4 times Uzbekistan and 1 time Armenia: a course to the East as a prospect for international cooperation between the justice authorities of Belarus
Published March 01, 2023
Last summer, we published an article on our website dedicated to the changing geography of cooperation between the Belarusian bar and foreign ones. The article states the lack of prospects for the development of international cooperation between the Belarusian Republican Bar Association, bar associations of developed countries and international bar associations until further reforms in the legal profession. It was suggested that an attempt would be made to change the vector of such cooperation to authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. Spoiler: now, six months later, this vector can be named. It's the east, and Uzbekistan seems to be the most promising state for the Belarusian side.

Moreover, this direction was chosen as a priority not only by the legal profession, but also by the Ministry of Justice in principle. It is logical - after amendments to the legislation on the legal profession and the establishment of total control over the legal community, the Belarusian Republican Bar Association (BRBA) actually merged with the Ministry of Justice and acts with it in inextricable symbiosis. So, let's look at the areas in which the Belarusian Ministry of Justice is strengthening its "international" ties.
Main partners: Uzbekistan, Armenia
The foundation was laid in the spring of 2021, when representatives of the Ministry of Justice took part in the International Legal Forum "Tashkent Law Spring", as well as in the St. Petersburg Legal Forum "Vaccination of Law". Based on the results of the latter, during a bilateral meeting of the Ministers of Justice of the Republic of Belarus and the Ministers of Justice of the Republic of Uzbekistan, an Agreement on cooperation between the institutions was concluded.

In the autumn of 2021, delegations from the Ministry of Justice of Uzbekistan, along with representatives from Russia, Kazakhstan, Armenia offline (in person), China, Russia and Azerbaijan (online), participated in the scientific and practical conference "Information Technologies and Law (Legal Informatization - 2021)", organized by the National Centre for Legal Information, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus, the Ministry of Justice, the BSU, the National Library of Belarus, the Belarusian Notary Chamber, the BRBA and other interested parties.

At the beginning of November last year, Deputy Minister of Justice Nikolai Starovoitov, notorious for his statements about the legal profession and individual attorneys, as well as the chairman of the BRBA, Alexey Shvakov, the deputy chairman, Elena Bylina, and the chairman of the Brest Regional Bar Association, Tamara Shatlikova, visited Tashkent. During the visit, a delegation consisting of representatives of the Belarusian Ministry of Justice and the Bar Self-Government, who in Belarus are engaged in depriving attorneys of licenses for defending clients in high-profile cases, took part in the conference of attorneys in Uzbekistan "Prospects for the development of the legal profession: the experience of Uzbekistan and foreign countries" in Tashkent.

On November 18, during another trip to Uzbekistan, the Ministers of Justice of Belarus and Uzbekistan signed a cooperation program for 2023, and in December 2022, at the celebration of Attorney's Day and after awarding registry office employees in the category "best wedding celebrant," the Belarusian attorneys were congratulated in video messages by the Ministers of Justice of Azerbaijan , Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan.

And recently, on February 22, a meeting was held in Tashkent between the Belarusian delegation of the Ministry of Justice and the Deputy Minister of Justice of Uzbekistan, who acquainted representatives of the Belarusian ministry with the ongoing rule-making reforms: the introduction into the field of rule-making of such institutions as regulatory impact assessment, "regulatory guillotine", "smart regulation" models etc.

The most "Western" vector of cooperation leads to Armenia, with which in May 2022, just a few months after the full-scale military invasion of Ukraine, an interdepartmental agreement on cooperation between the Belarusian Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Justice of Armenia was signed. This happened simultaneously with the process of depriving Belarusian attorneys of their licenses for signing an anti-war petition.
How are things going with the justice system in Uzbekistan: expert assessment
The situation can be briefly described by the assessment of the situation with political and civil rights, which was given in the Freedom House report based on the results of 2021. Uzbekistan scored 11 points out of 100, which makes the country "not free."
Although reforms introduced since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power in 2016 have led to improvements in some areas, Uzbekistan remains an authoritarian state with few signs of democratization. No opposition party operates legally. The legislative and judicial branches serve as de facto instruments of the executive branch, and the media remains tightly controlled by the authorities. Reports of torture and other ill-treatment continue to emerge.

Due process guarantees are extremely weak. There really is some experience to share with Belarus: law enforcement agencies usually justify the arrest of suspected religious extremists or political opponents with smuggling, accusations of financial wrongdoing, or fabricating witness statements.

The Chamber of Attorneys (Advokatlar palatasi), a body of "self-government" with mandatory membership, serves as a means of state control over the legal profession, which is very similar to the principles on which the BRBA operates.
Those who do not care about military aggression: Armenia
In terms of the level of attractiveness of the partnership, Armenia is undoubtedly higher than Uzbekistan: the state is actively participating in the Eastern Partnership program with the European Union, and is "partly free" according to Freedom House assessment for 2021 (55/100). Does such a state have any reason to establish partnership relations with the Ministry of Justice of Belarus? It turns out it does. And the point here, most likely, is the close relations between the Russian Federation and Belarus.

On February 23, 2023, during the vote on the UN General Assembly resolution demanding that Russia immediately and unconditionally withdraw its troops from Ukraine, Armenia was one of thirty-two countries that abstained (as did Uzbekistan). But this is not the first time, because a year ago, immediately after the start of Russia's military intervention in Ukraine, Armenia abstained from voting on the UN security resolution, as well as on the UN resolution on paying war reparations to Ukraine (UN resolution of November 2022).

Armenia's political support for Russia in the international arena is nothing new. When Russia invaded eastern Ukraine in 2014, Armenia repeatedly voted against UN General Assembly resolutions condemning Russia's annexation of Crimea and reaffirming Ukraine's sovereignty over the Black Sea peninsula.
Prospects for international cooperation: Chairman of BRBA, A. Shvakov
Most recently, the Chairman of the BRBA, Alexey Shvakov, appeared as a guest on "Belarus 1" TV-channel, where he was asked how he assessed the Belarusian proportion of attorneys amounting to 1 attorney per 5,000 citizens.

"If we take bare statistics, then of course, well, even in our countries that are part of the CIS... When we are interested in the number of attorneys they have... Even in the Russian Federation, there are almost 100,000 attorneys, and we have only 1,700. They have slightly different rules , we have a more "organized" legal profession. Well, in some other countries... I'll take as an example the partners with whom we work... Recently we visited Uzbekistan... both Russia and Tajikistan," such a comment was given by the chairman of the highest body of attorney self-government of Belarus, from here it is clear which states the Belarusian bar considers the most attractive in terms of cooperation .

For comparison: attorney to population ratio

Belarus: ~1 attorney per 5,500 people

Number of attorneys: 1,690 (February, 2023)

Population: 9,255,524 (January, 2022)

Russia: ~1 attorney per 1,800 people

Number of attorneys: 82,877 (May, 2022)

Population: 146,424,729 (January, 2023)

Moldova: ~1 attorney per 1,500 people

Number of attorneys: 1,723 (2021)

Population: 2,597,100 (2021)

Georgia: ~1 attorney per 788 people

Number of attorneys: 4,731 (2022)

Population: 3,728,573 (2021)

Ukraine: ~1 attorney per 663 people

Number of attorneys: 61,802 (2021)

Population: 40,997,699 (2022, January)
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