Opening Statement by Helena Fraser, UN Resident Coordinator in Uzbekistan. "The role of parliament in improving the legal framework for the prevention of torture within the National Preventive Mechanism"
We believe it is very important to continue developing the normative framework for the National Preventive Mechanism under the Ombudsman as an independent body
Distinguished Akademik Saidov, dear participants, good afternoon!
On behalf of the UN Country Team in Uzbekistan, thank you for inviting me to this important seminar. As you know several UN agencies from our UN family have been involved in the work related to torture prevention, including OHCHR Regional Office for Central Asia, UNDP and UNODC.
The United Nations believes that a preventive mechanism, which follows the requirements of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) can contribute not only to improving the treatment of persons in detention and other closed institutions, but also constitutes a credible source of information and analysis for the authorities in their pursuit of legal and prison reforms as well as reforms aimed at deinstitutionalization of persons, including children with disabilities.
As you know, ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture has been recommended by several UN human rights mechanisms, including the Universal Periodic Review in 2018, the UN Committee against Torture in 2019 and by the UN Human Rights Committee earlier this year.
The UN Country Team in Uzbekistan also joins this call for OPCAT ratification, and we look to the Oliy Majlis to ensure the necessary legislative changes.
As you also know, while the country is considering ratification, since March 2019, the Ombudsman Office is responsible for facilitating the work of the “national preventive mechanism”.
We believe it is very important to continue developing the normative framework for the National Preventive Mechanism under the Ombudsman as an independent body at domestic level for the prevention of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
In this regard, building on recent efforts, the Oliy Majlis should continue strengthening the Ombudsman’s financial and operational autonomy and independence, including by allocating additional resources to the Secretariat and regional representatives of the Ombudsman.
It is also important to define clearly what constitutes a “place of detention” and clarify the role and status of civil society representatives that shall be part of the NPM. During the constructive dialogue with the Governmental Delegation of Uzbekistan last year, the UN Committee against Torture noted that the currently existing national preventive mechanism under the Ombudsman should involve in its work civic activists and independent human rights defenders when conducting preventive visits to places of deprivation of liberty, not only NGO representatives.
So, in this connection, I would like to commend the ongoing cooperation of the Ombudsman’s Office with civic activists. In particular, I would like to highlight the good practice of joint monitoring with civil activists conducted in August-September to the mandatory quarantine facilities and several places of detention. As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic has placed much of the world’s population in some form of isolation, confinement or quarantine. So at this time, the National Preventive Mechanism can play an especially crucial role in ensuring humane treatment.
This positive example of the Ombudsman’s cooperation with civil society could now be institutionalized, including through the adjustment of relevant internal procedures for the Ombudsman’s Office. And of course, the Parliament plays a crucial role in this regard; by ensuring sufficient funding to remunerate the work of independent civil society experts within the budget of the Ombudsman’s Office.
Parliament can also play a role in ensuring the NPM reports and recommendations addressed to various state authorities are made available to the public. This would further increase accountability of the state to the public.
Moreover, I would also recommend to the Parliament to consider, when the Ombudsman’s preventive monitoring reports, to invite civil society representatives as speakers and participants. Such an inclusive and transparent approach to parliamentary hearings is in line with the recently adopted National Human Rights Strategy and will create an enabling space for civil society to share their views and recommendations.
In conclusion, I would like to welcome the announced plans of the Government to create an independent anti-torture committee. Today among the speakers we have George Tugushi, who will tell us more about good practices of establishing such anti-torture committees in other countries.
Through prevention, on the one hand, and prompt, impartial and independent torture investigation on the other, Uzbekistan could establish a comprehensive approach to combating and preventing torture and other forms of cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment in line with its international obligations and the National Sustainable Development Goals.
I look forward to today’s dialogue and confirm that the UN Country Team in Uzbekistan stands ready to provide technical assistance in support of efforts to take this agenda forward.