A pearl of the ancient Silk Road, with the glorious minarets of the Islamic cities of Bukhara and Samarkand rising out of its vast arid lands, Uzbekistan is one of the largest and historically most important countries in Central Asia.
However, for nearly 30 years, the country has been unable to capitalize on its potential. Uzbekistan’s post-Soviet history had, until just a couple of years ago, been largely characterized by extreme isolation from the international community - as well as from its own region – and a lack of political competition, an economy largely stalled as a result of the country’s closed, inward-looking, state-dominated planning policies, an absence of a modern vision for the country’s development, and a nearly total lack of integration with the world economy. Despite the country’s cultural richness, and immense economic and human potential, little progress was made.
In 2016, however, a new era in the country’s development was ushered in with the swearing in of President of Mr. Shavkat Mirzyoyev, who launched the country on a path of modern and forward-looking reforms, among the centerpieces of which is a significant legal reform agenda aimed at turning around the country’s relationship with its citizens and sparking economic development.
Against this backdrop, at the invitation of the Ministry of Justice, representatives from IDLO and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development traveled to Uzbekistan to meet with a number of high-level officials to explore the potential of collaborating towards the advancement of a number of legal reforms, particularly those in the rule of law sphere under the government’s ambitious National Development Strategy for 2017-2021.
“Developing a partnership with Uzbekistan at this stage of the reform process offers a unique opportunity for furthering the rule of law agenda in the Central Asian region, with space for working not only at the national, but potentially also at the regional level, sharing experiences both from across the Central Asia region, as well as and from other countries of IDLO operations,” said Anna Koppel, IDLO’s Senior Program Coordinator for Kyrgyzstan.
Several recent justice sector milestones in the country have made the ground fertile for cooperation: over 900 Presidential decrees, laws, and sub-legislative acts have been passed since reforms kicked off, many of them seeking to reform the legal system in line with international standards and norms. A completely new system of administrative courts has also been established - 200 across all regions - whereby citizens can take state bodies to court, and 350 more judges have joined the judiciary since the beginning of the reforms. A stand-alone judicial academy is set to be established, and a new mediation law has entered into force as of 1 January 2019.
Discussions with Minister of Justice Ruslanbek Davletov focused on capitalizing gains within the reform areas under the National Development Strategy relevant to IDLO, including independence of the judiciary, protection of rights, improving legal aid services, among others.
Looking to the future, IDLO’s Country Director for Kyrgyzstan, Fred Houston, said, “IDLO looks forward to advancing cooperation with Uzbekistan, and lending its support to successful progress of this ambitious reform agenda, with rule of law being a cornerstone of putting the country on the road to truly sustainable development.”
Photo credits: IDLO/Anna Koppel