Painting a very grim picture of the human rights situation in Uzbekistan, including torture, harassment and a lack of access and independent investigation into the killings in Andijan in 2005, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today warned there has been no progress over the past year and urged the Government to improve things.
While welcoming the Uzbek decision to abolish the death penalty as of 2008, Mr. Annan encourages the authorities to immediately introduce a moratorium on the passing of death sentences, stresses the importance of implementing recommendations by UN treaty bodies and urges them to cooperate with UN experts and officials, particularly in allowing access.
“The lack of response from the Government of Uzbekistan to the call for the establishment of an international commission of inquiry to examine the facts and circumstances of the Andijan events coupled with the persistence of allegations of serious human rights violations, demonstrate that there has been no improvement since… [December 2005],” he states in his latest report on human rights in the country.
“Of particular concern is the deteriorating situation of human rights defenders and the increased restrictions on the activities of civil society, including non-governmental organizations,” says Mr. Annan, who also quotes an independent Special Rapporteur speaking of “ample evidence” of torture by police and other security forces.
“The Secretary-General urges the Government of Uzbekistan to spare no effort to protect and safeguard the rights of eyewitnesses to the Andijan events and their families, as well as journalists, human rights defenders and other members of civil society,” it adds, referring to the clashes between Uzbek troops and protesters that reportedly left hundreds dead.
Quoting from a wide range of sources, including UN, European Union and others, the report includes the concerns raised by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour when she told the Human Rights Council that the closed-door policies and denial of access were sources of grave concern, and regretted that her Office had also been prevented from assessing the trials into the Andijan events.
“Since mid-May 2005, OHCHR and the special procedures of the Commission on Human Rights have received a significant amount of credible information on harassment and detention of eyewitnesses of the events in Andijan, as well as journalists, media officers and human rights defenders who reported on these events,” the report states.
It also highlights concerns over asylum seekers and refugees who fled Andijan and have been detained or returned to Uzbekistan, including fears for the safety of five men who were returned by Kyrgyz authorities in August.
The Uzbek Government claimed fewer than 200 people were killed in the unrest. However, more than 450 of the Uzbek refugees subsequently provided testimony to Ms. Arbour’s office regarding the events of 13 May 2005 and a report in July concluded that based on consistent, credible testimony, military and security forces committed grave human rights violations that day.
Noting that Uzbek authorities called for the closure of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Uzbekistan earlier this year, it further states this has “weakened protection of human rights of refugees in the country.
Calling on the Government to work closely with the enhanced Human Rights Council, Mr. Annan further calls for Special Rapporteurs and Representatives to be allowed to visit the country and follow-up on their work, highlighting in particular remarks made in April by the Special Rapporteur on the question of torture.
“There is ample evidence that both police and other security forces have been and are continuing to systematically practise torture, in particular against dissidents or people who are opponents of the regime,” the report quotes the Rapporteur as saying.