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Belize

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right, although delays in holding trials occurred.

The law stipulates that nonjury trials are mandatory in cases involving charges of murder, attempted murder, abetment of murder, and conspiracy to commit murder. Government officials stated the law protects jurors from retribution. A single Supreme Court judge hears these cases. A magistrate generally issues decisions and judgments for lesser crimes after deliberating on the arguments presented by the prosecution and defense.

Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, and standard procedure is for the defendant to be informed promptly of the charges and to be present at the trial. If the defendants are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or there are language barriers, they are informed of the reason of arrest at the earliest possible opportunity. Defendants have the right to defense by counsel and appeal, but the prosecution can apply for the trial to proceed if a defendant skips bail or does not appear in court.

There is no requirement for defendants to have legal representation except in cases involving murder. The Supreme Court’s registrar is responsible for appointing an attorney to act on behalf of indigent defendants charged with murder. In lesser cases the court does not provide defendants an attorney, and defendants sometimes represented themselves. The Legal Advice and Services Center, staffed by three attorneys, can provide legal services and representation for a range of civil and criminal cases, including domestic violence and other criminal cases up to attempted murder. These legal aid services were overstretched and could not reach rural areas or districts. Defendants are entitled to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense or request an adjournment, a common delay tactic. The court provides Spanish interpreters for defendants upon request. Defendants may not be compelled to testify against themselves or confess guilt.

The law allows defendants to confront and question witnesses against them and present witnesses on their behalf. Witnesses may submit written statements into evidence in place of court appearances. Defendants have the right to produce evidence in their defense and examine evidence held by the opposing party or the court.

The rate of acquittals and cases withdrawn by the prosecution due to insufficient evidence continued to be high, particularly for sexual offenses, murder, and gang-related cases. These actions were often due to the failure of witnesses to testify because of fear for life and personal safety, as well as a lack of basic police investigative or forensic capability in the country.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts, including the Supreme Court. Litigants may appeal cases to the Caribbean Court of Justice, the country’s highest appellate court. Individuals can also present petitions to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Benin

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the government did not always respect this provision. Prosecuting officials at the Public Prosecutor’s Office are government appointed, making them susceptible to government influence. The judicial system was also subject to corruption, although the government made substantial anticorruption efforts, including the dismissal and arrest of government officials allegedly involved in corruption scandals. Authorities respected court orders.

On May 18, the National Assembly passed two bills amending and supplementing the judicial system and the criminal procedure code to create a specialized antiterrorism, drugs, and financial crimes court (CRIET). CRIET verdicts may be appealed to the Supreme Court, but its mandate is limited to considering whether procedures were followed and relevant laws applied. Observers within the judicial sector raised concerns that the bills establishing CRIET may have violated judicial impartiality, the right of appeal, and due-process principles.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

While the constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, judicial inefficiency and corruption impeded the exercise of this right.

The legal system is based on French civil law and local customary law. A defendant is presumed innocent. Defendants enjoy the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary, to a fair, timely, and public trial, to be present at trial, and to representation by an attorney. The court provides indigent defendants with counsel upon request in criminal cases. Government-provided counsel, however, was not always available, especially in cases handled in courts located in the north, since most lawyers lived in the south. Defendants who cannot understand or speak French are entitled to free interpretation services as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants enjoy the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense; to confront witnesses; to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf; and to not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants may appeal criminal convictions to the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, after which they may appeal to the president for a pardon. Trials are open to the public, but in exceptional circumstances, the president of the court may decide to restrict access to preserve public order or to protect the parties. The government extends the above rights to all citizens without discrimination.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The judiciary exercised independence in civil matters. If administrative or informal remedies are unsuccessful, a citizen may file a complaint concerning an alleged human rights violation with the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court’s ruling is not binding on courts; citizens, however, may use rulings from the Constitutional Court to initiate legal action against offenders in regular courts. Adverse court rulings other than those of the Constitutional Court may be appealed to the Economic Community of West African States’ Court of Justice and the African Court on Human and People’s Rights. In 2016 the government filed a declaration with the African Union Commission recognizing the competence of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights to receive cases from NGOs and individuals.

Uzbekistan

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, there were some instances in which the judiciary did not operate with complete independence and impartiality. Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, members of the judiciary reportedly rendered verdicts desired by the Prosecutor General’s Office or other law enforcement bodies. This was due in part to a shortage of judges and high caseloads, which the government was moving to address by increasing the number of law students.

Under amended Articles 63, 63-1, and 63-2, which came into effect in April 2017, judges are appointed by the newly established Supreme Judicial Council, subject to concurrence by the Senate. “Lifetime” appointments became possible, “a judge shall be appointed or elected in accordance with the established procedure for an initial five-year term, a regular 10-year term and a subsequent indefinite period of tenure.”

