Kyrgyzstan: Officials Still Targeting Uzbeks with Violence – Independent Inquiry
A long-awaited report on last summer’s interethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan has concluded that Uzbeks have been disproportionately hard hit by the violence, some acts of which -- including systemic rape and murder -- fit the legal definition of crimes against humanity, though not genocide. The independent Kyrgyzstan Inquiry Commission (KIC), which released its findings May 3, also found that the military was complicit in some attacks against Uzbeks, who made up 74 percent of the death toll and continue to suffer comparatively more of the ongoing “arbitrary arrests, torture in detention and other human rights violations” than their Kyrgyz neighbors.
Led by Finnish politician Kimmo Kiljunen, the KIC has documented atrocities against both Uzbeks and Kyrgyz. But throughout, it describes the relatively greater suffering of the Uzbek community, the deeply biased prosecution targeting this ethnic minority and grave shortcomings in the work of Kyrgyzstan’s leadership. The high-profile team of international investigators based its findings on over 750 interviews (45 percent of them with Uzbeks, 40 percent with Kyrgyz).
The KIC calculated that 470 were killed, of which 74 percent were Uzbek and 24 percent Kyrgyz, yet “Uzbeks are more than 30 times more often accused of murder [by authorities] than the Kyrgyz” and the government has done little to encourage reconciliation.
The report likewise notes that Kyrgyzstan’s military – most of which is made up of ethnic Kyrgyz – had an “evident bias against the ethnic Uzbek minority in southern Kyrgyzstan, who are often regarded not as citizens.” In some cases, Kyrgyz soldiers participated in the killing; in others they too easily surrendered their guns and armored vehicles to Kyrgyz mobs. Today, these weapons continue to float around, possibly “for future use.”
General Ismail Isakov, the interim government’s defense minister and its special representative for southern Kyrgyzstan during the violence, is one of the few individuals named repeatedly by the KIC. “His failure to deploy the security forces with clear orders and rules of engagement … constitutes a serious omission,” the report says. “General Isakov could have stopped [the] violence sooner.” Isakov, now a parliament deputy from the ruling Social Democrat Party, was found complicit in an earlier national commission investigation and has threatened to sue for that. Last month, he responded to leaked sections of the KIC report by saying the results are “beneficial for those who want a civil war in Kyrgyzstan.”
Leaders of the interim government, including President Roza Otunbayeva, share fault, says the report, because they failed “to recognize or underestimated the deterioration in inter-ethnic relations in southern Kyrgyzstan”; instead, following the bloody ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April, they concentrated resources on “the re-division of power and Bakiyev’s assets.”
The Kyrgyz government has blasted the report for ethnic bias, dismissing the findings as “methodologically incorrect.” In a 29-page response released alongside the 104-page KIC report, the government -- a working group including members of the executive and the judiciary -- raises objections to almost every detail, often without citing clear evidence: “Why would Kyrgyz, putting their lives at risk, storm the fortified districts” of ethnic Uzbeks, the government asks, apparently unwilling to accept the conclusion that Uzbeks suffered a majority of the losses of both lives and property.
Appealing to the same conspiracy theories rejected categorically by the KIC report, the government tries to lay almost all blame on Bakiyev’s family, but “there is no conclusive evidence to incriminate the Bakiyevs in the concrete planning of the June events,” the KIC reports says.
Likewise, the KIC and the government disagree about the extent to which law-enforcement officials have mistreated suspects. The KIC has found that “ill treatment of detainees” – the vast majority of whom are ethnic Uzbeks – “has been almost universal … Indeed the KIC has evidence of but one instance where a detainee was not ill treated.”
Yet the government counters that, while “such facts have occurred and the police and the courts failed to ensure respect for human rights and their protection in the administration of justice in [a] timely manner,” authorities responded immediately and the allegations against them are “obviously one-sided.” All complaints of torture -- prosecutors have received 14 -- have been “examined and appropriate measures have been taken.”
The KIC acknowledges that “Uzbeks used firearms, killed and beat Kyrgyz and took Kyrgyz hostages,” but adds that “this violence lacked the pattern evident in the Kyrgyz attacks against the mahallas,” or Uzbek neighborhoods. The systemic nature of the anti-Uzbek violence, if “proven beyond reasonable doubt in front of a competent court of law,” would have contributed to such a court’s determination that the attacks had constituted crimes against humanity.
The use of violence against women was particularly brutal, the KIC found: Gang rape was employed because women are “markers of group identity and honor.”
“The KIC has evidence that at least five Kyrgyz women were raped by Uzbek men,” but “the evidence of sexual and gender based violence during the events shows a recurrent pattern of gang rape against Uzbek women” and authorities, again, have failed to acknowledge and address the problem.
The KIC recommends addressing the “under-representation of ethnic Uzbeks in public life and the rising force of ethno-nationalism in the politics of Kyrgyzstan,” where Uzbeks are often described as a “diaspora” of outsiders who do not belong in Kyrgyzstan. The commission also recommends restoring the name Kyrgyzstan, from the current Kyrgyz Republic, as it is perceived as more ethnically inclusive. The government rejects this recommendation.
In the 11 months following the violence, government officials have repeatedly blamed Islamic radicals, in addition to the Bakiyevs, for contributing. The KIC finds “no evidence of any kind … to support this contention,” but cautions that in a country where a beleaguered minority continues to suffer and the government continues to ignore both the root causes of the conflict and the miscarriage of justice following it, “such claims could become self-fulfilling prophecies.”
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.