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Feeble excuses appease nobody

Halya Coynash

It is profoundly disturbing that the Ukrainian authorities, having deported asylum seekers in contravention both of Ukrainian legislation and of international commitments, are now attempting to use the threat of international terrorism to justify their actions.

On 28 February, the Press Secretary for the Head of the Security Service of Ukraine, Marina Ostapenko, stated on Channel 5 that "the citizens of Uzbekistan concerned were involved in an organization which according to the Resolution [of the UN Security Council in 2001] is recognized to be a terrorist organization”,

Let us first acknowledge that there is indeed an Uzbek organization – “The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan” – which has been on the US Foreign Terrorist Organization List since 2000..

Let us, however, not allow ourselves to be distracted.  There is, in the first place, no evidence whatsoever that the Uzbek asylum seekers forcibly returned to Uzbekistan had any connection with this organization. 

It is known that Karimov’s regime regularly accuses all opponents whatever their views of links with the IMI.  If such charges were made in the extradition request from Uzbekistan, such claims needed to be thoroughly investigated. There is also no indication that any such investigation was carried out.  Furthermore, if such accusations had been made and given credence, why did the SSU at the time state only that the Uzbeks were illegal migrants?

Secondly, and most importantly, nine of these Uzbek citizens had registered as asylum seekers.  Their applications were considered and rejected in the space of one week which in no way complies with Ukraine’s commitments under international agreements to ensure the safety of all refugees. Worse, they were sent back to a country where they faced a real and very immediate risk of torture and persecution.  They were not allowed to consult a lawyer or representatives of the UNHCR before their extradition.  This makes Ms Ostapenko’s assertion that the Uzbeks themselves turned down the right to appeal their deportation seen less than plausible.  Even if the written proof she alleges exists be presented, given that that members of the Uzbek Security Service would appear to have already been present, the question would surely arise as to whether the asylum seekers had turned down their right of appeal of their own free will. 

We have elaborated on the above-mentioned clear violations of Ukraine’s procedural norms and international agreements in our previous appeals.  Here, therefore, we will confine ourselves to expressing our regret that the present regime which came to power declaring their commitment to democratic principles and human rights is stubbornly refusing to respond adequately to the strong criticism it has faced both at home and internationally as a result of this shameful incident. The attempt to use the fight against terrorism to excuse violations of human rights is something which links Ukraine to oppressive regimes, and in no way facilitates what the President of Ukraine terms the course towards democracy.

Halya Coynash

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