18 November 2003

Uzbekistan: Secret executions in a corrupt and flawed justice system

Since Uzbekistan emerged as a sovereign state following the collapse of the Soviet Union (USSR) in 1991, the government has responded to some of the concerns about the death penalty raised by local human rights activists and the international community. At least 11(2) death sentences have been reversed in cases that have been raised by local activists and the international community in the past three years and the authorities of Uzbekistan have announced an intention to abolish the death penalty by stages. Since 1994 the number of capital offences under the Criminal Code has been reduced from 13 to four. In 1995 the government ratified the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), allowing individuals in Uzbekistan to bring complaints about human rights violations to the (UN) Human Rights Committee, the expert body that monitors states parties' implementation of the ICCPR. Men under 18 or over 60 at the time when the crime was committed are exempt from the death penalty by law, as are women.

However, the authorities have failed to acknowledge the fundamental nature of the problems surrounding the death penalty. They have not shown sufficient political will to systematically reform domestic law and institutions and to bring them in line with the country's obligations under international human rights standards.

In addition, the government has shown contempt for its voluntarily made legally binding commitments as a party to the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, proceeding with the executions of at least nine men while their cases were still under consideration by the (UN) Human Rights Committee.(3) By failing to consistently adhere to its commitments, Uzbekistan has deprived death row prisoners and those entitled to act on their behalf of this crucial mechanism to seek international redress for human rights violations which occur in Uzbekistan's gravely flawed criminal justice system. The UN Special Rapporteur on torture raised his own serious concern in February 2003 "at what appears to be a lack of appropriate consideration of, and action in relation to, requests [by the (UN) Human Rights Committee] on behalf of individuals at risk of torture or even of execution, or who have been victims of acts of torture".(4)

Statistics on the use of the death penalty have been kept secret, despite requests by the (UN) Human Rights Committee, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and the (UN) Committee against Torture, the expert body that monitors state parties implementation of their obligations under the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention against Torture). Uzbekistan has also ignored its commitment to exchange information "on the question of the abolition of the death penalty" (5) as a member state of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Other states have also failed to uphold their obligations to protect the people of Uzbekistan under international law. States have forcibly returned people to Uzbekistan in spite of clear evidence that they were at risk of serious human rights violations. Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have been involved in returning people who were sentenced to death on their return to Uzbekistan after unfair trials, often accompanied by credible allegations of torture.

Uzbekistan is a member of the Coalition of the Willing.

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