Background Briefing

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Deportations and Ongoing Arrests

The Andijan massacre and its aftermath drove untold numbers of people to flee persecution or the fear of persecution in Uzbekistan and seek refuge in other countries in the region, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, and Russia. The Uzbek government’s aggressive drive to have many of these individuals forcibly returned to Uzbekistan has created a spillover human rights crisis, with a number of individuals already forcibly returned to Uzbekistan and scores of others facing an immediate danger of such return to near-certain torture and other human rights abuses. Details about the whereabouts and fate of those returned are scarce but there is every reason to be concerned about their safety and well-being. The Uzbek government has steadfastly denied access to them by international monitors.

Returns from Kyrgyzstan: On June 9, 2005, the government of Kyrgyzstan forcibly returned four asylum seekers to Uzbekistan pursuant to an extradition request from the Uzbek authorities. As a party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, Kyrgyzstan had an obligation not to return people whose asylum claims had not yet been examined or who would face threats to their lives or risk of persecution, including torture, upon return. The returns may also have violated the U.N. Convention against Torture, which imposes a similar prohibition. The “forced returns” were widely condemned by the international community. The Kyrgyz government later acknowledged that the returns had been a mistake and promised to investigate the matter. However, Human Rights Watch has no information that such an investigation was ever conducted. Three of the returnees were later tried in Uzbekistan and sentenced to prison terms ranging from thirteen to seventeen years; the fate of the fourth returnee is not known to Human Rights Watch.

Returns from Kazakhstan: In late November 2005, Kazakh authorities forcibly returned seventeen persons who had fled persecution in Uzbekistan. At least eight of the returnees are accused of membership in Akramia and participation in the May 13 demonstration in Andijan. The men are currently awaiting trial in Tashkent.

Returns from Ukraine: On the night of February 14-15, 2006, Ukraine forcibly returned to Uzbekistan ten Uzbek men wanted by the Uzbek government in relation to the Andijan uprising. Nine of the ten had registered as asylum seekers with the UNHCR office in Kiev; the tenth reportedly had wanted to lodge an asylum request, but had not been able to do so. UNHCR issued a statement deploring the forced return of the entire group. Currently the men are awaiting trial. They are charged with terrorism, membership in an extremist religious organization, and anti-constitutional activities.

Risk of Return from Russia: On June 18, 2005, fourteen Uzbeks were detained in the Russian town of Ivanovo pursuant to an arrest warrant issued by the Uzbek government. On August 8, they applied for refugee status with the Russian Federal Migration Service. The Ivanovo Regional Immigration Department denied them refugee status on the territory of the Russian Federation. The Frunzenskii District Court was scheduled to hear their appeal on February 13, 2006, but did not decide the case, which is still pending.

In addition to the above mentioned cases, Human Rights Watch has information that at least another dozen men were forcibly returned from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Russia in the first quarter of 2006.

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