Enhancing the role of the Ombudsman in ensuring human rights, freedoms and legitimate interests in the context of ongoing reforms
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In Uzbekistan, systematic work is being carried out to fulfill international obligations to strengthen the legislative and institutional framework for the protection of human rights, to implement international human rights standards in national legislation and to intensify cooperation with international organizations on the protection of human rights.
President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev initiated large-scale reforms aimed at liberalizing the country’s social and political life and ensuring the rule of law. Among the priorities they covered the issues of unconditional observance of human rights and freedoms in the administration of justice, as well as strengthening the role of state and public institutions in this process.
In accordance with article 19 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan, a citizen of the Republic of Uzbekistan and the state are bound by mutual rights and mutual responsibility. The rights and freedoms of citizens, enshrined in the Constitution and laws, are constant, and no one has the right to deprive or restrict them without a court.
The state and society strongly condemn the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In recent years, the regulatory and legal framework has been radically revised, laws have been adopted and the law enforcement practice of preventing this phenomenon has been improved.
In Uzbekistan, over the past four years, fundamental transformations have been carried out in all areas of state and social construction, which have radically changed the system of relations between the state, society and the citizen. At the same time, the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Sh.M. Mirziyoyev made decisions on cardinal improvement of the system of work with appeals of individuals and legal entities, the opening of the People’s Receptions of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, as well as making public relations important in the activities of public authorities and administration at both the republican and local levels.
Democratic reforms have ensured a high degree of openness of the state in the discussion of the decisions made, the developed normative-legal and program documents. An unprecedented example of the generation of public opinion, a reflection of the importance of each voice was a broad nationwide discussion of the Action Strategy for five priority areas of development of the Republic of Uzbekistan in 2017-2021 and the State Program for its implementation in the "Year of Dialogue with the People and Human Interests".
All these innovations have a common goal - to consolidate the creative potential of society for the implementation of a course of large-scale reforms for the accelerated development of the state, its democratic institutions and economy, the formation of conditions for a dignified and prosperous life of citizens, the effective implementation of their personal, political, social and economic rights, freedoms and legitimate interests.
The main goal of the reforms carried out in the penitentiary system is the re-socialization of the offender and the formation of the personality as a worthy representative of modern society, regardless of the reason for his crime in the past.
Providing opportunities for social adaptation of persons who have violated the law, but realized the illegality of their actions and firmly embarked on the path of correction, their return to society and family is a vivid confirmation of the centuries-old traditions, mercy, tolerance and kindness of the Uzbek people.
The Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan "On additional measures to strengthen guarantees of the rights and freedoms of citizens in judicial and investigative activities" (No.УП -5268 от 30.11.2017) and the Plan of Practical Measures ("Road map ") on the promotion of the initiatives of the Republic of Uzbekistan put forward at the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly, the implementation of the agreements reached following the negotiations with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Z.R. al-Hussein in New York on September 18-20, 2017 ". According to the documents, state decisions have been made on the implementation of the National Preventive Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture on the basis of the Ombudsman and on the implementation by him of parliamentary control over the observance of the rights and freedoms of persons serving sentences in institutions for the execution of sentences, detained and held in custody, as well as those subjected to administrative arrest.
Special attention was paid to the issue of human rights in the report of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev at the solemn event dedicated to the 27th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan.
Tasks have been defined to establish the procedure for compulsory video filming of such actions as the detention of a person, clarification of procedural rights to him, refusal of the protection provided, as well as fixing the norm in the law as the duties of an inquiry officer, investigator and other authorized person, stating that the relatives of a person detained by law enforcement officers bodies must be immediately informed about his stay in a special room, to introduce an electronic system for recording the detention of persons and other actions related to the use of compulsory procedural measures restricting the rights of detainees, the introduction of a procedure for appealing against a prosecutor’s decision in court, ensuring the true independence of the courts and strengthening the legal status of the legal profession.
In addition, the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan put forward the task of developing a long-term national strategy to further improve the effectiveness of ensuring human rights. The adoption of this strategy will serve as the basis for further deepening the democratic reforms carried out in the country, stable development of society and the state, effective protection of human rights, freedoms and legitimate interests.
As a vivid manifestation of the noble traits of our people, such as kindness, generosity, humanism and mercy, the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan adopted a number of decrees "On pardoning a group of persons serving a sentence who sincerely repented of their deeds and firmly embarked on the path of correction." The adopted decrees testify to the humane direction of democratic reforms carried out at the initiative of President Sh. Mirziyoyev in all spheres of state and public life in the country.
The Pardon Commission under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan was reorganized (No.УП -5439 от 05/08/2018) in 2018 and the Ombudsman, being a member of this Commission, takes a permanent part in its activities.
In the period from December 2017 to 2020, the act of pardon was applied to about 5,000 convicts serving sentences. “Justice is in the rule of law” - this principle is the basis of the activities of the Authorized Person of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan for human rights. The Ombudsman actively participated in all stages of the development and discussion of laws adopted by the Oliy Majlis. The materials of his control and analytical activities are widely used during parliamentary hearings, when discussing the reports of representatives of state authorities and administration.
In his Address to the Oliy Majlis dated January 24, 2020, the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Sh.Mirziyoyev noted that “the basic laws and codes concerning the judicial and legal sphere were adopted about 20-25 years ago and ceased to meet modern requirements. In this regard, it would be advisable for the parliament to adopt in the coming years new Civil, Criminal, Criminal Procedure, Criminal Execution Codes and the Code of Administrative Responsibility. At the same time, special attention should be paid to the introduction of advanced human rights standards into investigative and judicial practice. When improving legislation, we should be most concerned not with the fact of adopting new laws, but with what benefit the new laws will bring to people, how they will make their life easier.”
In accordance with the decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan "On measures to radically improve the activities of the internal affairs bodies in the sphere of execution of sentences related to imprisonment" (№ПП-3200 от 11.08.2017г.), further increase in the efficiency of work to protect the rights and interests of persons is envisaged, serving sentences in places of deprivation of liberty, harmonization of the penitentiary system in accordance with international standards.
On the basis of the adopted normative legal acts, the legal rights and freedoms of convicts serving sentences have been significantly expanded, and a legal basis has been created for broad practical implementation among developed democratic countries in the field of ensuring the rights of convicts, in particular:
1. For the first time, those sentenced to imprisonment for committing crimes that do not pose a great public danger and less serious crimes were granted the right to vote (No. ЗРУ-563 от 04.09.2019).
2. The “Rules of minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners” (Nelson Mandela Rules), adopted by the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly dated December 17, 2015, have been implemented into national legislation (No.ЗРУ-530 от 14 Марта , 2019), namely:
— convicts have the right to receive psychological assistance;
— the possibility of placing in the territorial medical institutions of the Ministry of Health of convicts in need of medical assistance has been legislatively enshrined;
— convicts suffering from serious illnesses, with the permission of a doctor, are provided with an additional telephone conversation or a meeting with relatives;
— the procedure for imposing disciplinary sanctions for violation of the established procedure for serving sentences by convicts with mental disorders has been canceled.
3. The number of visits and telephone conversations between convicts and relatives has been increased, in particular:
— the number of telephone conversations of convicts serving sentences in general regime colonies has been increased from 6 to 12, for convicts in high security colonies - from 3 to 5, for convicts serving sentences in high security colonies and in prisons - from 2 to 4, convicts serving sentences in an educational colony - from 12 to 24;
— the receipt of parcels by convicts in general regime colonies has been increased from 6 to 12, in maximum security colonies - from 4 to 8, in special regime colonies and in prisons - from 3 to 6, convicts serving sentences in an educational colony - from 6 to 12 ;- the number of short-term visits in general regime colonies has been increased from 4 to 6, maximum security colonies - from 3 to 5, in special regime colonies and prisons from 2 to 4, in an educational colony - from 6 to 24;
— the number of long-term visits in general regime colonies has been increased from 4 to 6, in maximum security colonies - from 3 to 5, in special regime colonies and in prisons - from 2 to 4, in an educational colony - from 6 to 8;
In addition, convicts serving their sentences in settlement colonies were granted the right to receive a pension (No.ЗРУ-558 от 28.08.2019).
4. In terms of strengthening the protection of the rights, freedoms and legal interests of convicts, their upbringing and social adaptation (No.ЗРУ-625 от 30 Июня, 2020):
— measures have been expanded to ensure the personal safety of convicts during the period of serving their sentences;
— the provisions on the use of physical force and special means during the period of the search measures have been revised;
— a procedure has been introduced for the possible replacement of short-term meetings with video meetings and telephone conversations to create additional conveniences for convicts and their relatives;
— introduced a procedure for encouraging convicts using criteria for a fair assessment of the behavior of convicts;
— abolished quantitative restrictions on visits of convicted minors with their parents in order to enhance the role of parents in the upbringing of convicted minors, to strengthen the effectiveness of educational work;
— in order to expand the rights and freedoms of women convicts, a special procedure has been introduced for granting visits to their minor children raised outside the institution, as well as in orphanages.
At the same time, attention is paid to creating decent conditions for prisoners. Thus, pre-trial detention center No. 1 was relocated to the territory of the Zangiata district of the Tashkent region, the buildings and structures of which fully meet international standards. The pre-trial detention center is equipped with 14 rooms for conducting investigative measures, 15 rooms for meetings between prisoners and lawyers. The territory of the pre-trial detention center is equipped with 409 modern video surveillance equipment.
The activities of two penal colonies have been completely stopped (colony no. 33 in the Kashkadarya region and colony no. 65 in the Tashkent region).
A manifestation of a humane policy was also the adoption of a resolution of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan on the liquidation of a specialized penal colony (No. ПП-4414 от 08/08/2019) located in the village of Zhaslyk of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, which was the cause of constant claims by international human rights organizations. Convicts who served their sentences in this colony were transferred to other colonies. Empty buildings and structures are not used.
As part of the practical implementation of the Action Strategy for five priority areas of development of the Republic of Uzbekistan in 2017-2021, amendments and additions were made to the Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan "On the Authorized Person of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan for Human Rights (Ombudsman)" in 2017 (No.ЗРУ-441 от 29.08 2017), aimed at strengthening the independence of the Ombudsman institution and further expanding its powers to protect the rights of persons in custody. In particular,
— the right to submit questions to the Constitutional Court, participate in its sessions and present one’s position during these events;
— the right to appeal to courts with statements and claims in the interests of citizens without paying a state fee;
— the right to submit to the chambers of the Oliy Majlis separate reports on various issues of ensuring human rights and freedoms, as well as to the committees of the chambers of the parliament - proposals to hear reports from representatives of state authorities and administration;
— the right to submit to the heads of state bodies and other organizations submissions on the elimination of identified violations of legislation, human rights and freedoms, the reasons and conditions that contribute to them;
— the right to submit petitions to the relevant authorities to bring persons to justice, in whose actions a violation of human rights and freedoms has been established;
— the right to organize the protection of the rights and freedoms of persons in custody, including unhindered visits to relevant institutions to study the conditions of detention, hold confidential meetings and conversations with them, receive appeals from them, not subject to censorship and not limited in number;
— strengthening the status of regional representatives of the Ombudsman, introducing the procedure for annually informing them, respectively, of the Jokargy Kenes of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, Kengashes of people’s deputies of the regions and the city of Tashkent on the work to protect human rights and freedoms;
— consolidation of the norm on the implementation of material and other support for the activities of the Ombudsman at the expense of the State budget and reflecting these funds in a separate line;
— determination of the participation of representatives of executive authorities in the activities of the Commission on the observance of constitutional human rights and freedoms under the Ombudsman with the right of an advisory vote, etc.
By a joint resolution of the Kengash of the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan and the Kengash of the Senate of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan "On measures to further improve the organizational and legal framework for the activities of the Authorized Person of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan for human rights (Ombudsman)" No. 1398-III / ПК-282-III dated December 29, 2017 approved:
— Regulation "On the Commission for the Observance of Constitutional Human Rights and Freedoms under the Authorized Person of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan for Human Rights (Ombudsman)", which defines the main tasks, rights, obligations, the procedure for the formation of the Commission, guarantees of ensuring the rights of its members;
— Regulations "On the Regional Representative of the Authorized Person of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan for Human Rights (Ombudsman) in the Republic of Karakalpakstan, regions and the city of Tashkent", which regulates the procedure for appointment, tasks, rights and obligations, guarantees of the activities of the regional representative of the Ombudsman, issues of his interaction with state authorities on the ground and civil society institutions.
In 2019, amendments and additions were made to the Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan "On the Authorized Person of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan for Human Rights (Ombudsman)" aimed at expanding the powers of the Ombudsman to protect the rights of persons in custody, as well as introducing a system of measures to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (National Preventive Mechanism).
The National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) is provided for by the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, adopted in the framework of the UN General Assembly Resolution No. 57/199 of December 18, 2002. In accordance with the Optional Protocol, the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT), during its 12th session held on November 15-19, 2010, approved the Guidelines on National Preventive Mechanisms and the Approach to the Concept for the Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Forms treatment and punishment.
A separate article provides for the activities of the Authorized Person for the Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In particular, the Ombudsman takes measures to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment through regular visits to places of detention. According to the legislation, to facilitate the activities of the Authorized Person for the prevention of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, he creates an expert group. The composition of the expert group is formed from representatives of non-governmental non-profit organizations with professional and practical knowledge, as a rule, in the field of jurisprudence, medicine, psychology, pedagogy, and also in other fields. The Ombudsman determines the tasks of the members of the expert group on the prevention of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and also gives them the special right to freely visit places of detention and other places that persons who are there cannot leave of their own free will.
