Tajikistan: ICJ concludes mission on the independence, organisation and functioning of the judiciary

The ICJ concluded a research mission on the independence of the judiciary in Tajikistan on 3 May. Following the mission, the ICJ expressed concerns about the independence of individual judges as well as the functioning of judicial institutions and procedures in law and in practice.

The mission included ICJ Commissioner Justice (ret.) Martine Comte of the Orleans Court of Appeal (France) and ICJ Secretary General Saman Zia-Zarifi.

The ICJ spoke with a wide cross-section of stakeholders, including senior government officials, numerous former judges, senior advocates and working lawyers, as well as journalists and members of civil society. The ICJ will provide its findings in a final mission report that will set out include key recommendations to help Tajikistan meet its international obligations.

Among other things, the ICJ mission discussed recent initiatives to reform the judiciary, including the Judicial Reform Programme of 2019-2021 which has been recently been adopted by the President of Tajikistan, and which provides an opportunity to strengthen judicial independence.

The ICJ mission gathered information about the newly formed Qualification Commission for qualification and disciplinary procedures for judges. This replaced the Council of Justice, which had been criticized by international observers for its lack of independence.

Although formally established under the Supreme Court, the Qualification Commission consists predominantly of members of the executive with only two out of seven members being representatives of the judiciary.

Multiple lawyers and former judges expressed serious concerns about the right to a fair trial in criminal proceedings, pointing in particular to the extremely low acquittal rate for suspects. It appears that numbers of acquittals have declined over several decades and that acquittals are now extremely rare.

The ICJ also received complaints that pubic access to court hearings is impeded in practice despite clear legal provision for the public nature of court proceedings, with limited exceptions. Members of the public were said to be generally unable to attend court hearings freely where they are not parties to the proceedings.

Furthermore, the ICJ heard that judicial decisions are generally not available to members of the public unless they are participants in the proceedings.

The ICJ wishes to express its gratitude to everyone who contributed to the successful conduct of the mission, including State, inter-State and non-State organisations and bodies which the ICJ met and communicated with.

The ICJ wishes to stress its appreciation of the support provided by the OSCE Office in Dushanbe and the United Nationals Human Rights Office.

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