30 September 2005

The Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Leandro Despouy, issued the following statement today:

"The Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Leandro Despouy, is presently visiting Tajikistan at the invitation of the Government. Following the visit, he will present his report to the Commission on Human Rights in March 2006 and also address the General Assembly next month.

The Special Rapporteur thanked the Government of Tajikistan for their warm welcome and for the opportunity to meet with representatives of the government, parliament, and judiciary at the highest level. He further thanked the United Nations Tajikistan Office for Peace-building, the Office of the United Nations Development Programme and various other agencies of the United Nations system in Tajikistan, other international organisations and local non-governmental organisations with whom he met for the cooperation they extended to him. The information obtained will facilitate the work of the Special Rapporteur in the preparation of an objective report on the situation of the judicial system in the country.

The Special Rapporteur noted the positive experience of cooperation between Tajikistan and the United Nations in the area of peace-making during and peace-building following the civil war and the overall openness of the Government toward the international community.

Following independence and, in particular, after the civil war, the country has undertaken a series of reforms, among them the introduction of a moratorium of the death penalty, the adoption of new civil and criminal codes and, most importantly, the ratification of all major international human rights treaties.

In order to continue to make progress in this direction, the country needs to undertake further reforms. In this light, the Special Rapporteur would like to make the following initial observations:

· The Special Rapporteur noted, that, as part of the historical legacy, the prosecutor remains in a superior situation in comparison to defence lawyers which contradicts the international standard of equality of arms in court proceedings. Furthermore, the role of the judge is being undermined by the dominant position of the prosecutor in the judicial system of the country. Cases have been brought to the attention of the Rapporteur where judges were not in a position to independently issue judgements for fear of possible repercussions of their action.

· The Special Rapporteur has identified the current material situation of judges as one of the possible factors that undermines the independence of the judiciary. This includes low levels of salaries of judges. This might lead to distortions in the functioning of the judicial system and have a direct impact on court decisions. In this regard, the country needs to develop a comprehensive strategy to fight corruption. The government should also ensure that courts are, to the extent possible, better supported in terms of office equipment and relevant information materials.

· In the judicial system it is the lawyers that find themselves in a most fragile situation, related to difficulties in exercising their profession, in particular to freely provide legal counsel to their clients.

· Due to the rapid development of the body of national legislation and, in particular, as a consequence of the ratification of international treaties there is a real need to bring the level of expertise of judges, lawyers and prosecutors in line with requirements of a modern judicial system.

· The Rapporteur did not observe the case of Mr. Iskandarov and taking into account that the trial is still ongoing, he cannot draw any conclusions. Nevertheless, he hopes that all guarantees of a fair trial will be observed.

The Special Rapporteur would like to make the following preliminary recommendations:

· He strongly encourages the authorities to continue the judicial reform process. In this context, he hopes that the Parliament will adopt the civil procedural code and the criminal procedural code in compliance with international standards as a matter of priority.

· The Rapporteur would suggest that a single, independent and self-governing body in charge of all issues concerning lawyers be established.

· While welcoming the creation of the Council of Justice, he would like to encourage the Government to strengthen its independence through the inclusion of additional judges in its composition.

· The Rapporteur believes that there is a need for further capacity building measures in the area of human rights through the continued training and education programmes for judges, lawyers and prosecutors with the assistance of the international community.

· The Rapporteur hopes that the process of reforms will be accelerated and it will lead to a fully independent judiciary in the country. He calls upon the international community to support these reform efforts to ensure the sustainable and peaceful development of the country".

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