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Uzbekistan’s experience and international best practices in the sphere of civil society development discussed in Tashkent

On July 29-30, 2015, Tashkent hosted an international roundtable discussion entitled “Bolstering the role and importance of civil society institutions in democratic renewal and modernization of the country: the experience of Uzbekistan and international practice”. The event was organized by the National Association of Nongovernmental and Nonprofit Organizations (NNOs) of Uzbekistan, the Independent Institute for Monitoring the Formation of Civil Society and the Public Fund under the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan, as well as foreign partners – the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Office of OSCE Project Coordinator in Uzbekistan.

The forum was attended by members of the Senate and the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis, the deputies of Jokargy Kenes of Karakalpakstan, Kengashes (Councils) of People’s Deputies of the regions and the city of Tashkent, experts and scholars of educational, research and public organizations, representatives of international and foreign organizations accredited in Uzbekistan, international experts in the field of civil society organizations from Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, South Korea, India, Turkey and other countries, as well as journalists.

The event’s agenda included a detailed deliberation on Uzbekistan’s experience in supporting the advancement of civil society institutions and NNOs in the country, the measures spearheaded to boost their role and importance in nation-building and public affairs, elaboration and implementation of legislation, the crucial state programs designed to shore up socio-political, socio-economic and human development.

The forum participants stressed the effectiveness of the five principles making up the Uzbek Model of Development and the Strategy “From a strong state to a strong civil society” well-known around the world. The Model and the Strategy have allowed for a systematic, gradual and consistent institution of legislative and organizational foundation conducive for the development of independent and sustainable NNOs enjoying popular support, provision for their efficient participation in the endeavors directed at building a democratic state, forming a civil society, securing human rights, freedoms and interests, improving socio-economic activity and uplifting the law culture of the population.

It was emphasized during the roundtable discussion that a framework for regulating the activities of NNOs, comprising more than 200 legislative acts and meeting the latest democratic requirements and international standards, has been created in Uzbekistan on the basis of the Constitution.

As part of measures to secure the independent development of civil society institutions, bolster their role and place in nation-building, provide for a balance of interests in the society, safeguard democratic values, human rights, freedoms and legitimate interests, the laws “On Social Associations in the Republic of Uzbekistan”, “On Labor Unions, Rights and Guarantees of Their Activity”, “On Nongovernmental Nonprofit Organizations”, “On Public Funds”, “On Guarantees of Activity of Nongovernmental Nonprofit Organizations” and a number of other acts of legislation have been passed in Uzbekistan in this area.

A distinctive feature of the Uzbek model of development of civil society is the comprehensive willingness of the state to support public initiatives aimed at boosting the participation of citizens independently and in close cooperation with the government to address current issues pertinent to the national development. In this regard, it was noted that the activities of the Women’s Committee of Uzbekistan, of the funds “Mahalla”, “Soghlom Avlod Uchun”, “Ecosan” and “Nuroniy”, the “Kamolot” Public Youth Movement, the Independent Institute for Monitoring the Formation of Civil Society, the National Association of NNOs of Uzbekistan, the Ecological Movement Uzbekistan and other public organizations deserve special reference.

An important stride toward supporting the civil society institutions was the adoption of the 2008 Joint Resolution of the Kengashes (Councils) of the Legislative Chamber and Senate of Uzbekistan’s Oliy Majlis “On Measures to Bolster the Support for NNOs and Other Civil Society Institutions”. In accordance with the Resolution, at the highest legislative body created by public funds, as well as the Parliamentary Commission for its management of funds as part of parliamentarians, representatives of NNOs, as well as the Ministries of Justice and Finance. These measures form a unique and efficient system of democratic, transparent, open and targeted distribution of funds allocated from the state budget to support the institutions of civil society in the form of grants, subsidies and social orders.

Over the period of functioning of the Fund more than 45 billion soums from the state budget directed at funding projects and programs of NNOs. The volume of investments into development of NNOs increased from 4 billion soums in 2009 up to 10 billion soums in 2015 (an increase of 2.5 times). More than 2.5 thousand public and socially significant projects and programs of NNOs participated in the competitions of the Fund.

The Concept of further deepening democratic reforms and formation of civil society in the country, adopted by the Parliament in 2010, has given a powerful impetus to activization of NNOs, expansion of their activities and responsibilities in the management of state and public affairs. In the framework of practical implementation of the Concept the laws “On environmental control”, “On transparency of activity of bodies of state power and control” and “On social partnership” adopted.

