COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS CONSIDERS REPORT OF UZBEKISTAN
13 May 2014
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today considered the second periodic report of Uzbekistan on how the country is implementing the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Akmal Saidov, Director of the National Human Rights Centre of Uzbekistan, said Uzbekistan was in the process of transition to a democratic system of Government, which meant changing the mind-set of the population in order to develop a strong civil society and form a human rights culture. The Millennium Development Goal on full access to general education had been achieved. Uzbekistan was among the most dynamically developing economics in the world. A significant percentage of State expenditure went into social protection measures, education and healthcare. The average life expectancy had increased to 73 and 75 years for men and women respectively. Challenges included the geopolitical situation, including from neighbouring Afghanistan, and the environmental catastrophe of the drying up of the Aral Sea, which caused a serious lack of water resources for some 60 million people living in the region. The global financial recession had caused economic, social and political problems which impacted upon socially vulnerable groups.
During the interactive dialogue Committee Experts commended the State party for having one of the world’s highest literacy rates, and for providing free and compulsory education to children up to 12 years of age. Experts asked about efforts to tackle the use of child labour, particularly in the cotton fields. The battle against trafficking of narcotics and the medical treatment of drug addicts and alcoholics were discussed. The huge impact of the drying up of the Aral Sea was raised, as well as poverty-reduction measures. Questions were asked about gender-role stereotypes, labour rights and trade unions, and anti-discrimination measures. Regulations for non-governmental organizations were also highlighted.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Saidov thanked the Committee for their professional interaction, particularly in more complex aspects of the implementation of the Covenant, and said its recommendations would be discussed in parliament and with civil society.
Aslan Khuseinovich Abashidze, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur, said the purpose of the review was not necessarily to identify flaws but to achieve a common language and assist States parties in achieving the very important economic, social and cultural rights of their people.
Zdzislaw Kedzia, Committee Chairperson, in concluding remarks, said the purpose of the dialogue was to learn, returning to issues raised at previous reviews in future, if necessary. He wished Uzbekistan well in accomplishing the various plans it had spoken about.
The delegation of Uzbekistan included representatives of the National Human Rights Centre, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of Population, the Ministry of Health and the Permanent Mission of Uzbekistan to United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m. on Wednesday 14 May to examine the combined third to fifth periodic report of El Salvador (E/C.12/SLV/3-5).
The second periodic report of Uzbekistan (E/C.12/UZB/2).
Presentation of the Report
AKMAL SAIDOV, Director of the National Human Rights Centre and Head of the Delegation of Uzbekistan, said since 2010 Uzbekistan had been implementing democratic reforms. Implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was directly linked to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and to that end the Government had created its own indicators linked to the MDGs, and in January 2011 adopted a special ordnance on additional measures for their implementation. Uzbekistan had achieved the MDG on full access to general education; and according to World Bank data had one of the highest literacy rates in the world, at 99.7 per cent. According to assessments by international organizations, Uzbekistan had maintained stable and high economic growth rates of no less than eight per cent over the past five years and the Gross Domestic Product had more than doubled since 2000. On that basis Uzbekistan was among the most dynamically developing economics in the world.
A characteristic of the State budget was the social focus, Mr. Saidov said, noting that in 2013 around 50 per cent of State expenditure went to financing the social sector and social protection measures. More than 30 per cent was spent on education and more than 14 per cent on health. Finance for the health sector grew by more than 2.5 times in the last five years, and the maternal and infant mortality rates had been reduced. The average life expectancy had increased to 73 and 75 years for men and women respectively, some of the highest ages among Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries. A global rating by Save the Children rated Uzbekistan ninth in a list of countries most concerned with the health of their younger generation.
Priority areas for the implementation of the Covenant included the need to improve the legislative basis for its implementation, with the adoption of over 10 new laws in the last three years that were of special significance for the economic, social and cultural rights of citizens. The development of an institutional basis for the protection of those rights included a Parliamentary Commission to support non-governmental organizations and civil society. Educational measures were also a priority: Uzbekistan was actively involved in the United Nations campaign for a global human rights education programme. More than 120 international legal human rights documents had been translated into the State language and published in Uzbekistan, including the Covenant. New legislation was published on a national internet database, which included more than 30,000 documents in the Uzbek and Russian languages that were freely available to all.