The Law takes into account the requirements of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
On the initiative of the Ombudsman, the Committee on Defense and Security of the Senate of the Oliy Majlis heard information from the leadership of the Ministry of Internal Affairs on the implementation by the internal affairs bodies of the relevant UN Convention (June 2018, July 2019, November 2019, October 2020). During the meetings, the Ombudsman informed the Committee about the facts of receipt of complaints with arguments about the use of measures of influence by the employees of the internal affairs bodies and the results of their consideration. Based on the results of the hearing, the relevant decisions of the Committee were adopted.
It is important to note that in 2019, along with the report of the Republic of Uzbekistan on the fulfillment of obligations under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the Authorized Person of the Oliy Majlis for Human Rights for the first time submitted an Alternative Report of the Ombudsman to the UN Committee against Torture.
On November 11-12, 2019, in Geneva, at the UN Committee against Torture, the Ombudsman presented a report on the implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The purpose of the report was to convey to the UN bodies the essence and significance of the measures taken within the framework of the Action Strategy to ensure the protection of human rights during judicial investigations and the execution of sentences, to enhance the role of the Ombudsman institution and public organizations in this direction.
In order to further develop the legal framework for the activities of the Ombudsman, by a joint resolution of the Kengash of the Legislative Chamber of the Oliy Majlis and the Kengash of the Senate of the Oliy Majlis (No. 2933-III / PC-640-III of 30.11.2019), the Regulation "On the activities of the Authorized Person of the Oliy Majlis for Human Rights (Ombudsman) to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." was approved
The adopted amendments ensure the compliance of the norms of national legislation with the international legal framework, legislative and practical support for the activities of the Ombudsman “The Principles Relating to the Status of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (Paris Principles), approved by the UN General Assembly Resolution No. 48/134 of December 20, 1993 of the year.
As it known, the Paris Principles concerning the status of national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights were developed in October 1991 in Paris, at an international conference under the auspices of the UN Commission on Human Rights. They are a set of declarative rules that are designed to determine the functions, formation, funding and other criteria for ensuring the independence and functioning of national human rights institutions.
It should be noted that in accordance with the decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan "On additional measures to ensure the supremacy of the Constitution and the law, strengthening public control in this direction, as well as improving legal culture in society" No. PP-4551 dated December 13, 2019 from April 1, 2020 years, a mandatory procedure was introduced for video filming of actions to detain a person, explain to him procedural rights, refuse a defense lawyer, and also impose a duty on law enforcement officers after they detain a person upon immediate notification of his detention and the place of detention of any of his family members, and when their absence - other relatives or close persons.
In addition, according to the Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan (No.УП-6041) "On measures to further strengthen guarantees for the protection of the rights and freedoms of the individual in judicial and investigative activities" dated August 10, 2020, the main directions for further improvement of judicial investigative activities are determined:
— ensuring unconditional observance of the rights and freedoms of the individual, improving the quality of procedural actions, revising the system for collecting, consolidating and evaluating evidence in criminal proceedings, taking into account the standards of evidence widely used in advanced foreign practice;
— raising to a new level the activities of law enforcement agencies in solving crimes, ensuring the inevitability of responsibility for each crime committed and full compensation for damage caused to the individual, society and the state;
— introduction of effective mechanisms to prevent the commission of acts related to the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as strengthening the responsibility for such acts;
— widespread introduction of modern information and communication technologies in the process of investigating criminal cases, further strengthening the material and technical base and increasing the personnel potential of the bodies of inquiry and preliminary investigation;
— increasing the efficiency of the crime prevention system, as well as introducing mechanisms for the timely identification and elimination of the causes and conditions conducive to crime, improving the legal culture and the formation of law-abiding citizens among citizens.
As a priority, the Ombudsman carries out systematic work to protect the rights of persons in custody. In the period 2016 - 2019, the Ombudsman, within the framework of the mandate of the National Preventive Mechanism, carried out 73 monitoring visits, including 53 visits to penal institutions and 20 to pre-trial detention centers.
During 2020, the Ombudsman carried out 76 monitoring visits - 42 penitentiary institutions (26 penal colonies and 16 colonies-settlements), 6 pre-trial detention centers, 5 special reception centers for holding persons subjected to administrative arrest, 9 temporary detention centers, 8 departments of internal cases and 2 centers of internal affairs bodies for the rehabilitation of persons without a fixed abode.
