Violence in Kyrgyzstan Escalates

June 14, 2010

Ethnic Uzbeks refugees stand at the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border in a village of Suratash (c)Getty Images

Violent clashes continue to erupt in Southern Kyrgyzstan this morning, although the raids are settling after three full days of brutality and bloodshed that have reportedly left more than 100 dead and over 1,000 injured. The violence is mainly concentrated in Osh, a city mostly comprised of ethnic Uzbeks, who are now fleeing in droves to safety in Uzbekistan. In fact, it is estimated that 75,000 have fled to Uzbekistan, mainly women, children, and the elderly, sparking a refugee crisis and grave humanitarian concerns. Many are trapped inside their homes, in need of medical attention, and are too fearful to escape.  It is imperative that the Kyrgyzstani interim government and local authorities ensure adequate protection for all Kyrgyzstani citizens and restore peace and order to the region.

The Kyrgyzstani law enforcement is failing to effectively provide human security to its population, in particular to the Uzbek community. Immediate action is needed to prevent a further deterioration of the situation. The security forces, in their attempts to restore law and order in the city of Osh and the surrounding areas, must respect fundamental human rights – Maisy Weicherding, Amnesty International’s expert on Central Asia.

The clashes in Osh and the surrounding area have had a considerable impact on the Uzbek community. Eyewitnesses have reported that groups of armed civilians, mostly young men claiming to be Kyrgyz, were roaming the streets of Osh, targeting districts of the city inhabited mainly by Uzbeks shooting at civilians, setting shops and houses on fire and looting private property.

Local law enforcement sources in Osh reportedly told journalists that they were unable to control the situation and protect the civilian population. In some instances armed men were said to have overwhelmed security forces and hijacked armored vehicles. Some district council representatives also reported snipers firing at civilians.

The unrest has already spread to the city of Jalal-Abad and other towns and villages in the surrounding areas where a state of emergency has also been declared.

With thousands of people on the move seeking safety, the authorities of neighboring countries, and of Uzbekistan in particular, must keep their borders open and allow entry to all those fleeing the escalating violence in Kyrgyzstan, regardless of their ethnic origin and offer them protection until security is restored in Kyrgyzstan – Maisy Weicherding, Amnesty International’s expert on Central Asia.

The deadly violence is said to have started with clashes between rival gangs of mostly Kyrgyz and Uzbek youths on 10 June which quickly escalated into large-scale arson, looting and violent attacks on mainly Uzbek-populated districts in Osh, including killings.  Although violent clashes between Kyrgyzs and Uzbeks have occurred in the past, this recent showdown implies political motivations. The south of Kyrgyzstan is home to a large ethnic Uzbek community and was the power base of former president Kurmanbek Bakiev, who was overthrown in April and presently exiled in Belarus. While the cause of the clashes is unclear the interim government and other observers have blamed the violence on supporters of former President Kurmanbek Bakiev and the intent of criminal groups to destabilize the situation in the country prior to elections.