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Helsinki Commission Leaders Welcome Russian Decision to Suspend Extradition of Refugees to Uzbekistan

WASHINGTON – Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) welcomed the decision by Russian authorities to suspend the extradition to Uzbekistan of 13 Central Asian refugees who have been granted refugee status by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Senator Brownback and Representative Smith recently urged both the Russian courts and the Office of the Procurator General to prevent the extradition of these refugees, 12 of whom are Uzbek nationals and one of whom is a national of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan.

“I welcome Russia’s decision not to return these individuals to Uzbekistan, a country widely recognized for its egregious violations of basic rights.  Perhaps this is a hopeful sign that Moscow takes its international obligations seriously and will lead by example in this and other cases involving human rights,” said Chairman Brownback.

“The forcible return of refugees to Uzbekistan, an egregious human rights abuser, would be unacceptable,” said Co-Chairman Smith. “I hope the Russian Government, currently chair of the Council of Europe, will stick by this decision to halt extradition and work with the UN to resettle these individuals.”

According to the U.S. State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2005, Uzbekistan’s security services “routinely tortured, beat, and otherwise mistreated detainees to obtain confessions or incriminating information.”  A 2003 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture stated that the practice of torture in Uzbekistan is “systematic.”

Under the nonrefoulement obligation of the UN Refugee Convention, to which Russia is a signatory, Contracting States must not forcibly return individuals to situations where their life and freedom would be threatened. Russia is also a signatory state to the 1984 Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Article 3 of which prohibits the extradition of individuals to destinations where they are likely to be tortured.

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