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19 October 2016

MR RUSTAM SHOHMUROD, MINISTER OF JUSTICE OF THE REPUBLIC OF TAJIKISTAN, SHARES HIS PERSPECTIVE ON COOPERATION ON RULE OF LAW ISSUES WITH THE EU

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Rustam Shohmurod
Minister of Justice of the Republic of Tajikistan

Born in 1965 in the Sodgi region of Tajikistan, Shohmurod  graduated in law from the Tajik State University in 1989 with a PhD in law. He started his career in 1989 as a prosecutor. Since then he has held many positions, including: Head of Legal Affairs Division and the Legislation Department; Vice-Minister, and First Vice-Minister of the Ministry of Justice and First Deputy Head of the Presidential Executive office of the Republic of Tajikistan. On January 5, 2012 he was appointed Minister of Justice of the Republic of Tajikistan. He is the author of numerous articles. He is married and has three children.

Platform: Your Excellency, the European Union’s relationship with Tajikistan has matured and deepened since the country’s independence. The EU has committed 251 million Euro to Tajikistan bilateral assistance programmes for 2014-2020, largely because the European Union considers its relationship with Tajikistan as key to the Strategy for a New Partnership. Does Tajikistan share this perception?

Rustam Shohmurod: Upon gaining independence, it became particularly important for Tajikistan to establish and strengthen cooperation not only with nation states but also with international organizations and the European Union. The process of forming and establishing Tajikistan as a legal state entity with its own legislation has been recognised by the international community, including international organizations and, inter alia, the European Union.

Notwithstanding the rather short history of Tajikistan and EU cooperation, it is characterized by a trend of sustainable and positive development. Moreover in recent years it has been both substantive and practical. It’s encouraging that this trend has been noted by the relevant expert community both in the Republic of Tajikistan and the European Union.

The President of the Republic of Tajikistan, His Excellency Mr Emomali Rahmon has repeatedly pointed out in his speeches that Tajikistan pays special attention to the development and expansion of multiple aspects of relations with the European Union and considers sustainable friendly relations with the EU to be one of the main directions of Tajik foreign policy.

The period after January 1, 2010 when the Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation between Republic of Tajikistan and the EU officially entered into force, has been characterized by an intense and developing

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Mr Shohmurod intervenes at the national seminar on
fair judicial expertise organized by the Rule of Law
Platform, in Dushanbe, on 4 March 2016

bilateral dialogue at the highest political level that covers all areas of cooperation: including political, economic, trade, investment, humanitarian assistance, as well as security and financial and technical support. The establishment of a number of institutions between the European Union and Central Asian countries for both bipartite and regional projects has really supported cooperation between the EU and Tajikistan on a number of ‘vectors’. These include the Cooperation Council (at the level of ministers of foreign affairs), the Cooperation Committee, the Inter-parliament Cooperation Committee, the Human Rights Dialogue, the EU and CA ministerial meetings of ministers of foreign affairs, the High Level Political and Security Dialog.

Platform: In June 2015, the Council of the European Union reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to its priority areas in the region, including Tajikistan. It emphasised the fundamental importance of democratisation, respect for human rights and the rule of law, and socio-economic development, all of which are essential elements of its Strategy. How can Tajikistan’s cooperation with the European Union support this process?

Rustam Shohmurod: The concept of rule of law in line with democratic principles and human rights is one of three pillars of the European Council as is set out in the preamble to the European Convention on Human Rights. This concept is also incorporated into a number of international documents on human rights recognized by Tajikistan as well as in national legislation.

Cooperation between the specialized institutions of the EU and the Ministry of Justice of Tajikistan has developed within the “Rule of Law – Cornerstone of Development” initiative of the European Union, which aimed to strengthen the rule of law in Central Asia. This initiative meets the interests of the country and governmental legal policy. As you know, the cooperation started in November 2008 in Brussels where The First Conference of Ministers of Justice of the European Union and Central Asian Countries took place. It’s remarkable that the Second Conference was held in June 2010 in Dushanbe – the capital of Tajikistan. At the Second EC-CA Ministerial Conference on the Rule of Law, the proposal for an EU-Central Asia “Rule of Law Platform” project was endorsed to step up the policy dialogue on rule of law issues. In December 2011 the Rule of Law Platform – Central Asia project was launched with the objective to step up the policy dialogue with the Central Asian countries on priority themes identified at joint ministerial meetings.

At the Third EC-CA Ministerial Conference held in December 2012 in Brussels the ministers reaffirmed that commercial jurisdiction and law are the priority areas for cooperation in relation to legal reforms.

The Fourth Ministerial Conference on the Rule of Law took place in Astana in October 2014. The ministers of justice of the EU and the Central Asian states expressed their interest in improving access to law and justice, notably by encouraging alternative methods of dispute resolution, and stressed the paramount importance of the economy’s regulatory environment of economic relations environment for business, as an integral part of the rule of law. They also noted that international investment may only develop if a stable level-playing field is established for business activities.

