Scepticism at Plan to Curb Uzbek Police

New legislation planned in Uzbekistan is intended to impose regulations on the police force and prevent officers committing abuses. 

On paper, it looks like real progress, since the police have to date operated with near-impunity. However, human rights defenders doubt that even robust laws would stop the use of violence, especially as a method for extracting confessions from detainees.

The bill, announced on the Uzbek interior ministry’s website last month, will include rules for the use of firearms and physical force by police officers.

Svetlana Artykova, who chairs the legislative committee of the upper house of Uzbekistan’s parliament, said. "The new law will improve public control of the police.”

Police are currently subject to various regulations and instructions, introduced in the early post-Soviet years and never published.

The interior ministry reported that speakers at a conference it held on the draft law noted that “there is no legislation governing the procedures and circumstances for using physical force, firearms and special substances [eg tear gas]; this affects human rights and freedoms and can result in violations and abuses”.

Human rights defenders agree that the lack of a written law creates space for abuses to occur.

"Police officers make no secret of their impunity, as there is no law defining their accountability while on duty," Tashkent-based human rights activist Vladimir Husainov said.

Yelena Urlaeva, leader of the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan, said the current lack of controls made the law-enforcement agencies feel invincible. Her group often receives appeals for help from people tortured into signing confessions in pre-trial custody. Most are too afraid to file complaints afterwards.

"This law is unlikely to halt the system of torture which the interior ministry employs to improve police [crime-solving] statistics. Innocent people confess under torture to crimes they have not committed," Urlaeva said.

Tashpulat Yoldashev, an Uzbek political analyst based in the United States, was similarly pessimistic, saying the authorities routinely ignored their own laws, making it unlikely that human rights abuses by police would be addressed.

This article was produced as part of News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

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