JUSTICE SYSTEM IN UZBEKISTAN
The legal system in Uzbekistan is shamefully inadequate and rigged to serve the government of Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov. In political and criminal trials the conviction rate is over 99 percent. Judges have been called "shamefully compliant." One judge dismissed claims by torture victims because "they couldn’t name their torturers."
Uzbekistan’s judicial system remains structurally and operationally similar to the Soviet system in place before 1992. Below the national level are provincial and regional courts, for which the Supreme Court serves as the court of appeals. Appeals are rare. Economic courts at the regional level deal with disputes between commercial entities. [Source: Library of Congress February 2007 **]
Judges of the lower courts are selected by a qualification collegium, which is named by the president. The law allows the arrest of individuals on suspicion alone, without the filing of formal charges, and the vagueness of formal grounds for arrest allows security forces to routinely arrest people without just cause. **
Most trials are heard by a panel of one professional judge and two lay judges, who rarely take an active role. Prosecutors dominate criminal procedure, from pretrial detention to sentencing. The quality and activity of defense lawyers are limited. Conviction rates are extremely high. The death penalty remained in effect in 2006 for the crimes of murder, espionage, and treason. However, few executions were carried out in the early 2000s, and the death penalty was to be abolished officially by 2008. **
According to the U.S. Department of State: “Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, the judicial branch often took direction from the executive branch. Under the law the president appoints all judges for renewable five-year terms. Removal of Supreme Court judges must be confirmed by parliament, which generally complied with the president’s wishes.” Also “Although the constitution provides for it, the judiciary is not independent or impartial in civil matters. Citizens may file suit in civil courts for alleged human rights violations by officials, excluding investigators, prosecutors, and judges, who fall under different legal procedures. There were isolated reports that bribes to judges influenced civil court decisions. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]
Mahallas and Traditional Justice in Uzbekistan
People have traditionally shown total respect for local khans, emirs or chiefs, who in turn have traditionally not shared power or limited it by law. Social control has traditionally been exerted through public opinion, especially that of local elders, known in many places as “white beards” (aksakal in Kyrgyz and oqsoqol in Uzbek).
The justice system is modeled after the Soviet justice system. There is no freedom in the justice in political and criminal trials the conviction rate is over 99 percent. Judges have been called "shamefully compliant." One judge dismissed claims of torture victim because "they couldn’t name their torturers."
Local government is dominated by a traditional network of mahallas (urban districts), a system unique to Uzbekistan which operate a kind a local party boss system. Life in mahallya has traditionally been based on unwritten rules. The law of “shafat” protected residents from “strangers” who broke adopted norms and mores. If any resident of the mahallya wanted to sell his house, first he offered it to his relatives, then to his neighbors and then to other residents of the mahallya. No-one could break this rule. Today many Makhall rules and laws have been softened. [Source:orexca.com]
The mahalla is usually led by an elder called a aksakal ("white beard") who provides advise and helps settle disputes. The mahallas is held together through a system of mutual obligations often manifested through weddings, holiday feasts and funerals. The Karimov government maintains control of the entire country by controlling the mahalla system through the use of informant and loyalists.
