could not buy housing in the capital in their name if they did not have a permanent residence permit in Tashkent. Many citizens had to register their real estate in Tashkent in the name of acquaintances with a permanent residence permit and then live as tenants in their own house.

As a result of the reforms, after abolishing the requirement for registration when buying housing, people bought almost 13 thousand apartments in Tashkent - of which 70% were purchased by people living in other cities. The government has also taken decisive measures to reduce the number of stateless persons. Last year alone, 50 thousand of our compatriots acquired Uzbek citizenship. This year, more than 20 thousand people will receive citizenship.3 Uzbekistan has come a long way in ensuring the religious rights and freedoms of citizens. It is no secret that for many years the international community has expressed concern about this matter. The transformations have created favorable organizational and legal conditions to implement the constitutional right to religious freedom. Officials reduced the state duty amount for the registration of religious organizations five times and canceled their quarterly reporting. The Ministry of Justice's powers to terminate the activities of a religious organization have been transferred to the judicial authorities.

The shameful practice of the so-called black lists has been discontinued, and the government removed more than 20 thousand citizens suspected of having links with religious extremist organizations from the register and the "black lists," and abolished the practice of further maintaining such "lists." In 2017, for the first time in the history of independent Uzbekistan, our country was visited by the UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur on freedom of conscience or faith, Ahmad Shahid. Based on his recommendations, parliament approved a Roadmap to ensure freedom of conscience and belief.

On the initiative of President Sh.M. Mirziyoyev, the UN adopted a special resolution, Enlightenment and Religious Tolerance. Another example of the recognition of progress in this area is the complete exclusion of Uzbekistan from the US Special Checklist on Religious Freedom. Freedom of speech and the media have become the hallmark of the new Uzbekistan. The state made previously inaccessible foreign information resources available in the country. The country opened accreditation for foreign journalists (Voice of America, BBC, The Economist, and others), citizen journalists - the so-called "Bloggers" - have become the new reality 4 of the country.

Journalists began to raise previously untouched topics openly, criticism and analysis began to appear more often on the press pages.The President of the country has repeatedly expressed his support to the media representatives and urged them to cover the burning issues. As a result, according to the world press freedom rating of the Reporters Without Borders, the country improved its ratings by 13 positions from 2017 to 2020. It was also indicated in the reports of Human Rights Watch, which in November 2017, for the first time in a decade, had the opportunity to conduct direct research in the country, that under President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, "the situation with freedom of the press has improved, the media environment has entered a stage of changes".

The government has released several previously imprisoned prominent journalists. Uzbekistan has also come a long way in ensuring citizens' rights to a fair and public trial. The number of acquittals in courts in 2017-2020 was 2,770. In 2018 alone, courts terminated 1,881 criminal cases for insufficient evidence. The charges against 5462 persons unjustifiably brought forward during the investigation were excluded from the corpus delicti, and 3,290 persons were released in the courtroom. In 2019, 859 persons were acquitted, 3080 persons were released in the courtroom. For a clear comparison, in 2016, the number of acquittals in the entire judicial system was only 28.

As a result of the practical implementation of humanism in the judicial and legal sphere in 2019, 1,853 people were released from punishment, including 210 young people and 270 women. Three thousand three hundred thirty-three persons who had served their sentences returned to their families, including 646 convicted for participation in the activities of banned organizations.5 One of the main achievements in ensuring human rights in the country has been the systematic work to eradicate torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Strict liability has been established for the use of evidence obtained as a result of illegal methods. Article 235 of the Criminal Code (torture) was brought in line with article 1 of the UN Convention against Torture.

Following the recommendations of international organizations, the President of Uzbekistan signed a Resolution on the liquidation of the notorious "Jaslyk" colony in Karakalpakstan. Since March 2019, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan (Ombudsman) has been acting as a "national preventive mechanism." This mechanism provides for the organization of monitoring institutions to execute punishment, places of detention, and memorable reception centers for studying the provision of human rights and freedoms there, guaranteed by law. When considering complaints and when checking on his initiative cases of violation of citizens' rights, independence, and legitimate interests, the Ombudsman has the right to visit places of detention and conduct face-to-face meetings freely.

Their administration is obliged to provide the Ombudsman with the necessary conditions for unhindered and confidential meetings and conversations with persons in custody. The monitoring groups include representatives of civil society institutions, as well as deputies of the Legislative Chamber and members of the Senate of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan. During the pandemic, using 6 personal protective equipment, the Ombudsman also visited ten penitentiary institutions (four penal colonies and six penal colony settlements). Reforms to ensure gender equality and women's rights have become another important area. The Government of Uzbekistan has developed a Strategy for Achieving Gender Equality for the Period up to 2030. A particular procedure is being introduced, according to which all new draft laws will be analyzed from a gender equality perspective. The creation of a parliamentary Commission on Gender Equality in Uzbekistan in 2019 helped to strengthen women's position in society and their status.

