Continued human rights violations
(18/08-2010) The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is deeply concerned at continued reports of violence and ill-treatment during government operations in southern Kyrgyzstan.
Some government structures are still mistreating local inhabitants under the guise of weapons searches and ongoing operations following the deeply tragic June events.
A team from the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and Russia-based Human Rights Center Memorial visited a number of towns and districts in southern Kyrgyzstan in June and again in July 2010, speaking with representatives of all ethnic groups, as well as with a number of government representatives. The team aims to present a full report on its findings later this year, but in the light of the continued human rights violations in the region presents some preliminary findings.
Throughout the periods when the team visited southern Kyrgyzstan, we were deeply disturbed to see the extent to which violence and torture was used during so-called clean-up operations both in the Osh and Jalalabad regions : Each day brought new evidence of serious human rights violations having taken place the preceding night or early morning hours.
More often than not, it remained unclear exactly which police organs were carrying out the operations, as officials tended not to wear proper uniform and did not present identification. These were among the many issues that the NHC and Memorial raised with President Roza Otunbaeva during a meeting after their visit to the south of the country. Positively, the Commander of Osh, Kursan Asanov, shortly after ordered all personell to wear official uniform.
Still, the manner in which many representatives of the police organs and security services carried out their work has served to further aggravate the extremely tense situation in the region, deepening the mistrust between ethnic groups. It has also caused enormous stress and anxiety to already traumatized individuals still mourning the loss of loved ones and who live in fear of renewed disturbances and attacks. In some instances, inquiries from international organizations made the authorities promise that investigations into such violence would be launched. However, when the team re-visited some of these locations, we were informed that no such investigation had taken place.
Although attacks were carried out by mobs of both ethnic Uzbek and Kyrgyz origin in the very beginning of the conflict, the following clean-up operations appeared to be targeted almost exclusively at Uzbek neighborhoods.
The following are but a few examples.
On 21 June, the team visited the village of Nariman outside Osh, following rumors of a special operation that had taken place there in the early morning hours. As a result of the operation, two men had been killed and some 30 individuals had been brought to the local hospital with injuries stemming from beatings with rifle butts and other forms of violence from the side of the police organs carrying out the operation. (For further details on this operation, see NHC press release http://www.nhc.no/php/index.php?module=article&view=980) .
Arriving later in the afternoon, the Deputy Minister of Defense of the Kyrgyz Republic, Mr. Talaibek Umaraliev, in the presence of NHC/Memorial, told locals that an independent investigation would be launched to establish the facts. He also told residents to keep passports that had been torn or burnt by the police forces, as these would serve as evidence. However, when the team returned to Nariman on 6 July, both hospital staff and local residents who had suffered violence during the operation confirmed that no representative of the authorities had come to Nariman to inquire about the events, or to take any kind of statements. This in spite of the fact that President Otunbaeva admitted that violations by the security forces had taken place during this operation.
Operations on a smaller scale than the one that took place in Nariman were ongoing in all parts of southern Kyrgyzstan throughout the entire period while the team visited the region.
The same day, the team also visited an Uzbek neighborhood on Ulitsa Kalinina in Osh where some 200 Uzbek women IDPs were staying in a large common area. Locals explained that another operation had taken place there around 4 pm, when police forces – some wearing masks – stormed the area under the pretext of checking passports. During the operations, some young men present were beaten with rifle butts, and about 11 individuals were arrested. The locals also showed the team a storage area for humanitarian aid provided by the International Red Cross, where the guard dog had been shot and, according to the women, the police took half the aid packages for themselves. Many of the women were clearly traumatized by the experience, saying that the police forces had behaved in a very abusive manner towards them, and that they had stolen valuables, money and jewelry from some of the women.
On 23 June, the team also visited a home on Ulitsa Kurmanja Datka in the region of the new bus terminal in Osh, where an operation had taken place that morning. The house belonged to Jalalidin Salakhidinov, head of the Uzbek Republican Culture Center, who was not at home at the time. Members of Salakhidinov’s family explained that about 20 or 30 police officers had entered the house around 5:45 am, conducting a search. The team was shown broken windows, destroyed furniture and suitcases that had been forcibly opened. Three young men present had been beaten by the police, and had visible bruises on their legs and backs.
The team then visited a carpet factory, Oshkrasteks, also belonging to Mr. Salakhidinov, where another operation had taken place shortly after the raid on his house. Here too, several young men had been beaten by the police. An 18-year old man had visible marks on his shoulder and back from beatings with rifle butts, after having been thrown to the ground and beaten. Inside the factory, all offices proved to have been broken into, and four different safes had been forced open. Employees present explained that the safes contained money, including the salaries for the staff working at the factory. The police had taken the money with them, as well as several computers in the office.
On 24 June, in the town of Suzak near Jalalabad, the team spoke with two men who had been tortured by security services in Jalalabad. In two separate incidents, the men had been taken from their houses by masked men the day before, and brought to what they both believed were the headquarters of the security services in Jalalabad. From around 11 am until 4 pm the same day, they were severely beaten in the cellar of the building they were being held in. One of the men, who was forced to stand facing the wall of the cellar while receiving blows to the kidneys, said he was continuously asked to say where weapons were hid, and accused of being a “leader”. The other man, who had severe black and blue bruising on the insides of his thighs and around the crotch area, was in a state of shock and had trouble speaking. Neighbors had seen him being thrown out of a car near his house around 4 pm, and helped the man to the hospital, where he was being treated at the time of our conversation. Both men said they had been forced to sign statements saying that they had no complaints regarding their treatment while in custody.
On 25 June, the team also witnessed how an elderly Uzbek man was stopped at a checkpoint directly across from the Hotel Alai in downtown Osh around 9 am, violently dragged out of his car and abused. The team spoke to the man shortly after, he had scratch marks and bruises on one arm, and his shirt was torn. The man explained that the soldiers manning the checkpoints had turned violent towards him when, they said “he didn’t look at them the right way”.
Although the scale of the operations was somewhat smaller in the period following the referendum on 27 June, similar incidents did take place in both Osh and Jalalabad regions during the team’s second visit in July. The team was particularly concerned that many representatives of government forces openly expressed an aggressive attitude towards ethnic Uzbeks living in the region, raising questions as to how objective police forces are able to be in the wake of the violence that took lives on both sides of the ethnic divide.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee remains deeply concerned at the way in which government representatives interact with the ethnic Uzbek community in Osh and Jalalabad regions, noting that while searches for weapons continue, no serious attempts seem to be made to establish communication on a mutually respectful level. Also, according to our sources, the obvious use of illegal methods by police forces in the wake of the June events has not yet been the object of serious investigation by the authorities.
The NHC welcomes plans to launch an international investigation of the events, and believe the presence of an OSCE-mandated group in the region will help lead Kyrgyzstan towards reconciliation, and in time, to re-build the necessary trust between the different ethnic groups who have lived together for centuries in southern Kyrgyzstan.