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Uzbekistan Ejects UNHCR

The government of Uzbekistan has ordered the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or U-N-H-C-R, to leave the country. The United States has condemned the move and calls on President Islam Karimov to permit the U-N-H-C-R to continue protecting refugees and asylum seekers in Uzbekistan.

The U.S. is concerned about the fate of at least eighteen Uzbek asylum seekers who were forcibly returned to Uzbekistan from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine in the last ten months. The U-N-H-C-R has not been granted access to these individuals despite repeated requests. In the meantime, the Uzbek government continues to pressure these and other governments in the region to forcibly return more Uzbek asylum seekers to Uzbekistan. The U.S. calls on all governments currently detaining Uzbek asylum seekers to refrain from forcibly returning them to Uzbekistan. Citizens have the right to seek protection from persecution.

Relations between the government of Uzbekistan and the U-N refugee agency have deteriorated since the events in Andijan in May 2005, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians. Some four-hundred-fifty asylum-seekers fled the crackdown by crossing the border into Kyrgyzstan. There they were granted refugee status by the U-N-H-C-R and almost all were evacuated to Romania, where they are being processed for permanent resettlement in third countries, including the U.S.

The Uzbek government wanted them to be extradited, some to face charges of terrorism and treason. Four from the original group of Uzbek asylum seekers remain in detention in Kyrgyzstan, awaiting a final government decision on their fate.

The Uzbek government has also suspended the activities of other international organizations, including many non-governmental organizations engaged in fostering democracy, freedom and prosperity. Most recently, the non-governmental organizations Freedom House and the International Research and Exchanges Board were shut down.

President Karimov's government may be clamping down on human rights and civil society organizations for fear of democratic movements such as those in Georgia, Ukraine, and elsewhere. But the lesson of history is clear: democratic reform can lead to true and lasting stability. That is why the United States, said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, "continues to hope that the government of Uzbekistan will turn back from its current course and make a strategic choice in favor of reform."

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.