At the level of legislative and state policy in Uzbekistan, mechanisms have been created to ensure and protect women's rights. The law "On guarantees of equal rights and opportunities for women and men" guarantees the provision of equal rights for women and men to be elected to representative bodies of power and the possibility of nominating candidates for deputies from political parties.As noted by the President of Uzbekistan, "the role of women is great in identifying and timely solving social problems, enhancing the effectiveness of management." For example, in the 2019 parliamentary elections, a gender quota was applied: elected women deputies accounted for 32 percent of the total number of elected deputies and 25 percent of members of the Senate. This policy is in line with the established UN recommendations. In terms of the number of women deputies, the parliament of Uzbekistan has risen to 7 37th place among 190 national parliaments of the world over the past five years (it was 128th). The government also adopted laws to protect women from harassment and violence and protect reproductive health. As already mentioned, Uzbekistan has been carrying out human rights reforms at a systemic, comprehensive level. Accordingly, the state adopted the National Human Rights Strategy on June 22, 2020.

It became the first strategic document in the history of Uzbekistan, which defined a set of longterm targeted measures to ensure personal, political, economic, social, and cultural human rights. Out of the 78 points of the Road Map, authorities implemented 32 in 2020. In particular, the Strategy provides for the adoption of 33 bills, including 20 new ones, of which four new laws have already been adopted: "On Education" (new edition), "On combating human trafficking" (new edition), On employment of the population" and "On the rights of persons with disabilities. " Undoubtedly, the achieved results are receiving the deserved international appraisal. On October 13, 2020, for the first time in history, Uzbekistan was elected a UN Human Rights Council member for a threeyear term - 2021-2023. In these elections, Uzbekistan received the most significant number of votes - 169 out of 193 UN member states voted for our country.8 Simultaneously, ensuring human rights is not a static but a dynamic process that requires constant improvement and complete dedication.

Based on this logic, one may argue that some tasks remain for the future, which will further improve the country's human rights protection system. In particular, in the course of work on improving the method for detecting and preventing cases of torture, it is recommended to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture. Continuing work to strengthen further the financial and functional independence of the Ombudsman, including the allocation of additional resources for Secretariat and regional representatives of the Ombudsman, is also a further task.

To ensure gender equality and women's rights, strengthening the criminalization of domestic violence is another issue for discussion. As for some cases of illegal interference in media activities, the government should take further measures to eradicate them further and improve the foundations of freedom of speech. UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities ratification is another goal for the state. The government also plans to adopt a Law on the Children's Ombudsman. Summarizing the above, we can say that the listed facts testify to essential milestones in Uzbekistan's path of reforms to ensure human rights and recognize the policy pursued in this area by the international community. The country does not intend to stop at the achieved progress and continue to solve the urgent tasks of protecting human rights. I am glad that there is a high political will of the country's leadership for this. The historical status of a member of the UN HRC will allow Uzbekistan to use international platforms for the exchange of experience and more effective promotion of its initiatives in the international arena

Uzbekistan

Anti-corruption policy in Uzbekistan, ongoing reforms and future objectives

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The fight against corruption has become one of the most pressing problems facing the international community today. Its catastrophic impact on states, regional economy, politics, and public life can be seen on the example of the crisis in some countries, writes Akmal Burkhanov, director of the Anti-Corruption Agency of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

Another important aspect of the problem is that the level of corruption in a country directly affects its political and economic prestige in the international arena. This criterion becomes decisive in such issues as relations between countries, the volume of investments, the signing of bilateral agreements on equal terms. Therefore, in recent years, political parties in foreign countries have made the fight against corruption a top priority in the parliamentary and presidential elections. Concerns about this evil are increasingly voiced from the highest tribunes in the world. The fact that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres claims that the world community loses USD 2.6 trillion annually due to corruption shows the heart of the problem[1].

The fight against corruption has also become a priority area of state policy in Uzbekistan. This can be seen in the conceptual regulatory acts adopted in recent years in this area, on the example of administrative reforms aimed at preventing corruption. In particular, the National Action Strategy on Five Priority Development Areas 2017-2021, adopted at the initiative of the President, plays an important role in increasing the effectiveness of the fight against corruption[2].

Improving the organizational and legal mechanisms of combating corruption and increasing the effectiveness of anticorruption measures was identified as one of the important tasks in the priority area of the Action Strategy - ensuring the rule of law and further reforming the judicial and legal system.

On the basis of this policy document, a number of important measures have been taken to prevent corruption.

Firstly, the system for considering appeals of individuals and legal entities has been radically improved. The People’s Receptions of the President as well as hot lines and virtual receptions of each ministry and department have been launched. 209 people’s receptions offices have been created throughout the country, the priority task of which is to restore the rights of citizens. In addition, the practice of conducting on-site receptions of officials at all levels in remote areas has been established.

