"Their immediate condition and their status in Uzbekistan needs to be urgently followed up and clarified", he said. "Although I am aware the authorities in Tashkent have labelled the four as 'criminals', that does not lessen my concern as to the treatment they may be receiving if they are now in custody."
Minister Rupel added that, on behalf of the 55 participating States of the OSCE, he would urge the international community to press the Uzbek authorities to reveal if the four are awaiting due legal process: "We must insist on visiting rights for the four if they face prolonged imprisonment, as well the right for the OSCE Centre in Tashkent to be present to monitor any eventual trial."
The Chairman-in-Office was speaking at a conference in Chatham House, under whose famous rules anything said in the discussion is not reported. However, shortly before the meeting, he made his views on the deportation issue clear.
"I am deeply disturbed at reports that the four men were apparently sent back across the border without any proper investigation by the Kyrgyz authorities into their claims for asylum. Since all four of them had fled after the shooting in Andijan, at the very least, they must have had a justifiable fear for their own safety if returned to Uzbekistan", said the Chairman-in-Office.
Assurances had only recently been given by the authorities that Kyrgyzstan would adhere to its obligations as a signatory to the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention. "I would urge the authorities in Bishkek to investigate how this could have happened to ensure this is not repeated, as well as to halt any further planned deportations", he added.
"Given the subject of this conference, the future of Central Asia, it is very appropriate to be voicing these concerns on behalf of the OSCE, to which both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan belong. I urge both States to live up to their commitments in the human dimension of the OSCE, as regards both the rule of law and the treatment of prisoners.
"I especially urge Kyrgyzstan to respect both international commitments and its own standards and responsibilities towards those seeking shelter within its borders."