Uzbekistan was active in celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Right to Development, and was involved in the Human Rights Council resolution on guiding principles for business activities in the field of human rights. It hosted an annual international conference on business, human rights and social responsibility. It worked closely with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and had responded to more than 40 questions and requests from it and the human rights Special Procedures over the last two years. A draft national action plan for the implementation of recommendations from the Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review and the treaty bodies had been prepared with help from the United Nations Development Programme and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Speaking about challenges to the implementation of the Covenant, Mr. Saidov said the tragedy of the drying up of the Aral Sea was one of the most important recent global environmental catastrophes, causing a serious lack of water resources and directly threatening sustainable development, health and the very future of the 60 million people living in the region. The geopolitical situation was also a challenge: Central Asia faced major difficulties in ensuring stability and peace, for example due to the unstable situation in Afghanistan with its continued production and trafficking of narcotics. The withdrawal of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from Afghanistan this year meant a serious trial for countries bordering Afghanistan and other neighbouring territories. Extremism in all manifestations – including international terrorism and religious extremism – was a significant threat, which diverted resources. Like many other States, the global financial recession had caused economic, social and political problems which impacted upon socially vulnerable groups. Furthermore, the influence of domestic difficulties and external threats had to be taken into account when assessing implementation of the Covenant. Uzbekistan was in the process of transition to a democratic system of Government, which meant changing the mind-set of the population in order to develop a strong civil society and form a human rights culture.
Questions by Committee Experts
ASLAN KHUSEINOVICH ABASHIDZE, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur, welcomed the high-level delegation at the level of First Deputy Ministers of various ministries and thanked the delegation for the additional information it had provided. The Committee commended the serious attitude shown by the Uzbekistan Government to its recommendations made on its initial report. The basic mechanism for human rights in Uzbekistan was the Parliamentary Ombudsman, the Country Rapporteur said. Despite efforts to step up his work, it seemed the Ombudsman lacked important powers to enable him to carry out his work. The report he submitted to the Committee showed that 30 per cent of complaints he received related to economic, social and cultural rights.
There was pervasive corruption in all sectors of the State, said the Country Rapporteur. How was the State party working to combat corruption? The issue of non-discrimination was key for the Committee, and it seemed there was a lack of domestic legislation to cover all manifestations and grounds of discrimination invoked in the Covenant.
Was there a State system to protect refugees and asylum seekers in the country, the Country Rapporteur asked, given Uzbekistan was not a party to international conventions relating to the status of those groups. Could more information and statistics be provided. Had the draft bill on equal rights and opportunities for women and men been adopted? The Committee was worried that according to information it had received women were more badly affected by unemployment than men. What about the criticism of the registration system known as “Propiska”?
The impact of corruption on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights was visible in many countries, an Expert said. A working group had been set up to draft an anti-corruption bill. Had it been adopted? Had Uzbekistan ratified the United Nations Convention Against Corruption? That Convention required States parties to establish an anti-corruption institution.
Regarding the involvement of civil society, especially human rights non-governmental organizations, an Expert said Uzbekistan required non-governmental organizations to register with the authorities, and had a list of their rights and duties. Had any non-governmental organizations been consulted in the drafting of the report, and did they have any choice in registering with the authorities but still being able to freely associate and engage in their work?
The Covenant provided a specific article regarding the equality of women and men in terms of their enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, an Expert emphasized. What political empowerment was available to women? She asked about a 30 per cent quota for women candidates in each political party to parliamentary elections and whether it worked in getting women elected. She also noted that the delegation was made up solely of men, and with all due respect said woman should have been included in it. The draft bill on violence against women was also raised, as it seemed levels of violence against women, including the murder rate, were rising.
The State party had commented on every concern and recommendation raised by the Committee following its review of the periodic report. On the Committee’s recommendation regarding gender-role stereotypes, the State party’s comment was that the Government fundamentally disagreed with the Western view of women in society, and that it favoured a revival of the traditional role of women in society. That was very surprising, the Expert said, asking what the real view was of what the roles of men and women should be in society, and what was the current perception of the Uzbek society?
Under the right to self-determination, an Expert spoke about the autonomous Karakalpakstan Republic in the north of the country, near Kazakhstan, which was part of Uzbekistan. Karakalpakstan Republic was a poor State and suffered from the scarcity of water sources and environmental problems as a result of the drying up of the Aral Sea. What was Uzbekistan doing to support Karakalpakstan, to help its people develop and access the basic resources they needed?
