Four days of violence in June between ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks left hundreds dead and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes. Serious human rights violations marred the efforts to restore order to the region, including widespread reports of the use of excessive force by security forces, arbitrary detentions, and torture and other ill-treatment during transfer and in custody. Attempts to establish the truth about what happened were undermined by apparent ethnic bias. At least 271 people were remanded in custody charged with participation in the June violence, the majority ethnic Uzbeks. Human rights defenders, civil society activists and lawyers were beaten and detained; some were held on serious criminal charges and tortured to extract confessions.
Rising tensions between the government of President Kurmanbek Bakiev and the opposition escalated in early April, resulting in violent clashes between security forces and demonstrators on 7 April in the capital, Bishkek. Eighty-seven people were killed and hundreds wounded, including police officers, armed men and unarmed civilians. Shortly afterwards, the opposition dissolved the parliament and the constitutional court and formed an interim government, led by Roza Otunbaeva. President Bakiev resigned on 15 April and fled the country. In the weeks that followed, ethnic Kyrgyz mobs attacked Kurdish, Meskhetian Turk and Russian villages across the country, killing villagers, looting and destroying properties and livestock. In May, violent clashes between mainly Kyrgyz supporters of ousted President Bakiev and Uzbeks in Jalal-Abad city left at least five people dead and dozens injured.
On 10 June, clashes between gangs of mostly ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek young people in Osh city rapidly escalated. Over the next four days, large-scale arson, looting and violent attacks, including killings and sexual violence, swept through Osh and Jalal-Abad regions, disproportionately affecting Uzbek-populated areas. Official statistics released in October provisionally placed the number of dead at 408, although the final number, which had not been published by the end of year, was likely to be higher. At least 1,900 were severely injured. The violence was followed by heavy-handed search operations by security forces as well as criminal investigations and prosecutions, largely perceived to be flawed and biased.
Satellite imagery revealed that 1,807 buildings in Osh city alone were totally destroyed. Some 400,000 people, both Kyrgyz and Uzbek, fled their homes. Up to 100,000 refugees, mostly Uzbek women and children and the elderly, fled across the border to Uzbekistan, although almost all had returned by the end of June. Thousands remained internally displaced living in temporary, mostly inadequate, accommodation with relatives, host families, or in public buildings, tents and camps.
The facts and causes of the June violence continued to be hotly contested by the ethnic communities. There were several credible independent reports of the complicity of Kyrgyzstani officials and security forces in the attacks.
The authorities recognized the need to ensure an independent investigation into the June events and mandated two commissions of inquiry: one national, one international. In addition, the Kyrgyzstani national Ombudsman announced that he would conduct his own inquiry. By the end of the year no reports had been published.
A referendum on 27 June approved a new Constitution which introduced parliamentary democracy, limited the length of the presidential time in office to one six-year term and confirmed Roza Otunbaeva as President until December 2011. Parliamentary elections on 10 October returned five parties to parliament, but the first attempt to form a coalition government failed in November. A coalition government was finally formed at the end of December.Top of page
Reports of torture or other ill-treatment in the aftermath of the June violence were widespread. Beatings by law enforcement officers appeared to continue to be routine: in the street during apprehension, during transfer to detention centres, during initial interrogation, and in pre-charge detention facilities. Search operations by security forces, ostensibly to seize weapons and detain suspects, were reportedly carried out using excessive force. There were serious concerns that the law enforcement operations and criminal investigations in the aftermath of the June violence disproportionately targeted Uzbeks and Uzbek neighbourhoods, while failing to identify and investigate alleged Kyrgyz perpetrators. Hundreds of men, the majority Uzbek, were arbitrarily detained and allegedly beaten during raids and later tortured or otherwise ill-treated in detention. In August, President Otunbaeva reportedly said she was aware that human rights violations had been committed by security forces during the June events and their aftermath, but that she had effectively no control over law enforcement in the south of the country.
Trials continued to fall short of international standards.
Following unfair trials, courts handed down at least 24 life sentences and six long-term sentences of between 15 and 25 years’ imprisonment for murder and mass disturbances in relation to the June unrest. Allegations of forced confessions were not investigated, defence witnesses were not interviewed, and lawyers were threatened and physically attacked.
In November, President Otunbaeva told prosecutors that she was concerned about the number of complaints she had received of torture and other ill-treatment by security forces in relation to the June events which apparently had not been properly investigated. By the end of December no prosecution for ill-treatment in police custody appeared to have taken place. The deputy prosecutor for Osh region stated that his office had received very few complaints of torture in detention. This contrasted starkly with the allegations raised by human rights organizations and defence lawyers of widespread beatings or other ill-treatment of Uzbek detainees.
The first deputy Minister of Internal Affairs stated in September that there had been isolated cases of torture and ill-treatment of detained Uzbek suspects and that the Ministry had ordered investigations into the most serious of these cases. In some instances, the deputy Minister had conducted investigations personally. He had interviewed Azimzhan Askarov, who, when asked directly, had denied outright any torture or other ill-treatment by police officers. This brief interview in the presence of local police officers constituted the extent of the investigation to date into the torture allegations repeatedly raised by Azimzhan Askarov’s lawyer, in spite of previously documented evidence, including photographs, of injuries sustained whilst in custody.
There were concerns over ethnic bias in the attitudes of the authorities following the June events. Groups of Kyrgyz civilians, often women, assaulted the relatives of victims and detainees outside police stations or the prosecutor’s offices, effectively obstructing their attempts to submit complaints about allegations of torture to police and prosecutors. Groups of Kyrgyz women also assaulted ethnic Kyrgyz, Uzbek and Russian lawyers defending Uzbek suspects on court premises and inside police compounds, mostly in the presence of police officers who did not intervene to stop the assaults. By the end of the year, no investigations had reportedly been opened into offences by these groups.
By 10 November 2010, official figures revealed that 271 individuals had been arrested in relation to the June violence. Human rights defenders and lawyers maintained that the majority of those arrested were ethnic Uzbeks.Top of page
In April the interim government revoked the entry ban on several foreign human rights defenders which had been imposed by the government of ousted President Bakiev.
However, in a climate of ethnic tensions and growing nationalist discourse, human rights defenders found themselves in the difficult position of having to justify their work protecting different ethnic communities. Those who documented the June events were targeted by the authorities, who attempted to confiscate their material and obstruct their work. Uzbek human rights defenders and lawyers were particularly at risk of violence and were threatened, beaten, and, in some cases, detained, tortured and sentenced to life imprisonment after an unfair trial. Their Kyrgyz colleagues and those of other ethnic origins also came under increasing pressure and were threatened and assaulted by Kyrgyz civilians for defending the rights of Uzbek suspects.