Kyrgyzstan: UN experts alarmed by ethnic violence and call for restraint & dialogue


A group of UN human rights experts* today expressed their alarm and deep concern about ethnic tensions that have erupted into violence in the south of Kyrgyzstan, including the cities of Osh and Jalalabad. The violence has reportedly claimed the lives of over one hundred and left many hundreds more injured. A state of emergency has been declared in the region following the outbreak of violence between ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks. The situation has dramatically deteriorated since 11 June with reports of continuing killings and the burning of residences, shops and other properties.

“Putting a stop to the current violence and preventing its further escalation or spreading to other areas must be the first priority of the provisional government. The security of those from all ethnic groups, including all minorities in Kyrgyzstan, must be protected,” stated the UN experts. “The true causes of the tensions should be fully analyzed and addressed to help ensure that this appalling situation cannot happen again.”

“The present situation remains extremely fragile and dangerous and it must be confronted with swift and appropriate responses to calm the situation, restore order and prevent further outbreaks of violence. This must be done in full conformity with human rights obligations.”

“At times of political uncertainty or significant change, history shows us that tensions and issues that have perhaps simmered under the surface may boil over into violence. It is essential to quickly establish the rule of law and to establish long term measures to promote dialogue and improve relations between ethnic groups. The Government has a responsibility to put in place measures to prevent these violent crimes and to conduct investigations and ensure prosecution of those responsible for the killings.”

The experts also expressed concern at reports of a shoot-to-kill policy adopted by the provisional Government noting that “such policies would undermine clear legal standards on the use of force by security forces and endanger innocent persons. Force should be used by law enforcement officials only when strictly necessary, and that force must be in proportion to the legitimate objective to be achieved.”

Tensions have risen in Kyrgyzstan since the overthrow of former President Kurmanbek Bakiev following mass protests and violence in April. In May 2010 violence between ethnic Kyrgyz and minority Uzbeks also broke out in the southern city of Jalalabad resulting in deaths and rising concerns over ethnic relations and possible further incidents.

“Minority rights, non-discrimination and the rule of law are all key components of long-term stability and conflict prevention,” stated the UN experts.

* Ms. Gay McDougall, Independent Expert on minority issues; Mr. Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Mr. Githu Muigai, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

15 June 2010

By SASHA MERKUSHEV and LEILA SARALAYEVA, Associated Press Writers 

Sat Jun 12, 5:46 pm ET

OSH, Kyrgyzstan – Ethnic riots wracked southern Kyrgyzstan on Saturday, forcing thousands of Uzbeks to flee as their homes were torched by roving mobs of Kyrgyz men. The interim government begged Russia for troops to stop the violence, but the Kremlin offered only humanitarian assistance.

At least 77 people were reported killed and more than 1,000 wounded in the violence spreading across the impoverished Central Asian nationthat hosts U.S. and Russian air bases.

Much of its second-largest city, Osh, was on fire Saturday and the sky overhead was black with smoke. Roving mobs of young Kyrgyz men armed with firearms and metal bars marched on minority Uzbek neighborhoods and set homes on fire, forcing thousands of Uzbeks to flee. Stores were looted and the city was running out of food.

Kyrgyzstan's third straight day of rioting also engulfed another major southern city, Jalal-Abad, where a rampaging mob burned a university, besieged a police station and seized an armored vehicle and other weapons from a local military unit.

"It's a real war," said local political leader Omurbek Suvanaliyev. "Everything is burning, and bodies are lying on the streets."

Those driven from their homes rushed toward the border with Uzbekistan, and an Associated Press reporter there saw the bodies ofchildren trampled to death in the panicky stampede. Crowds of frightened women and children made flimsy bridges out of planks and ladders to cross the ditches marking the border.

Interim President Roza Otunbayeva acknowledged that her government has lost control over Osh, a city of 250,000, even though it sent troops, armor and helicopters to quell the riots. Violence spread to the nearby city of Jalal-Abad later Saturday.

"The situation in the Osh region has spun out of control," Otunbayeva told reporters. "Attempts to establish a dialogue have failed, and fighting and rampages are continuing. We need outside forces to quell confrontation."