Child labour was raised. Were children allowed to work, and if so what sort of work was permissible. How was it legislated? What about labour rights, including the freedom of trade unions? The rate of job creation and effective programmes to tackle unemployment were commended by an Expert, who asked the delegation to describe some of the measures taken, which other countries could benefit from. In 2012 there was a programme of anti-crisis measures which brought about a significant increase in jobs. Was that programme still in force?
On the rights and employment of persons with disabilities, an Expert noted the existence of legislation from 2008; that year some 3,000 jobs had been created for persons with disabilities, with more created the following year. Was the Government systematically creating jobs for persons with disabilities, and what mechanisms were in place – such as mandatory quotas for the hiring of people? Between 2006 and 2009 the national minimum wage was increased fourfold. What level did it stand at today?
Response by the Delegation
The Office of the Ombudsman was not as strong as in other countries, it was true, but there were plans in place to strengthen its powers, and a third phase of strengthening of its abilities was underway. The delegate said he did not understand why the Ombudsman was not considered independent.
The provisions of the Covenant had to be carried out through the enforcement of domestic legislation. National courts did reference the Covenant in their rulings from time to time, but there was no direct reference to the Covenant in any piece of domestic legislation.
In principle there was anti-discrimination legislation starting from the constitution and in all laws, including labour, social and cultural legislation. Equality was always a fundamental tenant in all of those laws. The United Nations Committee on Racial Discrimination had recommended that Uzbekistan adopt a separate anti-racial discrimination law, which Uzbekistan did not accept, as if it did so it would also need legislation against religious, gender and other forms of discrimination. Instead there were broad laws that ensured equality protection from discrimination.
Concerning the system for protecting refugees, Uzbekistan took in a significant amount of refugees in the 1990s from Afghanistan and Tajikistan during their civil wars, a delegate said. Uzbekistan worked closely with United Nations Refugee Agency and as a result of that cooperation the great majority of those refugees had either returned home or went to third countries. There were currently 185 refugees registered by the High Commissioner in Uzbekistan. They enjoyed practically the same economic, social and cultural rights and other rights as Uzbek citizens as there were no legislative restrictions on the basis of citizenship.
Answering the question on the registration system known as “Propiska”, a delegate began by saying that in no way did it hinder the right to freedom of movement of citizens or any other rights. It was important that the Government had that data for information on migration, the labour market, crime prevention – such as people who were not paying alimony. Citizens could realize their rights in any area, including education and health. A significant number of people were working in Tashkent with temporary Propiska. The “Propiska” term had existed since the time of the Soviet Union, and it was true there were problems associated with it.
Uzbekistan had ratified all of the fundamental United Nations conventions on corruption in 2008, and also acceded to the Istanbul Protocol on fighting corruption; within that protocol Uzbekistan regularly submitted reports. An expert group had been set up to draft a special law to combat corruption; the bill was going through agreement for submission to the lower house. The Ministry of Justice was the body responsible for coordinating activities of other State bodies to combat corruption. Broad participation and consultation with non-governmental organizations was ensured.
There were 30 per cent quotas for women candidates to the national assembly, which were mandatory for all political parties. It meant that no less than 30 per cent of candidates put forward should be women, but did not mean that women would get into the assembly. The quota had produced results and led to an increase in women in politics. Currently, 20 per cent of parliamentarians were women. Some 15 per cent of Executive staff was women, while women made up 17 per cent of local authority employees. Approximately 13 per cent of members of the Judiciary were women.
Answering the question on cultural stereotypes, a delegate began by saying that certain Western stereotypes were not acceptable in Uzbekistan. Same-sex marriages, for example, were not acceptable to the Uzbekistan people. Uzbekistan walked out of the Human Rights Council room, for example, when that resolution was adopted. However, Uzbekistan did want women to be active members of society, and sought to enhance their role. Uzbekistan was not an Islamic State, it was a secular State based on the traditions of Islam. It respected that religion of its fathers as the land had produced great men of Islamic civilization, who had made a priceless contribution to the development of Islamic and world civilization. Polygamy was banned; monogamy was the rule.