In accordance with the Law “On social partnership”, introduced a streamlined system of forms, principles, mechanisms of interaction between authorities and civil society institutions, NNOs, as well as the rights and obligations of the parties. The law builds up mutual relations between the authorities and civil society to a qualitatively new level, supposing a partnership, that is the recognition of the parties such partnership as equitable parties, which realize a joint activity on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect for the benefit of the whole country.

The President Decree “On additional measures to assist the development of civil society”, adopted in 2013, gave special dynamics to the processes of development of civil society institutions. In accordance with the Decree from January 1, 2014 rates of state fees, charged for state registration of NNOs, reduced 5 times, the fees, charged for state registration of their logo – 2.5 times. Registration of representative offices and branches of NNOs in the regions carried out on free basis.

Additional benefit is set for public associations of the disabled people, veterans, women and young people – the fee for registration of relevant NNOs will be charged at a rate of 50% approved by this Decree. According to it, term of consideration of the application for state registration of NNOs without the right of the registration authority for its renewal reduced 2-fold, as well as a list of documents submitted by NNOs in this regard.

From year to year the contribution of NNOs to implementation of major state social and economic programs, including the program “Year of attention and care for the senior generation”, the program of job creation and providing employment for population, the program for further strengthening of reproductive health, maternal health, children and teenagers in Uzbekistan for 2014-2018, the program of action for the protection of environment of the Republic of Uzbekistan for 2013-2017 and others.

Leaders and activists of NNOs are members of more than 40 permanent national inter-ministerial committees, councils, working groups, which created in accordance with the acts of the President, the Government and the Oliy Majlis of Uzbekistan.

Since 2013, the Cabinet of Ministers with the active participation of NNOs on annual basis developed and implemented joint plans and programs for the development of civil society institutions. In 2013, in the framework of joint events, measures taken to improve the information and organizational activities of NNOs, in 2014 the events aimed at improving their social and socio-economic activity, in 2015 Complex plan of activities of the Cabinet of Ministers aimed at strengthening social partnership between the government and NNOs.

In general, measures to improve the institutional and legal framework of activities of civil society, which implemented in the country, reflected both in quantitative and qualitative indicators of development.

If in 1991 only 95 NNOs functioned in the country, by 2000 their number has increased to 2585 units, from 2000 to 2010 the number of NNOs has increased more than 2 times and reached the level of 5431 units. Over the past four years, a similar increase recorded and as of January 1, 2015, the number of NNOs in Uzbekistan has reached a point of 8190 units.

As participants of the forum emphasized – reforms in the formation and development of civil society in Uzbekistan meet modern trends, as in developed democratic countries, level of development of national statehood, processes of democratization and liberalization of society, which are consistently developing, growing level of socio-political and socio-economic activeness of citizens and by its content directed at strengthening the legal mechanisms of providing human rights and interests, as well as democracy in the society.

At all stages of democratic reforms and rule-making, Uzbekistan proceeded from interests of society and citizen, mentality and national traditions of people, paying particular attention to a deep study of international experience which has proven itself.

Roundtable participants discussed in detail the issues of social control, the adoption of the Law “On amendments and additions to certain articles of the Constitution (Articles 32, 78, 93, 98, 103 and 117)” in 2014, according to which public control is defined as a means of citizen participation in the affairs of state and society, as well as the content of the draft law “On public control in the Republic of Uzbekistan”.

Experts pointed out that the adoption of the Law will contribute to the creation of the systematic effective legal mechanism to monitor the implementation of legislative acts by public authorities and management from the side of society, civil institutions. The draft law defines the types, forms and subjects of social control, the subject of control and legal mechanisms for its implementation and the conditions of responsibility of officials for the non-fulfillment of the legislation in this area.

In the course of the event, they elaborated recommendations on further improvement of the mechanisms for cooperation between government bodies and NNOs, promoting the participation of the population in matters of socio-economic development of the territories, possible introduction of mechanisms to encourage and promote public and social activities of citizens and NNOs, organization of business activities of NNOs, formation of complex infrastructure, training and skills development for NGO sector, use of universal criteria to determine the ranking of public organizations.

Program of roundtable included visits to the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis and the Independent institute for monitoring the formation of civil society, familiarization with the work of the Committee of the lower house of parliament for Democratic Institutions, NNOs and Civil Society, Public Fund for Support of NNOs and other civil society institutions, Parliamentary Commission for management of its funds, Ecological Movement of Uzbekistan, Women’s Committee of Uzbekistan, the Fund “Mahalla” and public youth movement “Kamolot”.

Foreign participants of the conference gave an interview for national media, in which they have shared their views on the formation and activities of civil society institutions in Uzbekistan.

Eckhard Priller, Researcher of the Berlin Science Centre for Social Research (Germany):

– Uzbekistan’s experience in enhancing the role and importance of civil society institutions in renewal and modernization of the country is very important for the world community. The country is on its own way of achieving success in all areas of state and society.

As you know, Germany is one of the countries where the NNOs carry a wide activity. In particular, environmental movement, which created by citizens for the promotion of environmental issues at the state level, functions in Germany. We see that there is environmental movement in Uzbekistan too, which carries out systematic work to strengthen the environmental awareness of the population.

In general, civil society is a space for social initiatives and innovations. Along with support from the state, so-called “bottom-up initiatives” play important role, i.e. initiatives coming from citizens themselves. In this regard, self-government bodies are of great importance.

Pierre Borgolts, NGO Advisor of EU Logos Athena (Belgium):

– I am impressed with the progress in building a strong civil society made by Uzbekistan over the years of independence.

Increased activity of non-government organizations is an important condition for the development of the civil sector. If we look at the history of Europe, we can see that civil institutions played important role in the process of socio-political and socio-economic development.

Today, your country pays great attention to the development of NNOs, introducing new mechanisms of state support for NNOs, as a result their role and importance in society is increasing. It can be seen in the activities of trade unions, women’s and youth organizations, groups of veterans and invalids, citizens’ assemblies, scientific-technical, cultural and educational institutions, working closely with the authorities in addressing socio-economic issues.

It is encouraging that the country does not stop on its achievements and continues to improve its legislation, taking into account the existing realities and global best practices. In this regard, exchange of views and experiences is important. Events like today’s roundtable serve to this purpose.

Celine Martan, Director of NGO “Local Mission “Northeast 77” (France):

– This is my first visit to Uzbekistan and I am very pleased to take part in such a representative forum. Within its framework, I had the opportunity not only to share the French experience in the development of civil society, but also to be acquainted with the successes of your country in this direction.

The effective functioning of the National Association of NNOs of Uzbekistan, the Independent Institute for monitoring formation of civil society made special impression on me.

We intend to cooperate with these structures and to develop joint projects.

Despite the short period of stay, Uzbekistan made a lasting impression on me. In the future, I plan to visit the country again for a more detailed acquaintance with its history and modern development.

María Botarell Tranquilli-Leali, General secretary of the Italian branch of the organization “European Women Lobby” (Italy):

– I am familiar with Uzbekistan. During my visit to the republic, I became a witness to its dynamic socio-economic development, changing the face of towns and villages. Gradual reforms, implemented in the country, also impressed me. These reforms aimed at enhancing civil society participation in the political life of the country.

The work of a unique institution “Mahalla” is of particular interest, which is not only the foundation of a civil society, but also a great school for democracy. “Mahalla” make a significant contribution to the education of youth in the spirit of democracy and the rule of law, to the preservation and enhancement of both the spiritual and cultural values ​​of the nation, society and the modernization of the country as a whole. In addition, the Institute is also an important mechanism for ensuring social inclusion. Currently, our organization conducts work on familiarization of the European public with the experience of Uzbekistan in this direction.

Song Yong Hak, Professor at the Institute for the Study of CIS and Russia of Koryo University:

– Within the framework of this conference, I shared the experience of the Republic of Korea in the field of civil society development. In particular, Special committee under the government of South Korea operates in our country. Its activity dedicated to support non-profit organizations.

It was gratifying to learn that in the parliament of Uzbekistan operates a separate fund to support non-profit organizations, as well as special association of all major NNOs of the country. Effective experience of these structures has caused me a lot of interest and after returning home, I will share received information with my colleagues.

Concept of further deepening democratic reforms and formation of civil society in the country has expanded range of activities and responsibilities of NNOs even more. The laws “On Environmental Control”, “On the openness of public authorities and management”, “On social partnership”, adopted within the framework of the Concept, will allow to increase the activity of NNOs in the implementation of environmental monitoring, informing the public about the activities of state bodies, to strengthen cooperation organizations of all kinds.

Ajay Kumar, Director of Russian and Central Asian Studies, School of International Studies, University named after Jawaharlal Nehru (India):

– This is not my first visit to Uzbekistan – I have repeatedly visited your country in the framework of cooperation in the sphere of civil society.

The current visit and the progress in its meetings and activities, in particular, today’s round table, allowed me to get the detailed information about partnership between civil society and public authorities in the process of socio-political and socio-economic development of Uzbekistan.

Today Uzbekistan has created favorable conditions for the development of NNOs – procedures for their registration simplified, there is a strong state support in the implementation of social projects, benefits in the field of taxation and other features granted. Qualitative monitoring of the implementation of social programs in the field implemented. Therefore, as we see, civil society in the country is actively developing.

We hope that this trend will continue, and international cooperation of Uzbekistan in this area will continue to expand.

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