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Uzbekistan: Officials Admit To Human Rights Shortcomings

Uzbek officials have offered a frank assessment of human rights abuses in their country. The Uzbeks made the assessment today in a report to a committee of the United Nations meeting in Geneva. RFE/RL correspondent Roland Eggleston sends this report from the Swiss city, where Uzbek officials are to answer more queries on human rights tomorrow.

Geneva, 17 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Uzbek officials told a United Nations human rights committee today that it has introduced laws to protect citizens' rights and build a democratic legal system. But they acknowledge that the laws are often ignored by police and judicial officials.

The comments were made in an official report to a committee investigating how individual countries implement the UN convention against torture and the mistreatment of prisoners.

The head of the Uzbek delegation, Alisher Vahidov, said today in Geneva that the political will exists to honor the convention, but that the implementation often falls short. Vahidov is the head of Uzbekistan's delegation to the UN in New York.

The Uzbek report says an analysis of the complaints from the public indicates the causes of human rights violations are poor training and a contempt for legal procedures, endemic bureaucracy in the law-enforcement system and people's ignorance of the law.

The 10-member UN commission praised the Uzbek government report as being "extremely candid and honest." However, the commission said it was disturbed by several individual cases of police and prison brutality as described in reports by non-governmental organizations, including the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan and Amnesty International.

The experts asked the Uzbek delegation to respond by tomorrow on these reported incidents, many of which are said to have occurred over the last 12 months.

The official Uzbek report says authorities receive thousands of complaints each year about breaches of the law or violations of citizens' rights by the police. In many cases, these were found to be justified.

The report also says the most common grievance was "the use of physical or mental violence by investigators during the investigation phase."

As an example of brutality, it mentions a 55-year-old man from Samarkand (K.A. Atamuradov) who lost his sight and became an invalid as a result of police beatings. The government report adds that the court paid no attention to this fact during the trial, considering it irrelevant. The report says the man is still serving his sentence.

A report by the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, which was sent to the UN Commission, claims that 38 prisoners have died in the past year in a prison camp near Jaslik in Karakalpakistan.

In a comment on the official report, Vahidov said the government was responding to the situation by improving the education of judges and police officers. He was particularly critical of the staff of the Ministry of the Interior and said some of its staff had been dismissed.

He said many law-enforcement officers at the Interior Ministry had what he called a "low level of legal culture."

The commission asked for more information on how judges are selected and what steps are taken to ensure their independence. Other questions by the UN commission focused on the reaction by courts and judges to evidence apparently obtained by coercion -- which is banned in Uzbekistan. Some members of the UN panel said they were surprised that the official report acknowledged that thousands of complaints against the authorities were justified, but that there was little information about how many police and other officials had been convicted of an offense as a result.

At the close of the hearing, the Uzbek delegation was also asked to respond to a report by an international non-government organization that two unofficial prison camps are believed to have been established in a remote area of Karakalpakistan near the Aral Sea region. According to what the NGO has heard, most of those held there are Islamic activists. The NGO report says conditions at the prison camps are poor.