Reforms are not easy, says Uzbekistan's Justice Minister Ruslanbek Davletov. Talking to VOA in Washington, Davletov shared some of the challenges in building a society based on justice and the rule of law. How can U.S. help? Here is the full transcript of the interview.
VOA, May 15, 2018
Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: Ruslanbek Kuroltayevich, it's wonderful to see you here at the Voice of America. This is historic because we've never had the Minister of Justice of Uzbekistan talking to us, and at the Voice of America. So, we really appreciate you coming.
Ruslanbek Davletov: Thanks a lot for your invitation. I am very glad to be here.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: When Americans see you, they see a new generation of policymakers in Uzbekistan, but you haven't been in your position for a long time. It's just been a year or so. What was it like to take over the Ministry of Justice in Uzbekistan last year. You started in August of 2017, right?.
Ruslanbek Davletov: Of course this is a very challenging job, and I'd never been enrolled in the Ministry of Justice. I'm not a justice worker, I came from outside. So it was a big challenge for me, this post. As you know, President Mirziyoyev has introduced many reforms in all spheres of public and state life. The Ministry of Justice is very central to these reforms because we do all the legal analysis, all the legal work concerning the realization of all reforms. So I can tell you that for the last one and a half years, Uzbekistan has passed more than 800 pieces of legislation. So this is...
Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: That's a lot of laws.
Ruslanbek Davletov: A lot of laws, and the challenge is the next step, is to make them work. Of course we're doing a lot in properly administering all this legislation, and this is a big challenge for us. When I came to Ministry, the first task that I put before myself was to get closer to the people, the people who serve as the Ministry, because that was the demand by the President and his new concept of talking to people.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: How big is the Ministry?
Ruslanbek Davletov: The Ministry has 8,000 staff, who have many directions, many functions, including the protection of human rights, working with NGOs as a regulator, and we have our notary system, civil registration system, and we have special agency for public services with subsidiaries all over the Republic.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: Reforms should mean that Uzbekistan is on its way to become a just society - something we hear a lot about from President Mirziyoyev nowadays. He says that Uzbekistan will and should become a country based on the rule of law, and by that we also hear him almost admitting that this hasn't been like this before. So we are on a new path. That's something else we hear a lot from him. How do you envision that? How can or should the country move forward to become a just society? What are the challenges that you see?
Ruslanbek Davletov: I wouldn't say that we didn't have a just society, because after gaining independence we've been building the society. We've been moving towards the legal society, and of course as any society, as any state, we did have problems. President Mirziyoyev started to openly addressing these issues, really hard topics, I would say. For instance we concede that there were problems in communicating with our own citizens. Studying their problems, the social life, there was a kind of gap in-
Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: Caring about people.
Ruslanbek Davletov: Caring about people, so the President started from talking directly to people and this, I would say, transformed the society. Now it is more open. People came out and started talking to state parties, and demanding their rights, actually. This led to the responsiveness of the state bodies. Of course there are challenges, and all the problems with judicial system, they are all being addressed, and openly. We're introducing new decisive steps to make judiciary more independent. The Presidential decree even addressed the issue of torture in detention centers, and having inhuman or degrading treatment. So this is of course the problem that we're working with, and I would state that we already have real effective results on that matter, because we introduced new surveillance system in detention centers, and the attorneys now have the unlimited right to talk to their clients without any interference.
And we introduced new requirement that any interrogation with the suspect should be recorded, and we introduced new special measures to address torture in court proceedings. So these are, I would say ... One more question is the question of forced labor in Uzbekistan, and this of course is a legacy of old times, and this was seen as a patriotic movement of people going out and helping others, doing communal work. But again, the government has started to openly fighting this behavior, this phenomenon in Uzbekistan, and the society is discussing this problem. I think that because of new measures introduced, we're already having real results on this matter, and International Labor Organization also stated that the issue of forced labor in Uzbekistan is being solved successfully.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: How do you see these changes yourself? Obviously you grew up in Uzbekistan, you've seen the society evolve, and as you said, the goal of building a just society has always been there. It's just the way we approach it, the strategy, let's say, the tactic's changed now, right? And also the narrative changed, and it's very difficult for the outsiders to understand what happened, what changed. Fine, you have a new leader now, but what else has changed? Is it just about the political will?
Ruslanbek Davletov: Of course, for any reforms to be successful, there should be a very strong political will. Nobody can say that the President is not showing his will. I would say...
Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: But it does not always translate into action, you know that.
Ruslanbek Davletov: I wouldn't agree with you, because whatever we start doing, we always think about how we are going to implement this. It's only been one and a half years and the expectations are real high, but the work is being done really hard. I'll tell you what happened. What happened is the mood of people, they started to believe in their future. And then people started to talk about their problems directly.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: What triggered that?
