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Tamara Chikunova

Founder and head of the non-governmental organisation "Mothers against the Death Penalty and Torture“ in Uzbekistan

Tamara Chikunova (née Petrova) was born in the county of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in 1948. She is divorced and had a son, Dmitriy Chikunov, who was executed on July 10, 2000.

Tamara Chikunova had to experience personally how the Uzbekistani authorities deal with persons who are sentenced to death and with their relatives. In 1999, her son, Dmitriy Chikunov, was arrested and wrongly accused of having murdered two people. Ms Chikunova did everything within her power to prove her son's innocence. In spite of all her efforts, Dmitriy Chikunow, then 28 years old, was sentenced to death on November 11, 1999. When she wanted to visit her son on July 10, 2000 (the visit's date had been approved by the authorities) she was refused to see her son. Later on she found out that her son had been secretly executed that day.

After receiving his death certificate she went to the prison authorities in Tashkent in order to be able to bury him. She was told that according to law, the corpses of executed persons cannot be released for burial. Tamara Chikunova did not even receive back her son's personal belongings. Up until today she does not know where her son's grave is.

After Dmitriy's death, Tamara Chikunova, in autumn 2000 founded the organisation "Mothers against the Death Penalty and Torture". Today she is this organisation's head and main co-ordinator. Membership comprises, above all, relatives of persons tortured or sentenced to death. The "Mothers" operate from their headquarters in Ms Chikunova's flat and an office, where visitors are received and membership conferences are held. The work of the organisation is kept going through the voluntary work of its members, and it is financed by donations.

Its main goal is the abolition of death penalty and torture in Uzbekistan. In order to achieve this, the organisation also gives legal support to victims. A further focus of the organisation's work is informing the Uzbekistani public about human rights issues through the media as well as through seminars and teaching workshops. In addition, the "Mothers" are compiling statistics of death sentences and executions as well as of torture cases in Uzbekistan.


Thanks to Tamara Chikunova's unstinting efforts, the "Mothers" succeeded in forging close co-operation links with international human rights organisations, including the UNO, amnesty international, Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation, Community of Saint Egidio, Human Rights League, OSCE/ODIHR, Human Rights Watch. Together they inform the public on massive human rights violations in Uzbekistan.

The Republic of Uzbekistan adopted the Optional Protocol of the UN International Pact on Civil and Political Rights. In this protocol, the signatory states acknowledge that executions should be forbidden, and undertake to take all necessary measures to abolish the death penalty. Nevertheless, several persons sentenced to death were executed. These executions happend while the UN Human Rights Committee was still dealing with their cases and had not yet finished reporting.

The "Mothers" are co-operating particularly efficiently with this international body. They have gathered a lot of experience with individual complaints, they know the existing structures and have personal contacts to individual committee members. Since 2000, their organisation has prepared numerous individual complaints and submitted them to the Human Rights Committee. On the basis of these complaints, the committee filed applications for the death sentences being annulled. In most cases, there was no reaction at all from the Uzbekistani authorities, and the sentences were executed. In 15 cases, the punishment was reduced. In one case the sentence was completely annulled.

Ms Chikunova acts as a representative of her organisation at various human rights conferences, both at home and abroad. This is not a matter of course for many human rights defenders. Tamara Chikunova had organised an international conference for December 5, 2003, in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. The conference was to be held under the heading of "Death Penalty: Analysis – Tendencies – Reality" and was forbidden by the Uzbekistani government 12 hours before it was supposed to start. The reasoning given was that the conference was to be staged by an organisation which was not officially registered. The "Mothers" have, however, been struggling in vain for a long time to be officially recognized by the Uzbekistani authorities. They were repeatedly told by officers of the Uzbekistani secret service that their organisation was black-listed and that the secret service was awaiting orders to dissolve their organisation.

Furthermore, members of the organisation were harassed and threatened. Even their family members were no exception. So, for example, a public proseclution investigator appeared at the house of Tamara Chikunova's mother in September 2004 at 6 a.m. He told the bed-ridden 78-year-old lady that he had an arrest warrant for her daughter. It was suspected then, that the authorities wanted to put pressure on Tamara Chikunova this way. But neither Ms Chikunova nor her colleagues will be intimidated, and they insist on continuing their work, even after receiving murder threats.

Awards

On July 1, 2004, in Rome, Tamara Chikunova was honoured with the award "Colombe d’Oro" (Golden Doves) of the archive "Disarmament for Peace" for her exceptional commitment to peace and human rights.

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