UN Rebuke for Kazakstan Over Refugee Return
|Publisher||Institute for War and Peace Reporting|
|Publication Date||26 June 2012|
|Citation / Document Symbol||CRS Issue 647|
|Cite as||Institute for War and Peace Reporting, UN Rebuke for Kazakstan Over Refugee Return, 26 June 2012, CRS Issue 647, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4feda09e2.html [accessed 19 September 2014]|
The United Nations Committee Against Torture says Kazakstan acted illegally by sending 28 asylum-seekers to neighbouring Uzbekistan last year.
The UN committee ruled on the issue on June 1, and made its findings public in a letter to the French anti-torture group ACAT, which had been representing the Uzbek asylum-seekers' claims against the Kazak state.
In December 2010, ACAT France filed a complaint with the Committee Against Torture on behalf of a total of 29 individuals – 27 Uzbekistan nationals and two citizens of Tajikistan – who were detained in Kazakstan and were believed to be at risk of being sent to Uzbekistan, where they might face torture and ill-treatment in custody.
Despite these concerns, the Kazak authorities announced that 28 individuals were extradited to Uzbekistan on June 9, 2011.
In its June 2012 ruling, the UN committee ruled that the extradition placed the Kazak authorities in breach of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, and that they should therefore ensure that the individuals concerned were brought back to Kazakstan and offered compensation.
Kazakstan was able to expedite the extradition because of new rules introduced in 2010 under which the state authorities decide who is awarded refugee status, so that even asylum-seekers who had already been assigned refugee status by the UN refugee agency UNHCR had to re-apply to the government. The decision was particularly alarming for asylum-seekers from neighbouring Uzbekistan, where the government frequently seeks their extradition.
The parents of two of those extradited described how they were sent to trial once back in Uzbekistan, in a judicial process they said was rushed and full of flaws.
They two were sentenced to ten and 19 years in prison, respectively, after being found guilty of being part of an "extremist organisation" – generally a reference to banned Islamist groups.
One mother said there was little pretence of a fair trial, and the defendants were not allowed to speak.
"When we said we would appeal, the judge rudely told me we had no right of appeal, and he added that if we did so anyway, we would only be harming our son in prison," she said. "He advised us not complain, but to accept the sentence, and in a few years our son would be let out under an amnesty."
Despite the stern rebuke the UN committee delivered to Kazakstan, leading human rights campaigner Yevgeny Zhovtis said the country's government was unlikely to show any visible reaction.
"The authorities will take this ruling as a recommendation that doesn't imply any legal obligation to take action," Zhovtis, who heads the Kazakstan Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, said. "And they can always cite the Minsk and Kishinev conventions that require members of the Commonwealth of Independent States to assist one another on legal matters."
At the same time, he said, the UN committee's decision was a blow to Kazakstan's reputation and might just make the government more cautious about repatriating asylum-seekers.
The Committee Against Torture required Kazakstan to respond to its conclusions within 90 days. Zhovtis said it would be worth watching to see how the committee pursued matters and ensured that Kazakstan complied with the ruling.