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HRW Calls Uzbekistan's Draft Criminal Code A 'False Start,' Urges 'Meaningful' Reforms

“All eyes are on Uzbekistan following President [Shavkat] Mirziyoev’s pledge at the Human Rights Council to make human rights central to reforms,” Human Rights Watch says. (file photo)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Uzbek authorities to fill the Central Asian nation's Criminal Code with "meaningful" reforms after a draft failed to remove several impediments to democratic freedoms.

In a statement on March 10, HRW said that "the new Criminal Code should seek in good faith to comply fully with international human rights treaties to which Tashkent is a party."

Last month, the Uzbek Prosecutor-General’s Office published the draft Criminal Code for public discussion until March 9, after which the draft is expected to be debated by lawmakers.

HRW said in its statement that although the draft law contains some moderate improvements, "it also retains many provisions that violate the rights to freedom of speech, association, and religion."

The rights watchdog said that some of the draft's provisions "fall short of protections to which women, victims of torture, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are entitled under international law."

“All eyes are on Uzbekistan following President [Shavkat] Mirziyoev’s pledge at the Human Rights Council to make human rights central to reforms,” said Mihra Rittmann, senior Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.

“Now is not the time for a false start, but the time to make good on the president’s words and ensure that all abusive provisions are removed from the draft Criminal Code,” she added.

HRW called on the Uzbek authorities to send the draft to the European Commission for Democracy Through Law, also known as the Venice Commission, to review its compliance with international human rights standards.

HRW also called on Tashkent's international partners to urge Uzbek authorities to ensure that the new Criminal Code complies in full with Uzbekistan’s human rights obligations.

“Unless the Criminal Code is further revised, abusive provisions will inevitably lead to arbitrary arrests and convictions for any number of actions that should be protected, while other key provisions against abuses will be left out,” Rittmann said.

“Uzbekistan’s partners should press the Prosecutor-General’s Office and parliament to seize this moment and ensure revision of the Criminal Code isn’t an opportunity squandered.”

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