Foreign Relations / Uzbekistan

On the reform path: Uzbekistan opens up after years of isolation

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15-10-2018, 12:38

Tashkent, Uzbekistan - On September 25, friendly staff at Uzbekistan's Supreme Court warmly greeted dozens of guests, among them journalists, foreign diplomats and members of the international community, allowing the visitors to take photographs of the building's impressive interior.

On the reform path: Uzbekistan opens up after years of isolation

The atmosphere was festive and open, and yet surreal. Until recently, the Supreme Court of Uzbekistan was a heavily guarded place whose name invoked little more than fear. 

But on this day, the top court had a good reason to celebrate. 

With the help of the United States Agency for International Development and the United Nations Development Programme, it launched a new website which, among other features, allows the public to view court trials across the country in real time online. While the pilot project involves 12 courts, it will gradually extend to the rest of the country. 

Uzbekistan was until recently one of the world's most isolated countries, with institutionalised forced labour on its vast cotton fields, a torture record and restricted individual freedoms. 

Now, it opening up. 

Since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev took power in December 2016, following the death of Islam Karimov, who ruled the country since independence in 1991, Uzbekistan has been on the reform path.

The rule of law reform, aimed to enhance the transparency and accessibility of the allegedly corrupt courts, has been just one of the steps to improve Uzbekistan's image.

Faced with a collapsing economy, international isolation, and a growing number of unemployed youth following years of Karimov's misrule, the country had little choice but to open up. 

"The reform agenda that the president launched in February last year, the Action Strategy, is very well aligned with what the UN is working towards globally through Agenda 2030," Helena Fraser, UN resident coordinator and UNDP resident representative in Uzbekistan, told Al Jazeera.

"It includes the reform of the judiciary, reform of public administration, liberalisation of the economy, education, health and social protection reforms, and then interestingly, the fifth pillar is about security, tolerance and constructive foreign policy."

The reforms have encompassed all spheres of social and political life from freeing the country's currency to normalising relations with its neighbours. 

The scope of change has come as a surprise to everyone, not least Uzbeks themselves. 

In an effort to bring politics closer to people, Mirziyoyev launched a virtual reception centre which allows citizens to raise issues that concern them with the president.

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