Human Rights Group Expresses Concern About Suspicious Death in Custody
The following is the text of a letter sent to Uzbek President Islam Karimov by Human Rights Watch concerning the death of Shovrik Ruzimuradov
August 21, 2001
President Islam Karimov Office of the President of the Republic Presidential Palace Tashkent Republic of Uzbekistan
Dear President Karimov,
We are grateful to the Uzbek government for providing Human Rights Watch with a copy of the Procuracy General’s preliminary report, «Information on the tentative results of the investigation of Shovruk [sic] Ruzimuradov’s death.» I am writing to urge an independent investigation into the death of Ruzimuradov, and to request a definitive, genuinely impartial report on that investigation.
Police took rights defender Shovrik Ruzimuradov into custody on June 15, 2001, and held him incommunicado until his death. His body was delivered to his family on July 7. The preliminary report alleges that Ruzimuradov’s death was caused by «mechanical asphyxia,» the result of his having hung himself. Human Rights Watch finds this account highly implausible, and has reason to believe Ruzimuradov was tortured prior to his death, in which case his death would qualify as an extrajudicial execution.
The preliminary report, which was unsigned and undated, states that no physical injuries were found on Ruzimuradov’s body other than those to his upper respiratory tract. Yet the authorities appear to have made significant efforts to suppress evidence to the contrary: The manner in which Ruzimuradov’s body was delivered to
his family strongly suggests that the authorities wished to conceal the true state of Ruzimuradov’s body: Police did not permit family and relatives to view the body and restricted access to the Ruzimuradov home for human rights activists and community members. The preliminary report does not refer to photographic evidence
required in potential cases of extrajudicial executions, nor does it make available the full forensic medical report.
This death cannot be viewed in isolation. Human Rights Watch has documented torture as a pattern of abuse in Uzbekistan. Our report on torture in custody in Uzbekistan, which we presented to Uzbek government officials in December 2000, documents 15 deaths in custody caused by torture or ill-treatment, and also
describes the lack of impartial investigations of torture complaints.
The U.N. Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, adopted by ECOSOC resolution 1989/65, (hereinafter, 1989 UN Principles) define such executions as including deaths in custody.
The 1989 U.N. Principles require that investigations into extrajudicial executions include an autopsy, collection and analysis of all physical and documentary evidence, and statements from witnesses (principle 9). Principle 13 mandates autopsy reports to include, among other things, «detailed colour photographs of the deceased . . .in order to document and support the findings of the investigation. The autopsy report must describe any and all injuries to the deceased including any evidence of torture.»
The 1989 U.N. Principles also require that where established procedures of investigation into extrajudicial executions are inadequate, governments are to pursue investigations through an independent commission of inquiry or similar procedure. Principle 11 is worth citing at length: «In cases in which the established investigative procedures are inadequate because of lack of expertise or impartiality, because of the importance of the matter or because of the apparent existence of a pattern of abuse, and in cases where there are complaints from the
family of the victim about these inadequacies or other substantial reasons, Governments shall pursue investigations through an independent commission of inquiry or similar procedure.»
Human Rights Watch urges that an independent commission be established to investigate Shovrik Ruzimuradov’s death. The investigation should include a new forensic medical examination of Ruzimuradov’s body and should detail any physical mistreatment Ruzimuradov may have endured, the breach of his right to legal
counsel, the failure to notify his family of his detention and whereabouts, the restrictions on viewing the body by family or independent observers and for any prevention of an independent medical examination to determine the cause of death. It should also identify the individuals responsible for these violations, who should be should be prosecuted in accordance with the law.
We further encourage the government of Uzbekistan to establish procedures and practices, including judicial review of detentions and access to legal counsel for detainees, to prevent further deaths in custody.
We look forward to receiving a final report of an independent investigation into Ruzimuradov’s death. We also welcome continuing our dialogue with you on these and other human rights issues.
Elizabeth Anderson Executive Director