Kazakhstan + 1 more

Kazakhstan: UNHCR welcomes release of Uzbek activist, praises government commitment to upholding international principles

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond - to whom quoted text may be attributed - at the press briefing, on 12 July 2005, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Kazakh authorities early today released and put under UNHCR's protection a prominent Uzbek human rights activist who had taken refuge in Kazakhstan in the aftermath of the 13 May events in Andijan. As we told you last week, Mr. Lutfullo Shamsuddinov had been arrested in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on 4 July at the request of Uzbek authorities, who were also asking for his extradition. We are now flying Mr. Shamsuddinov and his family to a European country - which we cannot name - where he will stay temporarily pending permanent resettlement elsewhere.

We very much welcome this decision by Kazakh authorities to free Mr. Shamsuddinov, whom UNHCR recognised as a mandate refugee in late June after a thorough status determination process. The decision and subsequent release confirms Kazakhstan's 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.

By handing over Mr. Shamsuddinov to our care, the Kazakh government made a very concrete commitment to upholding international principles. 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.

Kyrgyzstan, where some 450 Uzbeks sought asylum after the Andijan events, has been on the receiving end of such pressure. We are continuing to work 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 cases have been thoroughly reviewed.

So far, there has been no independent investigation of the violent events that left an unknown number of people dead on May 13 in Andijan, and the absence of such an investigation is making the job of determining the status of Uzbek asylum seekers especially difficult.