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Central Asia: Rights Group Says Region Suffering After Andijon

  • Gulnoza Saidazimova --> Andijon suspects on trial in Tashkent in October 2005 (RFE/RL) Human rights watchdog Amnesty International says in its annual report released today that the May 2005 bloodshed in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon defined the overall human-rights situation in Central Asia in 2005. Some of the region's governments tightened the screws amid the international community's slow, uncoordinated, and inconsequential response to the bloody events in Andijon.

PRAGUE, May 22, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The repression of dissent; torture, ill-treatment in detention facilities, unfair trials, official impunity, flawed elections, and human trafficking are nothing new for Central Asia.

But Amnesty International's report says the situation in the region has actually gotten worse since Uzbek troops "allegedly killed hundreds of unarmed men, women, and children when they fired indiscriminately and without warning on a crowd in the eastern city of Andijon" in May 2005.

'Still No Justice'

"We saw the resurgence of old-style repression in places like Uzbekistan," said Amnesty Secretary-General Irene Khan. "We have just marked the first anniversary of the Andijon massacre, and there is still no justice for the victims there."

Rights watchdogs say hundreds fell victim to the government's brutal handling of demonstrators in Andijon, while Uzbek authorities insist that 187 mostly "foreign-paid terrorists" died in what they labeled an "antigovernment mutiny."

Judit Arenas, Amnesty International's spokeswoman, told RFE/RL that Amnesty is concerned about the international community's response to the Andijon killings.

"I think the big problem is that the West has intervened in the situation in Uzbekistan too little and too late," Arenas said. "For many years, Uzbekistan was considered [the West's] strategic ally. We saw how after [the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States], [a] strategic decision on the air bases that they held made the Western governments -- especially the U.S. -- turn a blind eye [to] a human rights record that had been dire for many years."

Arenas says the United States condemned the Andijon killings and took a firm stance only after official Tashkent evicted U.S. troops from an air base in southern Uzbekistan. Washington and Brussels demanded an independent investigation into the killings. The Uzbek government rejected the calls and has blocked all but official reports of the killings. The EU imposed an arms embargo and one-year visa ban for 12 top Uzbek security officials.

Russia And China Side With Tashkent

Meanwhile, Arenas says some countries endorsed the Uzbek government's brutal tactics toward protesters.

"[A] serious political message has actually been sent out to the Uzbek authorities that this kind of repression is OK," Arenas said. "We've heard how Russia and China have continued to support the Uzbek authorities and that's something that simply must not be allowed to continue."

The stance by Moscow and Beijing sent a mixed signal throughout Central Asia.

The Amnesty International report states that following the Andijon killings, hundreds of protesters were ill treated and intimidated. Journalists, opposition members, and human rights activists were harassed, beaten, and detained in Uzbekistan.

Regional Ramifications

That, the group's report says, has had serious repercussions in the whole region.

Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan had to deal with the flow of Uzbek refugees following the Andijon uprising. More than 400 refugees were flown from Kyrgyzstan to European countries, while other asylum seekers and refugees risked detention and forcible return. Kyrgyzstan returned four Uzbeks to Uzbekistan in June. The Uzbek security service even pursued some asylum-seekers onto Kyrgyz territory, in some cases with the cooperation of Kyrgyz authorities.

Kazakhstan also cooperated with Uzbek authorities in November when it returned at least eight Uzbeks accused of membership of a banned Islamic organization.

Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan

The Amnesty report says Turkmenistan failed to halt human rights violations. Religious minorities, civil society activists, journalists, and relatives of dissidents have faced harassment and imprisonment or were forced into exile. At least 60 prisoners -- jailed for an alleged assassination attempt against President Saparmurat Niyazov in 2002 -- remain incommunicado.

In Tajikistan, Amnesty recorded torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officers. In most cases, the organization's report says, no investigation was conducted and the perpetrators enjoyed impunity.

The Amnesty International report states that Tajikistan's parliamentary polls in February 2005 and Kazakhstan's presidential election last December fell short of international standards with authorities rigging the election results.

Kazakh oppositionist Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov in January, shortly after his release from prison (RFE/RL)

In both countries, opposition members and independent journalists faced harassment and intimidation. Kazakh authorities also shut down an opposition party, the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan. Meanwhile, prominent opposition leader Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov was granted an early release from prison last December.

Amnesty spokeswoman Arenas says Central Asia in general suffered from a lack of attention from the international community while authoritarian leaders in the region tightened their grips on power.

"One of the key messages we are promoting at the moment is the fact that the war on terror has essentially allowed a lot of repressive governments to continue unchecked because the international focus has simply been diverted elsewhere," she said. "And I think that's definitely the case for Turkmenistan, where a lot of trials are actually held in secrecy. Unfair trials have been taking place for a very long time and we don't even know how many people have actually been sentenced or for how long."

In Afghanistan, the lack of security remains the biggest challenge. Arenas says President Hamid Karzai's government benefited from the international community's aid in recent years, but the situation in the country remains precarious.

"The situation in Afghanistan remains very unstable and the government and its international partners have actually not been able to provide security to the people," Arenas said. "We know that the country is greatly fractioned. We know that there are areas where women still continue to be very much at risk. And this climate of [a] lack of public security and rule of law has actually allowed many problems to continue unchecked."

The Amnesty report says flaws in the administration of justice remain a key source of human rights violations in Afghanistan. The legal process is hampered by corruption, the influence of armed groups, a lack of oversight mechanisms, the nonpayment of salaries, and inadequate infrastructure.

Andijon Anniversary Conference

Violence in Andijon, Uzbekistan, on May 14, 2005 (epa)

TALKING ABOUT ANDIJON: On May 9, 2006, RFE/RL, the National Endowment for Democracy, and U.S.-based human rights organizations cohosted a conference on the May 2005 events in Andijon and their aftermath in Uzbekistan and throughout the region. The first panel featured Andijon eyewitness GALIMA BUKHARBAEVA, National Endowment for Democracy Fellow NOZIMA KAMALOVA, RFE/RL Central Asia analyst DANIEL KIMMAGE, and others. The second panel featured presentations by U.S. Senator JOHN MCCAIN and U.S. Congressman CHRISTOPHER SMITH, who used the forum to announce they had introduced legislation calling for sanctions and other measures against the government of President Islam Karimov.


Listen to the Andijon conference.
Part One (70 minutes):
Real Audio Windows Media
Part Two (60 minutes):
Real Audio Windows Media
The Uzbek government's response:
Real Audio Windows Media

THE COMPLETE STORY: A dedicated webpage bringing together all of RFE/RL's coverage of the events in Andijon, Uzbekistan, in May 2005 and their continuing repercussions.


For an annotated timeline of the Andijon events and their repercussions, click here.