New York (AsiaNews/HRW) Kyrgyz authorities should not return refugees to Uzbekistan where they are at risk of torture, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today in an open letter to Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
Uzbekistan requested the extradition of five men currently in detention in Kyrgyzstan for their alleged involvement in violent acts during the protest in Andijan in May 2005. But according to many foreign governments and international organisations, Uzbek authorities used excessive and indiscriminate force against mostly unarmed protesters in Andijan, killing hundreds of civilians.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has formally recognized four of the five as refugees.
"We urge President Bakiyev 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.
For HRW, the extradition requests are part of a massive campaign of repression that Uzbek authorities launched after the Andijan massacre in order to silence witnesses and coerce testimony that would support the official version of events, namely that protesters were trying to violently overthrow the government and install an Islamic Caliphate.
Dozens of individuals accused of participation in the Andijan protest have been tortured into confessing. Alleged ring leaders have been convicted 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 these 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 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1984 Convention against Torture, which Kyrgyzstan signed, impose a mandatory bar on the return of refugees and prohibit the return of persons to places where they are likely to be tortured.
In 2003, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture found torture in Uzbekistan to be "systematic."
Back in July of this year, the Kyrgyz government allowed more than 400 refugees, who fled the violence in Andijan, to leave for Romania. (PB)