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Germany: Almatov's Exit No Bar to Prosecution

Germany’s federal prosecutor should initiate an investigation into Uzbek Internal Affairs Minister Zokirjon Almatov’s responsibility for alleged crimes against humanity even if he may have left Germany, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch made its call amidst unconfirmed reports that Almatov left Germany, where he had traveled in November to receive medical treatment for cancer.

Uzbek victims of torture and survivors of the May 13 massacre in the Uzbek city of Andijan, assisted by Human Rights Watch, filed a complaint against Almatov with the German federal prosecutor on December 12. They asked the prosecutor to pursue Almatov on three counts: individual crimes of torture, torture as a crime against humanity, and crimes against humanity in connection with the massacre in Andijan. Almatov’s presence in Germany is not necessary to start an investigation on the last two counts.

As documented in comprehensive reports by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and others, hundreds of demonstrators were gunned down by Uzbek security forces in Andijan in May. As minister of internal affairs, Almatov had command responsibility for those security forces.

“Victims of the bloody crackdown in Andijan suffered horribly at Almatov’s hands,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “They deserve justice, and he should not get away with it just because he leaves Germany.”

The European Union imposed sanctions, including a ban on travel to EU countries for 12 Uzbek officials it considers responsible for the indiscriminate and excessive use of force in Andijan. Almatov is on top of that list. However, days before the EU released the 12 names subject to the visa ban, German authorities granted Almatov a visa on humanitarian grounds to undergo treatment for cancer. But Almatov appears to have left the country following news reports of a possible investigation into his crimes.

A criminal investigation against Almatov in Germany is possible under universal jurisdiction, which reflects the principle that some crimes so offend humankind that courts anywhere have jurisdiction to try them, no matter where they were committed, and no matter the nationality of the accused or the victims. The only precondition is that the country where such legal action is taken must have passed laws, like Germany, allowing its courts to exercise this jurisdiction. German legislation is exemplary in this regard.

“To act in full conformity with Germany’s universal jurisdiction laws, the prosecutor should have begun a criminal investigation into Almatov’s alleged crimes as soon as he arrived in Germany,” said Cartner. “We deplore this failure, and urge the prosecutor to launch an investigation without any further delay, even if Almatov has left the country.”

An indictment by the federal prosecutor would likely be followed by an international arrest warrant for Almatov, which would mean that almost anywhere he travels he would be subject to arrest and extradition to Germany to face criminal prosecution.

“The evidence against Almatov is simply overwhelming,” said Cartner. “Based on the facts alone, there is no question that the Germans should investigate at once.”

In a statement issued on Friday, Manfred Nowak, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, reminded Germany of its obligations and called for Almatov’s prosecution. Theo van Boven, the former Special Rapporteur, who visited Uzbekistan in late 2002, has likewise expressed his strong support for the victims’ claims and stressed the unique opportunity Germany has to bring Almatov to justice. In an affidavit submitted this week to the German Federal Prosecutor, Antonio Cassese, former President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, argued that Almatov does not enjoy diplomatic immunity from criminal investigation and prosecution in Germany.

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