Next spring, the Ministers of Justice of the Central Asian countries and the EU will meet again in Brussels. I hope that, as at previous meetings, an open exchange of views, experience and practice will take place, contributing to even stronger cooperation and the establishment of strong mechanisms for coordination and cooperation among all the stakeholders.

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“The rule of law and respect for human rights has always been, is and will remain a priority for the Ministry of Justice”
says Mr. Rustam Shohmurod

Platform: Towards the end of Phase I of the Platform in October 2014, Tajikistan greeted the project’s achievements and its quality recommendations most of which have been integrated by the National Working Group on Judicial and Legal Reform into the government’s concept for the development of the current Judicial and Legal Reform Programme for 2015-2017. In support of the government programme, which key areas of cooperation would you identify for the Rule of Law Platform in Phase II?

Rustam Shohmurod: The rule of law and the respect for human rights has always been, is and will remain a priority for the Ministry of Justice.

As key directions for the development of further cooperation I would first highlight the importance of continuing the judicial and legal reforms set out in the recommendations of the Universal Periodical Review, and the improvement of our human resource potential. The proverb “All depends upon manpower” is still valid. It seems correct to continue the analysis and further improvement of legislation in the sphere of investments, consideration of investment disputes and the practice of applying the law. Cooperation on such key issues as the improvement of enforcement procedures, reform of judicial and criminal expertise, increase of legal education level and legal culture of citizens, improvement of civil authorities actions, development of electronic government is also very important for the Ministry of Justice. The realization of the Concept of free legal aid in the Republic of Tajikistan approved by the Decree of the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan in July 2015 is one of the most important activity directions of the Ministry.

Platform: The EU has reaffirmed the crucial importance of good governance and its commitment to supporting its Central Asian partners in promoting the well-being of all layers of society, including through the empowerment of women, which it considers an essential component of longer-term stability and resilience. In November 2014, Tajikistan hosted a Platform regional seminar on gender issues, for instance. This involves not only promoting respect for human rights, including through its human rights dialogue with Tajikistan, but also in prioritising even further the Rule of Law cooperation in the EU Strategy. What actions is the Ministry of Justice taking in support of the development of civil society, including the bar, and how could the Platform be associated?

Rustam Shohmurod: In accordance with the country’s Constitution, citizens have right to association. Following the Law “On public organizations”, more than 2400 public organizations are registered in the country, thus evidencing the openness of the civil society.

47 public organizations are registered in the sphere of national minorities, 190 – in sports sphere, 855 organizations are headed by women. In Tajikistan also act 75 international public organizations, 89 public organization in the field of law, 2 public associations in anti-corruption field, and others.

The Republic of Tajikistan has enacted the Law “On political parties”, and currently 7 political parties are registered and active.

Public associations provide support to the state authorities in ensuring human rights, improvement of women and children’s status, the status of disabled people and so on.

The Ministry of Justice in cooperation with the UN Development program regularly holds public dialogue on the rule of law and access to justice with state authorities and representatives of civil society. Judges, representatives of the Parliament of the Republic of Tajikistan, the Presidential Executive Office, the General Prosecutor’s Office, the ministries of justice and finance, as well as representatives of civil society. The dialogue serves as a place where the current problems of legislation and legal practice are discussed. Apart from that, regional dialogues are continuously held on the basis of the Regional Coordination and Methodological Board on Legal Education and training of citizens under the Ministry of Justice. Such regional dialogues with the participation of representatives of the state authorities and civil society organizations took place in October 2015 in Hudzhand of Sogdi region, in March 2016 in Kurgan-Tube and on August 12, 2016 in Rashts region.

The regional dialogue aims at informing the participants about the actions of the public Dialogue on rule of law and access to justice and about progress achieved in the formation and piloting of state system of free legal aid

In 2015, the Law “On advocacy” was enacted.

The Law regulates in detail such issues as capacity, rights and obligations of an advocate, the procedure for obtaining the status of advocate, independency guarantees, procedures for providing legal aid to citizens as well as for the suspension and  termination of an advocate’s activity.

In contrast with the previous Law, the issues of obtaining and terminating the status of advocate and certification of advocates, are resolved by the Qualification Commission created under the Ministry of Justice. The Commission consists of 2 representatives of the Ministry of Justice, 1 representative of judicial society,  5 representatives from the Bar elected by the Bar Congress and 1 representative with an academic degree in law from the Tajik National University.

The Qualification Commission is not accountable to the Ministry of Justice and bases all its decisions exclusively upon the country’s legislation. The Commission takes is decisions by a majority of votes. Neither the Ministry of Justice nor any other authority has any administrative competence towards advocates or their associations.

As of today, 533 individuals have obtained the status of advocate; 1 republican and 4 regional advocate unions are registered in Tajikistan, as well as 15 bar associations, 29 legal aid agencies and 87 law firms. The registration is continuing.