Otunbayeva asked Russia early Saturday to send in troops, but the Kremlin said it would not meddle into what it described as Kyrgyzstan's internal conflict.

"It's a domestic conflict, and Russia now doesn't see conditions for taking part in its settlement," Kremlin spokeswoman Natalya Timakova said in Moscow. She added that Russia will discuss with other members of a security pact of ex-Soviet nations about the possibility of sending a joint peacekeeping force to Kyrgyzstan.

Timakova said Russia would send a plane to Kyrgyzstan to deliver humanitarian supplies and help evacuate victims of the violence.

Russia has about 500 troops at a base in Kyrgyzstan, mostly air force personnel. The United States has theManas air base in the capital, Bishkek, a crucial supply hub for the coalition fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Kyrgyzstan's interim government spokesman, Farid Niyazov, refused to say whether the country would turn to the U.S. for military help after Russia had refused. "Russia is our main strategic partner," he said.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said he was unaware of any requests for help by Kyrgyzstan.

The riots are the worst violence since former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was toppled in a bloody uprising in April and fled the country. The violence is a crucial test of the interim government's ability to control the country, hold a June 27 vote on a new constitution and go ahead with new parliamentary elections scheduled for October.

Otunbayeva on Saturday blamed Bakiyev's family for instigating the unrest in Osh, saying they aimed to derail the constitutional referendum.

Maksat Zheinbekov, the acting mayor of Jalal-Abad, said in a telephone interview that Bakiyev's supporters in his home region started the riots by attacking both Uzbek and Kyrgyz. The rampaging mob quickly grew in size from several hundred to thousands, and automatic gunfire rang over the city, he said.

Ethnic tensions have long simmered in the Ferghana Valley, split by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's whimsically carved borders among Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

In 1990, hundreds of people were killed in a violent land dispute between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in Osh, and only the quick deployment of Soviet troops quelled the fighting. Both ethnic groups are predominantly Sunni Muslim.

Moscow has competed with Washington for influence in strategically placed Central Asia and pushed for the withdrawal of the U.S. base in Kyrgyzstan. But the Kremlin's refusal to send troops indicated that it's much more reluctant to get involved in the turbulent region's affairs than its assertive policy statements had suggested.

The official casualty toll Saturday rose to at least 77 people dead and 1,024 wounded, the Health Ministry said. The real figures may be much higher, because doctors and human rights workers said ethnic Uzbekswere too afraid to seek hospital treatment.

Witnesses said that many bodies were lying in the streets of Osh and more were scattered inside the burned buildings. As Uzbek refugees, mostly women and children, fled the city toward the border, they were shot at and many were killed, witnesses said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had received reports of tens of thousands people fleeing the fighting and looting.

"Things are getting worse and worse by the hour," Severine Chappaz, the deputy head of the ICRC's mission in Kyrgyzstan, said in a statement from Osh. "The electricity and gas have been cut off, meaning there are also no water supplies. Shops and markets are closed, leading to fears of a lack of food, especially in the hospitals and places of detention."

At a hospital near Osh airport, an AP photographer saw the bodies of 10 people killed in fighting, and a health worker said a pregnant woman also died of gunshot wounds.

In mainly Uzbek areas on the edge of Osh, residents painted the letters "SOS" on the road in a futile bid for help from the violence that began late Thursday.

Otunbayeva said there were food shortages in Osh after virtually all stores were looted or shut down. A state of emergency and a curfew was declared Friday around the city.

"Young men in white masks are marauding and stealing from the remaining stores, offices and houses, and then setting them on fire," said Bakyt Omorkulov, a member of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, a non-governmental organization.

Omorkulov said terrified Uzbeks begged him for help, saying their houses were on fire. "They called us and were sobbing into the phone, but what can we do?" Omorkulov said.

At the Osh airport, hundreds of arriving passengers were stranded and fire from heavy machine guns and automatic weapons was heard as troops tried to gain control of roads into the city. An elite police force of 100 officers from Bishkek arrived late Saturday.

"Our task is to restore the constitutional order," said the group's leader, Nur Mambetaliyev.

In Bishkek, the interim government announced a partial mobilization of military reservists and allowed police and the troops to shoot to kill while acting to end rioting.