Does an International Investigation in Kyrgyzstan Have Backing?
Does the international investigation announced by Kimmo Kiljunen, the Special Representative for Central Asia of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA) have the backing of the OSCE, United Nations and other bodies? Kiljunen told reporters in Bishkek July 22 that an international commission will begin work in August to investigate the recent conflict in southern Kyrgyzstan
Yet it's not clear if all the institutions being referenced have in fact formally -- and politically -- backed the effort, and whether or not the authorities in southern Kyrgyzstan will cooperate.
According to knowledgeable sources close to the OSCE and the UN who spoke to EurasiaNet on condition of anonymity, officials in various international bodies looking at the prospects for the Kiljunen Commission have expressed misgivings as to whether it has sufficient international support and legitimacy, and are keeping their distance.
The OSCE PA itself has not taken a formal decision about the investigation. It's very uncommon for multilateral organizations to create mixed commissions of this nature. Usually, they prefer to run their own inquiries by their own long-establed rules. For the UN to conduct a formal commission of inquiry, for example, a decision by a political body such as the Human Rights Council or the Security Council would have to be taken, as was taken, for example in investigations of atrocities in Guinea.
In the past, the European Union has preferred to make its own investigations, as was done on the events in Georgia in 2008. Finland, Sweden and Norway have reportedly indicated their willingness to fund Kiljunen's investigation in Kyrgyzstan, but it is not clear whether they have resolved among themselves the issue of legitimacy.
While the issue of political backing from OSCE and EU leadership remains open, there's also the lingering question of local Kyrgyz official consent.
Interim President Roza Otunbayeva has openly admitted that there are forces that do not like the idea of the international probe, ferghana.ru reports. On July 7, Vice Premier Azimbek Beknazarov commented to reporters, "We cannot allow some sort of international agencies into the investigation, since this would be interference in the sovereignty of our country." Beknazarov, who will be stepping down to run in the October parliamentary elections, has been responsible for oversight of law-enforcement and the prosecutor's office. The Interim Government is conducting its own national investigation into the June events.
When the foreign ministers of some of the Scandinavian countries initiated an independent investigation to study the reasons for the events in southern Kyrgzystan, and accepted Kiljunen's leadership, Otunbayeva said at a press conference on July 16, "We cannot get by without an independent investigation," ferghana.ru. "We need such conclusions, so that the two groups of the population [Kyrgyz and Uzbeks] draw the lessons from these events." Otunbayeva said at that time that Kiljunen was making a list of members of the commission and that it would definitely include representatives from the EU, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities and the UN Human Rights Commissioner for Human Rights, and that other countries, such as Russia would participate.
Yet none of these bodies have confirmed publicly that they will send representatives to this commission, although the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has separately sent its own team to perform independently a preliminary assessment.
Here's the problem: all sorts of authoritative persons including from the White House have called for "a credible and impartial international investigation". But none of the international bodies have yet made political decisions in the form of resolutions mandating the formation of, or participation in, such a commission.
Noticeable by his absence in the discussion of the Kiljunen Commission is the Kazakh OSCE Chair-in-Office, Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev. He has been evidently preoccupied with organizing the OSCE police observers' mission to Osh, and lining up the OSCE summit, and has not commented on any potential OSCE human rights investigation.
Analysts have questioned whether Kazakhstan has really sufficiently helped in the crisis in Kyrgyzstan, EurasiaNet reports. And that raises the question of whether this particular inquiry getting started -- or any inquiry -- will have the Chair-in-Office's backing and recognition, or the backing of the Permanent Council of OSCE.
Officials of the OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities have also reportedly privately indicated that they will not become involved in this commission.
The problem with so many supposed cooks on this soup who in fact aren't even in the kitchen is that it exposes Kiljunen and whatever team he assembles to potential problems gaining access to both officials and victims.
If an investigation is to go forward and gain acceptance, it will likely need to get political cover in the form of a resolution or an agreement to a mandate for this uncommon sort of mixed organizational inquiry. Meanwhile, few volunteers have been found who are willing to go to the burned-out sites of southern Kyrgyzstan, in a country with both U.S. and Russian military bases, and talk to traumatized Kyrgyz and Uzbeks about atrocities they have experienced in recent weeks, and drill for information regarding allegations about some Kyrgyz authorities' involvement in the killings. So far, only Kiljunen has stepped up with this initiative.
There's also the issue of whether Otunbayeva's involvement in cooperating with the commission thus far will be seen to taint its independence. Normally, the leaders of countries being investigated wait until an international body has gotten its act together with its commission's members and mandates before agreeing to coooperate.
Meanwhile, the victims wait, clutching the photographs of their killed relatives and burned homes. There is the danger that if foreign investigators delay too long, evidence will be lost or destroyed and witnesses will be further intimidated.
Already, say local NGOs, some 20,000 people are said to have left Kyrgyzstan, and these possibly include both victims and perpetrators. Too much time has elapsed already enabling perpetrators to cover their tracks even if they remain in the region. The hope for justice for the people of southern Kyrgyzstan depends on international organizations speedily coming to an agreement about how they will collectively execute the credible, impartial international investigation they all seem to back.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter. Support Eurasianet: Help keep our journalism open to all, and influenced by none.