LexisNexis

IBAHRI activities in Tajikistan in 2019

September

Tajik Ministry of Justice and General Prosecutor contacted regarding alarming allegations of use of torture against lawyer

Tajik lawyer Mr Abdulaziz Abdurahmonzoda says he was subject to arbitrary arrest and detention and was tortured by the Tajik Anti-Corruption Agency. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute has raised concerns regarding these allegations with the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Tajikistan and the General Prosecutor.

In September 2019, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) sent letters regarding the alleged arbitrary detention and torture of lawyer Abdulaziz Abdurahmonzoda to the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Tajikistan (MoJ) and Rahmon Yusuf Ahmadzod, the General Prosecutor.

Mr Abdurahmonzoda claims that in April of this year, a client had arrived at his office with only US dollars to pay for his legal services. As it is illegal to accept foreign currency as payment in Tajikistan, Mr Abdurahmonzoda asked his client to come back with Tajik somoni instead. Shortly after, Mr Abdurahmonzoda says that roughly 25 officers of the Agency for State Financial Control and Combating Corruption of the Republic of Tajikistan (‘the Anti-Corruption Agency’) stormed his office to detain him. He claims he was subsequently tortured and forced to sign a confession that he had accepted the US dollars and was planning on using it to bribe a court.

The General Prosecutor’s Office has opened an investigation into these serious allegations, which the IBAHRI has urged must remain unbiased. The use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is absolutely prohibited under Tajik and international law. The United Nations (UN) Convention against Torture makes explicit under Article 2(2) that ‘[n]o exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.’

These allegations, if found to be true, would amount to an egregious violation of Mr Abdurahmonzoda’s human rights as well as an assault on the independence of the legal profession as a whole. The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers includes the following guarantees for lawyers:

16. Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; […]

17. Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities.

Compliance with such norms are essential to ensuring access to justice and that the rule of law is upheld. The IBAHRI will continue monitoring the case.


IBAHRI expresses concerns to Tajik Anti-Corruption Agency regarding corruption case opened against lawyer representing another lawyer Mr Abdulaziz Abdurahmonzoda

Tajik lawyer Mr Abdulaziz Abdurahmonzoda has accused the Anti-Corruption Agency of torturing and arbitrarily detaining him. The Agency have now asked his lawyer, Saidbek Nuritdinov, to hand over several years’ worth of information on his work.

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) has contacted the Agency for State Financial Control and Combating Corruption of the Republic of Tajikistan (‘the Anti-Corruption Agency’) in September 2019 regarding a case opened against Saidbek Nuritdinov. Mr Nuritdinov is currently leading the legal representation of Abdulaziz Abdurahmonzoda, a lawyer who was allegedly a victim of arbitrary detention and torture at the hands of officers of the Anti-Corruption Agency in April of this year.

Mr Abdurahmonzoda claims that a client had arrived at his office with only US dollars to pay for his legal services. As it is illegal to accept foreign currency as payment in Tajikistan, Mr Abdurahmonzoda asked his client to come back with Tajik somoni instead. Shortly after, Mr Abdurahmonzoda says that his office was stormed by the officers who then detained him. He claims he was subsequently tortured and forced to sign a confession that he had accepted the US dollars and was planning on using it to bribe a court.

Mr Nuritdinov was asked by the Anti-Corruption Agency to hand over several years’ worth of information on his work, which was then used to intimidate him. Abuse of power by authorities poses a serious threat to the independence of the legal profession and the rule of law. Mr Nuritdinov, who is also the Chairman of the Tajik Union of Lawyers, must be free to conduct his professional duties without threat or use of intimidation and interference, as is enshrined in the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers. The principles state that:

16. Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; […]

17. Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities.

It is particularly concerning that this surrounds a case involving allegations of torture, which is prohibited without limits in both Tajik and international law. The Anti-Corruption Agency must cooperate with the relevant authorities to ensure any allegations of torture are properly investigated and that those responsible are held accountable.


