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UN: Concerns Voiced Over Torture In Uzbekistan

UN Human Rights Officials Voice Concern Over Allegations Of Torture In Uzbekistan

Senior United Nations human rights officials today voiced concern over allegations of torture, ill-treatment and arbitrary detention in Uzbekistan in connection with last month’s violent protests in the Andijan region of the Central Asian country.

“We appeal to the Government to ensure strict observance of its international human rights obligations under international law, particularly the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and to ensure that the absolute prohibition of torture and ill-treatment is respected on its territory,” they said in a joint statement.

The Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights on torture, Manfred Nowak, the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Leila Zerrouguï, and Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative on human rights defenders, Hina Jilani, also deplored reports of people being held incommunicado.

“We express our deep concern about reports that Uzbek authorities are pressuring human rights defenders who are collecting evidence on the events of 13 May, and pressuring Uzbek asylum-seekers in Kyrgyzstan to return, in order to suppress their testimonies in relation to the events in Andijan,” they added.

“We call on the Government to undertake every effort to ensure that defenders' rights to promote and protect human rights are guaranteed including their freedom of assembly and right to protest. We call upon the Government to ensure full and prompt independent access to all detained persons,” they concluded. “We also support the call for an independent international investigation.”

Their statement followed an appeal from Mr. Annan last night to the Government of neighbouring Kyrgyzstan not to forcibly return asylum seekers and refugees to Uzbekistan, where the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said they “may face an imminent risk of grave human rights violations, including torture and extra-judicial and summary executions.”

In statements, also last night, Ms. Arbour and UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres urged the Kyrgyz government to allow all Uzbek asylum seekers in the country to be properly screened to determine if they are refugees and to ensure their protection under international refugee and human rights law.

The two agencies said they had received indications that a group of 29 asylum seekers, recently removed from Sasyk camp where some 450 Uzbeks are housed, may be expelled to their home country in the near future irrespective of whether or not they are refugees under international law. According to Kyrgyz officials, extradition proceedings for the group, being carried out under bilateral agreements between the two countries, are in the final stages.

“There must be a proper procedure, not a hasty effort to rubber stamp a politically expedient ending to the current tensions with Uzbekistan,” Mr. Guterres said.

If the 29 men are indeed refugees - instead of “criminals” as repeatedly alleged by the Uzbek authorities - their deportation would be a violation of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention to which Kyrgyzstan is a signatory, he added.

The two agencies said evidence that the men were “common criminals” rather than refugees fleeing persecution for their political or religious beliefs or other grounds defined by the 1951 Convention, would need to be examined extremely carefully before they could be excluded from refugee status and returned to their home country.

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