Uzbekistan: Tortured Activist Wins Landmark UN Ruling
A human rights campaigner who alleges that she was tortured, gang-raped and forcibly sterilized while in custody in Uzbekistan has won a landmark United Nations ruling ordering Tashkent to investigate and prosecute those responsible for her ordeal.
The UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) found there had been “multiple violations” of the rights of Mutabar Tadjibayeva, an activist who now lives in exile in Paris, a press release issued by three human rights groups on October 8 said.
These include her rights “to be free from torture and ill-treatment; to liberty and security; to a fair trial; to freedom of expression; and to be protected against discrimination on the grounds of sex and opinion,” the press release from Tadjibayeva’s own group, the Fiery Hearts Club, and two international groups supporting her, London-based Redress and Paris-based FIDH.
“I hope this decision adds to the struggle against impunity in Uzbekistan and serves to put an end to the many indignities committed against human rights defenders by its repressive regime,” Tadjibayeva said in response to the UNHRC ruling, issued on October 6.
Tadjibayeva alleged in a complaint filed with the UN in 2012 that she was tortured, gang-raped and forcibly sterilized (a practice the government denies but which has been documented by the BBC) while in custody in Uzbekistan, where she was jailed in 2005 shortly after a bout of fatal unrest in her hometown of Andijan.
The charges against her – fraud and membership of an illegal organization – were widely held to have been trumped up as part of a massive crackdown on human rights campaigners in the wake of that violence.
“As a result of the torture and incarceration, [Tadjibayeva] has difficulties walking, has severe diabetes, significant problems to her eyesight[,] has depression, memory loss and anxiety,” according to a UNHCR summary of her complaint obtained by EurasiaNet.org.
President Islam Karimov's government contested the case, arguing that Tadjibayeva’s allegations were “invented and biased,” according to the summary. Her claims have already been investigated in Uzbekistan, where they were deemed unsubstantiated, Tashkent argued.
Those arguments cut no ice with the UNHRC, which noted that “instead of providing detailed information and explanations to the Committee in refutation, the State party accused the author of having presented ‘invented and biased’ allegations.”
The UNHRC said Tadjibayeva “provides detailed account[s] of the different types of persecution that she was subjected to, and her description is supported by detailed and well-documented evidence.”
Uzbekistan “is under an obligation to provide the author with an effective remedy,” the committee concluded, including conducting “an impartial, effective and thorough investigation into the allegations of torture and ill-treatment and initiating criminal proceedings against those responsible; and providing “appropriate compensation.” Tashkent is also obliged “to take steps to prevent similar violations,” it said.
The UNHRC gave Uzbekistan 180 days to inform it of the measures taken to meet these obligations.
Tadjibayeva has seized on the verdict to refresh people's memory about the numerous political prisoners still behind bars in Uzbekistan. Human Rights Watch estimated in a report published last year that thousands of people are languishing in jail in Uzbekistan because of their political or religious convictions.
Tadjibayeva called for the creation of a state commission of enquiry “to examine the grave position and ill-treatment of political prisoners in Uzbekistan,” although since Tashkent denies holding any political prisoners it is unlikely to heed her call.
“[Political prisoners] should be immediately released,” Tadjibayeva said. “I am just one of the many victims of torture in Uzbek prisons.”
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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