Ban Ki-moon must challenge Uzbekistan over its appalling human rights record

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon must confront Uzbekistan’s leadership on the country’s appalling human rights record during his visit this Friday, said Amnesty International.

The Uzbekistani authorities, who have long ignored the UN’s overtures on human rights, must also pledge immediate and urgent reforms to end torture and the myriad of other abuses condoned by the government.

The rights group urges Ban Ki-moon, who is in Central Asia from 9-12 June, to firmly reassert the UN’s prior calls for Uzbekistan to honor its international obligations and to demand that UN human rights experts be allowed to enter the country.

“Even with Ban’s impending visit, the Uzbekistani police and security apparatus continues to brazenly commit acts of torture. What will it take before the Karimov regime takes its human rights commitments seriously? For more than a decade, Uzbekistan has thumbed its nose at every UN attempt to confront it with its grievous human rights abuses,” said John Dalhuisen, director of Amnesty International’s European and Central Asia Programme.

“The victims of Uzbekistan’s torture chambers are relying on Ban Ki-moon to make sure their voices are heard. The sexual assault of human rights defender Elena Urlaeva by police should all the more harden his resolve to talk tough on torture.”

Only last week, on May 31, Uzbekistani police detained Elena Urlaeva, head of the Human Rights Defenders’ Alliance of Uzbekistan, and subjected her to two invasive vaginal exams, an anal exam, and other deeply humiliating treatment, including being forced to urinate in front of police. The police were searching for a memory card on which Urlaeva had documented human rights violations, but clearly used this as an excuse to inflict severe pain and humiliation on her.

Elena Urlaeva’s abuse is just the most recent example of the pervasive and endemic use of torture to intimidate and humiliate the few human rights defenders left in Uzbekistan, and to force “confessions” from alleged suspects.
In an open letter to Ban Ki-moon, Amnesty International highlighted the plight of other torture victims. The letter acknowledged the Secretary General’s past attempts to take Uzbekistan’s leadership to task for egregious human rights violations and an environment of near total impunity for perpetrators.

Amnesty International’s letter called on Ban Ki-moon to raise the case of Muhammad Bekzhanov, the unjustly imprisoned editor of the banned opposition newspaper Erk, who was tortured in custody, forced to “confess” to trumped up charges, and remains imprisoned since his unfair trial in 1999.

The case of Azam Farmonov, who was tortured and convicted in 2006, was also raised. Slated for release last month, Farmonov’s prison sentence was extended for another five years, a tactic manifestly unlawful under international law but routinely employed by the authorities to sideline activists and opponents.

“Promoting human rights is foundational to the UN’s work, and respecting the absolute ban on torture, is an obligation of all Member States, including Uzbekistan. The Secretary-General has an opportunity to step into the void created by individual states according to their narrow self-interests and take the Uzbekistani authorities to task for the routine horrific abuses they have perpetrated against their nationals for so many years,” said John Dalhuisen.

On 15 April, Amnesty International’s report Secrets and lies: Forced confessions under torture in Uzbekistan warned that torture was “endemic” in the country, with special torture chambers in some facilities used to deliver electric shocks, asphyxiate and rape victims.

The report accused the USA and EU governments of failing to take a tough enough line on the country’s human rights record because it is an important geostrategic partner in military and counter-terrorism operations as well as in business and resource extraction.