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Uzbekistan: Opposition Says UN Will Take Up Torture Case

The leader of Uzbekistan's banned opposition party Erk met Sept. 6 in Geneva with Mary Robinson -- the UN's high commissioner for human rights -- to discuss the human rights situation in the Central Asian nation. Our correspondent Beatrice Hogan looks at the role the UN office plays in evaluating allegations of human rights abuses and in making governments accountable for their actions.

Prague, 8 September 1999 (RFE/RL) -- In a letter faxed to RFE/RL, Mohammed Solih, the leader of Uzbekistan's banned opposition party Erk, said he presented Mary Robinson with documentation -- including letters from prisoners -- to support allegations of torture in Uzbek prisons.

International human rights organizations -- including the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch -- also accuse Uzbekistan of violating the UN's international Convention Against Torture, to which it is a signatory.

A spokesman for Robinson, Jose Diaz, confirmed that the Geneva meeting took place on Sept. 6, but said UN policy is not to comment on what is discussed at such meetings.

Solih said the state of human rights in his country has declined dramatically since the February 16 bombings in Tashkent, which killed 16 and wounded more than 100. In his letter to RFE/RL, Solih said the current situation in Uzbekistan has devolved from a police state into a medieval inquisition. Solih alleges that thousands of innocent citizens have been arbitrarily arrested and tortured for their suspected role in the bombings.

Solih -- who is now in exile -- has been named by the Uzbek government as one of the masterminds of the bombing, which is widely believed to have been an assassination attempt against President Islam Karimov. Two of Solih's relatives were sentenced last month in connection with the incident.

Some Central Asian analysts suggest that Karimov may have used the bombings, however, as a pretext to crack down on political opposition in his country.

Diaz said Robinson regularly meets with a wide array of civil society groups, human rights non-governmental organizations and government representatives. He said that only if the evidence of human rights violations is compelling and reliable enough will the High Commission for Human Rights conduct an official investigation.

Diaz explained the type of evidence that would be required in such a case:

"That kind of evidence is what they call evidence of systematic or gross violations of human rights -- reliable information. The commission considers this information in private session and then decides whether the situation is grave enough to start considering it publicly."

The UNHCHR cannot force governments to follow its recommendations. Rather, Diaz says his organization relies on moral force and on international public opinion to convince countries to abide by their treaty obligations and to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

But, despite its lack of enforcement mechanisms, Diaz explains why countries take his organization's work seriously:

"What it [UNHCHR] can do, more concretely, is to name investigators and working groups to look into particular situations. And countries do not want to be singled out in this manner by having a UN investigator named for them. So there is a certain amount of cooperation to try to avoid this kind of scrutiny."

In his letter to RFE/RL, Solih said Robinson assured him that Uzbekistan's case will be taken up in November by the UN High Commission on Human Rights' Committee Against Torture. Diaz, however, did not confirm what additional steps the UN might take.