UNHCR welcomes Kazakhstan's release of Uzbek activist
GENEVA, July 12 (UNHCR) - A prominent Uzbek human rights activist who fled recent events in Andijan and faced possible extradition from Kazakhstan is on his way to being resettled to a third country.
On Tuesday, the Kazakh authorities released Lutfullo Shamsuddinov after arresting him in Almaty on July 4 at the request of the Uzbek authorities who wanted to extradite him. Shamsuddinov, who was recognised as a mandate refugee in late June after a thorough status determination process, is now under UNHCR protection. He has been taken with his family to an unnamed European country, where they will stay until they can leave for their country of permanent resettlement.
"We welcome the Kazakh authorities' decision to free Mr. Shamsuddinov," UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday. "We recognise that this decision was a brave one in the regional context at a time when neighbouring countries have been coming under strong pressure from Uzbekistan to return Uzbek asylum seekers and refugees."
He added that by handing over Shamsuddinov to UNHCR care, the Kazakh government made a very concrete commitment to upholding the 1951 Refugee Convention, of which it is a signatory. One of the Convention's basic principles is that refugees and asylum seekers should not be forcibly returned to a country where they may face persecution.
In neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, where some 450 Uzbeks sought asylum in the wake of the Andijan events, UNHCR is working with the Kyrgyz authorities to review the cases of all Uzbek asylum seekers in the country, including 29 who are currently in detention following an extradition request from Uzbekistan.
"We have received assurances from the Kyrgyz government that no asylum seekers will be sent back until their case has been thoroughly reviewed," Redmond said.
There is still no news of four asylum seekers who were returned to Uzbekistan in early June at Tashkent's request. Despite repeated enquiries, the Uzbek government has given no information to UNHCR and other international agencies regarding the fate of the four.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour expressed renewed concerns in Geneva today about the four and reiterated the need for an international commission enquiry to be set up in order to look into what happened in Andijan on May 13. The absence of an independent investigation into the violent events in the Uzbek city that cost the lives of unknown numbers of people has made the job of status determination for Uzbek asylum seekers especially difficult.