Speech at the hearings of the subcommittee on Human Rights of the European Parliament within the framework of the discussion on “The EU - Central Asia. Strategy for a New Partnership”
6 May 2015 (15:00-16:15)
I address all those present in this hall. I would like to draw your attention to the situation of human rights in Uzbekistan on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Andijan tragedy.
The mass murder committed by the government of the dictator Islam Karimov on 13 May 2005 is a crime to which the statute of limitations does not apply. And it still needs an international independent investigation.
Misuse of firearms led to many victims. The Andijan tragedy was a natural consequence of the repressive policies of the Karimov regime. These policies exclude the observance of the Constitution and international agreements on human rights ratified by Uzbekistan.
EU sanctions against Uzbekistan imposed after the Andijan tragedy were an important signal, which showed that the EU takes human rights issues seriously. However, the EU lifted the sanctions, although its conditions were not met. In 2007, the EU initiated a dialogue in the field of human rights with the government of Uzbekistan. A political bargaining, which resulted in worsening human rights situation in Uzbekistan.
More than 200 thousand people are in prison, not 46,000 as officially claimed. Of these, about 12 thousand are political prisoners including 40 civil society activists. A former Member of the Parliament of Uzbekistan, Murad Juraev, is serving the fifth consecutive sentence which totals to 21 years. The human rights defenders Isroil Kholdarov, Azam Farmonov, Ganikhon Mamatkhanov and a journalist Muhammad Bekzhanov are each serving a second consecutive sentence.
All attempts to appeal against their sentences were fruitless, because neither the judiciary nor the legislature is independent of the executive power. At the end of the last parliamentary elections, eight judges assumed office at the Parliament of Uzbekistan, one of whom is a member of a political party. Although, they were removed from holding an office in the judiciary recently, the fact that the Chairman of the Constitutional Court, as the head of the election commission, allowed them to run at the elections shows a complete disregard for the Constitution. Similarly, the dictator Islam Karimov is occupying his post for the fourth term in a row.
Over the past 10 years, 487 civil society activists were persecuted and their relatives subjected to discrimination. The number of refugees originating from the country is growing every year. During the reporting period, our organisation alone received applications from 1,112 Uzbek refugees. Our statistics do not include the number of the Andijan refugees. The total number of refugees is impossible to count, because not all apply to the UNHCR. Even now, not everyone knows the procedure for obtaining refugee status, and many are living illegally. Thousands of citizens of Uzbekistan are declared wanted by Interpol on trumped up charges, including eyewitnesses of the Andijan tragedy, and even well-known human rights defenders from Andijan Lutfullo Shamsutdinov, Muzaffarmirzo Iskhakov and others.
Continuing a purely formalistic dialogue on human rights between the EU and Uzbekistan is unacceptable. This leads to an increase in the number of victims of human rights violations in Uzbekistan and the refugees originating from the country, including illegal ones.
The EU member states are paying less and less attention to the human rights situation in Uzbekistan. And, they are creating more and more barriers against receiving refugees. Appeals of human rights organisations to the immigration services of these countries are often overlooked. This is the case even when all the conclusions of the human rights activist regarding the violations of the rights of refugees are documented. Not only that Uzbek courts and authorities ignore complaints of use of torture, by now, European countries no longer react to them. Thus, a group of Uzbek citizens were forcibly returned to Uzbekistan from Norway. Once back home, in violation of the principle of the presumption of innocence, before the trial, they were labelled as terrorists and traitors on the national television. Then, they were sentenced to imprisonment of up to 12 years. All of them were victims of torture. This is a result of policy of Norway. Recently, this country temporarily suspended the deportation of asylum-seekers to Uzbekistan. At the same time, Norway continues refusing to grant refugee status even to Uzbek human rights defenders. A similar practice exists in Sweden, Latvia and Poland. France and Britain also began to consider the cases of Uzbek refugees formalistically. These countries are also ignoring a clear evidence of use of torture in Uzbekistan, and the consequences faced by citizens of Uzbekistan for a long time living abroad. By living abroad longer than permitted, they are deemed to in breach of Article 223 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan (illegal exit from or entry in Republic of Uzbekistan).
Increasingly, members of religious communities and organisations are denied a safe haven. This also applies to businessmen, especially those who suffered from corruption and raider seizure of property carried out by inner circle of Islam Karimov’s daughters and highranking SNB officials.
By rejecting the asylum applications of Uzbek entrepreneurs, immigration officers ignore the fact that in Uzbekistan the rights of ownership are not protected at all, and the tax sector is extremely corrupt. The head of the tax administration is one of the richest and most influential people in Uzbekistan Batyr Parpiev - a close relative of Rustam Inoyatov, the head of the National Security Service. Mr Inoyatov is one of the 12 top Uzbek officials who was barred from entering the EU from 2005 to 2009.
