16 Jul Accessibility of courts and tribunals for disabled people in Uzbekistan
Illustration by Eldos Fazylbekov / “Gazeta.uz”
In September 2019 the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers Diego García-Sayán visited Uzbekistan. The purpose of his visit was to evaluate the process of the justice system reform under the new leadership. While recognising the progress made so far in the judiciary of Uzbekistan in his recent report he outlined many shortcomings. Among other important issues, the Special Rapporteur outlined the issues of accessibility of courts and tribunals for disabled people in Uzbekistan:
84. During his visit, the Special Rapporteur assessed the accessibility of courts and tribunals. The mandate has observed on a number of occasions that the effective exercise of the right of access to justice on an equal basis with others can be violated where architectural barriers or language obstacles prevent or limit the access of certain group of individuals, such as persons with disabilities and older persons, to court buildings or court proceedings.
85. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognizes that persons with disabilities have the right to have access to justice on an equal basis with others (art. 13). Such provisions should be read in conjunction with articles 5 (equality and nondiscrimination), 9 (accessibility) and 21 (freedom of expression and opinion, and access to information). The Convention underscores the fact that access to justice for persons with disabilities entails not only the removal of barriers to ensure access to legal proceedings on an equal basis with others, but also the promotion of the active involvement and participation of persons with disabilities in the administration of justice.
86. The Special Rapporteur recognizes the efforts made by Uzbekistan in recent years to make court buildings accessible to persons with disabilities. Some of the premises he visited, and in particular recently refurbished buildings, have been made more accessible through the construction of ramps, handrails and lifts. Nevertheless, even recently refurbished buildings that he visited were not fully accessible – the toilets of the Taylak district court in Samarkand, for instance, were not accessible to a person in a wheelchair. According to several interlocutors, the majority of court premises remain fully inaccessible for persons with disabilities, especially outside the main cities.
87. In relation to the accessibility of judicial proceedings, the Special Rapporteur is concerned by the insufficient number of sign language interpreters; the lack of documents, including court decisions, in accessible formats for persons with sensory, intellectual or psychosocial disabilities; and the absence of policies to empower persons with disabilities to participate in the justice system as direct or indirect participants, such as lawyers, court officers or law enforcement officials.
The report also indicated that although Uzbekistan has not yet ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, its signature in February 2009 signals its intention to become a party in the future, and obliges the State to not do anything inconsistent with the Convention’s object and purpose (article 18 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties).
As part of the recommendations the UN Special Rapporteur suggested:
123. Uzbekistan should adopt all appropriate measures to ensure that all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction have access to court buildings and court proceedings. This entails, in particular, the elimination of architectural and language barriers that currently prevent or limit the right of persons with disabilities to have access to justice on an equal basis with others.
124. Bearing in mind article 32 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Special Rapporteur calls on the donor community to continue supporting Uzbekistan in its efforts aimed at ensuring effective access to justice for persons with disabilities. These measures should be developed and implemented in close cooperation with civil society organizations, including organizations of persons with disabilities.
The full report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers in Uzbekistan can be accessed here.
In August 2018 the chairperson of the Association of Disabled People’s Organisations of Uzbekistan Oybek Isakov wrote an article at Gazeta.uz on how to make justice accessible for disabled people. He pointed out that disabled people in Uzbekistan were cut off from justice due to many physical, informational, financial and other barriers and removing these barriers would be a step towards an inclusive society.
Earlier this year I also wrote about a deaf family which is being kicked out of their own house and that their court hearing was conducted without the presence of a sign-language interpreter.