Protect Ethnic Uzbeks from Return to Torture
(Moscow) – Russian courts should halt the extraditions of five ethnic Uzbeks to Kyrgyzstan. The men would be at serious risk of torture and ill-treatment if sent back there.
Kyrgyzstan has requested the men’s extradition to stand trial for various charges related to the June 2010 ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan. Russia’s prosecutor general has granted the extradition orders and the five men have lodged separate appeals. Four of their appeals will be heard in the next three weeks, the first on October 8, 2013.
“Ethnic Uzbeks wanted for charges related to the June 2010 violence face a real risk of being tortured in Kyrgyzstan,” said Mihra Rittmann, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Russian authorities have an absolute obligation to protect these men from torture, whatever the allegations against them.”
On October 8, the St. Petersburg City Court is scheduled to hear an appeal of the prosecutor general’s decision to extradite Botir Turgunov, 35, and on October 9, the Tatarstan Supreme Court will consider 25-year-old Vokhid Aliev’s appeal. The Primorskii Kraevoi Court is to consider 52-year-old Nabid Abdullaev’s appeal on October 18, and the St. Petersburg City Court will hear the appeal by Mirodil Tojibaev, 25, on October 23. Each appeal cites the risk of torture.
Abdilaziz Khamrakulov, 19, has filed a second appeal, to Russia’s Supreme Court, after the Moscow City Court upheld the prosecutor general’s extradition order in a September 9 hearing.
Each of the men is wanted on one or more criminal charges stemming from the June 2010 violence, including participation in mass riots, intentional infliction of grievous bodily harm, intentional destruction of property, unlawful possession of weapons, and kidnapping.
The ethnic violence that engulfed southern Kyrgyzstan claimed hundreds of lives and resulted in massive destruction of property. While horrific crimes were committed against both Uzbeks and Kyrgyz, ethnic Uzbeks endured the majority of casualties and destroyed homes, as well as criminal prosecutions resulting from the violence.
Human Rights Watch research from 2010 through 2013 in southern Kyrgyzstan found that criminalinvestigations into the June 2010 violence have been marred by widespread arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment, including torture, and that the use of torture by law enforcement officials in their investigations was widespread.
Human Rights Watch also documentedthe disproportionate and unjust targeting of ethnic Uzbeks for prosecution, and how this group has a heightened risk of torture in custody.
Russian authorities detained Tojibaev in St. Petersburg in October 2012; Turgunov and Khamrakulov in St. Petersburg and Moscow, respectively, in January 2013; and Aliev and Abdullaev in Kazan and Vladivostok, respectively, in March 2013. Four of the men fled Kyrgyzstan in the immediate aftermath of the June 2010 violence and the fifth fled in 2012.
Following their arrests, each of the five men filed for asylum in Russia, claiming a fear of being persecuted on grounds of their ethnicity in Kyrgyzstan, but Russia’s Federal Migration Service (FMS) rejected the men’s applications. In recent months, each man has appealed the denial of refugee status in Russia’s courts. In addition, Tojibaev applied for temporary protection but was refused. He has also appealed that decision.
Russian authorities should ensure that each asylum seeker has the right to fully appeal a denial of refugee status by the migration service, Human Rights Watch said. In addition, even if an applicant has exhausted those appeals, authorities should grant the person the opportunity to apply for temporary protection on human rights or humanitarian grounds. Any extradition, deportation, or other removal from Russia should be suspended pending the outcome of those appeals.
The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office, between July and September 2013, approved all five extradition requests from the Kyrgyz Prosecutor General’s Office although the men had not fully exhausted their right to appeal their asylum claims, and despite the real risk of torture each faces in Kyrgyzstan.
Earlier in 2013, Russia’s Prosecutor General’s office approved the extradition to Kyrgyzstan of three other ethnic Uzbeks, in violation of international human rights law. Their lawyers filed complaints with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which issued an order to stay the men’s extradition until their appeals could be fully reviewed by the court. The men have been released from custody and remain in Russia pending the European Court’s decision on their case.
Reliable reports by Kyrgyz nongovernmental organizations, United Nations bodies, and Human Rights Watch indicate that torture is a longstanding problem in Kyrgyzstan. In February 2012, following his visit to Kyrgyzstan in 2011, the UN special rapporteur on torture concluded that the use of torture and ill-treatment to coerce confessions remains widespread and that impunity for torture remains the norm. He also cited poor prison conditions in Kyrgyzstan, noting, “The general conditions in most places of detention visited amount to inhuman and degrading treatment.”
“The judges in these extradition cases should respect Russia’s binding legal obligations not to return anyone to a country where he faces a serious risk of torture,” Rittmann said. “This means the men cannot legally be returned to Kyrgyzstan.”
Those obligations are spelled out in international law and treaties to which Russia is a party, including the Convention against Torture, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights.
In at least one of the cases, Russian authorities have obtained assurances from the Kyrgyz authorities that the man will not be tortured if he is extradited. Such assurances provide an ineffective safeguard against the risk of torture, Human Rights Watch said.
Following the fifth periodic review of Russia’s compliance with the Convention against Torture, the UN Committee Against Torture in December 2012 noted concern about reports of Russia relying on diplomatic assurances to return people to countries where they face a well-founded risk of torture. The committee expressed specific concern about returns to Central Asia, “when those extraditions or expulsions expose the individuals concerned to a substantial risk that they will be subjected to torture in their countries of origin.” The committee recommended that Russia stop relying on diplomatic assurances in extradition or expulsion cases where there is a risk of torture.
The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly reaffirmed the absolute ban on sending people to countries where they are at risk of torture and ill-treatment. The European Court has blocked extraditions and deportations based on diplomatic assurances finding that in particular cases they failed to offer an effective safeguard against the risk of torture.
“It’s a simple matter. No country is allowed to return someone to a place where there is a risk of torture, diplomatic assurances or not,” Rittmann said. “Sending any of these men to Kyrgyzstan – where torture has been well-documented – would be a grave violation.”