This week’s blog reports on the first session of a forum held between GPGF and the Oliy Majlis on the the role of parliaments in overseeing the promotion of Human Rights.
The Human Rights Commission on Follow-Up to and Compliance with International Human Rights of the Uzbekistan parliament – the Oliy Majlis – was established in Autumn 2020 in accordance with the recommendations set by the UN’s draft principles on parliaments and Human Rights. Its model is comparable to that of the UK’s Joint Committee on Human Rights. Since August 2020 GPGF, with the support of the British Embassy in Tashkent, has been assisting the Commission’s capacity-building activities through the design and delivery of an online training programme on the topic and a series of consultations.
On Friday 26th March the GPGF team, in partnership with the Commission, held the first session of a high-level online forum seeking to explore the role of parliaments in overseeing the promotion of Human Rights at the national level. The aim of the forum was to offer a space for the Commission to connect with leading UK Human Rights specialists to discuss the progress already achieved and to exchange views and recommendations between peers and experts. The first session examined the successes and obstacles often met by parliaments in such endeavours and built on examples from the UK experience.
In particular, the discussion use the priorities outlined by President Mirziyoev at the 46th UN Human Rights Council Session as a frame of reference. Those priorities include enhancing measures taken for the protection of women, of children and young people, and of persons with disabilities.
Chairing the session was GPG Associate Baroness Alison Suttie, who is a life peer at the British House of Lords. Our speakers were:
- Professor Akmal Saidov, Chair of the Human Rights Commission and First Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis
- Rita French, International Ambassador for Human Rights and Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva
- Baroness Doreen Massey, Labour Member of the House of Lords
- David Isaac, former Chair of the UK’s Equality Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
- Shuhrat Bafaev, Member of the Human Rights Commission and Chair of the Committee on Democratic Institutions, NGOs, and citizens’ self-government bodies
- Malika Kadirxanova, Member of the Human Rights Commission and Chairwoman of the Committee on Women and Gender Equality
His Excellency Mr Said Rustamov, the ambassador of Uzbekistan to the UK, prefaced the event with a brief overview of the recent milestones and improvements achieved by Uzbekistan in the Human Rights field. He noted the creation of quotas for women in government and universities, efforts to improve children’s rights, to strengthen freedom of the press, and to expand legal protection for civil society. He went on to commend the work achieved in partnership with GPGF to help the Commission draw lessons from the British model.
Professor Akmal Saidov then delivered the first presentation, outlining the importance and ramifications of the UN Council Session in question. The event, held online, set out important objectives for Uzbekistan, confirming that parliamentary oversight and Human Rights are the foremost priorities of this Commission. Professor Saidov stressed that two important laws are being drafted, one ensuring the protection of civil and political rights, the other safeguarding economic, social, and cultural rights in Uzbekistan.
Ambassador Rita French took over with an inspired speech affirming the duty of parliaments and parliamentarians to play a role in monitoring and promoting Human Rights in the name of the people whose voice represent. She noted that the establishment of the Commission was an essential first step in the forthcoming work on improving Human Rights in Uzbekistan and that she looks forward to the exchange that will undoubtedly ensue.
Ambassador Rita French added that it is clear to her that real change has taken place in recent years and commended the President’s commitment. While she warned that membership comes with increased scrutiny, she voiced her curiosity to find out what role Uzbekistan was going to play for Human Rights, not only locally or regionally, but at the international level. She encouraged Uzbekistan to consider GPGF’s feedback on the recent Uzbek draft resolution on the role of parliament in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and ensuring Human Rights. She reminded the Commission that future generations should be educated in their power to build and support a culture of Human Rights across all society, and added that elected representatives must demonstrate leadership and regularly engage with their constituents. They need to ensure that adequate legislation is in place to allow civil society to carry out its work. They should play their role to hold government to account and challenge actions and laws that threaten or weaken Human Rights in Uzbekistan to ensure that sufficient scrutiny is in place. She concluded by wishing the new members of the Commission the very best of luck in their endeavour.
Baroness Massey drew on her own experience protecting Human Rights and children’s rights to offer essential advice on good oversight practice. She stressed the importance of ensuring that the UK does not only protect the rights of its own citizens, but also respects Human Rights abroad. For this, she encouraged practitioners to conduct enquiries in writing, and to interview a varied range of witnesses: police officers, experts, family members of the people to protect, staff from care homes… This would ensure parliamentary oversight of issues which receive little spotlight – for instance, the detention of young disabled people, or of people with learning difficulties – or of issues that arise in times of crisis – such as that of the right to protest during Covid-19 lockdown. She advised that such work should base itself on international treaties – she mentioned the Istanbul Convention and the Sustainable Development Goals – in order to establish a framework of timelines, objectives, and principles. Finally, she stressed that Human Rights should be encouraged by MPs on the local level, as these representatives are most in contact with local people and institutions.
Mr David Isaac then spoke of his own experience working at the EHRC. This independent national Human Rights institute, which operates in accordance with the Paris principles, works with Parliament to hold government to account and act as a regulating body. It promotes public information and knowledge about equality and Human Rights and engages with civil society and businesses. This gives them a unique opportunity to be a conduit to Parliament and to provide insight, experience, and information to parliamentarians. He encouraged the audience to be bold in their advocacy for Human Rights, to never neglect working with civil society, and to use the international framework as an enabling tool to support and promote their work.
Mr Shuhrat Bafaev followed this intervention with a reminder that the Commission’s work is being conducted in close collaboration with the public. He explained how a social polling organisation was employed to conduct surveys among the population in order to assess the public’s involvement and opinion on the matter, and affirmed the findings showed that citizens had become increasingly active in public oversight.
Mrs Malika Kadirxanova gave the final intervention, focussing on the topic of women’s rights in particular. She was herself the fist women elected as chairperson of the Senate in 2019, and sat on the Commission on gender equality. She commented that at the moment Uzbekistan has 6 female mayors, 2 ministers, and a number of MPs. She highlighted the importance of the worked achieved in the last 4 years to promote women’s rights, including the passing of legislation to promote gender equality and to prevent gender-based violence.
The second event of the forum was held on the topic of Youth Rights and included interventions from members of the UK Youth Parliament. A report of this session will be uploaded on this website and advertised on our Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram accounts. To find out more about our work in Uzbekistan, we encourage you to read our Associate Baroness Alison Suttie’s blog on the topic.