Following a lengthy investigation, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch says the government of Kyrgyzstan played a role in facilitating the violent attacks against ethnic Uzbeks this past June.
In a new report titled "Where Is The Justice? Interethnic Violence In Southern Kyrgyzstan And Its Aftermath," the group also says the government's own investigation into the violence -- which left many hundreds dead, thousands injured, and hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uzbeks displaced -- has been marred by abuses.
The report is based on weeks of research and more than 200 interviews with Kyrgyz and Uzbek victims and witnesses, lawyers, human rights defenders, government officials, and law enforcement personnel. Satellite imagery and photographic, video, documentary, and forensic evidence was also analyzed.
'Part Of The Problem'
Ethnic Uzbek refugees wait at the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border outside the village of Suratash on June 14.
Ole Solvang, HRW's emergencies researcher and one of the authors of the report, says that although "the massive ethnic violence posed colossal challenges for Kyrgyz security forces," the group's own investigation found "that some of the security forces became part of the problem rather than the solution."
And he tells RFERL's Kyrgyz Service that the group hopes the Kyrgyz government will take the report's findings into consideration as it conducts its own investigation.
"But more than that," he says, "I think we hope that both the international investigation and the national commission will conduct an objective investigation on their own. And if they do, then I think they will come to many of the same conclusions that we do."
The violence began on June 10 in the southern city of Osh, when a large crowd of ethnic Uzbeks gathered in response to a fight between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz. That night, several attacks targeting ethnic Kyrgyz inflamed the region and prompted thousands of Krygyz from surrounding villages to pour into Osh.
From June 11 to June 14, Uzbek neighborhoods were attacked and Uzbek homes and businesses were set alight. Several neighborhoods were burned to the ground.
"Witnesses in various parts of [Osh] told us more or less the same story," HRW researcher Anna Neistat told reporters in Moscow on August 16. "During the violent riots, armored personnel carriers and other armored vehicles moved into the neighborhoods first. They removed makeshift barricades erected by ethnic Uzbeks to protect themselves.
"The APCs were followed by armed men in camouflage who were shooting the residents still on the streets, and then crowds of ethnic Kyrgyz civilians followed, torching and looting homes."
The report acknowledged the government's claim that Kyrgyz mobs stole some weapons and vehicles used in the attacks but says that can't completely account for the use of military vehicles in the attacks.Not Shown The 'Will'
The report says evidence was found that in at least some neighborhoods, government forces were in control of the vehicles and that in some instances government forces who went into the neighborhoods to disarm residents living there either intentionally or unintentionally gave cover to violent mobs carrying out attacks.
At least 371 people -- and that estimate is thought to be low -- were killed and property damaged throughout several neighborhoods. A massive refugee crisis ensued as ethnic Uzbeks fled across the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border.
The report also deals with the aftermath of the June violence and contains claims that ethnic Uzbeks have been arbitrarily detained and ill-treated in custody. That's despite personal assurances from President Roza Otunbaeva, who told the group she has personally instructed local prosecutors, police, and investigators to comply fully with the law.
"At the moment, I have no doubt that the investigation is being carried out with huge violations," Neistat says. "First of all, I'm talking about large-scale illegal arrests. When we were [in southern Kyrgyzstan], we were overwhelmed by telephone calls, coming in literally every minute, about detentions in Uzbek districts."
The report contains information that Human Right Watch workers say they received about the torture and ill-treatment of more than 60 detainees, at least one of whom died as a result of injuries suffered in custody.
HRW reports that the Prosecutor-General's Office recently released statistics showing that out of 243 people who have been imprisoned since the violence, only 29 are Kyrgyz, while 213 are Uzbek.
Neistat said that the way the Kyrgyz government handles the investigations will have a powerful effect on the communities.
"Incredible tension and distrust still remain between the two ethnic groups," she says, "and it is clear that the methods currently used by the investigators only add to this tension."
Alik Orozov, the secretary of the Kyrgyz government's Security Council, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that the government could have done more to keep the calm.
"We agree with some critics that the government forces did not make enough effort to keep the situation under control," Orozov said. "The government forces were not able to take full control over the situation. I can say that during the first days -- June 10 through 12 -- security forces did not act appropriately."'Must Be Checked'
But he doesn't accept some of the accusations in the report -- including that Kyrgyz forces took part in the violence against ethnic Uzbeks -- and said the information that Human Rights Watch gathered "must be checked."
"The information that Kyrgyz military forces opened fire [on ethnic Uzbeks], that armored personnel carriers came [into Uzbek communities], has to be checked," he said. "So many people who started the clash -- bandits -- dressed in camouflage. So, everything should be accurately clarified.
"[It should be checked] whether Kyrgyz forces were involved or there were others dressed as military personnel. There were several such cases. Perhaps people saw guys in camouflage and thought they were Kyrgyz Army soldiers."
Human Rights Watch has called on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to speed up the deployment of the small advisory police group its members have agreed to send to southern Kyrgyzstan to assist the Kyrgyz authorities in reducing ethnic tensions.
In Osh and elsewhere, people have voiced concerns that an outside force might only complicate matters and further escalate tensions.
Orozov said Bishkek is talking to the OSCE about letting its police group train Kyrgyz police forces from the south in civil rights protection.written by Heather Maher, with contributions from Ashley Cleek and Janyl Chytyrbaeva of RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service