There was a dynamic growth of non-governmental organizations in Uzbekistan who took part in the implementation of Committee recommendations. The work of unregistered non-governmental organizations was prohibited; registered organizations had legal status, legal rights and duties. As Uzbekistan was in an unstable region, registration was very important, but at the end of last year a Presidential Decree was adopted to simplify the registration process, which in no way hindered the existence of non-governmental organizations. To date there were over 7,000 non-governmental organizations active in Uzbekistan. There was a Parliamentary Commission operating from the State budget which served to support non-governmental organizations in various ways.
A delegate spoke about projects to restore, save and protect the Aral Sea, in light of the environmental catastrophe causing it to dry up. Uzbekistan had invested millions of dollars in the projects. Regional cooperation between the countries which bordered the Aral Sea included the international fund for the saving of the Aral Sea which brought together all countries in the region and sought to protect biodiversity, bio stocks, mitigate environmental impact and ensure the people living there were protected. Uzbekistan played a key role in founding that fund and the President attached great importance to that work.
Giving the worsening socio, economic and humanitarian situation caused by the drying of the Aral Sea it was clearly impossible to resolve the global problem without assistance from the international community and the United Nations. The delegate drew the Committee’s attention to General Assembly document A/68/883 on the subject, which was widely supported by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Efforts were needed not just on the part of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. A major problem was the building of hydro-stations in the upper reaches of the rivers that fed into the Aral Sea which meant that the water did not feed down to it.
There was a need to develop an international declaration on the right to water which was a fundamental human right and needed to be dealt with at the international level, the delegate commented, something that had been discussed in the Human Rights Council. Uzbekistan would be delighted to have the Committee’s support in that.
Of the 30 million inhabitants of Uzbekistan more than 30 per cent of them – 10 million – used the internet every day, a delegate said. Human rights documentation, including the Covenant and the Committee’s recommendations, could be accessed through the internet.
The judiciary was maybe not as independent as it was in Europe or American countries, but over the years an enormous amount had been done to improve their independence, a delegate said. Five decrees had been adopted to enhance their income, their independence and to train legal staff. Without an independent legal system it was impossible to ensure economic, social and cultural rights, the delegate asserted.
An Expert noted the figure of more than 7,000 non-governmental organizations in Uzbekistan but asked why none of them had attended today’s review. Especially given they received Government funding, the Committee regretted that no non-governmental organizations active in economic, social and cultural rights came and engaged with its work. Non-governmental organizations from other countries frequently briefed the Committee.
Gender role stereotypes were not only about gays and lesbians, it was more about how responsibilities – including in the family and in society – were shared by men and women. what was the perceived role of men in family life, such as child-rearing and taking care of the household – that was also men’s responsibility as much as social matters.
Efforts regarding parliamentary representation of women were commended, but the Committee would like to see targets of women in other decision-making fields, including the judiciary.
Response by the Delegation
On gender stereotype roles, a delegate said that men had a greater role in raising children than women did in Uzbekistan. Men had a lot of authority and children always tried to please their fathers – a father’s opinion was very important. Every society had its own particular characteristics and it was that diversity that brought all together as human beings; they did not all have to be the same, the delegate concluded.
A few years ago in Uzbekistan not a single non-governmental organization wrote a shadow report, a delegate pointed out, but this session the Committee had received two shadow reports, which was very good. The Government only started supporting civil society organizations over the last five years and not all received money.
Questions by the Experts
The issue of trafficking in persons was raised and the delegation was asked how Uzbekistan was tackling the phenomenon.
What percentage of the population lived on less than US$2 per day, an Expert asked, as he understood it was a large proportion. Had the State party’s poverty-reduction strategy yielded any results, especially in Karakalpakstan Republic, which had the highest poverty rate? The Expert also asked for information on social or municipal housing for low-income families and marginalized and disadvantaged groups, as he understood there was a very long waiting list.
Was there an urban construction project to improve the slum areas, as it was understood that in 2008 approximately 50 per cent of the urban population lived in slums. What was the extent of homelessness in Uzbekistan? The Expert also quoted United Nations figures that showed poor access to sanitation facilities and asked whether the problem was as deep as the figures indicated.
Uzbekistan defined the poverty line only in terms of access to food; a calorific index, an Expert commented. The poverty index did not include the other elements reflected in the United Nations definition of extreme poverty. How was Uzbekistan complying with the Millennium Development Goal to reduce absolute poverty?