Karina wrote in discoveruzbekistan.com: At present times mahallyan committees of respected citizens are created which decide the questions of allocation of welfare among the poor and families having many children, help holding family holidays (apportion tables, chairs, crockery, covers). Many committees have created clubs of interest for teenagers repair shops, workshops and ateliers. [Source: Karina, discoveruzbekistan.com +++]
Judicial Branch of Uzbekistan
Judicial branch in Uzbekistan: highest court(s): Supreme Court (consists of 34 judges organized in civil, criminal, and military sections); Constitutional Court (consists of 7 judges); Higher Economic Court (consists of 19 judges). Judge selection and term of office: judges of the 3 highest courts nominated by the president and confirmed by the Oliy Majlis; judges appointed for 5-year terms subject to reappointment. Subordinate courts:regional, district, city, and town courts. [Source: CIA World Factbook ]
Constitution: several previous; latest adopted December 8, 1992; amended several times, last in 2014 (2014). The Uzbekistan Constitution provides for strong presidency, with power to appoint government and dissolve legislature. In practice, authoritarian state with all power in executive and suppression of dissent. Local government with little autonomy; judiciary ineffective. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *, CIA World Factbook]
Uzbekistan nominally has an independent judicial branch. However, in practice decisions of the judiciary generally follow those of the Office of the Procuracy, the state prosecutorial agency, and the president has the power to appoint and remove judges. (Parliamentary approval is required for removal.) Judges of the Supreme Court, which stands at the top level of the national judicial system, are appointed to five-year terms. A Constitutional Court reviews laws and decisions for compliance with the constitution, and military courts handle all cases related to the military. [Source: Library of Congress February 2007 **]
The national judiciary includes the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, and the High Economic Court. Lower court systems exist at the regional, district, and town levels. Judges at all levels are appointed by the president and approved by the Oly Majlis. Nominally independent of the other branches of government, the courts remain under complete control of the executive branch. As in the system of the Soviet era, the procurator general and his regional and local equivalents are both the state's chief prosecuting officials and the chief investigators of criminal cases, a configuration that limits the pretrial rights of defendants. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
According to the U.S. Department of State: “By law a judge must review any decision to arrest accused individuals or suspects. Judges granted arrest warrants in most cases. Defendants have the right to legal counsel from the time of arrest. State-appointed attorneys are available for those who do not hire private counsel. Officials did not always respect the right to counsel and occasionally forced defendants to sign written statements declining the right. A September 2014 law authorizes the use of house arrest as a form of pretrial detention. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]
“Detainees have the right to request hearings before a judge to determine whether they remain incarcerated or are released. The arresting authority is required to notify a relative of a detainee about the detention and to question the detainee within 24 hours of arrest. There were complaints that authorities tortured suspects before notifying either family members or attorneys of their arrest in order to gain confessions that could be used as the basis for convictions.\*\
“Suspects have the right to remain silent and must be informed of the right to counsel. Detention without formal charges is limited to 72 hours, although a prosecutor can request an additional 48 hours, after which time the person must be charged or released. Authorities held suspects after the allowable period of detention. The judge conducting the arrest hearing is allowed to sit on the panel of judges during the individual’s trial. \*\
“The law requires authorities at pretrial detention facilities to arrange a meeting between a detainee and a representative from the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office upon the detainee’s request. Officials allowed detainees in prison facilities to submit confidential complaints to the Ombudsman’s Office and the Prosecutor General’s Office. \*\
“Once authorities file charges, suspects can be held in pretrial detention for up to three months while investigations proceed. The law permits an extension of the investigation period for up to one year at the discretion of the appropriate court upon a motion by the relevant prosecutor, who may also release a prisoner on bond pending trial. Authorities frequently ignored these legal protections. Those arrested and charged with a crime may be released without bail until trial on the condition they provide assurance of “proper behavior” and that they will appear at trial. \*\
“A decree requires that all defense attorneys pass a comprehensive relicensing examination. Several experienced and knowledgeable defense lawyers who had represented human rights activists and independent journalists lost their licenses after taking the relicensing examination. As a result several activists and defendants faced difficulties in finding legal representation. Although unlicensed advocates cannot represent individuals in criminal and civil hearings, courts have the discretion to allow such an advocate if s/he belongs to a registered organization whose members are on trial.” \*\
According to the U.S. Department of State: “Prosecutors generally exercised discretion over most aspects of criminal procedures, including pretrial detention. Detainees had no access to a court to challenge the length or validity of pretrial detention. Even when authorities did not file charges, police and prosecutors frequently sought to evade restrictions on the length of time persons could be held without charges by holding them as witnesses rather than as suspects. During the year pretrial detention typically ranged from one to three months. The government did not provide information regarding the number of persons held in pretrial detention centers. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]