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The criminal code specifies a presumption of innocence. Most trials were officially open to the public, although access was sometimes restricted. Judges may close trials in exceptional cases, such as those involving state secrets or to protect victims and witnesses. Judges generally permitted international observers at proceedings without requiring written permission from the Supreme Court or court chairmen, but judges or other officials arbitrarily closed some proceedings to observers, even in civil cases. Authorities generally announced trials only one or two days before they began, and hearings were frequently postponed.

A panel of one professional judge and two lay assessors, selected by committees of worker collectives or neighborhood committees, generally presided over trials. Lay judges rarely speak, and the professional judge usually accepts the prosecutors’ recommendations on procedural rulings and sentencing.

Defendants have the right to attend court proceedings, confront witnesses, and present evidence, but judges declined defense motions to summon additional witnesses or to enter evidence supporting the defendant into the record. While the overwhelming majority of criminal cases brought to trial resulted in guilty verdicts, the number of acquittals has risen. From 2011 to 2016, there were just seven acquittals, according to the Supreme Court. In 2017 there were 162 acquittals out of 59,135 criminal court cases. By contrast, as of September, the country’s courts acquitted 569 individuals. The number of acquittals has risen in recent years due to criminal justice reforms that include greater transparency in court procedures and broader access for defense teams to prosecutorial evidence.

Defendants have the right to hire an attorney although some human rights activists encountered difficulties finding legal representation. The government provided legal counsel and interpreters without charge when necessary. According to credible reports, state-appointed defense attorneys routinely acted in the interest of the government rather than of their clients because of their reliance on the state for a livelihood and fear of possible recrimination.

By law a prosecutor must request an arrest order from a court, and courts rarely denied such requests. Prosecutors have considerable power after obtaining an arrest order: they direct investigations, prepare criminal cases, recommend sentences to judges, and may appeal court decisions, including sentences. After formal charges are filed, the prosecutor decides whether a suspect is released on bail, stays in pretrial detention, or is kept under house arrest. Although the criminal code specifies a presumption of innocence, a prosecutor’s recommendations generally prevailed. If a judge’s sentence does not correspond with the prosecutor’s recommendation, the prosecutor may appeal the sentence to a higher court. Judges often based their verdicts solely on confessions and witness testimony, which authorities allegedly were thought to extract through abuse, threats to family members, or other means of coercion. This was especially common in religious extremism cases. Lawyers may, and occasionally did, call on judges to reject confessions and investigate claims of torture.

Following the president’s December 2017 decree prohibiting the use of evidence derived from torture, judges increasingly responded to claims of torture. In September Jahongir Umarov, a businessman who was earlier sentenced to five years in prison for conviction of drug abuse, was released after he claimed in court proceedings that he was tortured by security service personnel into providing a false confession. A court-ordered examination revealed a rib fracture from physical abuse.

In September the government introduced live coverage of court hearings. Online translation services allow the real time monitoring of court hearings in Uzbek and Russian, including for mobile phone users. Legal protections against double jeopardy were not applied.

The law provides a right of appeal to defendants, but appeals rarely resulted in reversals of convictions. In some cases, however, appeals resulted in reduced or suspended sentences.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

International and domestic human rights organizations estimated that authorities held hundreds of prisoners on political grounds. The government allows limited access to such persons by human rights or humanitarian organizations such as the Tashkent-based independent human rights organization Ezgulik. According to Human Rights Watch and the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, Uzbekistan continued to release prisoners of conscience during the year, which resulted in no imprisoned journalists or civil society activists for the first time in more than two decades. Also according to Human Rights Watch, since September 2016 Uzbek authorities have released approximately 40 persons imprisoned on politically motivated charges; however, many others are still being held. The exact number of political prisoners has not been determined.

According to numerous former political prisoners, the government provides released prisoners with material compensation upon parole. Such compensation includes travel expenses to one’s place of residence, health benefits, and the issuance of a passport, which is the primary form of identification in the country. Upon release, convicts sign a document acknowledging they understand the terms of their parole. This typically includes a prohibition on travel abroad for up to one year. Several former prisoners reported that authorities levied a fine against them as a condition of their parole. Failure to abide by the terms of payment may result in the termination of parole. One former prisoner, for example, was reportedly required to pay 20 percent of his monthly salary to the government for 18 months following his release.

HRW reported that “though Uzbek authorities have amnestied some political prisoners and released others early, in some cases such prisoners were unable to obtain materials necessary to appeal their unlawful convictions.” In May, Samandar Kukanov, a former member of parliament released in November 2016 after a 23-year sentence that human rights organizations claimed was the result of peaceful opposition activity, filed an appeal with the Tashkent Regional Court to review his criminal conviction. According to HRW, in September, Kukanov received a letter from the court informing him that in April the “materials of his criminal case” had been “destroyed in accordance with established procedure” by the Tashkent Region State Archive and thus his requests for “full rehabilitation” could not be reviewed.

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

Citizens may file suit in civil courts for alleged human rights violations by officials, excluding investigators, prosecutors, and judges. There were reports that bribes to judges influenced civil court decisions.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future