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Kyrgyzstan: Do Not Return Uzbek Refugees

Men Face Torture Back Home

Uzbekistan has requested the extradition of five men for their alleged involvement in violent acts during the protest in Andijan in May 2005. Kyrgyz authorities must not return refugees to Uzbekistan where they are at risk of torture, Human Rights Watch said today in an open letter to Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev.

Five men currently in detention in Kyrgyzstan are facing possible extradition to Uzbekistan. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has formally recognized four – Yakub Tashbaev, Rasul Pirmatov, Jahongir Maksudov, Odiljan Rahimov – as refugees. The fifth, identified only by his surname, Tadjihalilov, is an asylum seeker, but UNHCR has yet to be granted access to him.

“We urge President Bakiev to uphold Kyrgyzstan’s international legal obligations and protect the people who sought refuge there,” said Holly Cartner, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division.

Uzbekistan has requested the extradition of the five men for their alleged involvement in violent acts during the protest in Andijan in May 2005. A Human Rights Watch investigation has shown that the Uzbek authorities used excessive and indiscriminate force against mostly unarmed protesters in Andijan, killing hundreds of civilians.

The extradition requests for refugees who fled to Kyrgyzstan are part of a massive campaign of repression that Uzbek authorities launched after the massacre in order to silence witnesses and coerce testimony that would support the official version of events. Dozens of individuals accused of participation in the Andijan protest have been tortured into confessing.

The authorities have used coerced statements to obtain convictions in closed proceedings that blatantly violated both national and international law. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour has repeatedly expressed her deep concern about the fairness of the Andijan-related trials.

“Torture is rampant in Uzbekistan, and fair-trial standards are routinely ignored,” said Cartner. “Returning refugees to such a country is both illegal and unconscionable.”

The return would violate the mandatory bar on the return of refugees under the 1951 Refugee Convention, as well as the prohibition on the return of persons to places where they are likely to be tortured, under the 1984 Convention Against Torture.

In late July 2005, the Kyrgyz government allowed more than 400 refugees, who fled the violence in Andijan, to leave for Romania. Human Rights Watch urges the Kyrgyz authorities to demonstrate their continued commitment to universal human rights principles and international refugee law.

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