TASHKENT -- Officials from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and Uzbekistan's Justice Ministry Friday (June 8) signed a memorandum of understanding to support judicial reform in the country.
USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator for Asia Javier Piedra and Minister of Justice Ruslan Davletov signed the document, according to a statement from the US Embassy in Tashkent.
The two countries will work together "to develop new laws and regulations, advance the legal profession, and expand the legal enabling environment for civil society and non-governmental organisations in Uzbekistan", the embassy said.
"USAID has long partnered with Uzbekistan to strengthen public access to and trust in Uzbekistan's civil court system, and today's [agreement] represents another important milestone in the broad and deepening partnership between our two nations," Piedra said at the signing ceremony.
"This expansion of US-Uzbekistan co-operation will improve Uzbek citizens' access to justice and help make the court system more transparent and effective," he said.
Citizens, lawyers call for reforms
Civil courts are the most inefficient segment of Uzbekistan's judicial system and represent "sore points", according to Tashkent attorney Muslima Khakimova.
"They can't cope with their work at the level needed and can't guarantee an efficient review of cases," she told Caravanserai.
"Because of a shortage of judges, trials have long delays, and on the day of the trial, the judge sometimes spends no more than 15 minutes on familiarising him/herself with the case and rendering a decision," she said.
"[Overburdened courts] fail to observe many procedures and don't document their work as they should," Khakimova said. "All these [deficiencies] are arousing public dissatisfaction. [Society] is demanding reforms."
Tashkent resident Nodira Isakova, 68, told Caravanserai that her particular case had been under review in Uzbekistan's civil court system for five months already.
"My civil case, concerning slander by my neighbour [toward me], has been under review in civil court since February this year," she said.
"Every time the hearing is rescheduled, either the judge is busy, or the defendant didn't show up or the paperwork isn't ready," Isakova said.
"The next hearing is set for July, but it seems to me it'll be rescheduled again," she said. "I don't believe that everything will be done honestly."
Working together to improve judicial system
US and Uzbek officials have been working together for years to strengthen the court system, including on a number of US-funded programmes to provide professional training and legal education to judges and other court personnel in the country, according to the US Embassy in Tashkent.
USAID has organised study tours to the United States and Europe for Uzbek specialists, supported legislative initiatives and "engaged in activities that facilitate dialogue and promote transparency between the people of Uzbekistan and their courts", according to the embassy.
The E-SUD system, launched in Uzbekistan in 2013 with the assistance of USAID and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), has helped the Uzbek government establish a country-wide electronic court management system for civil cases that is now operational in all of the country's civil courts.
[Maksim Yeniseyev in Tashkent contributed to this report]