Over the 26 years of Islam Karimov’s rule, not a single leader, including Mr Karimov himself, declared his income. At the same time, their property clearly does not correspond to their official income. In such a country it is difficult to be protected oneself from torture, to count on a fair trial, and even save lives. That is why even the businessmen are now turning into refugees. Migrant workers who have lived abroad for several months also seek asylum, because, upon returning to Uzbekistan, they are subjected to extortion of bribes, forced under torture to testify against themselves and those with whom they communicated abroad.
Immigration officials of the European Union often do not take into account that refugees from the countries of Central Asia are not always able to document the politically motivated persecution. In Uzbekistan, the authorities almost always take an individual in for interrogation without any official papers and refuse to investigate the use of torture. For example, in 2014, a human rights defender Fahriddin Tillaev was tortured during the investigation. His lawyer immediately filed a motion for a forensic medical examination, but the prosecutor's office and the court ignored it.
Another serious problem is that Uzbek security services have unlimited power. Moreover, they have the authority to act in the member states of the SCO and the CSTO. The exchange of refugees between Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan has become a common practice. More than 100 “Osh refugees” living in Uzbekistan illegally and under a total control of the SNB are under threat of deportation to their country of origin – Kyrgyzstan.
Over the past 4 months, our organisation documented 14 cases of abductions and disappearances of Uzbek citizens. Since 2007, political murders of three critics of the regime of Islam Karimov were committed. Muhammad Salih and Obid Qori Nazarov a prominent religious figure suffered several politically motivated attacks in Norway and Turkey, Sweden. We see numerous threats and intimidation against political refugees in Sweden, Norway, Holland, France, Canada and the United States. We are submitting our appeal to the prosecutors of the EU countries in this regard.
According to information available to our organisation, Uzbek diplomats are involved in this activity too. Before 2007, 20% of the diplomatic corps of Uzbekistan were linked to the National Security Service and its agents, however, now this figure is more than 50%. The Uzbek embassies coordinated intelligence activities of Uzbekistan in the EU. This information is obtained from a reliable source. All candidates for diplomatic posts are approved by the SNB. We note signs of involvement of Uzbek oligarchs controlled by the SNB in threats against political refugees and assault on them. The former first deputy chairman of the National Security Council Hayot Sharifhodzhaev and his jailed younger brother Javdat Sharifhodzhaev are publicly known. Few years ago, they were engaged in extortion from successful entrepreneurs using their official position; some of the businessmen were forced to pay for special operations/measures aimed at eliminating opponents of the regime abroad. All the information that human rights defenders have collected about these measures need to be sent to the relevant institutions to combat such practices.
For the last 10 years, the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia documented 114 cases of murders, abductions, disappearances of individuals living abroad. These incidents involved the Uzbek security services, diplomats and oligarchs.
Ethnic Karakalpaks are discriminated against in Uzbekistan. They are persecuted not only for striving to separate the autonomous republic of Karakalpakstan from Uzbekistan. Residents of Karakalpakstan suffer from pollution, but not one of them was recognised as an "environmental refugee". It is essential to include a program to support the population Karaklpakstan in the dialogue in the field of human rights.
It is unacceptable to continue a purely formalistic dialogue in the field of human rights between the EU and Uzbekistan. The current dialogue encourages repression and needs radical reform.
The EU needs to revert to the original demands that were put forward to the Government of Uzbekistan when lifting the sanctions in 2009 , which have not yet been complied with. Also, it is time to begin implementation of the resolution of the European Parliament, adopted in October 2014. The European Parliament must reiterate that it is important to maintain a consistent policy of the EU regarding Uzbekistan.
The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, IPHR, HRW, Amnesty International and FIDH call upon the EU to:
1) insist on an independent international investigation into the Andijan tragedy in 2005;
2) insist on release of imprisoned human rights defenders and other activists of the civil society of Uzbekistan;
3) to demand renewal of accreditation of HRW representatives in the country;
4) insist on creation of conditions allowing the mission of the International Red Cross to visit places of detention;
5) insist on abolition of the practice of forced labour;
6) insist on granting access of 11 thematic special rapporteurs of the United Nations to Uzbekistan;
7) support the establishment of the office of the Special Rapporteur on Uzbekistan by the Council of the UN on Human Rights because the Uzbek government refuses to cooperate with UN human rights institutions, grossly and systematically violate human rights.
On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Andijan tragedy, I again appeal to you and hope that a new strategy of relations between the EU and Uzbekistan will be adopted. I, as a citizen of Uzbekistan, wish my country to respect freedom of speech, there was an independent judiciary, stable conditions to be created for the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms. The EU can make a historic contribution to the development of democracy in Uzbekistan.