On the right to health, an Expert said the Committee welcomed all the measures taken by Uzbekistan to guarantee physical and mental health and increase expenditure on it. She noted that Uzbekistan had acceded to the Convention on Tobacco Control, and another convention on alcohol consumption. However, concern had been expressed by international bodies over rising alcohol and tobacco consumption, especially by children. There was a much lower tax on alcohol and tobacco than in other countries. How did the Government monitor consumption, and regulate the sale of those products to children?
Domestic violence was a problem in Uzbekistan, as in many other countries, and was not criminalized. What legislation had been adopted to tackle it? There was a discrepancy between the ages in which men and women could enter into marriage, and in rural areas arranged child marriages seemed to occur, albeit not very frequently. What about polygamy, and the tradition of bride kidnapping?
Uzbekistan was a country of transit for narcotics. The first problem was trafficking of narcotics, which must be strongly punished and prohibited. The second problem was consumption of narcotics and alcohol. There was an international move towards preventive measures and decriminalization of consumers, to treat them as medical patients rather than offenders. How was Uzbekistan getting on in theory and in practice? The Committee had heard that people who had drug or alcohol addictions were treated harshly, in a repressive way, and may be confined in psychiatric and medical institutions.
The HIV/AIDS infection rate in Uzbekistan was a problem. Was education being used as one of the measures to tackle the phenomenon, and was sexual and reproductive education on the curriculum, or was it a taboo subject?
Much had been said about the tragedy of the Aral Sea, which was indeed a tragedy for all mankind, an Expert said. Access to water was a major issue for Uzbekistan. Given the shortage of drinking water for large parts of the population, the Expert noted that reportedly the majority of water in Uzbekistan was used for irrigation. Uzbekistan was the second exporter of cotton and the fifth biggest producer, but cotton was a crop that required a lot of water. What was being done to change water use?
Response by the Delegation
In Uzbekistan there were some 600,000 unemployed people, and the highest unemployment rates were in the Karakalpakstan Republic, a delegate said. The labour market was monitored based on gender and age. The national unemployment rate was largely the same for women as men, at around five per cent. The Government had taken specific actions to ensure women’s employment, mainly through job creation. It was very important to find jobs for women, particularly those who had lots of children or who were the head of a family, and women who were unable to travel for work and needed a job where they lived.
The poverty level fell by some 30 per cent in recent years, a delegate said. In 2010 it was 17 per cent and today it was around 15 per cent. Uzbekistan was on track to achieve Millennium Development Goal 1 - to halve poverty rates –by 2015. Government forecasts showed further reductions in poverty rates in the years up to 2020. Furthermore, there was a strategy to enhance the wellbeing of the population, with forecasts at least up to 2015. A copy would be provided to the Committee.
The issue of the Aral Sea would be on the agenda for many years to come, it was very difficult for the citizens of Uzbekistan who lived near that disaster. It was not just a problem for Uzbekistan, nor for Central Asia – it was a global problem. Some 3.5 million people, or 15 per cent of the whole population, lived near the Aral Sea. The whole region, not just Karakalpakstan, was affected by the disaster. Measures were being taken to tackle the problem in the areas of employment, social protection measures, and support for the social infrastructure. They had so far resulted in growth in the regional Gross Domestic Product, in improved services, increased agricultural output – particularly in livestock - and the creation of some 300,000 jobs. What was needed was global support for small businesses in the region, and high-tech jobs in order to process local commodities. The help of international financial institutions would be most welcome. A soft-credit mechanism would help ensure employment and income for the population.
There was a law on social protection for persons with disabilities. There was also a pilot project to implement quotas for employers, put into practice with non-governmental organizations. Every year no less than 100,000 jobs were set aside for the employment of vulnerable people, including those with disabilities, those who had little training, people newly released from prison and those from large families. Some 90,000 people were given jobs last year, and more detailed figures were available.
The pension system was structured around the old Soviet ‘System of Solidarity’. To improve the pension system the Government sought to optimize pension advantages and the benefits system, although it was a sensitive issue.
Answering the question on child labour, a delegate said by law a person could work from the age of 16 years. The exception was that a 15 year old could work if they had a special permit. Uzbekistan had ratified International Labour Organization Convention 138 and was complying with it. Raising the hiring age had caused a lot of work, and the Government had taken important financial measures. A delegate noted that the Government drew a distinction between “child labour” and the “worst forms of child labour”, which it held to be slavery, armed conflicts, drug addiction, prostitution, anti-social behaviour and work that caused physical and psychological damage to the health of a child. The Committee should take that into account in its assessment.
Uzbekistan closely cooperated with the International Labour Organization and was grateful for its assistance in tackling child labour. In 2013 the International Labour Organization for the first time carried out an extensive monitoring exercise on the use of child labour during the cotton harvesting season. Ten highly-qualified International Labour Organization experts carried it out. They had full freedom of movement and access to all cotton facilities in the region, making more than 800 visits and interviewing numerous employees. The experts only detected isolated cases of child labour – around 50, that were initiated by the children or their parents. Those children were urgently returned to their families.
A delegate announced that on April 25 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Uzbekistan and the International Labour Organization in which a Country Programme for Decent Work was adopted. It was based on three strategic priorities. It was hoped that it would improve working conditions, including for domestic workers, bolster the potential of labour partners, help young people find employment, improve labour infrastructure and introduce more technology into the labour market which would also help reduce corruption.
To understand its social problems, the Committee had to know that Uzbekistan had a very young population. Small businesses made up over 50 per cent of commerce. Today 100 per cent of produce – including cotton – was produced in the private sector. The delegate spoke about the annual international conference it hosted on the social obligations and human rights of businesses.
Over the last 10 years the size of the prison population had decreased by 2.5 times. That had happened because of social rehabilitation of people released from prison, such as giving them jobs which led to a drop in recidivism.
The Government recognized the right to associate with and to join trade unions, which were the most powerful civil society bodies in the country. Employers were not entitled to block trade union activities, and would be punishable under law if they did. There was a mechanism to allow collective bargaining, and the right to strike, under the right to defend one’s interests under the Labour Code.
There was a draft concept project in place to tackle problems of alcoholism and narcotic abuse, as part of non-infectious diseases. Treatment was based on the “steps methodology”, and clinical guidance to treat such diseases was being formulated. The Ministry for Education, with support from the World Health Organization, was running a study on the level of tobacco abuse by school-children, particularly those aged 13 to 15 years of age.
Uzbekistan was consistently working to combat drug and alcohol abuse through legislation on narcotics and psychotropic substances. The Ministry of Health had issued a decree which established the volume of assistance that the State could provide to drug abusers, including free consultations and treatment, while maintaining confidentiality and the possibility of receiving assistance on an anonymous basis. Group psychotherapy was also available. A programme for medical and social rehabilitation had been implemented. Drug abusers were helped to re-adapt to the labour market, including through ‘labour therapy’ working with labour centres and small businesses.
A drug-replacement programme was completed in 2011, with the intention of ensuring that drug-addicts could take methadone as a replacement drug. Upon examination of its results the Government concluded that the pilot project should be fully implemented, not just in the capital but extended out to the regions, particularly those bordering Afghanistan which were at the greatest risk of drug trafficking. Other alternative treatments for drug-dependent patients were being rolled out as well.
Uzbekistan was working to enhance the effectiveness of water use and widely implemented the principle of sustainable water use management systems. Work was being carried out to diversify agricultural production and to replace water-intense crops such as cotton with crops that needed less water, such as grain. At the end of the last century cotton took up about 50 per cent of arable lands. Rice production had been reduced several fold. Arable land now produced less water-intense crops. At the national level Uzbekistan was becoming a leader in the use of water-saving techniques including drip-feeds, flexible piping and other innovative projects. The result was that water extraction nationwide as compared with the 1980’s had decreased from 64 to 51 billion cubic litres per year.
There were major problems of water shortages throughout Central Asia, and also problems with the rationale of water use in the region. Water resources in Uzbekistan were extremely unevenly distributed, so some parts of the population had continuous problems in accessing good-quality drinking water and related problems, such as morbidity and disease. There were natural, climatic and manmade reasons for this. The population was growing, so in recent years water supplies to rural populations had had to be increased by 68.5 per cent.
Concerning the marriage age and polygamy, a delegate said that a sociological survey by a non-governmental centre on public opinion found that the majority of the population supported the setting of a single age of marriage for men and women (which was currently 18 years for men and 16 years for girls). The majority of those surveyed had a negative attitude towards polygamy. A separate article in the Criminal Code provided that polygamy was prohibited by law. The delegate also noted that there were two cases of “wife kidnapping” – also known as bride kidnapping – last year. It was a tradition, or a ritual, among nomadic communities. Bride kidnapping was criminalized and punishable by law. Women’s non-governmental organizations had done a lot of work on these issues, as well as sexual education, carrying out more than 5,000 awareness-raising events last year alone.
