The issue of ensuring human rights does not lose its relevance, regardless of whether a person is at large or serving a sentence. Convicts and prisoners also have certain rights established by law. In particular, Article 28 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan establishes that persons deprived of their liberty have the right to humane treatment and respect for the honor and dignity inherent in the human person, writes Feruza Eshmatova,
Moreover, according to Article 26 of the Uzbekistan Basic Law, “The honour and dignity of a person are inviolable. Nothing can be grounds for belittling them. No one may be subjected to torture, violence, other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment…”
Also, international human rights documents reflect the Miranda rule, that is, when detaining a person, it is necessary to explain to him his rights and the reasons for his detention.
The amended Constitution also included a special provision that arrests and detentions are allowed only by a court decision and that a person cannot be detained for more than forty-eight hours without a court decision.
The fact that these norms are directly reflected in the Constitution testifies to the firm position of Uzbekistan regarding the supremacy of human dignity and the fight against torture in the country. In these processes, along with reforming the system, the state seeks to establish public control over them.
In fact, the issue of combating torture is one of the most painful problems in the world. Therefore, the world community is on the path of joining efforts in the fight against this disease, developing norms that must be followed at the international level.
It is known that on December 18, 2002, Resolution 57/199 of the UN General Assembly, the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, provided for the establishment of the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM).
The National Preventive Mechanism is the creation of a system of regular visits by independent international and national bodies to places of detention of persons deprived of their liberty in order to prevent all forms of torture.
Ensuring the rights and interests of persons in institutions where persons with limited freedom of movement are kept is a somewhat complex process. In the past, events in closed institutions were not always under the scrutiny of the public. In 2019, after the creation of the National Preventive Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, based on international best practices, penitentiaries became objects of constant supervision by the Ombudsman and members of the public. The NPM under the Ombudsman, created on the basis of the Ombudsman Plus model, created the basis for the regular access of the Ombudsman and members of the public to closed institutions with limited freedom of movement, to study the conditions of detention of persons and communicate with them.
During visits to closed institutions, the conditions of detention of persons with limited freedom of movement are studied, in particular, the condition and quality of accommodation and food, labor, medical care, spiritual and educational work for persons with limited freedom of movement, sanitary and hygienic requirements during the coronavirus pandemic and other conditions. It is important to note that media representatives also participate in these monitoring visits, which gave them the opportunity to see with their own eyes the conditions in penitentiary institutions and personally communicate with convicts and prisoners. Based on the results of monitoring visits on identified shortcomings, analytical information, conclusions and presentations, as well as relevant statements are prepared and sent for consideration to the relevant ministries and departments.
In 2019 monitoring visits were carried out 46 times, in 2020 – 71 times, in 2021 – 177 times, in 2022 – 381 times, and for the first half of 2023 this figure was 348 times. From the figures, one can also make a choice that the Ombudsman, together with public groups, increases the effectiveness of its activities in studying the conditions established by law for convicts and prisoners, as well as in identifying and eliminating cases of torture. As a result of these reforms, parliamentary and public control over the prevention of torture was established. From 2019 to the present, collective conversations have been held with more than 25 thousand and individual conversations with almost 6 thousand convicts and prisoners.
In 2019-2022 and the first half of 2023, more than 10,000 appeals from persons held in institutions with limited freedom of movement and their close relatives and defenders (lawyers) were accepted and taken under control. These figures indicate that the rights of convicts and prisoners to apply to the Ombudsman are ensured.
“Ombudsman’s boxes” installed in all institutions for the execution of sentences and pre-trial detention centers of our republic. These boxes are placed in convenient places for convicts and prisoners to submit appeals, and only a representative of the Ombudsman has the right to open them. Applications dropped into the Ombudsman’s boxes are taken for consideration every two weeks.
Since 2022, regional representatives of the Commissioner for Human Rights have started working in the regions on a permanent basis, and the volume of monitoring visits to all existing penitentiary institutions of the republic has also been expanded. At the same time, reports of torture posted on social networks are also promptly monitored, investigated and appropriate measures are taken.
By the Decree of the Head of State of June 26, 2021 “On additional measures to improve the system for detecting and preventing cases of torture”, the activities of the NPM under the Ombudsman were further strengthened. In particular, on the basis of an expert group under the Ombudsman, public groups were created to identify and prevent cases of torture under the Ombudsman. They were entrusted with such tasks as identifying the facts of torture and submitting petitions for their prompt elimination to the relevant state body, participating in the consideration of appeals about the facts of torture.
In recent years, punishment measures have been toughened in Uzbekistan against employees who have used torture, and it has been established that the institute of pardon cannot be applied to these persons. In addition, in order to hold officials accountable for illegal actions, a separate article was introduced into the legislation and it was established that aggravating measures would be applied to the person who used torture. Article 235 of the Criminal Code criminalizes torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. There is no such rule in the legislation of many countries. An important step in the elimination of the facts of torture was the Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan dated August 2, 2019, the closure of a specialized penal colony No. 19, located in the village of Jaslyk of the Republic of Karakalpakstan.
In general, if we compare the conditions in closed institutions with limited freedom of movement with the current and 5 years ago, we can see huge changes. These changes are the result of systemic reforms and the establishment of public control.
Over the past seven years (2017 – 2023), 5 laws, 1 decree of the Head of State, 6 resolutions, 11 resolutions and orders of the Government, as well as more than 15 other legal documents aimed at further improving the legal rights and freedoms of prisoners have been adopted.
In particular, in 2019, the “Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners” (the Nelson Mandela Rules), adopted by a resolution of the UN General Assembly of December 17, 2015, were introduced into our national legislation. According to these rules, prisoners are granted the right to receive psychological assistance, and those in need of medical assistance are allowed to receive treatment in the regional institutions of the Ministry of Health, prisoners suffering from serious illnesses are allowed to additionally talk on the phone and meet with relatives with the permission of a doctor, the application of disciplinary sanctions is canceled for a violation committed by a convict in violation of the mental state.
In 2019 it was decided that social insurance would not be deducted from the wages of convicts, and pensions for prisoners would be provided, and the number of phone calls, visits and meetings of prisoners in strict regime colonies was doubled.
According to the amendments and additions to the legislation made in 2023, the period during which convicts worked in the institution was included in the total length of service, which allowed them to receive a pension.
In accordance with the relevant amendments and additions to the Penitentiary Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the rights of convicts have been brought into line with international standards, they have been granted the right to use the services of sign language interpreters, and the living space of prisoners with disabilities of groups I and II has been increased from 2.5 square meters up to 3 square meters, and it is determined that the common areas intended for them will be equipped with special facilities and devices (ramps).
A vivid expression of the humane attitude towards them is the definition of the work of persons sentenced to deprivation of liberty, taking into account gender, age, state of health, ability to work and specialty.
In accordance with the Electoral Code adopted in 2019, convicts serving sentences for less serious crimes or crimes that do not pose a great public danger are granted the right to vote, which lays the foundation for their participation in government. According to the data, 33,753 people held in penitentiaries took part in the presidential elections on July 9, 2023.
Work has been carried out to introduce digital technologies into the activities of the penitentiary system, including intelligent “smart” cameras, video recorders, X-ray scanners, electronic stores, and an online video meeting service. Of course, the digitalization of the functioning of the system will not only facilitate the work of employees of penitentiary institutions, but also increase their responsibility. In fact, by preventing cases of torture, the foundations for ensuring human rights are laid.
The Author, Feruza Eshmatova, is the Ombudsman and spokesperson for Human Rights for the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan.