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Kyrgyz Republic (Kyrgyzstan): U.N. Commissioner Urges Respect for Defendants’ Rights

(Dec. 28, 2011) On December 22, 2011, Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (HCHR), expressed the concern that judges in Kyrgyzstan failed to ensure respect for the rights of defendants. She made the remarks following the December 21, 2011, affirmation by the Kyrgyz Supreme Court of the sentence of human rights defender Azimjan Askarov. Pillay's statement pointed out that there were reports that Askarov and some of his seven co-defendants were tortured and that there are doubts about the fairness of his trial. (Office of the HCHR, UN Human Rights Chief Urges Judges in Kyrgyzstan to Respect Defendants' Civil Rights, UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS (Dec. 22, 2011).)

In November 2010, Askarov was given a sentence of life imprisonment, in addition to confiscation of property; he had been convicted of the murder of a policeman and participation in and organization of riots, together with incitement of ethnic hatred. There is concern that he was arrested due to his peaceful activities in defense of human rights, particularly in connection with his documentation of violence between ethnic groups in the Jalal-Abad region of southwestern Krygyzstan, in June 2010. Furthermore, Askarov alleges that he was severely mistreated at all stages of the criminal proceedings, and that he reported the abuse but no investigation of the situation occurred. (Kyrgyzstan: UN Official Urges Judges to Respect Defendants' Civil Rights, UN NEWS CENTRE (Dec. 22, 2011).)

At the time of Askarov's arrest, Amnesty International issued a statement expressing concern for his safety and attributing his arrest to his attempts to document the 2010 attacks on ethnic Uzbeks in the country. Askarov himself is an Uzbek. Maisy Weicherding, an expert on Central Asia working with Amnesty International, said in 2010, “Azimzhan Askarov has been targeted for his legitimate activities as a human rights defender. He is a prisoner of conscience and as such he should be released immediately.” (Fears for Safety of Uzbek Activist Detained Amid Kyrgyzstan Violence, Amnesty International website (June 18, 2010).)

Pillay said of the case:

Judges in Kyrgyzstan must ensure that the civil rights of defendants are protected, particularly when there are allegations of torture. … The Supreme Court of Kyrgyzstan must ensure that in those cases where inadmissible evidence might have been used, verdicts rendered by lower courts are reversed and criminal cases are dismissed or sent for retrial. … It is particularly alarming that the judges failed to consider the defendants' claims that confessions had been extracted under duress. (UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS, supra.)

Pillay's statement explained that Askarov's trial represents a wider problem in the administration of justice in the country, following the inter-ethnic violence of June 2010. Fair trial standards have not been met in most of the trials monitored by the United Nations. Among the problems noted were inadequate access by defendants to their attorneys and family members, denial of access for defense lawyers to key documents, and witness intimidation. (Id.)