To combat trafficking in persons a law was adopted in 2008, and Uzbekistan had acceded to a number of international conventions, including the Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and its Optional Protocol. A National Plan of Action was adopted every two years, which had established an Interdepartmental Commission to Combat Trafficking that included both State and civil society representatives. A support centre had helped over 1,000 victims of trafficking. There were a huge number of bilateral agreements with neighbouring countries. The mass media was also being used to disseminate anti-trafficking campaigns.
Questions from the Experts
On education, an Expert commended Uzbekistan for having one of the world’s highest literacy rates, and for providing free and compulsory education to children up to 12 years of age. However, the Committee on the Rights of the Child had expressed concern that mainstream schools were frequently inaccessible to children with disabilities. Furthermore, the provision of education in rural areas continued to be poor, with unqualified teachers, she said.
An Expert asked a follow-up question about drug abuse, enquiring whether it was criminalized. If so, how were users expected to register at the health centres offering detox programmes?
The delegation was asked how Uzbekistan defined national minorities, and about discrimination faced by other ethnic and cultural groups. Freedom of access to the internet was also raised.
Response by the Delegation
The Government was trying to ensure inclusive education, which was something new for Uzbekistan. With the help of the United Nations Children’s Fund it sought to ensure children with disabilities could be taught together with their peers, with no difference in the curricula. Special braille textbooks were available for children with visual disabilities. Uzbekistan was one of the four countries in the world where the Koran was published in braille, the delegate noted. At the higher education level, the Government sought to get more women into university-level education and create equal conditions for men and women. There was no segregation of children in schools by ethnicity, gender or any other form.
The use of drugs was a criminal offence. There was some logic in treating an alcoholic as someone who was ill, but that was not the case for drug addicts. The pilot project of substitution therapy for drug addicts had been a success; the next steps were to adopt international standards on it, and to train health personnel – doctors who worked with HIV AIDS patients. Methadone would be removed from the List A of forbidden drugs, and used for the limited purpose of rehabilitation. That then reduced dependence on prohibited drugs and reduced criminal behaviour as well.
Uzbekistan had established a unique system of healthcare which met high international standards. It was coordinated by the Centre for Scientific Emergency Care. The health system was being improved by the establishment of some 3,200 medical stations, especially in rural areas. The stations were staffed by GPs who could provide first aid. Uzbekistan was preparing to introduce a medical health insurance scheme. It was doing the groundwork and consultations now.
The problem of housing was topical for all countries, not just Uzbekistan. Construction in rural areas had been very effective.
The term ‘national minority’ was not to be found in the Uzbekistan constitution or any legislation. Yes, there were ‘minorities’ in Uzbekistan – Uzbeks made up 90 per cent of the population – but the constitution had a unique article which defined the concept of ‘the people of Uzbekistan’. The reason for that was that Uzbekistan did not want to discriminate in words. Language discrimination was forbidden as was all other forms, and Russian, Turkmen and Kazakh languages were all provided for, with interpreters often paid for by the State. Uzbekistan was a multi-religion society; Muslims were the largest group, but there were also Christians, and Jews had been living in Uzbekistan for some 3,000 years. Uzbekistan was a very tolerant society.
Internet use had become essential, people could not imagine life without it, a delegate said. The internet was widely available and people used it for their day to day life, including health and education access.
AKMAL SAIDOV, Director of the National Human Rights Centre of Uzbekistan, thanked the Committee for their professional interaction, particularly in more complex aspects of the implementation of the Covenant. The Committee’s recommendations would be discussed in parliament, particularly those relating to adopting international conventions. Mr. Saidov said they would also report back to civil society organizations on the review.
ASLAN KHUSEINOVICH ABASHIDZE, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur, thanked the delegation for their answers and said the purpose of the review was not necessarily to identify flaws but to achieve a common language and assist States parties in achieving the very important economic, social and cultural rights of their people.
ZDZISLAW KEDZIA, Committee Chairperson, said the dialogue had both positive elements and some risks, but the purpose was to learn, and to continue it in the future, returning to issues raised last time, if necessary. He wished Uzbekistan well in accomplishing the various plans it had spoken about.
For use of the information media; not an official record