Survivors of torture and the May 13 massacre of unarmed protesters in Andijan, Uzbekistan, filed a case on Monday in Germany calling for the prosecution of Zokirjon Almatov, Uzbekistan’s Minister of Internal Affairs, for crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said today. Almatov is in Germany receiving medical treatment.
“This case represents a unique opportunity to bring a measure of truth and justice for some of the horrors that occurred under the command of Zokirjon Almatov,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “While the victims could not safely seek justice in Uzbekistan, German law allows them to seek redress before a German court.”
German law recognizes universal jurisdiction for torture and crimes against humanity. This means that Germany can try and punish the perpetrators of such crimes, no matter where the crimes were committed, and regardless of the nationality of the perpetrators and victims.
Victims of abuse in Uzbekistan asked the German federal prosecutor to open a criminal investigation and pursue Almatov on three counts: individual crimes of torture, torture as a crime against humanity and the Andijan massacre as a crime against humanity. Crimes against humanity include widespread or systematic crimes against civilians, including murder and torture.
Human Rights Watch provided evidence to the prosecutor, supporting the victims’ allegations against Almatov. Since the mid-1990s, Human Rights Watch has extensively documented the use of torture by police under Almatov’s command. Human Rights Watch also handed over evidence about the role of the police in the massacre of hundreds of civilians in Andijan in May 2005.
Almatov is accused of being responsible for the use of torture by police in places of pre-trial detention and in prisons, locations under his direct control.
Human Rights Watch said it is now up to the federal prosecutor of Germany to decide whether or not to open a criminal case against Almatov and pursue the matter.
“The facts are there,” said Cartner. “If the prosecutor applies the law to the facts, Almatov will be arrested and tried in Germany.”
Germany has been a leader in creating accountability mechanisms for the most serious crimes under international law. The German government was a strong supporter of efforts to establish the International Criminal Court, and incorporated that court’s statute of international crimes into its own domestic law. This commitment to international justice reflects Germany’s struggle to come to terms with its own history and its recognition of the importance of bringing to justice those responsible for crimes such as mass slaughter, forced displacement on ethnic grounds and rape as a weapon of war.
“Germany has been a strong supporter of the International Criminal Court and its investigations in Africa,” added Cartner. “With the Almatov case, Germany has the chance to demonstrate its commitment by bringing justice through its own courts.”
In 2002, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture found torture in Uzbekistan to be “systematic.” Methods of torture that police use against people in detention include beatings with truncheons, electric shock, hanging people by their wrists or ankles, rape and sexual humiliation, asphyxiation with plastic bags and gas masks, and threats of physical harm to relatives.
One of the cases Human Rights Watch brought to the prosecutor’s attention was that of Muzafar Avazov, who died in August 2002 after having been immersed in boiling water in Jaslyk prison, run by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. He was arrested on charges of religious extremism.
Almatov also commanded the troops who bore primary responsibility for the mass killings that marked the bloodiest day in Uzbekistan’s recent history.
On May 13, 2005, in Andijan, thousands of protesters, almost all unarmed, were surrounded by troops from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, as well as other security forces. Without warning, these forces opened fire on the crowd, killing and wounding hundreds. Those who tried to escape were mowed down by a waiting flank of government troops or were picked off by snipers posted atop surrounding buildings. Witnesses have said that the fleeing civilians did not stand a chance against the government’s firepower.
One eyewitness to the bloodshed, who saw people shot and killed all around him, told Human Rights Watch, “It was almost impossible to survive.” He said that the day after the slaughter, police walked among the bodies remaining on the ground and asked, “Who is wounded?” When those still living answered, “I am,” the officers fired single shots at them from guns with silencers, killing them. Those who could manage it fled the scene and crossed the border into Kyrgyzstan, and eventually to safety.
“Survivors of the massacre in Andijan have been brave enough to come forward with their memories of that horrible day,” said Cartner. “They are asking for justice, and they deserve nothing less.”