August

Second Summer School on Human Rights and the Prohibition of Discrimination opened with local partners

Students from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan took part in workshops on the prohibition of discrimination, right to a fair trial, and the art of speech in court, among other things.

Following great feedback received after the 2018 Summer School, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), with the Open Society Foundation Tajikistan and the Office of Civil Freedoms, opened our second Summer School on Human Rights and the Prohibition of Discrimination in Yavroz, Tajikistan in August 2019. From learning fair trial codes to participating in a moot on discriminatory practices and offences, the students of the 2019 Summer School excelled in every session.

Thirty-eight law students from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan attended, taking part in a wide variety of theoretical and practical activities. The topics covered included, inter alia:

  • International mechanisms for protecting human rights
  • National mechanisms for protection against discrimination in civil and criminal law
  • The right to equality and the prohibition of discrimination
  • The right to a fair trial
  • The right to liberty and security
  • Strategic litigation
  • The art of speech in court

The students particularly enjoyed the mooting session, where five teams planned a case against a fictional state named Emil for discrimination within the law. The state was defended by IBAHRI Programme Lawyer Jurate Guzeviciute and IBAHRI Consultant Dilrabo Samadova. The students showed extraordinary aptitude for both planning and presenting their cases. Each team expertly anticipated the arguments of the defence and were able to develop fantastically convincing reasonings. The session certainly improved the students’ confidence in verbal presentations.

A huge congratulations to the 2019 Summer School graduates!


July

Tajik lawyers engage in advocacy at UN Human Rights Committee session, facilitated by the IBAHRI

The UN Human Rights Committee was reviewing Tajikistan’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The lawyers shared their factsheet on the challenges faced by the country’s legal profession in advocacy meetings with key stakeholders.

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) in partnership with the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) facilitated the attendance of ten Tajik lawyers at the 126th session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee in July 2019. Tajikistan was up for review by the Committee, assessing the state’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Last month, the IBAHRI and ICJ submitted their joint shadow report on Tajikistan to the Committee.

In preparation for the session, the IBAHRI and ICJ held a training workshop for the lawyers on the UN human rights mechanisms. This included an introduction to the remit of various monitoring bodies, review procedures under the Human Rights Committee and the role of civil society within the mechanisms. The lawyers also discussed key principles of international human rights law.

The lawyers then produced, with the support of the IBAHRI and ICJ, a factsheet on the main issues they face when practicing law in Tajikistan. This was a vital resource for their advocacy work when meeting with Committee members and other stakeholders.

During the advocacy week, the lawyers held meetings with representatives of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. They were also able to meet with members of the Geneva Bar Association to discuss potential future collaborations.

The group were resolute in their efforts to draw attention to the situation of lawyers in Tajikistan. Their work will be invaluable to the protection of the independence and freedom of lawyers.


End of July 2019, the UN Human Rights Committee issued its Concluding Observations on Tajikistan where it included a separate paragraph on lawyers:

Access to legal profession and harassment of lawyers

39. The Committee is concerned about the insufficient number of lawyers (1:13,000) reportedly attributed to the dramatic drop in the number of lawyers following the implementation of the amendments of November 2015 to the Advokatura and Advocates’ Activities Act that introduced additional qualification criteria for entry to the legal profession and the requirement that all lawyers pass the new qualification examinations. The Committee is also concerned at reports of harassment and intimidation of lawyers who take up politically sensitive cases, including harassment of their families, prosecution of such lawyers and often leading to conviction to lengthy prison terms, such as in the case of human rights lawyers Buzurgmekhr Yorov, Nuriddin Makhkamov, Shukhrat Kudratov, Jamshed Yorov and Muazzamakhon Kadirova (arts. 2, 9 and 14).

