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Red Cross halts prison visits in Uzbekistan

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

GENEVA (Reuters) - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has scrapped all prison visits in Uzbekistan because its terms were not respected, including being able to speak to detainees in private about conditions of detention.

Torture is rife in Uzbekistan's criminal justice system, according to U.N. human rights investigators and activist groups such as the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

ICRC visits to prisons in the former Soviet republic have been suspended since last October.

There was no immediate reaction from Uzbek authorities to Friday's ICRC announcement.

The decision, which the ICRC described as rare, came after last-ditch talks between its director-general Yves Daccord and authorities this week in Tashkent.

"Visiting all detainees of ICRC concern and speaking to them in private - without witnesses - are essential preconditions for the effective protection of detainees," said Daccord in a statement.

"Visits must have a meaningful impact on detention conditions, and dialogue with the detaining authorities must be constructive. And that's not the case in Uzbekistan," he said.

ICRC officials have been visiting prisoners on and off in Uzbekistan since 2001. In return for access, their findings are only shared with authorities.

The U.S. envoy to the U.N. Human Rights Council last month drew attention to alleged violations.

"Torture and abuse of detainees by security forces, denial of due process and fair trial, and government-organised forced and child labour in cotton-harvesting continues," ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe told the Geneva forum.

Uzbek President Islam Karimov, 75, made his first public appearance last March 27 since rumours of the strongman leader's poor health first emerged a week before.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Jon Boyle)

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130412/red-cross-halts-prison-visits-uzbekistan