Non-UN Official translation: Uzbek (PDF)
TASHKENT (7 December 2021) – A UN human rights expert today commended the Uzbekistan Government for the repatriation and reintegration of women and children from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, but recommended authorities substantially reform the country’s extremism and counter-terrorism laws.
At the end of 10-day visit to the country addressing a range of counter-terrorism issues, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, called for increased measures to protect fundamental human rights including expression, assembly, fair trial, deprivation of liberty, freedom from torture, and the right to religious freedom and belief.
The expert praised the Government for its Operation Mehr, or Mercy operation since May 2019 involving the repatriation and reintegration of hundreds of women and children mostly from conflict zones in Syria but also from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The Uzbek model premised on family unity and community support is an example of best practice on repatriation, placing the best interest of the child, and the meaningful reintegration of women returning from conflict zones at the centre of political, legal and social action,” Ní Aoláin said.
Thousands of women and children have been arbitrarily detained in camps in North-East Syria. UN experts say they are exposed to violence, exploitation, abuse and deprivation in conditions and treatment that may well amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under international law, with no effective remedy at their disposal. They have called on dozens of States to facilitate their repatriation.
Ní Aoláin commended the Government’s practical focus on avoiding stigmatization, ensuring access to fundamental rights including economic and social rights, and underscored the value of the Government’s partnership with UNICEF, and other UN human rights entities, including her mandate and OHCHR.
“The Uzbek model of repatriation and reintegration provides a road-map for other governments to return their nationals from conflict zones,” she said, adding the country had shown how this can be done effectively, humanely and in a human rights compliant manner.
She encouraged ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the repatriation process to ensure ongoing human rights protection and sharing of knowledge among key stakeholders including the international community and civil society.
The Special Rapporteur also closely examined Uzbekistan’s counter-terrorism and extremism laws and identified concerns about the broad and vague content of numerous criminal code provisions. She said significant revisions were necessary to ensure their compliance with international law as well as standards on countering terrorism and human rights. She highlighted the need to address the negative impact on civil society and non-profit organizations from the current regulations addressing countering terrorism finance in line with FATF recommendations and human rights standards.
In respect of past human rights violations, she said accountability and transparency would increase and deepen current reform efforts. Ní Aoláin recommended the establishment of a formal and independent review mechanism with the capacity to investigate and provide meaningful remedies and reparations to address serious violations of human rights of those persons previously detained in national security cases particularly those who experienced torture, inhuman or degrading treatment.