Kyrgyz government forces wearing riot gear go to stop anti-government protesters in the capital, Bishkek, on Aug. 5. AP photo
A prominent human rights group said that Kyrgyzstan’s armed forces abetted and may even have actively taken part in violence by ethnic Kyrgyz mobs against the minority Uzbek community that left at least 370 people dead in June.
The Human Rights Watch, or HRW, blasted the Bishkek government in a report for failing to protect Uzbeks both during and after clashes in the south that displaced nearly 400,000 people.
“Research by Human Rights Watch indicates that law enforcement officers routinely subjected people detained in connection with the June violence to ill-treatment and torture in custody,” Agence France-Presse quoted the report as saying. “While the authorities claim to be investigating crimes committed during the June violence by both ethnic groups, Human Rights Watch research indicates that the security operations disproportionately targeted ethnic Uzbeks.”
The report by the New York-based organization was the most ambitious attempt to date at an independent survey of the causes and consequences of the clashes, which also sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from their homes to neighboring Uzbekistan.
The spokesman for Kyrgyzstan’s interim government, Farid Niyazov, wouldn’t immediately comment on the report, but said the government welcomes the probe and would continue to cooperate with rights groups to help establish the truth about the unrest. Top government representatives have acknowledged the real death toll may be much higher than the official tally.
Kyrgyzstan, a strategically located ex-Soviet Central Asian nation that hosts U.S. and Russian military bases, has remained tense ahead of October’s parliamentary elections, called after former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was driven from power in a bloody uprising in April.
Establishing the origin of the five-day wave of violence that erupted on June 10 has been hindered by sharply diverging testimonies, although international observers largely agree it rose out of petty interethnic brawls in the southern city of Osh.
Tensions between the two communities are rooted in a rivalry over land in the overpopulated Ferghana Valley, where the violence-wracked cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad are located. While Uzbeks dominated agriculture and owned many lucrative businesses, most government officials and law enforcement officers were Kyrgyz.
“The conflict is related to the lack of balance, as economic powers were in the hands of Uzbeks, while political power belonged to Kyrgyz,” Human Rights Watch researcher Anna Neistat said, according to a report the Associated Press.
The report, the result of nearly two months of research into the clashes between majority Kyrgyz and minority Uzbeks, contained harrowing details.
“The main methods of ill-treatment appear to be prolonged, severe beatings with rubber truncheons or rifle butts, punching, and kicking,” it said. “In at least four cases, the victims reported being tortured by suffocation with gas masks or plastic bags put on their heads; one detainee reported being burned with cigarettes, and another reported being strangled with a strap.”
In an interview with AFP this month, President Roza Otunbayeva, a former ambassador to both the United States and Britain, admitted some abuses by her security forces, including a raid in the village of Nariman mentioned in the report, which she called a targeted revenge killing by Kyrgyz police.
Human Rights Watch called for official probes into the use of military vehicles to attack Uzbek districts and whether they were being manned by mobs or by armed forces personnel.
“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,” said Human Rights Watch researcher Ole Solvang, who co-authored the report.
Compiled from AP and AFP stories by the Daily News staff.