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UN: Uzbeks Subject to Torture, Detention in Kyrgyzstan

Security forces in southern Kyrgyzstan are arbitrarily detaining, torturing and otherwise abusing large numbers of people, most of them young men and virtually all of them Uzbek, according to information obtained by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Navi Pillay said on Tuesday that these illegal acts by Kyrgyz security forces poses a serious threat to the fragile peace in southern Kyrgyzstan.

Six weeks ago, ethnic violence caused 400,000 people, mainly Uzbeks, to flee their homes. An estimated 75,000 remain displaced within Kyrgyzstan.

The high commissioner says the increasing climate of fear in the country does not bode well for reconciliation between the two ethnic groups or the re-establishment of the rule of law.

Her spokesman, Rupert Colville, said the U.N. human rights office has received information that local authorities routinely turn a blind eye to illegal arrests, torture and ill treatment of detainees. The aim, he said, is to extract forced confessions from the victims.

"Victims' lawyers, families and human rights defenders are also being threatened and intimidated to an alarming degree. All of these acts are clearly illegal under the Kyrgyz penal code as well as international law. We also have information that suggests more than 1,000 people in all have been detained in Osh and Jalalabad since the June violence." Colville adds human rights monitors in Kyrgyzstan have received reports of detainees being tortured or mistreated immediately upon being taken into detention.

Detainees are urged to confess to crimes they claim not to have committed and to implicate and name others, he said. And detainees sometimes are made to pay large sums of money to get released.

"We talk to the government very frequently both at the local and the national level. They say down in Osh, they are basically saying very few complaints of torture and ill treatment have been received by them. But, we believe that is precisely because the victims and their families are afraid of reprisals," Colville said. "But, the authorities say well effectively they are hampered; they cannot take action if they do not get a complaint."

Colville also said doctors reportedly are refusing to issue medical certificates for people who have been subjected to torture or ill treatment, as well as death certificates for some people who died during the June violence. This makes it impossible for family members to claim compensation or inheritance.

High Commissioner Pillay is calling for a thorough international, independent and impartial investigation into the events in June.