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Understanding The Truth: Chief Investigator Of Deadly Kyrgyz-Uzbek Clashes Reflects 10 Years Later


"We wished, we really sincerely hoped, that we could help by telling the truth," says Finnish politician Kimmo Kiljunen, who led the Kyrgyzstan Inquiry Commission, shown here in Bishkek on May 3, 2011.

It has been a decade since the horrific violence in June 2010 between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities ravaged southern Kyrgyzstan and left at least 470 people dead, thousands injured, and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.

Amid the smoldering aftermath of the senseless carnage, interim President Roza Otunbaeva called for an independent, international investigation to uncover the root causes of the events.

As a result, the seven-member Kyrgyzstan Inquiry Commission (KIC) was created with experts from Russia, France, Britain, Estonia, Australia, and Turkey.

It was led by Finnish politician Kimmo Kiljunen, who was the special representative for Central Asia from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Kiljunen brought together prominent international lawyers, human rights experts, specialists on conflict analysis, and others who spent nearly a year investigating the causes of the violence in order to advise Bishkek on how to prevent similar outbreaks in the future -- and most importantly to bring "peace, stability, and reconciliation" to the Uzbek and Kyrgyz communities.

A building burns in Osh on June 11, 2010.
A building burns in Osh on June 11, 2010.

After interviewing hundreds of witnesses and reviewing thousands of photos and videos of the events -- which mainly took place in the cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad -- the commission's detailed report was issued on May 3, 2011.

While finding no war crimes or genocide had taken place, the report said some acts of violence could have been prosecuted as crimes against humanity.

Both Kyrgyzstan's parliament and its interim government -- which took office after the violent uprising in 2010 that ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiev -- rejected the report's conclusions when it was released the following year.

A government statement called the report unacceptable and one-sided, claiming that it unfairly portrayed ethnic Uzbeks as "defenseless victims."

It said the investigators displayed an "overwhelming tendency that only one ethnic group" had committed crimes and ignored ethnic Kyrgyz "victims and deaths."

One lawmaker in Bishkek accused Kiljunen of accepting bribes from ethnic Uzbek "separatists" in order to whitewash attacks against ethnic Kyrgyz citizens -- an allegation rejected by Kiljunen as "ridiculous" and a "big lie."

Interim leader Roza Otunbaeva praised the work of the international investigation as "important and necessary." She's shown here during a meeting with human rights activists in Bishkek on June 11, 2010.
Interim leader Roza Otunbaeva praised the work of the international investigation as "important and necessary." She's shown here during a meeting with human rights activists in Bishkek on June 11, 2010.

For her part, Otunbaeva at the time praised the work of the international investigation as "important and necessary."

But rather than moving to implement some of the commission's recommendations to prevent similar outbreaks of violence, lawmakers in Bishkek on May 26, 2011, declared Kiljunen persona non grata.

Ten years after the ethnic clashes of June 2010, Kyrgyzstan still has not implemented many of the KIC's recommendations.

And Kiljunen, who is now the vice president of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, is still persona non grata in Kyrgyzstan.

'Truth' And 'Reconciliation'

"It's really a strange situation because I'm actually, maybe, the only person in the world who is persona non grata based on a parliamentary decision," Kiljunen told RFE/RL ahead of the 10th anniversary of the violence.

"Throughout the world, [it normally is] the government that makes the decision of persona non grata and that can renew it," he says.

Kimmo Kiljunen is today the vice president of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly.
Kimmo Kiljunen is today the vice president of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly.

"We wished, we really sincerely hoped, that we could help by telling the truth, by trying to open the situation as it happened in a way that could help solve the issue" through a "reconciliation process," Kiljunen says of the commission's report.

"We only tried to give the facts and say who the victims were, how many people were killed, and what the problem areas are," he adds.

In fact, the KIC's investigation concluded that ethnic Uzbeks suffered disproportionately in the violence -- and were the victims in about 74 percent of the deaths.

Meanwhile, Kiljunen notes, about 80 percent of the trials and prosecutions by Kyrgyz authorities targeted ethnic Uzbeks.

The KIC also concluded that some attacks on ethnic Uzbek neighborhoods in the city of Osh could amount to "crimes against humanity" if they were "proven beyond a reasonable doubt."

Those crimes included "murder, rape, other forms of sexual violence, physical violence, and persecution against an identifiable group on ethnic grounds," it said.

Kyrgyzstan's Deadly Ethnic Clashes, 10 Years Later
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Looking back on those events a decade later, Kiljunen says the commission's report has failed to be fully heeded in Bishkek because "the Kyrgyz population didn't want to read it and didn't want to recognize the problem."

"It's up to the Kyrgyz society as a whole to try to build up the process of reconciliation," Kiljunen tells RFE/RL. "It's very much an educational process" for the entire society.

"The whole international community was very alarmed and shocked at how it was possible that in a country like Kyrgyzstan -- which among the Central Asian countries was one of the most, let's say, most open and also democratically minded -- that such a violent outbreak could have happened," Kiljunen says.

Kiljunen, 68, insists the KIC's recommendations "were made with sincere thoughts" that would help alleviate ethnic tensions in Kyrgyzstan.

"We said a truth commission is very frequently used in this type of situation," he explains. "A truth commission tries to open the problem so that there are no [closed] pages in the history of the country and each side can recognize what the facts were.

"By seeing the facts, they could forgive and go further," Kiljunen says. “But if you don’t open up the facts, if you try to deny what has really happened, it is still there as a potential reason to erupt [into violence] once again."

WATCH: Azimjan Askarov was arrested by Kyrgyz security forces in connection with ethnic Uzbek-Kyrgyz clashes that first erupted in the city of Osh. A court in Bishkek recently upheld the ethnic Uzbek human rights activist's life sentence, despite international pressure for his release.

'He's Innocent': Activist's Wife Reflects On His Decade In Kyrgyz Jail
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"Obviously, that's the first thing -- to open the issue and discuss it, and maybe have community representatives meet each other" to move forward beyond the violence, he says.

Kyrgyz officials never came close to establishing a truth commission.

Names Named

When the ethnic violence broke out in southern Kyrgyzstan on June 10, 2010, the new government headed by Otunbaeva had been in power for just two months.

Otunbaeva admitted to RFE/RL in an interview days before the anniversary of those events that her government was "not very stable or powerful" and was "busy trying to stabilize the situation in [the capital] Bishkek" in the aftermath of Bakiev's ouster.

She blamed the poor state of interethnic relations inside Kyrgyzstan for triggering the violence in Osh and said there were several other mitigating factors and other forces that "took advantage of that moment to try to make a fire."

Sooronbai Jeenbekov, the man appointed by Otunbaeva as the governor of Osh Province just two months before the violence began, is now Kyrgyz president.

Sooronbai Jeenbekov, who was appointed the governor of Osh just two months before the violence began, was exonerated by the KIC report, which said he had “responded appropriately.” Jeenbekov is now the president of Kyrgyzstan.
Sooronbai Jeenbekov, who was appointed the governor of Osh just two months before the violence began, was exonerated by the KIC report, which said he had “responded appropriately.” Jeenbekov is now the president of Kyrgyzstan.

KIC investigators exonerated Jeenbekov, saying he had "responded appropriately" after surrendering his legal powers to the commandant of Osh when authorities in Bishkek declared a state of emergency on June 11, 2010.

The KIC said Jeenbekov "gave instructions to prevent the mobilization of rural Kyrgyz and was present" during a crucial meeting between provisional government representatives and the mayor of Osh.

But the actions of some other Kyrgyz government and military officials was deemed by the KIC to have been "inadequate" to prevent ethnic Kyrgyz crowds from storming ethnic Uzbek neighborhoods in Osh during the peak time of violence.

"General Ismail Isakov, the special representative of the provisional government for southern Kyrgyzstan, took effective command over the operational headquarters and security forces in Osh city and province," the KIC report noted.

"His failure to deploy the security forces with clear orders and rules of engagement providing for the use of nonlethal force on 11 June or subsequent days constitutes a serious omission," it said.

The KIC said the commandant of Osh city and province, Bakyt Alymbekov, "unlawfully abdicated control over law enforcement in favor of General Isakov and failed in his duty to ensure that human rights were respected during the restoration of order."

The commandant of Osh city and province, Bakyt Alymbekov, "failed in his duty to ensure that human rights were respected during the restoration of order," the KIC found.
The commandant of Osh city and province, Bakyt Alymbekov, "failed in his duty to ensure that human rights were respected during the restoration of order," the KIC found.

"The commandant of Jalal-Abad, Kubatbek Baybolov, failed to take all measures within his power to end the violence in Jalal-Abad," Kiljunen's commission concluded.

The KIC also criticized what it described as the "nationalist rhetoric of the mayor of Osh, Melis Myrzakmatov," during the crisis -- saying his public statements were "not conducive to the calming of interethnic tensions."

Noting that Baybolov later became Kyrgyzstan's prosecutor-general, the KIC said he also "failed to ensure that the investigation and prosecution of crimes" were carried out according to the country's "domestic and international legal obligations."

Since then, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have continued to criticize the way ethnic Uzbeks have been targeted by most of the 5,000-plus criminal investigations launched by Kyrgyz authorities.

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