4With European Ambassador Hidajet Biščević (right) at the
Platform regional seminar on international arbitration (Dushanbe, 6-7 October 2016)

Platform: In the framework of the EU Rule of Law Initiative for Central Asia, Tajikistan hosted a regional seminar on international arbitration on 6-7 October 2016. What was the most valuable outcome of this important event?

Rustam Shohmurod: The regional seminar on international arbitration took place in Dushanbe and was a logical continuation of the ongoing constructive cooperation of the Ministry of Justice with the EU-Central Asia Rule of Law Platform.

Tajikistan is an independent subject of the international community. In 2013 the Republic became a member of the World Trade Organization and acceded to the UN Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards of June 10, 1958. And, as never before, it is very important and useful for us to study the EU countries’ experience in arbitration.

The seminal effectively expanded the dialogue and exchange of experience on international arbitration issues started on the Forth Ministerial Conference on Rule of Law. It will also help to share the experience and rules regulating trans-boarder economic disputes based on national and international models of legislation on national and international arbitration as the key aspect for sustainable economic development and improvement of business climate. Development of alternative dispute resolution legislation, including arbitration, and its effective implementation will provide legal security, notably for investments, and improvement of investment climate and attractiveness of the country.

The EU experts and high-ranking guests from the ministries of justice and prosecutor’s offices of the Central-Asian countries took part in the seminar. At this event, Tajikistan was represented by representatives of the judicial society, Presidential Execution Office, ministries and other authorities, chamber of commerce of Tajikistan, practicing lawyers, representatives of the civil society, and of the academic community.

The mutual event was very successful, the audience participated actively in fruitful discussions and the Ministry fully supports the Communiqué that was endorsed at the end of the seminar.

The results achieved at the seminar will be used for the development of legislation of the Republic of Tajikistan on international arbitration.

Platform: Why do you consider the Rule of Law Platform to be so important and complementary to other bilateral rule of law projects?

Rustam Shohmurod: The EU – Central Asia Rule of Law Platform project successfully started in December 2011 with the aim to activate the political dialogue with the Central-Asian countries on priority aspects identified at joint ministerial meetings. Three levels of the dialogue are envisaged: (1) ministerial-level meetings within the Rule of Law Initiative, (2) technical regional seminars on priority issues that were identified and (3) national Dialogue on legal and judicial reforms.

It is encouraging that the EU Rule of Law Initiative for Central Asia is one of the key elements of the EU – Central Asia Strategy for a New Partnership within which the European Union supports crucial legal reforms, especially judicial reform, draws up effective legislation and increases its implementation potential.

The Platform aims at trans-border objectives that could provide stability not only in the republic, but to resolve some regional problems as well. We envisage that the relevance of the Platform in the formation and development of the States in the region will become a subject for detailed research.

Platform: The Fifth Conference of the Ministers of Justice of the European Union and Central Asia will take place in Brussels in the spring of 2017. What do you expect from this important conference?

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Rustam Shohmurod: The EU – Central Asia Conference of the Ministers of Justice provides for a mutual dialogue and exchange of positive experience in rule of law development. We consider this dialogue very useful. Most of the progress in terms of legal reforms in the Central-Asian countries take place within this initiative. We would like to stress that the EU makes a lot of effort to cooperate on legal issues in Central Asia, and a number of workshops on different issues of our wide cooperation definitely prove that. I hope that further cooperation within that EU – Central Asia Conference will be fruitful and aimed at supporting the realization of certain legal processes and reforms in our countries.

Mr Shohmurod has been an ardent supporter of the
regional dialogue on rule oflaw with the European Union
throughout the implementation of the Rule of Law Initiative
Platform: On what priority areas would you like the Rule of Law Initiative to focus in 2017 and 2018?

Rustam Shohmurod: The Republic of Tajikistan, being a democratic and legal state, recognises the importance of human rights defense and aims to provide justice, welfare and dignity to each member of the society.

According to item 9 of the Council Conclusions on the EU Strategy for Central Asia, the EU will also further enhance its efforts to address the serious challenges to human rights in the region, including by maintaining and deepening the human rights dialogues with the five countries, and by continuing to provide extensive support for reforms. Implementation of the countries’ commitments regarding Universal Periodic Reviews and the situation of human rights defenders deserve special attention and support from the EU.

Tajikistan received 209 recommendations following the results of the 2nd cycle of the Universal Periodical Review in May 2016. 119 of them have been accepted by the delegation straight away, 14 recommendations gained no support and this was taken into account. 70 recommendations were taken for further consideration.

Taking into account the aforesaid, I think that Tajikistan and the EU have corresponding interests in the sphere and we need to coordinate our efforts in this respect.

As I said, realization of free legal aid concept in the Republic of Tajikistan is a priority for us as well.

In conclusion, I would like to note that all the efforts undertaken evidence the commitment of the Republic of Tajikistan to form a legal state where the Rule of it’s Highness Law is indisputable and the rights and freedoms of everyone are staunchly defended.

Thank you for your attention.

Minister, we are grateful for this Interview.