40. Taking into account the Covenant and the 1990 Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, the State party should take measures necessary to:

(a) Increase the number of practicing lawyers to ensure effective access to justice and to independent legal assistance;

(b) Ensure that sufficient safeguards are in place, both in law and in practice, to guarantee the full independence and safety of lawyers and that they are able to carry out their legitimate duties without any harassment, undue interference or fear of arbitrary criminal prosecution and conviction or of other retaliatory measures.


IBAHRI Consultant briefs UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances on situation in Tajikistan

The Working Group on Enforced Disappearances were informed of situation regarding enforcedly disappeared and the serious barriers to access to justice in Tajikistan. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute welcomes many of the preliminary findings of the Group.

In July 2019, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute’s (IBAHRI) Consultant spoke via telephone with the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) ahead of the Group’s five-day official visit to Tajikistan.

Unfortunately, an in-person meeting was not possible as the Consultant was attending the UN Human Rights Committee session in Geneva, which was conducting a review of Tajikistan’s implementation of the ICCPR.

Tajikistan has yet to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. However, the WGEID was informed that the government were in the process of considering ratification. The WGEID also learnt of a new Criminal Code being developed and ‘[encouraged] the Government to ensure the new version makes enforced disappearances an autonomous crime consistent with the definition given in the 1992 Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances and punishable by appropriate penalties that take into account its extreme seriousness.’ Regarding the registration and notification of family members of individuals deprived of their liberty, the WGEID were also concerned with reports that there were often ‘significant delays […] before or in the initial registration and notification of apprehended individuals, which may amount to short-term enforced disappearances.’

The final report on the WGEID’s visit to Tajikistan will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2020. Read the preliminary statement here: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews?NewsID=24793&LangID=E


June

Joint submission on the situation of the Tajik legal profession submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute and International Commission of Jurists highlighted concerns surrounding independence of the legal profession and equality of arms. The Human Rights Council Session will discuss civil and political rights in Tajikistan next month.

In June 2019, the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) submitted with the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) a joint report on Tajikistan’s implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) before the 126th session (1 to 26 July) of the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

State parties to the ICCPR must submit reports to the Committee on their implementation of the Covenant roughly every four years. During this procedure, civil society organisations can submit shadow reports to the Committee to be considered alongside the State’s own report.

The submission addressed four main concerns:

a) The legal profession’s lack of independence

b) Interference by the Tajik authorities in lawyers’ legitimate activities

c) Restrictions placed on lawyers’ access to their clients and the rights of the defence

d) Eight specific cases against lawyers of concern

With regard to Article 2 (non-discrimination) and 14 (right to a fair trial) of the ICCPR, the joint report argued that the 2015 Law on Advokatura and Advocates’ Activities had undermined the independence of the legal profession. The Law created the Qualifying Commission, which would be responsible for the administration of exams and entry to the profession under the governance of the Ministry of Justice. Lawyers must retake their exams every five years or face possible disbarment, which the IBAHRI and ICJ are concerned will be exploited by the authorities.

The joint report also drew attention to threats to Article 7 (freedom from torture and other cruel or degrading treatment) and Article 9 (right to liberty and security). The IBAHRI had conducted a wide survey of legal professionals between April and May 2019 and is deeply concerned at the level of interference in lawyers’ daily work and personal lives. Lawyers are frequently threatened with disciplinary or even criminal charges for simply doing their job, with some lawyers actually having been convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms on bogus charges. Shockingly, four respondents to the survey reported suffering physical attacks by unknown persons, which they believe were related to their work.

Lawyers also face significant barriers in accessing their clients in pre-trial detention. When they are able to speak with their clients, they are often blocked from holding the meetings in private and away from detention officers, in contravention of Article 10 (on treatment of persons deprived of their liberty). Additionally, a significant number of respondents to the survey reported that they were not given enough time or the facilities to prepare defence cases or given adequate access to the casefiles, both of which hinder the principle of equality of arms. For instance, 28 percent said they would be informed of the case on the same day as the trial.

