- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 25, 2005

Uzbek repression

The United Nations’ top human rights official has called on the government of Uzbekistan to respect international judicial standards, citing reports that more defendants had been sent to prison in connection with a May uprising in the country, the Associated Press reported.

Louise Arbour, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said in Geneva that she was concerned about purported irregularities, inadequate defense and a lack of evidence in the conviction of dozens of defendants accused by Uzbek authorities of attempting to overthrow the government and committing terrorist acts.

Mrs. Arbour reiterated a call Friday for the trials related to the uprising in the eastern town of Andijan to be monitored and said there was strong evidence that Uzbek security forces committed grave human rights violations in stamping out demonstrations.

“These trials risk having produced unjust and unfounded convictions, while the real perpetrators of atrocities remain unpunished,” she said. “I once again urge the government to abide scrupulously by the fair-trial standards Uzbekistan has freely accepted.”

In the past two months, Uzbek courts have convicted 151 persons in closed-door trials criticized by human rights groups as a government-orchestrated show with evidence purportedly coerced by torture. The sentences range from 12 to 20 years in prison.

The May unrest began when militants seized a prison and freed 23 businessmen on trial on charges of Islamic extremism and thousands of demonstrators gathered nearby to vent economic and social grievances.

Rights groups and witnesses said hundreds of civilians were killed in the government crackdown. The government, however, blamed Islamic militants for instigating the violence and said 187 persons died.

President Islam Karimov’s government refused international calls for an independent inquiry of the events. In response to U.S. criticism, he evicted American military forces from a base in the country.

Ethiopia pullback

Ethiopian troops began moving back from the tense border with Eritrea, as a U.N. deadline for both sides to pull soldiers back by midnight on Friday drew near, a source from the United Nations told Reuters news agency.

The U.N. Security Council set the deadline in November, when it ordered the Horn of Africa neighbors to reduce troop levels at the frontier, scene of a 1998-2000 border war that killed 70,000, and threatened economic sanctions if they did not obey.

Tension has risen as Ethiopia has failed to accept a binding ruling that awarded Eritrea a disputed town. Eritrea has grown increasingly angry at the United Nations and the international community for not enforcing the legally binding agreement.

“Ethiopia has started moving troops from the border in compliance with the U.N. Security Council resolution,” a source with the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea said in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

The resolution orders both countries to reduce the number of troops facing each other across a U.N.-enforced buffer zone to the levels of last December.

It also orders Eritrea to lift its ban on U.N. helicopter patrols in the zone and other peacekeeping operations.

Eritrea did not comment on the deadline, but criticized the United Nations and its resolution, which did not threaten Ethiopia with any punishment for failing to carry out the border deal.

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