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Human Rights Watch's Letter to President Bakiev

I am writing to urge that the government of Kyrgyzstan refrain from forcibly returning to Uzbekistan four Uzbek refugees who have been in Kyrgyz custody since June 2005. Returning them to Uzbekistan would violate Kyrgyzstan’s obligations under international law pertaining to refugee protection and torture prevention.

The four men, Jahongir Maksudov, Rasul Pirmatov, Odiljon Rahimov, and Yakub Tashbaev were among more than 400 Uzbek refugees who fled to Kyrgyzstan following the May 13, 2005 massacre in Andijan. They have been in custody since they were detained by Kyrgyz authorities on June 9, 2005, following an extradition request by Uzbekistan. The Uzbek government has accused them of involvement in acts of violence during the Andijan events.

Human Rights Watch appreciates the dialogue we have had with the Kyrgyz government throughout the past year about the fate of these four refugees. The matter has become urgent because on June 13 the last of the four men lost his Supreme Court appeal against a decision by the Kyrgyz migration service denying his application for refugee status. As you know, the other three had lost their appeals earlier in 2006. This marks the exhaustion of the four men’s legal appeals, and it is now up to the office of the prosecutor general to determine whether they will be extradited.

The four men were recognized as refugees by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and, according to UNHCR, have been offered resettlement by third countries. Should it return Maksudov, Pirmatov, Rahimov, and Tashbaev to Uzbekistan, the Kyrgyz government would violate the mandatory prohibition on the return of refugees under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, which Kyrgyzstan ratified in 1996.

Moreover, returning the four to Uzbekistan would violate the absolute prohibition on the return of persons to places where they risk torture, which is articulated in article 3 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Kyrgyzstan ratified the convention in 1997.

Maksudov, Pirmatov, Rahimov, and Tashbaev face serious risk of torture and possible death in custody in Uzbekistan. The brutal treatment meted out to detainees in Uzbekistan is well known as the widespread practice of torture there has been well-documented. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture concluded in 2003 that torture in Uzbekistan was “systematic.” The four refugees are at particular risk of torture and harsh treatment in custody because the Uzbek government clearly aims to blame them for the violence in Andijan and make an example of them. Since the Andijan massacre, Human Rights Watch has documented a massive government crackdown to conceal the truth about the Andijan killings and to fabricate evidence that would support the official version of events. In dozens of cases the authorities have coerced such “confessions” from individuals, using torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment. Human Rights Watch is therefore deeply concerned that these men would be tortured during interrogations aimed at securing “confessions,” and that these coerced confessions would be used to sentence the men to long prison terms after unfair trials.

Human Rights Watch has learned that the government of Uzbekistan may have offered the government of Kyrgyzstan so-called diplomatic assurances that the four refugees would not be tortured if they were returned. These assurances are not credible and do not provide a sufficient or reliable guarantee of the men’s safety. Promises to grant international organizations access to the men once they are in Uzbek custody also lack credibility. In June 2005 Kyrgyz authorities forcibly returned four asylum seekers to Uzbekistan with the understanding that their treatment in custody would be monitored. However, no international organization, not even the International Committee of the Red Cross, has been given access to them. In December 2005, three of these men were sentenced following unfair trials to lengthy prison terms on charges related to the Andijan events.

These men must not be returned to Uzbekistan. Human Rights Watch expresses its sincere hope that you will exert leadership in ensuring that the government of Kyrgyzstan will honor its international obligations and will guarantee that Maksudov, Pirmatov, Rahimov, and Tashbaev their fundamental right to protection from torture and persecution.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent concern.

Sincerely,

Holly Cartner
Executive Director
Europe and Central Asia division

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