The people’s receptions provide the citizens with the opportunity to take an active part in the events taking place in the region where they live, as well as throughout the country. Ensuring the freedom of people to directly address with various issues and direct communication of officials with people led to a decrease of corruption in the lower and middle levels in itself [3].

Secondly, practical measures have been taken to ensure freedom of the media, journalists and bloggers, the openness of government structures to the public and the media, and the establishment of close communication and cooperation between senior officials and journalists in their daily activities. As a result, every action of the officials was made public. After all, if there is openness, it would be more difficult to engage in corruption.

Thirdly, the system of government services has been radically reformed and more than 150 types of government services are provided to the population using convenient, centralized and modem information and communication technologies.

In this process, the reduction of the human factor, the elimination of the direct contacts between the civil servant and the citizen, and the widespread use of information technologies, undoubtedly, significantly reduced the factors of corruption[3].

Fourthly, in recent years, the mechanisms for ensuring openness and transparency of government agencies, as well as public control institutions, have radically improved. The widespread use of digital and online technologies has increased the accountability of government agencies to the public. A system of online auctions of land plots and state assets, as well as state numbers for vehicles has been created and is constantly being improved.

Information on state procurement is posted on the website www.d.xarid.uz. The open data portal (data.gov.uz), the registered database of legal entities and commercial entities (my.gov.uz) and other platforms play an important role today in ensuring the principles of openness and transparency and public control, which are the most effective tools for combating and preventing corruption. Licensing and permitting procedures have also been radically improved to completely improve the business and investment climate, remove unnecessary bureaucratic barriers and outdated regulations.

Fifthly, a Resolution signed by the President in 2018 provides for the creation of a public council under each ministry and department. Of course, such councils are an important link in the establishment of effective public control over the activities of government agencies|4].

More than 70 regulatory acts aimed at combating corruption in all sectors of state and public construction have served as a solid basis for the implementation of these reforms.

The most important step in this area was the signing of the Law ‘On Combating Corruption’ as one of the first legislative acts after the President came to power. The law, adopted in 2017, defines several concepts, including “corruption”, “corruption offenses” and “conflict of interests”. The areas of state policy in the fight against corruption were also determined [5].

The State Anti-Corruption Program 2017-2018 was also adopted. The Law on Public Procurement, the Law on Public-Private Partnership, the Law on Dissemination and Access to Legal Information and the Law on Public Control, adopted under the Program, are also aimed at ensuring economic growth by combating corruption[6].

President Mirziyoyev, in his speech on the occasion of the 26th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan, proposed the creation of special anti-corruption committees in the chambers of the Oliy Majlis based on best foreign practices and the requirements of our Constitution.

In 2019, the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis adopted a resolution "On the establishment of Committee on Judicial-Legal Issues and Anti¬Corruption" of the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan [7].

In the same year, the Senate of the Oliy Majlis also established the Committee on Judicial-Legal Issues and Anti-Corruption [8].

At the same time, the committees and commissions of the Jokargy Kenes of Karakalpakstan and the regional, district and city councils of people's deputies were reorganized into a "Permanent Commission on Combating Corruption".

Their main tasks were to conduct systematic parliamentary oversight of the implementation of anti-corruption legislation and government programmes, to listen to information from government officials involved in anti-corruption activities, to take measures to eliminate legal gaps in existing legislation that permit and create conditions for corruption, to study generally recognized principles and norms of international law on combating corruption and to develop proposals for further action.

A joint resolution of the Kengash of the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis and the Kengash of the Senate “On measures to increase the effectiveness of parliamentary oversight of anti-corruption efforts” was adopted to coordinate the activities of committees and councils and identify priorities [9].

These chambers and kengashes serve to improve the effectiveness of parliamentary oversight of the fight against corruption.

In particular, the Senate of the Oliy Majlis and the responsible committee of the local council critically discussed information on the status and trends of corruption of public officials carrying out anti-corruption activities in the regions as part of parliamentary oversight.

The information of Minister of Higher and Secondary Specialised Education on the progress of the Corruption-Free Sector Project was listened.

The Prosecutor General also briefed on the work being done to prevent corruption in the health, education and construction sectors. The activities of the Ministries of Health, Education and Construction were critically discussed.

Regular dialogue was held in the regions with the judiciary, sector leaders and the public to discuss anti-corruption issues in cooperation with local Kengashes of people's deputies and to assess the responsibility of officials in this regard.

The Committee on Judicial-Legal Issues and Anti-Corruption of the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis held hearings on the work of the State Customs Committee, the Ministry of Construction and the Ministry of Health in preventing corruption in its system.

The Committee made effective use of effective parliamentary oversight mechanisms during the period under consideration, and about 20 oversight and scrutiny activities were carried out by the Committee during that period. These included examining the implementation of legislation, listening to the heads of State and economic bodies and monitoring the implementation of the decisions of the Legislative Chamber and the Committee.

The responsible committee of the Legislative Chamber also works effectively with citizens and non-governmental organizations. In particular, since the Committee began its work, civil society institutions have submitted proposals for 22 relevant amendments and additions to the codes and 54 to legislation. These contain reasoned opinions on amendments and additions to the Criminal Code, the Labour Code, the Courts Act and other legislation.

In addition, during the past period, the committee has done work on timely study and resolution of citizens' appeals on systemic issues in the field. In particular, 565 appeals of individuals and legal entities submitted to the committee have been reviewed.

In 2018, committees for combating and eradicating corruption were created in the Legislative Chamber and the Senate of the Oliy Majlis. These structures serve to enhance the effectiveness of parliamentary control over the fight against corruption.

The Civil Service Development Agency was launched in 2019. In order to increase the prestige of the civil service at all levels, eliminate corruption, red tape and bureaucracy, the Agency was instructed to take measures to provide financial incentives and adequate social protection for civil servants [10].

The State Anti-Corruption Program 2019-2020 was adopted to implement specific tasks, including further strengthening the independence of the judiciary, eliminating conditions for any undue influence on judges, increasing the accountability and transparency of government agencies and institutions [11].

The year 2020 occupies a special place in the history of our country in terms of improving the institutional framework for combating corruption, because, on June 29 of that year, two important documents were adopted. Those are the Decree of the President ‘On additional measures to improve the system of combating in the Republic of Uzbekistan’ and the Resolution of the President ‘On the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Agency of the Republic of Uzbekistan’. These documents provided for the establishment of a new institution for the implementation of state policy aimed at preventing and combating corruption - the Anti-Corruption Agency [12].

The Agency is defined as a specially authorized government agency responsible for ensuring effective interaction between government bodies, the media, civil society institutions and other nongovernmental sectors, as well as for international cooperation in this area. The Decree also reorganized the Republican Interdepartmental Anti-Corruption Commission into the National Anti-Corruption Council.

In addition, as of January 1, 2021, 37 licenses and 10 permits were revoked. A Road Map was approved for the implementation of measures to strengthen the activities of ministries and departments to combat the shadow economy and corruption, as well as to improve tax and customs administration.

Along with these regulatory documents, ministries and departments adopted and implemented departmental documents aimed at increasing the effectiveness of combating and preventing corruption, “corruption-free sector” programs, as well as other plans and programs in various areas.

In 2020, under the chairmanship of the President, about a dozen meetings and sessions were held addressing the issues of combating corruption. All this means that our country is determined to fight this evil at the state level. This is perceived not only by the citizens of our country, but also by the international community as a serious political will.

In particular, the head of state delivered a speech at the 75th session of the UN General Assembly. In his speech, he emphasized the importance of combating corruption, noting that this work in Uzbekistan has reached a new level, important laws have been adopted and an independent anti-corruption structure has been created. The Uzbek President showed the whole world how important this road is for our country. Positive transformations, along with ensuring the social and economic growth of our country, serve to increase in international ratings and indices and improve the image of our republic.

In the 2020 Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International, Uzbekistan climbed 7 positions compared to 2019 and achieved stable growth for 4 consecutive years (from 17 points in 2013 to 26 points in 2020). Therefore, in its 2020 report, the Transparency International recognized Uzbekistan as one of the fastest growing countries in the region.

However, despite the results achieved, we still have a formidable challenge ahead of us. In his Address to the Oliy Majlis, the President also touched upon the problem of corruption, stressing that intolerance to any form of it should become a part of our daily life.

A number of tasks set in the Address to combat corruption are also reflected in the State Program “Year of Supporting Youth and Strengthening Public Health”. In particular, the Anti-Corruption Agency was tasked with further improving the mechanisms for ensuring openness and transparency in government agencies.

According to study and analysis carried out by the Agency, today the Open Data Portal contains more than 10 thousand collections of open data from 147 ministries and departments. Based on the results of the study and analysis, a list of 240 proposals for expanding open data submitted by 39 ministries, departments and institutions were selected and compiled. The State Program also includes the development of the E-Anticorruption project, which will take anti-corruption reforms to a new level. The project will conduct an in-depth analysis of the existing factors of corruption in all ministries and departments in the context of sectors and regions.

This process will involve representatives of civil society institutions, international experts and interested organizations. As a result, for the first time in our country, an electronic register of corruption-prone relations will be formed [13]. This, in turn, makes it possible to gradually eliminate existing relations with signs of corruption with the help of open and transparent mechanisms using modem information technologies.

The State Program also focuses on another important task. In particular, it is planned to develop the National Anti-Corruption Strategy 2021-2025 in order to continue work in this direction on a systematic and comprehensive basis. In developing this strategy, special attention is paid to a holistic plan that fully covers the real situation. The experience of countries that have achieved successful results in the development and implementation of a comprehensive political document for five years is being studied. It is noteworthy that many countries achieve significant positive results in the fight against corruption through the adoption of such a strategic package of documents and the systematic implementation of its tasks.

