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Enhacing the role of Ombudsman for human rights, freedom, legitimate interests of people
The following article was contributed to The Korea Post media by Vice President Rhee IKHyeon of Mokwon University.—Ed

Uzbekistan is carrying out a systematic work to fulfill international commitments, to strengthen the legal and institutional framework of the protection of human rights, to implement international human rights standards in national legislation and to intensify cooperation with international organizations on the protection of human rights.

President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev initiated large-scale reforms aimed at liberalizing the country's social and political life and ensuring the rule of law. Among the priorities they covered the issues of unconditional observance of human rights and freedoms in the administration of justice, as well as strengthening the role of state and public institutions in this process.
Practical measures are being taken to harmonize national legislation with international legal standards in the field of human rights. The approval of a long-term strategy in the field of human rights contributes to the effective implementation of the state policy in this area, form a respect towards human rights and freedoms, and facilitate further strengthening of the country's authority in the international arena, in particular, improving the position of the Republic of Uzbekistan in economic, political and legal ratings and indices.

All these innovations have a common goal - to consolidate the creative potential of society in order to implement large-scale reforms for the accelerated development of the state, its democratic institutions and economy, creation of conditions for a decent and prosperous life of citizens, the effective implementation of their personal, political, social and economic rights, freedoms and legitimate interests

The main goal of the reforms carried out in the penitentiary system is to re-socialize the offender and form the personality to become a worthy representative of modern society, regardless of the reason for his crime in the past.

Opportunities given for social adaptation of persons who have violated the law, but realized the illegality of their actions and firmly embarked on the path of correction, their return to society and family is a vivid evidence of the centuries-old traditions, mercy, tolerance and kindness of the Uzbek people.

The initiatives of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, put forward at the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly, as well as the agreements reached during the negotiations with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Z.R. Al Hussein in New York city were of fundamental importance for the development of the human rights system in the country. According to this, state decisions were made on the implementation of the National Preventive Mechanism Against Torture on the basis of the Ombudsman and on his parliamentary control over the observance of the rights and freedoms of persons serving sentences in penal institutions, detained and held in custody, as well as subjected to administrative arrest.

In Uzbekistan, on the basis of the adopted regulatory legal acts, the legal rights and freedoms of convicts serving sentences have been significantly expanded, and a legal basis has been created for broad practical implementation among developed democratic countries in the field of ensuring the rights of convicts, in particular:

1. For the first time, those sentenced to imprisonment for committing crimes that do not pose a great public danger and less serious crimes have been granted the right to vote.

2. The “Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners” (the Nelson Mandela Rules), adopted by the UN General Assembly Resolution of December 17, 2015, have been implemented into national legislation, namely:
- convicts have the right to receive psychological assistance;
- the possibility of placing convicts in need of medical assistance in the territorial medical institutions of the Ministry of Health is legally established;
- convicts suffering from serious illnesses, with the permission of a doctor, are provided with an additional telephone conversation or a meeting with relatives, etc.

3. The number of visits and telephone conversations between convicts and relatives has been increased. In addition, convicts serving their sentences in settlement-type colonies have the right to receive a pension.

4. In terms of strengthening the protection of the rights, freedoms and legitimate interests of convicts, their training and social adaptation:
- measures have been expanded to ensure the personal safety of convicts during the period of serving their sentences;
- the provisions on the use of physical force and special means during the searching activities have been revised;
- in order to expand the rights and freedoms of women convicts, a special procedure has been introduced for granting visits to their underage children raised outside the institution, as well as in orphanages.

 As part of the practical implementation of the Action Strategy on five priority development areas of the Republic of Uzbekistan in 2017-2021, amendments and additions were made to the Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan "On the Authorized Person of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan for Human Rights (Ombudsman)" aimed at strengthening the independence of the Ombudsman institution and further expanding its powers to protect the rights of persons in custody.

 It is important to note that in 2019, along with the report of the Republic of Uzbekistan on the fulfillment of obligations under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Commissioner of the Oliy Majlis for Human Rights for the first time submitted an Alternative Report of the Ombudsman to the UN Committee against Torture.

 On November 11-12, 2019, in Geneva, at the UN Committee against Torture, the Ombudsman presented a report on the implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The purpose of the report was to convey to the UN bodies the essence and significance of the measures taken within the framework of the Action Strategy to ensure the protection of human rights during judicial investigations and the execution of sentences, to enhance the role of the Ombudsman institution and public organizations in this direction.

 This indicates that the democratic reforms carried out in the country are yielding results in international ratings, foreign experts are given the opportunity to have reliable information about the penal system.

 In addition, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Oliy Majlis works closely with the Office of Penal Reform International in Central Asia. The Foreign Affairs Council of the EU in its annual report "On Human Rights and Democracy in the World in 2018" highlighted cooperation between Uzbekistan and PRI in a positive way.

 On December 29, 2020, the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev in his Address to the Oliy Majlis noted that “work will continue on the wider implementation of the principle of humanism in the system for the execution of penalties. In particular, based on international standards, 25 colonies-settlements will be phased out. Henceforth, if the punishment imposed on a person sentenced to imprisonment for the first time is replaced by a milder one, he, instead of being assigned to a colony-settlement, will be sent under probation supervision. As a result of this alleviation, 6 thousand people currently serving sentences will be given the chance to live at home with their families under the supervision of the makhalla. "

 President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, in his speech at the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council, emphasized that “As a part of introducing the national mechanism for the prevention of torture we shall continue to strictly suppress all forms of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment. Such crimes shall not have a statute of limitations. We intend to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. For joint work on these issues, we intend to invite the Special Rapporteur on torture to Uzbekistan.

 In conclusion, it can be noted that systematic focused work is being carried out in Uzbekistan to strengthen the legislative and institutional framework of the protection of human rights, to implement international human rights standards into national legislation, to fulfill the international obligations, as well as to intensify cooperation with international organizations on the protection of human rights, including convicts.

 Author Rhee, IKHyeon: He has been serving as a Vice president and professor in Mokwon University. Before joining Mokwon university, he served as the president of Korea Legislation Research Institute (2016-2019), a director general of the Ministry of Government Legislation (2008-2016), a constitutional researcher of the Constitutional Court of Korea (2006-2007) and an assistant advisor to the President of the Republic of Korea for legal affairs (2007-2008). He is interested in legal exchange and international cooperation, law and development, rule of law and constitutionalism.

The Korea Post