Ruslanbek Davletov: Again, this is the political will of the President. He introduced new measures, of this new concept of dialogue with the nation. And then after that, it led to the activity, proliferation of the mass media. If you look at the local media now, it has changed completely in terms of addressing the problems, social problems, and criticizing the government bodies. So this is in turn leading us as the state authorities to work more effectively, because we feel accountable before the people of Uzbekistan. So this is also a new concept of working.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: Isn't the reform agenda that Uzbekistan has introduced and wants to follow now, too ambitious for a country that doesn't have a lot of expertise? We hear this from the government itself, the President says that, "We lack expertise, we lack experience." But the reform agenda promises a lot.
Ruslanbek Davletov: Yes.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: Isn't this going to be very difficult... to manage those expectations?
Ruslanbek Davletov: The reform program is very ambitious, of course, but never underestimate the potential of Uzbekistan with its very rich resources, with human capital, and the openness of the economy, and the potential of the economy. So I would say that we're capable of doing this, realizing in real life this ambitious program.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: Do you lack expertise at the Ministry of Justice?
Ruslanbek Davletov: Do I ...?
Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: Does the Ministry lack expertise too? I mean your reform agenda is very ambitious too. You're on your way to promote independent judiciary, right? To create this reliable democratic...
Ruslanbek Davletov: Yes.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: ... justice system in the next five years, as said in the reform agenda.
Ruslanbek Davletov: The human resources issues is one of the challenging issues for us, but we're working on it. That's why we're here, we're attracting foreign experience coming to Uzbekistan. We're opening new institutions for capacity-building, and we're introducing new courses for our workers. So I think that it all goes parallel with our aims. It's not like that, you just do one thing and wait for another thing. So this all is going altogether.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: American officials tell us that they really want to help in this sector. They really want to bring in assistance to help Uzbekistan reform itself, in the judiciary system, in the justice system. What can they do? What are some of the concrete, I guess ways of assistance that they could provide that would be really useful for you, for example?
Ruslanbek Davletov: We are already working with American counterparts, and the fields where we can work together, there are too many. Too many.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: Unlimited.
Ruslanbek Davletov: Unlimited, yes. Starting from, as I mentioned, the problem with the human resources, training of our workers, and inviting experts to hold seminars, training sessions, and some courses. Besides that, taking part in drafting legislation, reforming the criminal legislation, reforming the civil legislation. So there are many ways where we can successfully cooperate, and again we can have joint projects, long-term projects. Even I today was talking with our partners here and asking them for facilitating and inviting the US universities to open their subsidiaries in Uzbekistan, because we do need law universities.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: Law schools?
Ruslanbek Davletov: Law schools, yeah. We're open for that.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: This is remarkable, because you know, having covered the US-Uzbek relations, we have seen a lot of tension, specifically in working together in this sector. You know, when it came to justice, when it came to the questions of rule of law and human rights, there were a lot of disagreements over the years. Should we see this, what you were describing, as an opening for American values, for American institutions? You are basically open for anything...
Ruslanbek Davletov: Yes.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: ... from the United States.
Ruslanbek Davletov: I would say more ... We don't have any issues, sensitive issues, that we cannot touch upon. So we're ready for talks, we're ready for partnership. So I think that the American side is also feeling the same, so why not cooperate?
Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: Yeah. What we hear from here is that Uzbeks should let us know what they need.
Ruslanbek Davletov: We'll let them know, no problem. They already know it, because we are talking, and disagreements, we're not afraid of any disagreements. We are open to discuss them, any issue.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: So at the beginning of this interview, I told you that they like you here. They see you as a new blood. Are there many of you? How many of you are there in Tashkent?
Ruslanbek Davletov: I wouldn't distinguish some heads of the organizations to others, because they are all very competent. They are all working really hard. So there is no divide between the ministries or other bodies.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: But there are different circles, right? There are US-educated ones, there are Western-educated ones with liberal ideas, pro-American ones. Not many people know about this, because in many ways when they discuss President Mirziyoyev's team, everybody wonders about who those people are. Who are those guys, let's say, behind Mirziyoyev's agenda. Who are the drivers of this agenda?
Ruslanbek Davletov: I wouldn't like to take sides and say pro-Western or pro-American, something like that. We are pro-Uzbekistan. We think about Uzbekistan because we know our problems, what problems are. We know our challenges, so whatever we need to make it better, we're ready for that. And we're very pragmatic and practical in this sense. And if you work in Uzbekistan, of course maybe you may not be familiar with the way we work. There is no distinguishing factor there, in Western-educated or other-educated. We as a team work together, and solve the issues together because-
Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: So there are no intellectual clashes? There are no debates?
Ruslanbek Davletov: Of course there are debates, but it is normal working process, and we're dealing with it properly. No quarrel comes out of this.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: Good to hear that!
Ruslanbek Davletov: Yes.
Navbahor Imamova, VOA Uzbek: Thank you so much for talking to us. I could continue this conversation forever, but I know you have to go. So I really appreciate you being available to talk to us.
Ruslanbek Davletov: Thanks a lot for having me, thank you.