“In February media reports claimed that the daughter of President Karimov, Gulnara Karimova, had been placed under house arrest. In September the country passed a law allowing house arrest as a legal form of pretrial investigative detention. Within a week, the Prosecutor General’s Office confirmed that Karimova’s connection with an organized criminal group was under investigation. \*\
Courts and Judges in Uzbekistan
There are regional, district, city, and town courts. Judges of the lower courts are selected by a qualification collegium, which is named by the president. Uzbekistan’s judicial system remains structurally and operationally similar to the Soviet system in place before 1992. Below the national level are provincial and regional courts, for which the Supreme Court serves as the court of appeals. Appeals are rare. Economic courts at the regional level deal with disputes between commercial entities. [Source: Library of Congress February 2007 **]
According to Azimov, Mutalova, Huseynov, Tsoyi, Rechel: “All courts in Uzbekistan are de jure independent from the legislative and executive governments, political parties or any community or social groups (Republic of Uzbekistan, 1993). The chairperson and the judges in the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court are nominated by the President, subject to approval by the Upper House of Parliament. All other judges (at viloyat, tuman and city courts) are appointed by the President upon nomination by a special selection committee. Judges in the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic are elected by the Karakalpak Parliament upon nomination by the chairperson of the Karakalpak Parliament, subject to approval by the President (Republic of Uzbekistan, 1993). [Source: “Uzbekistan: Health System Review” by Azimov, Mutalova, Huseynov, Tsoyi, Rechel, Health Systems in Transition, 2014 ^=^]
Trial Procedures in Uzbekistan
The law allows the arrest of individuals on suspicion alone, without the filing of formal charges, and the vagueness of formal grounds for arrest allows security forces to routinely arrest people without just cause. Most trials are heard by a panel of one professional judge and two lay judges, who rarely take an active role. Prosecutors dominate criminal procedure, [Source: Library of Congress February 2007 **]
According to the U.S. Department of State: “The criminal code specifies a presumption of innocence. There were no jury trials. Most trials were officially open to the public, although access was sometimes restricted. Judges may close trials in exceptional cases, such as those involving state secrets, or to protect victims and witnesses. As in the previous year, judges generally permitted international observers at proceedings without requiring written permission from the Supreme Court or court chairman, but there were reports of judges arbitrarily closing proceedings, even in civil cases. Authorities generally announced trials only one or two days before they began, and hearings were frequently postponed numerous times. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]
A panel of one professional judge and two lay assessors, selected by committees of worker collectives or neighborhood committees, generally presided over trials. The lay judges rarely spoke, and the professional judge usually accepted prosecutors’ recommendations on procedural rulings and sentencing. Legal protections against double jeopardy were not applied. The law provides a right of appeal to defendants; appeals rarely resulted in reversals of convictions. In some cases, however, appeals resulted in reduced or suspended sentences.
Defendants and Prosecution in Uzbekistan Trials
According to the U.S. Department of State: “Defendants have the right to attend court proceedings, confront witnesses, and present evidence, but judges declined defense motions to summon additional witnesses or to enter evidence supporting the defendant into the record. In the vast majority of criminal cases brought to trial, the verdict was guilty. Defendants have the right to hire an attorney, and the system worked reasonably well although some human rights activists encountered difficulties finding legal representation. The government provided legal counsel without charge when necessary. According to reports, state-appointed defense attorneys routinely acted in the interest of the government rather than of their clients because of their reliance on the state for a livelihood. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]
“By law a prosecutor must request an arrest order from a court; it was rare for a court to deny such a request. Prosecutors have considerable power after obtaining an arrest order: they direct investigations, prepare criminal cases, recommend sentences to judges, and may appeal court decisions, including the sentence. After formal charges are filed, the prosecutor decides whether a suspect is released on bail, stays in pretrial detention, or is kept under house arrest. \*\
“Although the criminal code specifies a presumption of innocence, a prosecutor’s recommendations generally prevailed. If a judge’s sentence does not correspond with the prosecutor’s recommendation, the prosecutor may appeal the sentence to a higher court. Judges often based their verdicts solely on confessions and witness testimony, which may be extracted through abuse, threats to family members, or other means of coercion. This was especially common in religious extremism cases. Lawyers may, and occasionally did, call on judges to reject confessions and investigate claims of torture. Judges often did not respond to such claims or dismissed them as groundless. Courts failed to investigate properly allegations of torture. Judges verdicts’ frequently alleged that defendants claimed torture in order to avoid criminal responsibility. \*\
“Defense attorneys may access government-held evidence relevant to their clients’ cases once the initial investigation is completed, the prosecutor files formal charges, and the case is passed to the criminal court. There is an exception, however, for evidence containing information that if released could pose a threat to state security. In the past courts invoked the state security exception, leading to complaints that its primary purpose was to allow prosecutors to avoid sharing evidence with defense attorneys. In many cases prosecution was based solely upon defendants' confessions or incriminating testimony from state witnesses, particularly in cases involving those accused of religious extremism.” \*\
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated April 2016