The report gives several recommendations, including that the Committee should advise the Government of Tajikistan to:

a) Reform the Law on Advokatura and Advocates Activities to remove the influence of the Ministry of Justice

b) Take measures to increase the number of qualified and practicing lawyers as a central aspect of access to justice

c) Take measures to reduce and investigate the interference of law enforcement in lawyers’ activities

d) Ensure unrestricted and confidential access of lawyers to clients in pre-trial detention

Read the full report here: https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CCPR/Shared%20Documents/TJK/INT_CCPR_CSS_TJK_35044_E.pdf


From Azerbaijan to Tajikistan: the IBAHRI launches new Mentorship Programme in Tajikistan

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute has opened the new Mentorship Programme in Tajikistan, based on our programme in Azerbaijan. The students took part in workshops on international human rights mechanisms and lawyers’ code of ethics.

Following two successful years of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute’s (IBAHRI) Mentorship Programme in Azerbaijan, in June 2019 we launched a new branch in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. The Programme brings together junior and senior lawyers to facilitate the sharing of experiences and information on human rights. Senior lawyers are able to listen to the fresh ideas of the younger generation, while the junior lawyers are able to obtain greater exposure to the reality of work in the field of human rights. The past programmes have been hugely beneficial in fostering deeper interest in human rights law among the junior lawyers while weaving invaluable bonds between the junior and senior lawyers.

The young lawyers see education in human rights standards and other basic principles of international law as vital to their future. The independence of the legal profession in Tajikistan was significantly threatened in 2015 when the Law on Advokatura and Advocates’ Activities was introduced. The Law created the Qualifying Commission (governed by the Ministry of Justice) for regulating entry to the profession. The Law requires lawyers to re-sit exams every five years or face possible disbarment, a measure the IBAHRI is concerned will be exploited by the authorities. Since the legislation’s introduction, the number of registered lawyers has fallen drastically. This is a serious threat to access to justice.

The junior lawyers attending the IBAHRI Mentorship Programme’s launch took part in a three-day training where they discussed international human rights mechanisms and principles as well as lawyers’ code of ethics. They engaged with real case studies and took part in practical exercises.


March

Breakthrough for Tajik Union of Lawyers as Ministry of Education issues a training licence

The licence will give the Tajik Union of Lawyers the authority to award formal certificates to lawyers participating in educational programmes at their training centre.

In March 2019, the Ministry of Education finally issued the Tajik Union of Lawyers a licence to give educational credits and formal certificates to lawyers participating in educational programmes at the Union’s training centre. The Union had previously not been able to do this due to the 2015 Law on Advokatura and Advocates’ Activities, which brought the administration of exams and registration of lawyers under the exclusive remit of the Qualifying Commission, a body governed by the Ministry of Justice.

The Law’s vagueness on which bodies would be authorised to provide official education supporting those in training had led to numerous issues. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute extends our enormous congratulations to the Union for the great success. This is a vital step supporting the independence of the legal profession in Tajikistan.

It was our pleasure working with the Union on this and we look forward to our continued partnership.


February

Juvenile Justice Collegium opened by Tajik Union of Lawyers

In February, the Tajik Union of Lawyers opened a Juvenile Justice Collegium in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, within our ongoing partnership with the Union, organised a study trip to Almaty, Kazakhstan last year to support this initiative. We look forward to seeing the great work that will come out of it.


January

IBAHRI Winter School for young lawyers opened in Tajikistan

The students took part in workshops on international human rights standards and the role of lawyers in upholding justice. The Winter School was co-organised with the Open Society Foundation Tajikistan.

After receiving such positive feedback from the summer school last year, a week-long winter school was organised in January 2019 with the support of local partners and the Open Society Foundation Tajikistan. The young lawyers were invited to discuss international human rights standards and national implementation. The training also focused on the role of lawyers in upholding justice, including through the use of strategic litigation.

The young lawyers have immense determination and drive, always bringing new and creative ideas to the debates. We have no doubt that they will become great powerhouses in the Tajik legal profession. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute appreciates all the work and energy they put into the trainings.

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