Uzbekistan is the only doubly landlocked country in Central Asia and has borders with the other four Central Asian countries plus Afghanistan to the south. Uzbekistan has an area of almost 450,000 km2, mostly covered by a vast desert and mountains. Less than 10% of its territory is irrigated and intensively cultivated in river valleys and oases.
Uzbekistan proclaimed independence from the collapsing Soviet Union on 1 September, 1991. The country has a population of 30 million, most of whom (80%) are ethnic Uzbeks. The literacy rate among adults is 99.3%. The first elections of the Oliy Majlis (Parliament) were held in 1994 and a new constitution was passed in 2003. The third elections for the bicameral 150-member Oliy Majlis — the Legislative Chamber and the 100-member Senate — were held in December 2009 The Oliy Majlis was unicameral up to 2004. Under terms of a 1995 referendum, Islam Karimov’s first presidential term was extended. Another national referendum was held in 2002 to extend the Constitutional Presidential term from 5 years to 7 years. The referendum passed, and Islam Karimov’s term was extended by an act of parliament to December 2007.
Uzbekistan and the EU
Relations between the European Union and Uzbekistan have been developing steadily since independence of Uzbekistan in 1991. Initially the focus was primarily on development cooperation. However, the signing of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) in 1996 which entered into force in 1999 allowed for a broadening of bilateral relations by creating an institutional framework and expanding the scope of cooperation from development to political affairs, trade and economic issues, matters of human and social development, amongst others.
Since 2011, the opportunities for advancing bilateral relations have further increased, as the EU and Uzbekistan signed a Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in the field of energy and the EU established its diplomatic representation in Tashkent in 2012.
The EU – Uzbekistan bilateral relations were given a regional perspective in the 2007 “European Union and Central Asia: Strategy for a New Partnership” (PDF version), which outlines the overall EU co-operation objectives, policy responses and priority fields for engagement in Central Asia. In June 2010, the European Council and the European Commission published their Joint Progress Report on the implementation of the EU Central Asia Strategy.
The EU supports Uzbekistan through national-level programmes worth € 32,8 million for the 2007-2010 period and € 42 million for 2011-2013. In addition, the EU regional Central Asia programmes aim to promote regional cooperation and good neighborly relations in the region.
Uzbekistan and the Rule of Law Initiative
Uzbekistan hosted the first regional seminar of the Rule of Law Initiative on “Criminal procedure and defence rights” in Tashkent, on 28-30 September 2009, with France as lead. The Third EU-Central Asia Ministerial Conference on Rule of Law in December 2012 quickly followed the visit of the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton to Uzbekistan in November 2012. On this occasion, the Minister of Justice of Uzbekistan referred to Mrs. Ashton’s acknowledgment of Uzbekistan’s progress in the area of rule of law, and to the on-going reform of its national legal system, aiming at a stronger, more independent and autonomous judiciary, increased legal guarantees and judicial protection of citizens. At the Conference, Uzbekistan approved the Joint Communiqué and confirmed its support to the EU-Central Asian regional cooperation in the area of rule of law.
Uzbekistan has not yet appointed a Rule of Law Initiative National Coordinator.
EU bilateral support includes the project “Support to Criminal Judicial Reform in Uzbekistan”, which is already carrying out an array of training activities especially on criminal justice.
The Mission of the Republic of Uzbekistan to the European Union in Brussels provides support to the political dialogue between Uzbekistan and the EU on matters related to the Rule of Law Initiative. The Delegation of the EU to Uzbekistan in Tashkent supports the EU’s policies in rule of law.
Rule of Law in Uzbekistan
Efforts are aimed at providing better access to justice, developing the independence of the justice system and pursuing judicial reform. There are plans to provide legal assistance to low-income citizens and to draft a new law on free legal aid.
Uzbekistan is interested to establish closer contacts with EU Member States and to study their experience in implementing other elements of the Habeas Corpus, as well as issues related to the selection and appointment process for judges, the legal education requirements, vocational training for judges and other legal professions, and other aspects of judicial reform.
According to state programme documents, there are plans to reform the law of administrative procedure or process, priority probably being given to the administrative process.
Rule of Law Platform work plan in Uzbekistan
In the work plan for Uzbekistan, proposed activities focus on human rights and judicial reform, including a variety of analytic studies on comparative law and training seminars. These are aimed at promoting the independence of the justice, increasing the efficiency of the justice system, and raising the awareness of judges about these issues and about the importance of international human rights standards.
Rule of Law Platform Stakeholders in Uzbekistan
The Uzbek stakeholders include the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the Research Center under the Supreme Court of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the Supreme Economical Court of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Parliament (the Supreme or National Assembly of the Republic of Uzbekistan (Oliy Majlis), the National Center for Human Rights, the Institute for Monitoring Current Regulations, the Academy of State Building, the Legal Institute under the Ministry of Justice, the Legal Department of the Westminster University, the Legal Faculty of the State University, the Legal Department of the University of Diplomacy and World Economy, the Bar of the Republic of Uzbekistan, etc.