The monitoring group, taking into account the coronavirus pandemic during the quarantine period, using personal protective equipment, visited 10 penitentiary institutions (4 penal colonies and 6 penal colonies), quarantine centers in Khorezm and Navoi Tashkent regions.
The monitoring was attended by the Authorized Person of the Oliy Majlis for Human Rights (Ombudsman), his Deputy - the Authorized Person for Children’s Rights, deputies of the Legislative Chamber and members of the Senate of the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan, representatives of the National Center for Human Rights, NGOs, in particular the National Movement "Yuxalish", Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan "Ezgulik", Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, Federation of Trade Unions.
During the period 2016 - 2020, within the framework of the monitoring, the conditions of detention of convicts and the procedure for treating them, the quality of medical care, catering, labor, educational and spiritual and educational work were studied, collective conversations were held with more than 8 thousand people and individual conversations with 1088 convicts.
The conducted monitoring shows that the organization for the execution of sentences in the form of imprisonment, the detention of persons in pre-trial detention centers are carried out in accordance with the requirements of the country’s legislation and international norms.
In addition, the Authorized Person of the Oliy Majlis for Human Rights works closely with the Office of Penal Reform International in Central Asia.
The Foreign Affairs Council of the EU in its annual report "On Human Rights and Democracy in the World in 2018" highlighted cooperation between Uzbekistan and PRI in a positive perspective.
As part of measures to improve the professional knowledge of employees of internal affairs bodies and the legal culture of citizens, the Ombudsman, together with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the representative office of Penal Reform International, published brochures "The Universal Declaration of Human Rights" in the state and Russian languages (circulation: 500 copies) and UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Mandela Rules) (circulation: 1,500 copies). 850 brochures were donated to library funds, penal institutions and pre-trial detention centers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
In order to comprehensively study international legal documents and foreign experience in the development of the National Preventive Mechanism, the Ombudsman also implements joint activities with the OSCE Project Coordinator in Uzbekistan, the United Nations Development Program in Uzbekistan, and the Central Asia Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
In accordance with the Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan (No.УП-6012 от June 22, 2020), the "Roadmap" for the implementation of the National Strategy of the Republic of Uzbekistan on Human Rights was approved and adopted. According to which the priority areas are determined:
in the field of protection of personal and political rights;
protection of economic, social and cultural rights, as well as in the field of sustainable development;
improving the mechanisms for the implementation of international human rights standards in legislation and law enforcement practice, as well as their monitoring;
to improve legal literacy in the field of human rights, including the effective organization of the dissemination of information and educational activities in this area;
to develop cooperation with international and regional structures in the field of human rights protection, national human rights institutions of foreign countries.
On December 29, 2020, the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev in his Address to the Oliy Majlis noted that “Work will continue on the wider implementation of the principle of humanism in the system of punishment execution. In particular, based on international standards, 25 colonies-settlements will be phased out. Henceforth, if the punishment imposed on a person sentenced to imprisonment for the first time is replaced by a lighter one, he, instead of being assigned to a colony-settlement, will be sent under probation supervision. As a result of this relaxation, 6 thousand people currently serving sentences will be given the chance to live at home with their families under the supervision of the makhalla."
The Address also stressed the need for a cardinal revision in order to improve the system for the prevention of torture in operational-search activities, investigative bodies and the execution of sentences. The chambers of the Oliy Majlis and the National Center for Human Rights were instructed to develop, within two months, proposals to expand the powers of the Ombudsman in the field of torture prevention, as well as to strengthen public control in this area. The need to establish a system of quarterly monitoring visits to pre-trial detention centers and penitentiary institutions with the participation of representatives of the public was noted. The chambers of the Oliy Majlis are recommended to annually hear the report of the Authorized Person for Human Rights on the prevention of torture and determine the necessary measures to completely eradicate this extremely negative phenomenon.
President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, speaking at the 46th session of the United Nations Council on Human Rights, emphasized that “as part of the implementation of the national preventive mechanism for the prevention of torture, we will continue to strictly suppress all their manifestations, inhuman or degrading treatment. Such crimes will not have a statute of limitations. We intend to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. To work together on these issues, we plan to invite a Special Rapporteur on torture to Uzbekistan.
In conclusion, it can be noted that systematic purposeful work is being carried out in Uzbekistan to strengthen the legislative and institutional framework for the protection of human rights, the implementation of international human rights standards into national legislation and the implementation of international obligations, as well as intensify cooperation with international organizations on the protection of human rights, including convicts.