Kyrgyzstan: Probe Forces’ Role in June Violence

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Kyrgyzstan: Probe Forces’ Role in June Violence

Ongoing Investigation Marred by Abuses

BISHKEK - Some government forces acted, knowingly or unwittingly, to
facilitate attacks on ethnic Uzbek neighborhoods in the violence in
southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010, Human Rights Watch said in a new
report released today. Local law enforcement agencies also failed to
provide appropriate protection to the Uzbek community, Human Rights
Watch said.

The 91-page report "‘Where is the Justice?': Interethnic Violence in Southern Kyrgyzstan and its Aftermath," 
also said that the government's investigation into the violence, which
left hundreds dead and thousands injured, has been marred with abuses,
while new ethnically motivated attacks are taking place in the south.
The authorities should thoroughly investigate government forces' role in
the violence and prosecute those responsible, Human Rights Watch said.

The report is based on more than 200 interviews with Kyrgyz and Uzbek
victims and witnesses, lawyers, human rights defenders, government
officials, and law enforcement personnel. The report also analyzes
satellite imagery and photographic, video, documentary, and forensic
evidence.

"It's clear that the massive ethnic violence posed colossal
challenges for Kyrgyz security forces," said Ole Solvang, emergencies
researcher at Human Rights Watch and one of the authors of the report.
"Yet we found that some of the security forces became part of the
problem rather than the solution." 

The violence in southern Kyrgyzstan began on June 10, when a large
crowd of ethnic Uzbeks gathered in response to a minor fight between
Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in a casino in the center of Osh. Several violent
attacks during the night of June 10 against ethnic Kyrgyz and the
torching of several buildings enraged ethnic Kyrgyz from Osh and outside
villages, thousands of whom filed into the city.  From early morning on
June 11 through June 14, crowds attacked Uzbek neighborhoods, whose
residents in some cases fought back. Mobs looted and torched Uzbek shops
and homes in Osh, Jalal-Abad, Bazar-Kurgan, and other southern towns -
in several areas burning entire neighborhoods to the ground.

At least 371 people, and possibly many more, were killed as a result
of the mayhem. Several thousand buildings, mainly belonging to ethnic
Uzbeks, were completely destroyed.

Witnesses from the destroyed neighborhoods consistently told Human
Rights Watch that men in camouflage uniforms on armored military
vehicles removed makeshift barricades erected by residents, giving the
mobs access to the neighborhoods. Often, witnesses said, armed men
followed the armored vehicles into the neighborhoods, shot at and chased
away remaining residents, and then let crowds loot and torch homes.

While the authorities claim that Kyrgyz mobs stole some weapons and
vehicles used in the attacks, this cannot completely account for the use
of military vehicles in the attacks, Human Rights Watch said.
Information gathered by Human Rights Watch indicates that in at least
some neighborhoods, government forces were in control of the vehicles.
It further shows that in some instances government forces that went to
the neighborhoods to disarm residents living there, either intentionally
or unintentionally gave cover to violent mobs carrying out attacks. An
additional question that requires investigation is whether they actively
participated in these attacks, and if so, to what extent.  

Human Rights Watch said that while the authorities might have had
legitimate security reasons to enter Uzbek neighborhoods, they did not
uphold their obligation to ensure the safety of the residents in light
of the clear and imminent threat posed by the mobs.  

"National and international inquiries need to find out just what the
government forces did and   whether the authorities did everything they
could to protect people," Solvang said. "This is crucial both for
justice and to learn lessons about how to respond to any new outbreaks."

Human Rights Watch said that widespread violations have taken place
in the course of the Kyrgyz authorities' investigation into the June
violence, which now consists of more than 3,500 criminal cases. 

The report documents large-scale "sweep" operations in Uzbek
neighborhoods, during which law enforcement officers beat and insulted
residents and looted their homes.  During one operation, in the village
of Nariman, security forces injured 39 residents, two of whom
subsequently died.

The report also documents abusive search and seizure operations that
security forces have conducted daily in Osh's predominantly Uzbek
neighborhoods. Dozens of witnesses provided consistent accounts of how
security forces searched homes without identifying themselves,
presenting a warrant, or explaining the reasons; detained  people
without warrants; refused to tell the families where detainees were
being taken; and, in some cases, beat detainees and planted evidence,
such as spent cartridges.

The authorities routinely denied detainees the right to a lawyer and
other rights, and subjected them to ill-treatment and torture in
custody. Human Rights Watch received information about torture and
ill-treatment of more than 60 detainees, at least one of whom died as a
result of injuries suffered in custody.

While Kyrgyz authorities have not released figures showing the ethnic
breakdown of the detainees and claim they have detained both Uzbek and
Kyrgyz suspects, information collected by Human Rights Watch indicates
that the majority of the detainees are ethnic Uzbeks.

In the course of its research in Kyrgyzstan, Human Rights Watch
raised the issue of arbitrary arrests and torture in detention with
Kyrgyz authorities, including the president and interior minister, as
well as local law enforcement officials.

To their credit, senior government officials in Bishkek made several
statements calling on local officials to halt the abuses, and in a media
interview in August, President Roza Otunbaeva also acknowledged that
some abuses had taken place. Yet in meetings with Human Rights Watch,
law enforcement officials in Osh variously dismissed allegations of
abuse and defended the practice.

"Those responsible for the heinous crimes against both Kyrgyz and
Uzbeks during the June violence should be prosecuted irrespective of
their ethnicity, title, or rank," Solvang said. "But there cannot be a
proper investigation unless the authorities respect Kyrgyz and
international laws, and there is no reason the Kyrgyz authorities can't
immediately put a stop to the abuses in custody."   

Human Rights Watch said continued abuses fuel tensions in the already volatile situation.

On July 22, the member states of the Organization for Security and
Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) agreed to deploy a small advisory police
group to southern Kyrgyzstan to assist the Kyrgyz authorities in
reducing ethnic tensions. Human Rights Watch called on the OSCE to
ensure that the force arrives quickly and works effectively. Human
Rights Watch also called on all interested governments and the United
Nations to support an international inquiry into the violence and its
aftermath.

"The June violence has left deep scars," Solvang said. "For those
scars to heal there needs to be justice for what happened and equal
protection for all ethnic communities."

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Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.

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