The experience of countries such as Georgia, Estonia, and Greece shows that a comprehensive long-term program has led to an increase in the effectiveness of the fight against corruption and its prevention, as well as to an increase of their positions in international rankings. In our country, the development and implementation of a long-term, systematic, comprehensive program to combat corruption will serve to increase the effectiveness of reforms in this area in the future.

Today, the Anti-Corruption Agency is actively working on the draft National Strategy. The document includes an analysis of the current situation, positive trends, and problems, main factors causing corruption, goals and its indicators. In order to cover all issues and take into account the opinion of the government and society, it is widely discussed at national and international consultation meetings with the participation of representatives of government agencies, officials, members of NGOs, academia, and international experts.

It is planned that the draft Strategy will be submitted for public discussion in order to learn the opinion of our people.

The Agency has also studied this year the facts of corruption and conflicts of interest in the field of state procurement in regions. Reasonable proposals have been prepared for the public disclosure of information on the shortcomings identified during the study, as well as information on the composition of tender commissions for state procurement and investment projects, commissions for issuing permits, participants in the process of buying and selling state assets and public-private partnership projects, as well as on recipients’ tax and other benefits. Work is currently underway to further improve these proposals.

It should be noted that the fight against corruption is not a task that can be solved within one organization. It is necessary to mobilize all government agencies, public organizations, the media and, in general, every citizen to fight this evil. Only then will we get to the root of the problem.

Of course, it is gratifying to see the positive results of the work done over the past three-four years. That is, today it is clear from the views of our people that corruption has become one of the most used words in social networks, in our daily life. This indicates that the population, which plays an important role in the fight against corruption, is becoming increasingly intolerant of this evil.

Since the establishment of the Anti-Corruption Agency, many ministries and government departments, nongovernmental organizations, international organizations and citizens have expressed their readiness to provide free assistance, and cooperation is gaining momentum now.

The main thing is to strengthen the spirit of intolerance towards corruption in our modem society, the fighting spirit of anti-corruption in journalists and bloggers, and so that government agencies and officials look at corruption as a threat to the future of the country. Today, everyone is against corruption, from senior officials to the majority of the population, the clerisy, the media have understood that it needs to be eradicated, and the country cannot develop along with it. Now the only task is to unite all efforts and fight against evil together.

This will undoubtedly serve to fully implement the development strategies of our country for the years to come.

Sources

1. “The costs of corruption: values, economic development under assault, trillions lost, says Guterres” UN official site. 09.12.2018.

2. Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On the strategy of further development of the Republic of Uzbekistan”. 07.02.2017. #PD-4947.

3. Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On measures to further improve the system of dealing with the problems of the population”. #PR-5633.

4. Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On additional measures for the accelerated development of the national system of public services” 31.01.2020. #PD-5930.

5. Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On additional measures to improve the anti-corruption system in the Republic of Uzbekistan” 29.06.2020. #PR-6013.

6. Resolution of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On measures to implement the provisions of the Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On Combating Corruption" 02.02.2017. #PD-2752.

7. Resolution of the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On the establishment of the Committee on Combating Corruption and Judicial Issues”. 14.03.2019. #PD-2412-III.

8. Resolution of the Senate of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On the establishment of the Committee on Combating Corruption and Judicial Issues”. 25.02.2019. #JR-513-III.

9. Joint Resolution of the Council of the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan and the Council of the Senate of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On measures to increase the effectiveness of parliamentary control in the fight against corruption”. 30.09.2019. #782-111/ JR-610-III.

10. Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On measures to radically improve the personnel policy and the system of civil service in the Republic of Uzbekistan”. 03.10.2019. PD-5843.

11. Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On measures to further improve the anti-corruption system in the Republic of Uzbekistan” 27.05.2019. #PD-5729.

12. Resolution of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On the organization of the Anti-Corruption Agency of the Republic of Uzbekistan”. 29.06.2020. #PR-4761.

13. Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan “On measures to implement “the strategy of further development of the Republic of Uzbekistan for 2017-2021” for the Year of Youth Support and Public Health”. 03.02.2021 #PR-6155.

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Uzbekistan 2021: Safe travel guaranteed

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How can we avoid the negative impact of the pandemic and still maintain a desire to travel?

A new campaign by the State Comittee of the Republic of Uzbekistan explains why safe travel is guaranteed.

Full details of where to visit in this amazing country are available on the official website of the Ministry of Tourism and Sport of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

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Uzbekistan is adapting counterterrorism strategy to modern threats

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Head of the Department of the Institute for Strategic and Interregional Studies (ISRS) under the President of Uzbekistan Timur Akhmedov says that the Uzbek Government follows the principle: it is important to combat the reasons that cause citizens to become susceptible to terrorist ideologies.

According to the expert, the problem of countering terrorism does not lose its relevance during a pandemic. On the contrary, the epidemiological crisis of unprecedented scale that gripped the whole world and affected all spheres of public life and economic activity revealed a number of problems that create fertile ground for the spread of ideas of violent extremism and terrorism.

The growth of poverty and unemployment is observed, the number of migrants and forced migrants is increasing. All these crisis phenomena in the economy and social life can increase inequality, create risks of exacerbation of conflicts of a social, ethnic, religious and other nature.

HISTORICAL RETROSPECTIVE

Independent Uzbekistan has its own history of fighting terrorism, where the spread of radical ideas after gaining independence was associated with a difficult socio-economic situation, the emergence of additional hotbeds of instability in the region, attempts to legitimize and consolidate power through religion.

At the same time, the formation of radical groups in Central Asia was largely facilitated by the mass atheist policy pursued in the USSR, accompanied by repressions against believers and pressure on them. 

The subsequent weakening of the ideological positions of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, and the liberalization of socio-political processes contributed to the active penetration of ideology into Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries through foreign emissaries of various international extremist centers. This stimulated the spread of a phenomenon atypical for Uzbekistan - religious extremism aimed at undermining interfaith and interethnic harmony in the country.

Nevertheless, at an early stage of independence, Uzbekistan, being a multinational and multi-confessional country where more than 130 ethnic groups live and there are 16 confessions, chose the unambiguous path of building a democratic state based on the principles of secularism.

In the face of growing terrorist threats, Uzbekistan has developed its own strategy with a priority on security and stable development. At the first stage of the development of measures, the main stake was made on the formation of a system of administrative and criminal response to various manifestations of terrorism, incl. strengthening the regulatory framework, improving the system of law enforcement agencies, promoting the effective administration of judicial justice in the field of countering terrorism and its financing. The activities of all parties and movements calling for an anti-constitutional change in the state system were terminated. After that, most of these parties and movements went underground.

The country faced acts of international terrorism in 1999, the peak of terrorist activity was in 2004. Thus, on March 28 - April 1, 2004, terrorist acts were carried out in the city of Tashkent, Bukhara and Tashkent regions. On July 30, 2004, repeated terrorist attacks were carried out in Tashkent at the embassies of the United States and Israel, as well as at the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Republic of Uzbekistan. Bystanders and law enforcement officers became their victims.

In addition, several Uzbeks joined terrorist groups in neighboring Afghanistan, which later attempted to invade the territory of Uzbekistan in order to destabilize the situation.

An alarming situation required an immediate response. Uzbekistan put forward the main initiatives of collective regional security and carried out large-scale work to form a system for ensuring stability in society, the state and the region as a whole. In 2000, the Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan "On Combating Terrorism" was adopted.

As a result of the active foreign policy of Uzbekistan, a number of bilateral and multilateral treaties and agreements were concluded with states interested in the joint fight against terrorism and other destructive activities. In particular, in 2000, an agreement was signed in Tashkent between Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan "On joint actions to combat terrorism, political and religious extremism, and transnational organized crime."

Uzbekistan, facing the "ugly face" of terrorism with its own eyes, strongly condemned the terrorist acts committed on September 11, 2001 in the United States. Tashkent was one of the first to accept Washington’s proposal for a joint fight against terrorism and supported their counter-terrorism actions, providing states and international organizations wishing to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan with the opportunity to use their land, air and waterways.

CONCEPTUAL REVISION OF APPROACHES

The transformation of international terrorism into a complex socio-political phenomenon requires a constant search for ways to develop effective response measures.

Despite the fact that not a single terrorist act has been carried out in Uzbekistan over the past 10 years, the participation of citizens of the country in hostilities in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the involvement of immigrants from Uzbekistan in committing terrorist acts in the United States, Sweden, and Turkey necessitated a revision of the approach to the problem of deradicalization of the population and increasing the effectiveness of preventive measures.

In this regard, in the renewed Uzbekistan, the emphasis has shifted in favor of identifying and eliminating conditions and causes conducive to the spread of terrorism. These measures are clearly reflected in the Action Strategy for the five priority areas of the country’s development in 2017-2021, approved by the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan on February 7, 2017.

President Shavkat Mirziyoyev outlined the creation of a belt of stability and good-neighborliness around Uzbekistan, the protection of human rights and freedoms, the strengthening of religious tolerance and interethnic harmony as priority areas for ensuring the country’s security. The initiatives being implemented in these areas are based on the principles of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

The conceptual revision of approaches to preventing and countering extremism and terrorism includes the following key points.

First, the adoption of such important documents as the Defense Doctrine, the laws "On Countering Extremism", "On Internal Affairs Bodies", "On the State Security Service", "On the National Guard", made it possible to strengthen the legal basis for prevention in the fight against terrorism.

Second, respect for human rights and the rule of law are integral components of the fight against terrorism in Uzbekistan. The government’s counter-terrorism measures are consistent with both national law and the State’s obligations under international law.

