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Uzbekistan: UN Rapporteur Faults Failure To Detain Former Interior Minister

UN special rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak (file photo) (AFP) Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently declared its intention to challenge a German federal prosecutor's decision not to open a case against former Uzbek Interior Minister Zokir Almatov, whose controversial visit to Germany for medical treatment infuriated those who accuse him of overseeing torture of detainees and mass killings in Uzbekistan. Almatov, who resigned in December for health reasons after nearly a decade as Uzbekistan's interior minister, slipped quietly out of the country before German authorities dropped their investigation. RFE/RL's Uzbek Service spoke in early April to Manfred Nowak, the UN special rapporteur on torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment -- whose predecessor accused Uzbek authorities of responsibility for widespread abuses including the use of "systematic torture." Nowak had urged German authorities to detain Almatov during his purported visit and prosecute him for those alleged crimes.

RFE/RL: You called for Zokir Almatov's arrest -- the former interior minister of Uzbekistan -- when he was in Germany. What was this call based on? Did you have a sufficient basis for suspecting Mr. Almatov of having committed crimes?

Manfred Nowak: Yes. First, my predecessor, Theo van Boven, carried out a fact-finding mission to Uzbekistan, where he came to the conclusion that torture was practiced systematically, and also that Mr. Almatov -- at that time the minister of interior -- had a major responsibility. [Editor's note: Van Boven visited Uzbekistan in December 2002 and concluded torture was "systematic" in the country's prisons and detention facilities.]

Now, since Germany ratified the UN convention against torture and also has a domestic law on international criminal law, it is under an obligation under the torture convention if there is sufficient evidence -- both by my predecessor but also by Human Rights Watch and others, who appealed to the German government -- to actually arrest Mr. Almatov and to start criminal investigations based on the evidence available. And then they would have to decide...whether they would bring him before a German court or extradite him to another country which would be interested [in prosecuting him] and which would have jurisdiction.

RFE/RL: German authorities ignored this call from you and other international observers... Now they let him leave, and they [rejected] opening a criminal case against Mr. Almatov. How would you...assess the German authorities' actions?

Nowak: Zokir Almatov (file photo)First of all, it's not true that they ignored my urgent action. They started investigations. And only recently the public prosecutor -- Kay Nehm -- actually decided to drop the case and not to charge Mr. Almatov. So they did carry out investigations.

But it's true that, in the meantime, Mr. Almatov was able to leave Germany. We don't know how he was able to leave Germany, whether this was with the assistance of German authorities or not. But the fact is that he was not arrested immediately and he was able to actually leave the country. And of course this is one of the aspects where I am a little disappointed [is] that is one of the arguments of the general public prosecutor not to open charges against Mr. Almatov was that he is now out of the reach of German authorities. And that of course is not a proper argument, in my understanding, because if Germany were to charge him and there were an international arrest warrant, that would definitely restrict Mr. Almatov's freedom of movement outside of Uzbekistan, etcetera. So that is the very idea of the principal of universal jurisdiction -- whether it is against Mr. [Augusto] Pinochet, [unclear], or Mr. Almatov -- that if a country is actually willing to take action -- and at the time when they started the investigations, Mr. Almatov was in Germany, so Germany does have jurisdiction -- that then you continue with these investigations in order to finally ensure that people who committed torture or crimes against humanity are actually brought to justice.

It is very, very difficult -- be it now by the International Criminal Court or on the basis of the principal of universal jurisdiction -- to actually act against the main human-rights violators. And, according to my information and that of my predecessor, Mr. Almatov was not only as minister of interior involved in the practice of torture -- and he had the command responsibility -- but he was involved also in the events in Andijon on the 13th of May last year.

RFE/RL: Another argument of the federal prosecutor of Germany, Kay Nehm, was that the likelihood of a successful investigation against Mr. Almatov was nonexistent because the Uzbek authorities would not cooperate in this case and there would be no people to testify against Mr. Almatov. But Human Rights Watch and other organizations are saying there are a lot of Uzbeks outside Uzbekistan who are ready to testify, and [that] there are also international people like Craig Murray, the former U.K. Ambassador and Theo van Boven, your predecessor. Would you be ready to testify against Mr. Almatov if such a case was launched?

Nowak: I only took up this post on the 1st of December 2004, so I would not be in a position to testify on allegations against Mr. Almatov which were made in the time before [that date]. So Theo van Boven, who actually also provided a written testimony, would be the right person in relation to all the allegations. And he did a fact-finding mission to Uzbekistan where he arrived at these conclusions.

Of course, if it concerns allegations that I have received as the [UN's] special rapporteur on torture, I am willing also to make them available. I myself did not really carry out investigations on the spot, so that's why I did not actively carry out investigations.

RFE/RL: Could you give an example of a case that was put in Mr. van Boven's report after he visited Uzbekistan -- one of the examples...that brought him to the conclusion that torture in Uzbekistan is systematic.

Nowak: It was a general treatment -- both in the normal criminal procedure, but, of course, in particular against the primarily Muslim population of the country that is seen as fighting the regime. If you look at the report, which is publicly available, and also at the testimony which Theo van Boven gave afterwards, I think there is ample evidence that both police and other security forces have been and also are continuing to systematically practice torture -- in particular against dissidents or people who are opponents of the regime.

RFE/RL: You said German authorities launched investigations initially to find out if there is sufficient basis for opening investigation against Mr. Almatov. But Mr. Almatov was in Germany -- he was let in and he was let out. If he wasn't using someone else's documents when he was leaving, that means that German authorities knew that he was leaving and German authorities knew that international people were calling for his arrest -- and they didn't prevent him from leaving. Does that mean they said one thing but, in practice, they ignored these calls?

Nowak: The one thing is that he got a kind of humanitarian special visa in order to enter Germany to be treated in a German hospital. That is what we know. We also know that he left the country, but we don't know how he left the country. It would be purely speculation now to say it was with the assistance of German authorities. We just don't know. It's also possible for people to leave the country without any kind of assistance from the German authorities.

Aftermath Of Andijon

Aftermath Of Andijon

A dedicated webpage bringing together all of RFE/RL's coverage of the events in Andijon, Uzbekistan, in May 2005 and their continuing repercussions.


An annotated timeline of the Andijon events and their repercussions.

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