Uzbekistan’s upper house of parliament is due later this month to consider long-awaited legislation outlining the rules and responsibilities of the police force.
The Central Asian nation’s absence of law regulating its notoriously corrupt and violent police and security services has been object of much criticism from rights organizations. Proposals to be considered by the Senate on August 24-25 for a law titled “On Interior Affairs Organs” do not seem to relate to the National Security Service, the successor agency to the KGB and the country’s de facto administrator.
A law on the police was devised by members of parliament and security officials toward the end of 2012 following earlier calls to do so from President Islam Karimov, but that initiative lost steam along the way.
As a result, police to this day operate under non-statutory guidelines drawn up in 1991. This means that police operate without explicit rules of engagement when deploying live ammunition and treat criminal suspects in a manner at their discretion.
Karimov spoke again about the need to adopt a law on police during a speech to mark Independence Day last December. Somewhat surprisingly, he spoke with some asperity about shoddy practices among law enforcement bodies.
“It is not unusual to come across cases of nonobservance and crude violations of legal norms and provisions and principles of justice, as well as sloppy attitudes among law enforcement and regulatory authorities toward their duties. This is a reality and it is impossible not to notice it,” Karimov said.
But quite how Karimov noticed it is something of a mystery. Even his most generous champion could hardly accuse the president of having his finger on the pulse.
“We need to clarify and introduce some correctives to their [police] status, uniforms, methods of operation and, above all, ensure the supremacy of the law and the reliable protection of rights and freedoms of citizens,” he said.
There are countless tales of police mistreatment in Uzbekistan. One was told to EurasiaNet.org by Ulugbek Haidarov, a journalist who has fled to Canada. Haidarov says that in September 2006 he was detained by police in the city of Jizzakh over issues to do with his professional duties.
“I underwent all kinds of torture at the precinct. They beat me with clubs on the soles of my feet, they made me wear a gas mask and pumped smoke into it. They wrapped cellophane wrapper [around my head] so that I would suffocate,” Haidarov said.
After three months of pressure from international rights groups, Haidarov was released and later left the country.
“The law on police should have been adopted 15 years ago. It should be made topic for national discussion and publicized in the media. Simple citizens should have their say about the law. But this law will unlikely be able to function. Uzbek society has long become used to lawlessness,” Haidarov said.
Police reform is only one in what advocacy group say is a slew of required steps needed to bring Uzbekistan in line with international standards.
One such step ostensibly came in April, when the upper house of parliament voted to create a senatorial oversight body for several government bodies, including the General Prosecutor’s Office. Given that legislators are themselves mere benchwarmers, however, it is hard to credit such developments with too much importance.
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