It is important to note that the state policy of Uzbekistan in the field of combating terrorism and protecting human rights is aimed at creating conditions under which these areas do not conflict with each other, but, on the contrary, would complement and reinforce each other. This entails the need to develop principles, norms and obligations defining the boundaries of permissible legal actions of the authorities aimed at combating terrorism.

The National Strategy on Human Rights, adopted for the first time in the history of Uzbekistan in 2020, also reflected the government’s policy towards persons guilty of committing terrorist crimes, including issues of their rehabilitation. These measures are based on the principles of humanism, justice, independence of the judiciary, competitiveness of the judicial process, expansion of the Habeas Corpus institution, and strengthening of judicial supervision over the investigation. Public confidence in justice is achieved through the implementation of these principles.

The results of the implementation of the Strategy are also manifested in more humane decisions of the courts when imposing punishments on persons who have fallen under the influence of radical ideas. If until 2016 in criminal cases related to the participation of terrorist activities, judges appointed long terms of imprisonment (from 5 to 15 years), today the courts are limited to either suspended sentences or imprisonment of up to 5 years. Also, the defendants in criminal cases who participated in illegal religious-extremist organizations are released from the courtroom under the guarantee of citizens’ self-government bodies (“mahalla”), the Youth Union and other public organizations.

At the same time, the authorities are taking measures to ensure transparency in the process of investigating criminal cases with an “extremist connotation”. The press services of law enforcement agencies work closely with the media and bloggers. At the same time, special attention is paid to excluding from the lists of accused and suspects those persons in respect of whom compromising materials are limited only by the applicant base without the necessary evidence.

Thirdly, systematic work is underway for social rehabilitation, the return to normal life of those who fell under the influence of extremist ideas and realized their mistakes.

Measures are being taken to decriminalize and de-radicalize people accused of crimes related to violent extremism and terrorism. So, in June 2017, at the initiative of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the so-called "black lists" were revised in order to exclude from them persons who were firmly on the path of correction. Since 2017, more than 20 thousand people have been excluded from such lists.

A special commission is operating in Uzbekistan to investigate the cases of citizens who have visited the war zones in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Under the new order, individuals who did not commit serious crimes and did not participate in hostilities can be exempted from prosecution.

These measures made it possible to implement the Mehr humanitarian action to repatriate the citizens of Uzbekistan from the zones of armed conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Since 2017, more than 500 citizens of Uzbekistan, mainly women and children, have returned to the country. All conditions have been created for their integration into society: access to educational, medical and social programs has been provided, including through the provision of housing and employment.

Another important step in the rehabilitation of persons involved in religious extremist movements was the practice of applying acts of pardon. Since 2017, this measure has been applied to over 4 thousand persons serving sentences for crimes of an extremist nature. The act of pardon acts as an important incentive for the correction of persons who have violated the law, giving them a chance to return to society, family and become active participants in the reforms being carried out in the country.

Fourth, measures are being taken to address the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism. For example, in recent years, youth and gender policies have been strengthened, and initiatives in education, sustainable development, social justice, including poverty reduction and social inclusion, have been implemented to reduce vulnerability to violent extremism and terrorist recruitment.

In September 2019, the Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan "On guarantees of equal rights and opportunities for women and men" (On gender equality) was adopted. At the same time, within the framework of the law, new mechanisms are being formed aimed at strengthening the social status of women in society and protecting their rights and interests.

Taking into account the fact that 60% of the population of Uzbekistan is young people, considered as a “strategic resource of the state”, in 2016 the Law “On State Youth Policy” was adopted. In accordance with the law, conditions are created for the self-realization of young people, for them to receive a quality education and to protect their rights. The Agency for Youth Affairs is actively operating in Uzbekistan, which, in cooperation with other public organizations, is systematically working to provide support to children whose parents have come under the influence of religious extremist movements. In 2017 alone, about 10 thousand young people from such families were employed.

As a result of the implementation of the youth policy, the number of registered terrorist crimes in Uzbekistan among persons under the age of 30 has significantly decreased in 2020 compared to 2017, more than 2 times decreased.

Fifth, taking into account the revision of the paradigm of the fight against terrorism, the mechanisms for training specialized personnel are being improved. All law enforcement agencies involved in the fight against terrorism have specialized academies and institutions.

At the same time, special attention is paid not only to the training of law enforcement officers, but also theologians and theologians. For this purpose, the International Islamic Academy, the international research centers of Imam Bukhari, Imam Termiziy, Imam Matrudi, and the Center for Islamic Civilization have been established.

In addition, the scientific schools "Fikh", "Kalom", "Hadith", "Akida" and "Tasawwuf" have started their activity in the regions of Uzbekistan, where they train specialists in some sections of Islamic studies. These scientific and educational institutions serve as the basis for the training of highly educated theologians and experts in Islamic studies.

INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION

International cooperation is at the core of Uzbekistan’s counterterrorism strategy. The Republic of Uzbekistan is a party to all 13 existing UN conventions and protocols on combating terrorism. It should be noted that the country was among the first to support the fight against international terrorism, including the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

In 2011, the countries of the region adopted a Joint Action Plan for the Implementation of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. Central Asia was the first region where a comprehensive and comprehensive implementation of this document was launched.

This year marks ten years since the adoption of the Joint Action in the region to implement the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. In this regard, the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, during his speech at the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, announced an initiative to hold an international conference in Tashkent in 2021 dedicated to this significant date.

The holding of this conference will make it possible to sum up the results of the work over the past period, as well as to determine new priorities and areas of interaction, to give a new impetus to regional cooperation in the fight against the threats of extremism and terrorism.

At the same time, a mechanism has been established for the UN Counter-Terrorism Office and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime to conduct step-by-step training courses on combating terrorism, violent extremism, organized crime and the financing of terrorism for law enforcement officials of the country.

Uzbekistan is an active member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which also aims to jointly ensure and maintain peace, security and stability in the region. In this context, it should be noted that the establishment of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) of the SCO with the location of its headquarters in Tashkent became a kind of recognition of the leading role of the Republic of Uzbekistan in the fight against terrorism. Every year, with the assistance and coordinating role of the Executive Committee of the SCO RATS, joint anti-terrorist exercises are held on the territory of the Parties, in which representatives of Uzbekistan take an active part.

Similar work is being carried out by the Anti-Terrorist Center of the Commonwealth of Independent States (ATC CIS). Within the framework of the CIS, the "Program of cooperation of the CIS member states in the fight against terrorism and other violent manifestations of extremism for 2020-2022" was adopted. The success of this practice is demonstrated by the fact that the law enforcement agencies of the Commonwealth countries only in 2020 jointly liquidated 22 cells of international terrorist organizations that were recruiting people for training in the ranks of militants abroad.

In countering terrorism, the Republic of Uzbekistan pays special attention to partnership with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is supported by two-year programs for joint cooperation in the politico-military dimension. So, within the framework of cooperation for 2021-2022, the key goals are countering terrorism, ensuring information / cyber security and assistance in combating the financing of terrorism.

At the same time, in order to improve the qualifications of law enforcement officials, cooperation has been established with the Eurasian Group on Combating Money Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism (EAG), the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF), and the Egmont Group. With the participation of experts from specialized international organizations, as well as according to their recommendations, a National Assessment of the risks of legalization of proceeds from criminal activity and financing of terrorism in the Republic of Uzbekistan has been developed.

Cooperation is actively developing and strengthening not only through international organizations, but also at the level of the Security Councils of the Central Asian states. All countries of the region are implementing programs of bilateral cooperation in the field of security, which include a set of measures aimed at countering terrorism. Moreover, in order to promptly respond to threats of terrorism with the participation of all states of the region, coordinating working groups have been established through law enforcement agencies.

It should be noted that the principles of such cooperation are as follows:

First, it is possible to effectively counter modern threats only by strengthening the collective mechanisms of international cooperation, by adopting consistent measures that exclude the possibility of applying double standards;

Second, priority should be given to combating the causes of threats, not their consequences. It is important for the international community to step up its contribution to the fight against radical and extremist centers that cultivate the ideology of hatred and create a conveyor belt for the formation of future terrorists;

Third, the response to the growing threat of terrorism must be all-encompassing, and the UN must play the role of a key world coordinator in this direction.

The President of the Republic of Uzbekistan in his speeches from the tribunes of international organizations - UN, SCO, CIS and others - repeatedly stressed the need to strengthen cooperation in the fight against this phenomenon on a global scale.

Only at the end of 2020, initiatives were expressed on: 

- organizing an international conference dedicated to 10th anniversary of the implementation of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy in Central Asia;

- implementation of the Cooperation Program in the field of deradicalization within the framework of the CIS Anti-Terrorist Center;

- adaptation of the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure to the solution of fundamentally new tasks to ensure security in the Organization’s space.

INSTEAD OF AN AFTERWORD

Taking into account the changes in the forms, objects and goals of terrorism, the Republic of Uzbekistan is adapting its strategy of combating terrorism to modern challenges and threats, relying on the struggle for the minds of people, primarily young people, by increasing legal culture, spiritual and religious enlightenment and protection of rights person.

The Government is based on the principle: it is important to fight the reasons that make citizens susceptible to terrorist ideologies.

With its counterterrorism policy, the state is trying to develop in citizens, on the one hand, immunity against a radical understanding of Islam, foster tolerance, and on the other hand, the instinct of self-preservation against recruitment.

Collective mechanisms of international cooperation are being strengthened, and special attention is being paid to the exchange of experience in the field of terrorism prevention.

And despite the rejection of tough forceful measures, Uzbekistan is among the safest countries in the world. In the new "Global Terrorism Index" for November 2020, among 164 states, Uzbekistan ranked 134th and again entered the category of countries with an insignificant level of terrorist threat”.

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