OSH, Kyrgyzstan -- International watchdog groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have issued dual reports criticizing the government of Kyrgyzstan for failing to provide justice for the victims of deadly 2010 clashes in the country's south or to stem a wave of rights violations that have followed.
The reports, launched in a joint presentation in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, came just days ahead of the first anniversary of clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in Osh, Jalal-Abad, and other southern regions that left more than 470 people dead and thousands of properties destroyed.
Western researchers -- including a body commissioned by the Kyrgyz president, Roza Otunbaeva -- say the vast majority of the victims, both in lives and property, were Uzbeks. But in their reports, both Amnesty and HRW argue the government has failed to acknowledge the disproportionate suffering of the Uzbeks, and have exacerbated the problem by focusing judicial proceedings on Kyrgyz victims and by using the crisis as a pretext for cracking down on the Uzbek community.
Roza Otunbaeva, then the head of the interim government, during her visit to Osh on June 18, 2010.
Maisy Weicherding, a Central Asia researcher with Amnesty International and an author of the group's report, "Still Waiting for Justice," says the trial procedures have displayed such flagrant anti-Uzbek bias that relations between the two communities in the south have only degenerated further.
It's a situation, she says, that leaves the country vulnerable to further violence -- especially as the country approaches new presidential elections in a political season of heightened nationalist rhetoric.
"If there is no justice for the victims and it looks like the perpetrators have absolute impunity; if we continue to see this ethnically biased propaganda, especially in the run-up to the presidential elections -- then yes, I think there is every likelihood that violence will erupt again," Weicherding said. "Maybe not in Osh; maybe it will be somewhere else this time. But I think definitely there is this huge potential for further violence."
Human Rights Watch, which conducted extensive research in southern Kyrgyzstan in the months following the violence, says in its 86-page report, "Distorted Justice," that a chronic shortage of Uzbeks from political and administrative structures in the south has created an atmosphere of impunity. The authorities have repeatedly turned a blind eye to allegations of torture of suspects in detention, and physical attacks against defendants and their lawyers went unchallenged.
An ethnic Uzbek woman cries as she rides on a bus as it leaves Osh on June 15, 2010. Uzbekistan had closed its border to refugees fleeing the deadly violence.
Rachel Denber, the head of HRW's European division, says in so doing, the government has "perverted" the judicial process and poisoned hopes for reconciliation.
"The government doesn't want to accept any kind of responsibility for what happened in June and in the aftermath," Denber said.
"It's beyond prickly in terms of responding to criticism about how the violence was handled and what happened in the aftermath. I think that the government has accepted that it could have handled things better, but its response, for example, to the Kyrgyzstan International Commission report is very sad and actually it's kind of tragic."
The Kyrgyzstan Inquiry Commission (KIC), operating under Otunbaeva's presidential mandate, in May released a comprehensive review of the clashes, including evidence indicating that a full three-fourths of the victims were Uzbek, and highlighted specific failings in government structures in allowing the violence to escalate unchecked.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the review met with a cold reception in the Kyrgyz political community, which bristled in particular at the suggestion that some of the crimes in the June 2010 clashes, if prosecuted under international law, could be considered crimes against humanity.
Persona Non Grata
The Kyrgyz parliament roundly rejected the review and branded its author, OSCE special representative Kimmo Kiljunen, persona non grata in Kyrgyzstan.
So far, official reaction to the June 8 Amnesty and HRW reports has been more muted.
President Otunbaeva was asked about the reports during a visit to Vienna -- in particular, about their claim that the trials have disproportionately targeted ethnic Uzbeks.
"As of today, a total of 167 criminal cases have been reviewed," she said. "Indeed it turns out that more Uzbeks have been brought to justice than Kyrgyz. But this doesn't mean anything yet -- there are 3,000 cases being prosecuted. So please don't make big politics from arithmetic, because we are in a postcrisis, postconflict country."
"We will do all we can so that peace gradually returns to our country and justice prevails," she added.
Farid Niyazov, a spokesman for Kyrgyz Prime Minister Almaz Atambaev, had declined to comment on the reports but cautioned international experts against upsetting the nation's stability. Niyazov said such inquiries should be aimed at "helping ensure the unity of Kyrgyz people and the process of reconciliation." He said he regretted that "some of the reports by panels looking into the Osh events have not been constructive."
Sumar Nasiza, a department chief within the Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office, was more dismissive of the reports. He told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that they were full of allegations that were not supported by factual evidence.
Persona non grata: Kimmo Kiljunen, the chairman of the Kyrgyzstan Inquiry Commission,
"We are checking all complaints of unlawful actions that have been made by [Kyrgyz] citizens related to last June's events, as well as complaints of unjust actions by law enforcement agencies," Nasiza said. "Every case gets its own assessment. [It is not proper for these human rights groups] to announce these allegations without the support of facts. Let them show us the facts."
As the anniversary of the southern clashes approaches, the government has embraced the occasion as an opportunity to address its critics and, to some degree, demonstrate its commitment to peace-building.
Prime Minister Atambaev on June 6 traveled to Jalal-Abad, where he pledged to provide more than $1 billion in government compensation for victims' families and lost properties and businesses. Otunbaeva and a large delegation of government and parliament officials are also expected in Osh on June 10 for official commemoration events.
Osh Mayor Melis Myrzakmatov: "We mustn't relax."
In Osh, the city's mayor, Melis Myrzakmatov, has stepped up security measures ahead of the anniversary, imposing roadblocks on the city outskirts and bolstering police numbers in key neighborhoods.
But in a recent interview with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, he maintained an aggressive stance, saying he had been unfairly criticized for cracking down on Uzbek businesses and arguing that he was ready to root out criminals on both sides of the ethnic divide.
"I think we need to find criminals and provocateurs no matter their nationality," Myrzakmatov said. "And then, with society's help, we can keep the peace. You yourself believe that if there's another outbreak of unrest, it's not APCs, tanks, or generals that can save us.
"The situation in Osh requires particular caution, a particular attitude. We mustn't relax. We must always be on the alert. Why do you write only about Uzbek businessmen who have left Osh? Do you know how many Kyrgyz have left as well? Maybe Myrzakmatov was attacking them as well?"
RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report from Bishkek, Osh, and Prague