Allow me to react to what I consider to be a misrepresentation by the former Federal Prosecutor of Germany, Mr. Kay Nehm, of my report on Uzbekistan, prepared in my former capacity as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. I am referring specifically to Mr. Nehm’s March 30, 2006 memorandum supporting his decision not to open a criminal investigation into the responsibility of the former Minister of Interior of Uzbekistan Zokir Almatov for torture and the massacre of unarmed civilians in Andijan, Uzbekistan in May 2005.
I was troubled to discover what appears to be an attempt to downplay my conclusion that torture in Uzbekistan is systematic by contrasting it with another citation from the report, invoking possible reasons why the central authorities might not be aware of (and hence not be responsible for) this practice. I should like to clarify that the citation in question, which appears on page 4 of the prosecutor’s decision, is taken from a footnote in my report that served to explain the term “systematic” as formulated by the United Nations Committee against Torture; it is a direct quote from the Committee’s definition of this term, and not my – or indeed the Committee’s – finding related to Uzbekistan.
From a careful reading of my report, and particularly in light of its appendix 2, which contains numerous testimonies by torture victims and their family members, it should be abundantly clear that my conclusion was that torture was rampant in Uzbekistan, and that if the senior authorities of the country did not know about its prevalence, it could only be because they did not want to know. In paragraphs 68 and 69 of the report, I elaborate on this conclusion, highlighting the pervasive and persistent nature of torture in Uzbekistan and, specifically, the responsibility of officials at the highest levels who did nothing to prevent it. As I noted in paragraph 69: “If the top leadership of these forces and those politically responsible above them do not know of the existence of a system which the Special Rapporteur’s delegation was able to discover in a few days, it can only be because of a lack of a desire to know.”
It is indeed troubling to me that Mr. Nehm ignored the substantive conclusions detailed in my report, which were based on thorough investigations and concrete findings. Instead, he relied on the footnoted reference described above—a reference that did not even purport to describe the situation in Uzbekistan—to suggest that torture may not be rampant in that country, in support of his decision not to open an investigation against Mr. Almatov and other key Uzbek government officials.
I also note the extensive references in Mr. Nehm’s memorandum to measures the Uzbek government claims to have taken to address the problem of torture in the country. As has been noted by numerous independent monitors and experts, these measures are nothing more than window dressing. It is surprising that the prosecutor cites these so-called reform steps without any attempt to determine whether these steps were effectively taken or whether they actually addressed the problem of torture in Uzbekistan, thereby leading one to conclude that Mr. Nehm accepted the Uzbek government’s claims at face value, without any thorough scrutiny.
In conclusion, I take this opportunity to express my deep regret about the Federal Prosecutor’s decision not to go forward with an investigation against Mr. Almatov. As I indicated in my statement of December 2005 in support of the initial complaint, failure to do so signals an implied and tacit tolerance of the Uzbek government’s abusive practices, and sends an adverse message of lack of concern for the suffering of the plaintiffs, who not only survived torture or escaped the massacre in Andijan, but took the courageous step to expose themselves by seeking redress for the crimes committed against them and indeed justice for the Uzbek population as a whole. It is my sincere hope that you, as the new incumbent in your high office, will reconsider this unwarranted decision and give the substantial evidence against Mr. Almatov and other key government officials all the serious, principled consideration it so clearly deserves.
Theo van Boven
(former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture)