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UN expert on torture seriously concerned about forcible return of ethnic Uyghurs from Cambodia to China

GENEVA (22 December 2009) – The UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, expressed grave concern about the forcible return of 20 ethnic Uyghurs from Cambodia to China. The deportees were seeking asylum in Cambodia after having fled China during the past few months, following clashes between Uyghurs and Han, in the Xinjiang region in July 2009.

“In light of the reports of severe torture I have received following the July events and the recent executions in the Xinjiang region in violation of the most basic fair trial guarantees, this is a blatant violation of Cambodia’s obligations under the principle of non-refoulement as stipulated in article 3 of the UN Convention against torture,” stressed the UN expert.

“The situation is aggravated by the fact that I had reminded the Government of Cambodia beforehand by means of an urgent communication of their international obligations,” added Nowak.

The decision to deport the 20 persons to China pre-empted the result of their asylum requests for which all of them were waiting. “This means,” said the Special Rapporteur, “that the Cambodian authorities have also knowingly prevented an objective determination of their refugee status under the Geneva Convention on refugees and whether the deportees would be at risk of torture, other forms of ill-treatment or the death penalty.”

“I am calling on the Chinese authorities to treat the 20 persons humanely upon return in accordance with international standards, to grant access to them in case they are detained and to afford them due process guarantees, if charged with criminal offenses”, urged the Special Rapporteur.

In a separate statement also published today, the UN Independent Expert on minority issues, Ms. Gay McDougall, has called upon the Government of China to grant her access to assess ethnic tensions and violence in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, at the earliest opportunity. You can find McDougall’s statement at http://www.ohchr.org

Manfred Nowak, appointed Special Rapporteur on 1 December 2004 by the UN Commission on Human Rights, is independent from any government and serves in his individual capacity. He has previously served as member of the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, the UN expert on missing persons in the former Yugoslavia, the UN expert on legal questions on enforced disappearances, and as a judge at the Human Rights Chamber for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nowak is Professor of Constitutional Law and Human Rights at the University of Vienna, and Director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights.