The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Uzbekistan is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Uzbekistan is also a party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the State has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
There is no regional human rights treaty for Central Asia to which Uzbekistan could adhere.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Article 33 of the 1992 Constitution of Uzbekistan (as amended) governs the right of peaceful assembly:
All citizens shall have the right to engage in public life by holding rallies, meetings and demonstrations in accordance with the legislation of the Republic of Uzbekistan. The bodies of authority shall have the right to suspend or ban such undertakings exclusively on the grounds of security.
Currently, there is no law in Uzbekistan that specifically regulates rallies, meetings, and demonstrations. On 6 June 2019, the Government posted for public comment the draft Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan on Rallies, Meetings and Demonstrations. The draft law requires significant revisions in order to comply with international law and standards. In particular, the draft law includes a requirement to obtain a permit to conduct an assembly and a broad and vague list of reasons for denial of a permit to hold an assembly and provides for arbitrary discretion on the part of the authorities to suspend and terminate assemblies.
In September 2019, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) issued comments on the draft law:
In light of international human rights standards and good practices, ODIHR makes the following recommendations to further enhance the Draft Law:
A. to expressively include the right to FoPA in the Draft Law
B. to introduce a simpler legal definition of assemblies in line with international standards and good practices, which would cover spontaneous and simultaneous assemblies as well as counter-demonstrations, and avoiding definitions of three different types of assemblies
C. to introduce a system of notification of assemblies, not authorization, with reasonable notification period and remove the requirements to submit detailed information
D. to remove the blanket and overbroad restrictions on venues and decide suitability on a case by case basis
E. to avoid any rules on times on when assemblies can take place and on the duration of assemblies
F. to ensure that everyone, not only citizens of Uzbekistan who reached age of majority, has the right to freedom of assembly
G. to avoid banning people declared legally incompetent and people registered in psychiatric institutions from organizing assemblies
H. to allow non-registered associations to organize assemblies
I. to remove provisions on organizers of assemblies to carry out core state duties
J. to introduce a rule of general rule on risk of imminent violence for dispersing assemblies instead of a long list of situations where this can be conducted
K. to specify that what applicable legislation applies to appeals of decisions and that timely decisions on appeals must be rendered; and
L. To exclude the National Guard from policing of assemblies.
Article 12 of Law 1051-XII "On the Guarantees of the Citizens' Electoral Rights" of 5 May 1994 confirms that the "electorate shall be guaranteed the right to take part in civic activities in the form of rallies, assemblies and demonstrations" in compliance with the legislation of the Republic of Uzbekistan".
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
In 2016, the President approved a law governing the police: "On law enforcement agencies".
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
National law does not restrict police use of firearms during assemblies as international law requires.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2015 Concluding Observations on Uzbekistan, the Human Rights Committee expressed its concern about
reports of arbitrary restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly in law and in practice, including: (a) the excessive requirement that authorizations for holding mass events be filed at least one month in advance; and (b) the disruption of peaceful assemblies by law enforcement officers and arrests, detentions, beatings and sanctioning of participants....
It called on the government to
revise its laws and practices with a view to ensuring that individuals fully enjoy their right to freedom of assembly and that any restrictions imposed are in compliance with the strict requirements of article 21 of the Covenant. It should also effectively investigate all cases of violence, arbitrary arrest and detention of peaceful protesters and bring to justice those responsible.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Uzbekistan:
Despite constitutional provisions for freedom of assembly, authorities severely restrict this right in practice, breaking up virtually all unsanctioned gatherings and detaining participants.
CIVICUS reports that:
Article 33 of the Constitution protects the right to assemble peacefully, however, the state uses violence to break up protests and arrest participants. The country's history of protest is marred by injustice and excessive force. Because of such a repressive environment, many citizens are fearful of the possibility that the government will again crack down on protests, and are therefore reluctant to participate in demonstrations. In January 2017, however, a group of elderly men and women took to the streets of Denov, a town in the southern Surkhondaryo Province, petitioning the government to issue their pensions in cash payments, rather than in debit cards. In 2005, the police fired into a crowd protesting economic hardship. Independent estimates say as many as 500 – 1500 people were killed but the state puts the number at 187. No investigation has been conducted into these deaths.