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Rights groups: No justice in Kyrgyzstan

Associated Press - June 8, 2011

Leila Saralayeva, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan Kyrgyz authorities have failed to ensure justice for victims of last year's ethnic violence in the Central Asian nation, and that could cause a new wave of unrest, leading international human rights groups warned Wednesday.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International released their reports ahead of the first anniversary of clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and minority Uzbeks in the southern cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad. At least 470 people, nearly three-quarters of whom were ethnic Uzbeks, were killed and some 400,000 fled their homes.

The groups said that official investigations into violence and the ensuing trials mainly targeted the Uzbek minority, fomenting tensions that might trigger new violence in the future.

Although the exact circumstances surrounding the intercommunal riots that broke out on June 10, 2010, are the subject of heated disagreement in Kyrgyzstan, violence in subsequent days culminated with a series of pogroms against ethnic Uzbek neighborhoods.

Amnesty urged the Kyrgyz government to fully investigate evidence that attacks on Uzbek neighborhoods were part of an orchestrated assault and that military personnel may have taken direct part in the violence.

"The failure to bring to justice those behind the violence could provide fertile soil for the seeds of future turmoil and future human rights violations," Nicola Duckworth, the head of the group's Europe and Central Asia program, said in a statement.

Farid Niyazov, a spokesman for Kyrgyz Prime Minister Almaz Atambayev, refused to comment on the reports, but cautioned international experts against upsetting the nation's stability.

"Such inquiries should be aimed at helping ensure the unity of Kyrgyz people and the process of reconciliation," Niyazov said. "Regrettably, some of the reports by panels looking into the Osh events haven't been constructive."

The government has previously insisted that large groups of armed Uzbek men instigated the earliest acts of violence and suggested that they had been involved in a premeditated plan of unrest.

Kyrgyz authorities also have said that they have taken all necessary measures to minimize discrimination in the justice system and to investigate cases of torture and sexual violence, as well as allegations that army and police had handed over weapons to mobs.

Amnesty reiterated a charge recently included in a government-commissioned international investigation that some of the atrocities carried out against Uzbeks may have amounted to crimes against humanity.

The panel led by Finnish politician Kimmo Kiljunen concluded in April that Kyrgyz security forces were complicit in the violence, angering the government, which rejected the report as unfair. The Kyrgyz parliament has barred Kiljunen from entering the country. The Amnesty report also lamented the lack of action being taken to fully assess the scale of sexual violence committed during the five-day wave of unrest.

"Most of the rapes and sexual violence were committed by Kyrgyz men, often in groups, against Uzbek women and girls, although there were also instances of Uzbek men raping Kyrgyz women," the group said.

Human Rights Watch focused on the allegations of torture by police in the weeks after the violence and the apparent overwhelming ethnic bias demonstrated by law enforcement and justice authorities, which are represented largely by ethnic Kyrgyz.

The group said it has gathered credible evidence that police "engaged in widespread and serious abuses of detainee rights, such as arbitrary arrest and detention, extortion, denial of due process guarantees, torture, and ill-treatment."

HRW noted that figures appear to indicate that the police have been highly selective in their investigations into the unrest.

While most victims of the June violence were ethnic Uzbek, almost 85 percent of detainees were from that community, and of 124 people detained on murder charges, 115 were ethnic Uzbek, the group said.

"The profoundly flawed investigations and trials, mainly affecting the ethnic Uzbek minority, undermine efforts to promote reconciliation and fuel tensions that might one day lead to renewed violence," HRW said.

Despite the international calls for the Kyrgyz government to address the issues raised, authorities have been reluctant to draw the ire of increasingly virulent nationalists.

Anger is widespread among ethnic Kyrgyz over the sense that they have been unfairly blamed by the international community for last year's violence and there is deep bitterness over the perception that the scale of Kyrgyz casualties has been overlooked.

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