OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Launching Investigation in Kyrgyzstan
Kimmo Kiljunen, the Special Representative for Central Asia of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA) told reporters in Bishkek July 22 that an international commission will begin work in August to investigate the recent conflict in southern Kyrgyzstan, finchannel.com reported, citing RIA Novosti.
"The purpose of our commission is impartial investigation of all facts connected with violence eruption in Osh city, Osh and Jalal-Abad oblasts of Kyrgyzstan,"24.kg quoted him as saying.
Kiljunen said representatives of the OSCE, the European Union, and the United Nations would be involved in the commission, and that the Commonwealth of Independent States has also agreed to participate. In response to a reporter's question about the possibility of including experts from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Kiljunen said, "This concerns other organizations. We will look into the methods of such cooperation," RIA Novosti reported.
Kiljunen said that Interim President Roza Otunbayeva had agreed to coordinate work forming the commission, which would make recommendations to the government on how to avoid a recurrence of such clashes.
Kiljunen said he would work with Kyrgyz law-enforcement officials as well as the Kyrgyz national commission of Abdygany Erkebaev, 24kg.org reported. Erkebaev's commission, originally established to find facts about the April events surrounding the ouster of former president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, has 25 members, including interim government officials, NGOs, journalists, and political scientists. Kiljunen, a multilingual specialist on international affairs, is a member of the Finnish Parliament from the Social Democratic Party serving on the Committee on Foreign Relations and has worked for UNDP and UNICEF.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has also sent a team to make an initial assessment of human rights violations in southern Kyrgyzstan and has found that Kyrgyz security forces are alleged to be involved in numerous arbitrary detentions and torture, mainly of Uzbek men. She has called for “a thorough international, independent and impartial investigation into the events in June.”
Joint investigations of such mass atrocities by diverse multinational bodies are uncommon, but the EU special representatives, the special envoy of the OSCE chair-in-office, and the UN's envoys have been working closely to coordinate their actions in Kyrgyzstan and on June 17 issued a joint statement pledging to continue to work together to support Kyrgyzstan's efforts to resolve the crisis.
The last such major independent fact-finding report in Eurasia was on the Russian-Georgian conflict and was produced by the Council of the European Union alone. OSCE PA reports have tended to be mainly about election monitoring and conflict settlement proposals, but the parliamentary body has performed some human rights investigations such as one at the U.S. prison on Guantanamo. The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights also produced major studies of conflicts in the past, such as in Kosovo.
With so many stakeholders involved, it's important to make public the mandate and terms of reference of the commission, and gain the full cooperation of national Kyrgyz authorities as well as officials in Osh oblast. Given that local and international NGOs as well as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have reported allegations that some government officials may themselves be implicated in the violence, convincing officials to guarantee unimpeded access at all levels will be crucial.
And with so many multinational agencies as well as regional and international political considerations at play, local human rights groups will really have to do their homework, as they supply the initial data that the international fact-finders rely on. The conditions for their work have been poor, as police have blocked them from making interviews of victims and detained some of those filming or recording eyewitness testimony.
"Victims’ lawyers, families and human rights defenders are also being threatened and intimidated to an alarming degree,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Pillay said in her statement.
In any complex investigation of this type, it's vital to interview witnesses individually in private, without officials present, and not in family or community groups as they themselves sometimes prefer, in order to enable better cross-checking of testimonies. It's also crucial to ensure the safety and anonymity of those who give testimony. Kiljunen said he hoped to set up a separate fund for witness protection. There is an often the overlooked problem of re-traumatizing victims, as they are forced to re-tell their story over and over again to multiple fact-finders, without seeing any immediate remedy.
Just getting an accurate death toll in this conflict has been difficult. A large and at times contradictory number of official statements, independent regional media reports, and local and international NGO appeals have been made about the situation in southern Kyrgyzstan. While the Kyrgyz Health Ministry reports 313 deaths as of July 21, NGOs and families say there were many more killed whose deaths went unregistered as people hastily buried their relatives during the conflict. Some observers say there are no mass graves related to this conflict; others say common graves were dug for victims who were not recorded.
On July 12, in an interview with Russia's business daily Kommersant, Azimbek Beknazarov, vice premier in the interim government, inexplicably said there were 893 deaths officially registered, although he did not elaborate on why his figure was different than other government officials, or what the ethnicity of the victims were. The Kyrgyz government has opened up 1,300 criminal cases based on complaints from citizens about murders and destruction of property. Yet the Interim Committee on Covering the Events in Southern Kyrgyzstan, a coalition of local and exile NGOs, has already made a list of 2,700 victims' complaints of destruction of property that also indicates names of relatives killed. This list contains mainly accounts by Uzbeks of the loss of their homes, but they have not all managed to officially register their cases as some of been discouraged or intimidated.
Out of 759 criminal cases opened in Osh by July 1, 700 involved charges against Uzbeks, says the Interim Committee, although both local and international observers agree that Uzbeks were among the majority of victims. All of these issues will have to be studied by international fact-finders to create an accurate portrait of the loss of lives and homes.