The United States condemned Ukraine Tuesday for forcibly returning to Uzbekistan ten Uzbek asylum-seekers. The 10 had been accused by Uzbek authorities of involvement in the revolt last May in the city of Andijan.
The United States has joined human rights organizations in condemning the forced repatriation of the ten Uzbeks, saying the move was in apparent violation of both domestic Ukrainian and international law.
The 10 asylum seekers, who had been given refuge in Ukraine last year, were arrested early this month in Ukraine's Crimea region and sent back to Uzbekistan the night of February 14.
Uzbek authorities had been pressing the Kiev government for their return, alleging the men were involved in the uprising in Andijan last May in which human rights advocates say hundreds of civilians were killed by Uzbek security forces.
News reports say an 11th Uzbek man was allowed to remain in Ukraine because he had relatives there.
In a written statement, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said the 10 Uzbeks were returned without passing through the full asylum process under Ukrainian law, including the ability to appeal their status.
He also said Ukrainian authorities had ignored a request from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the UNHCR not to forcibly return any of the men until proper asylum applications had been followed.
Spokesman Ereli further noted that Ukraine, like the United States, is a party to a 1967 international protocol on refugees. He called on the Kiev government to cooperate fully with the UNHCR and honor its treaty commitments whenever it is confronted with claims of asylum.
The United States had been heavily involved in diplomatic efforts to find places of asylum for Uzbeks who fled the country to neighboring Kyrgyzstan after the Andijan events.
The Uzbek government has alleged that instigators of the Andjian violence were among those who fled.
It contests accounts that hundreds were killed in the May 13 events, and says most of the 187 people who died were members of the Uzbek security forces attacked by Islamic militants.
Ukraine's expulsion of the Uzbeks has also been condemned by the New York-based Human Rights Watch. A spokeswoman for the group said the Kiev government had a duty to protect the ten men, but instead sent them back to what she said was almost-certain torture and abuse.
Human Rights Watch said the European Convention on Human Rights, by which Ukraine is legally bound, strictly prohibits the deportation of any person - regardless of their crime or suspected activity - to a country where they face a real risk of torture or inhumane treatment.
The action has also been criticized by two Russian human rights groups and the UNHCR, which says it was denied access to the Uzbeks while they were in custody in Ukraine. Officials of Ukraine's embassy in Washington were unavailable for comment on the issue.