Uzbek Muslims in Sweden protests against alleged torture in Uzbek prisons. (file photo)
By RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service
October 31, 2013
A UN review of measures adopted by Uzbekistan to prevent and punish acts of torture was interrupted by an angry outburst, with the head of the Uzbek delegation yelling and banging his fists on the table.
During a review in Geneva on October 31, the UN Committee Against Torture expressed grave concern about reports of widespread torture in Uzbekistan, including allegations of torture, illegal detentions and forced exile of civil-society activists and human rights defenders, and the pervasive ill treatment of detainees.
Experts also raised the issue of forced labor and the use of child labor, especially for cotton harvests in Uzbekistan, citing reporting by RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service on the issue.
Akmal Saidov, chairman of the National Human Rights Center and the head of the Uzbek delegation, accused the committee of a politically motivated assessment.
He claimed the committee preferred basing its conclusions on information provided by biased nongovernmental organizations, while ignoring information provided by the Uzbek government.
“It comes down to me telling you that everything is very good and you telling us that everything is very bad,” he said. “Where is the truth? Whom shall I believe when you, reading the same documents that I do, are coming with completely opposite conclusions? We are for objective analysis — not politically or otherwise motivated analyses.”
Earlier on October 31, while presenting the report, Saidov had spoken about reforms carried out by the government to implement the UN Convention Against Torture, which Uzbekistan ratified in 1995.
The committee said its reports of widespread torture came from various sources, including UN mechanisms.
In questions to the Uzbek representatives, committee members cited alleged individual cases of torture reported in 2013.
Saidov accused committee members of using outdated information.
“You also refer to ‘systematic torture’ — an antiquated, hackneyed expression that has long been thrown in our faces,” he said. “There is no such phrase as ‘systematic torture’ in international law. That’s not my conclusion, but that of the former UN special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak.”
After Saidov’s angry outburst, Felice Gaer, vice chairperson of the UN committee and the country rapporteur for Uzbekistan, said the committee dealt only with the facts. She recalled the saying, “If you can’t cite the facts, you cite the law, and if you can’t cite the law, you bang the table,” and said that’s what the committee had witnessed at the review.
Julia Hall of Amnesty International, who was present at the session, told RFE/RL that the Uzbek delegation was unable to respond to virtually any of the questions posed by the committee.
“Instead of having a robust dialogue, instead of sharing information and saying where there was progress and where there was still areas that needed to be worked on, the [Uzbek] delegation sat there and denied everything and then yelled and screamed,” she said. “This cannot be considered in any way a successful way of the international community coming together with the sole purpose of eradicating torture, eradicating child labor, etc. The Uzbekistani delegation was an obstacle.”
In his concluding remarks, Saidov said the Uzbek delegation would provide written answers to the committee’s outstanding questions.
With reporting by globalvoicesonline.org