UN rights chief again calls for independent probe into May killings in Uzbekistan

12 July 2005 – Citing credible eyewitness testimony “strongly suggesting” that Uzbek military and security forces committed grave human rights violations which could amount to a “mass killing” in May, the United Nations human rights agency today reiterated calls for an independent international probe.

A summary of a report by an Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) mission to neighbouring Kyrgyzstan in June noted that significantly diverging casualty figures and unanswered questions about the seizure of a regional administrative building, the overrunning of a prison and the subsequent release of prisoners required clarification through comprehensive investigation.

It noted that the Government claimed fewer than 200 people were killed, while other sources put the death toll at hundreds more in the violence in the eastern city of Andijan. “It is not excluded, as described by eyewitnesses interviewed, that the Andijan incidents amounted to a ‘mass killing,’" OHCHR said, summarizing the report.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour originally called for an independent investigation into the Andijan events on 18 May. After reviewing the findings of the June mission, which interviewed some of some 450 Uzbek asylum-seekers who fled to Kyrgyzstan, Ms. Arbour wrote to Uzbek President Islam Karimov on 23 June reiterating her call. No reply has so far been received.

The report said there was an urgent need to trace those who had disappeared as well as for a stay of deportation of Uzbek asylum-seekers and eyewitnesses of the Andijan events who would face the risk of torture if returned to Uzbekistan.

It called on the Government of Uzbekistan to ensure adequate compensation for the families of the victims and said the international community must be granted access to four asylum seekers who have already been deported from Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan.

“In light of the consistent pattern of human rights violations in Uzbekistan reflected in the findings of United Nations human rights treaty bodies and the special procedures of the Commission on Human Rights, the international community may also consider the need for the establishment of a public mechanism of scrutiny of the situation in Uzbekistan,” OHCHR said.

In a related development, authorities in neighbouring Kazakhstan today released a prominent Uzbek human rights activist who had taken refuge there following the Andijan violence and put him under the protection of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“We very much welcome this decision by Kazakh authorities,” UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva, adding that the agency was flying Lutfullo Shamsuddinov and his family to a European country – “which we cannot name” – where he will stay temporarily pending permanent resettlement elsewhere.

Mr. Shamsuddinov was arrested in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on 4 July at the request of Uzbek authorities, who were asking for his extradition.

“By handing over Mr. Shamsuddinov to our care, the Kazakh Government made a very concrete commitment to upholding international principles,” Mr. Redmond said. “We recognize that this decision was a brave one in the regional context, at a time when neighbouring countries have been coming under strong pressure from Uzbekistan to return Uzbek asylum-seekers and refugees.”

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