Background Briefing

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On May 13, 2005, Uzbek government forces killed hundreds of unarmed protesters as they fled a demonstration in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan. To date the Uzbek government has denied justice for those who lost their lives that day. Instead of fostering a genuine accountability process for the killings, the Uzbek government has rejected calls for an independent, international commission of inquiry, covered up the truth behind the massacre, presided over a series of show trials of hundreds of people allegedly involved in the uprising and protest, and unleashed a fierce crackdown on human rights defenders, independent journalists, and civil society institutions. The government has also aggressively pursued the forced return of many of those who fled Uzbekistan after the violence.

On the night of May 12-13, 2005, gunmen attacked several government buildings in Andijan, broke into the city prison to release twenty-three local businessmen who were on trial for “religious extremism,” and in the early hours of May 13 began to mobilize people to attend a protest on the city’s Bobur Square. Gradually, thousands of unarmed protesters gathered on the square of their own will to vent grievances about poverty and government repression. As the day went on, Uzbek security forces indiscriminately shot into the crowd from armored personnel carriers (APCs) and sniper positions above the square. Towards the evening, government troops blocked off the square and then, without warning, opened fire, killing and wounding unarmed civilians. People fled the square in several groups, the first group using as a human shield numerous hostages seized earlier in the day. As they tried to escape, hundreds of people were shot by snipers or mowed down by troops firing from APCs. After the peak of the carnage, government forces swept through the area and executed some of the wounded where they lay. Many of those who managed to escape fled to neighboring Kyrgyzstan. (For a more detailed summary, see the final section of this document.)


The events in Andijan initially attracted widespread international condemnation. The United Nations (U.N.), the European Union (E.U.), the United States (U.S.), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and the NATO Council condemned the response by Uzbek security forces, called for an independent international investigation into the events in Andijan, and demanded unhindered access. The Uzbek government adamantly rejected these calls and refused to cooperate with the international community to establish an accountability mechanism. As a result, on October 3, 2005 the E.U. imposed sanctions on Uzbekistan, including a partial suspension of the E.U.-Uzbekistan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, an E.U.-wide visa ban for high-ranking officials “directly responsible for the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force in Andijan,” and an embargo on arms exports to Uzbekistan.


In striking contrast, Russia and China offered strong support to Uzbek President Islam Karimov after the Andijan massacre and accepted his portrayal of the events as an attempt by Islamist terrorists to destabilize the country. At the July 2005 summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, of which Uzbekistan, Russia and China are members, the heads of state framed the Andijan events as part of a wider threat of destabilization, rather than as an excessive government response to a largely peaceful demonstration. Russia and China also announced that they would continue arms sales to Uzbekistan.

Although the E.U. sanctions were an important first step in signaling the organization’s profound concern in the aftermath of the Andijan massacre, the E.U. has not taken the steps necessary to make the sanctions an effective tool for change in Uzbekistan. E.U. member states have failed to sustain pressure on the Uzbek government by proactively calling for concrete steps to address the concerns that have been identified, and have failed to adopt additional measures in light of ongoing Uzbek government intransigence. In addition, the E.U.’s political message has been weakened by inconsistent signals from member states such as Germany, which granted a visa on humanitarian grounds to then Minister of Interior Zokir Almatov, number one on the E.U. visa ban list, in blatant violation of the spirit of the ban. Germany also announced on December 11, 2005, that it had successfully negotiated a renewal of the agreement for use of the Termez base in Uzbekistan, in a statement that notably minimized human rights concerns.

One year after the Andijan massacre, the need for a coordinated and forceful international response is more urgent than ever. It is crucial that pressure be brought on the Uzbek government to end its crackdown on human rights defenders, independent journalists, and members of the political opposition.

There must also be accountability for those responsible for the killings. The international community should deplore the continued lack of accountability for the Andijan massacre, and reinvigorate its calls on the Uzbek government to accept an international inquiry into the events. It should lend support to the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights’s recommendations issued in its March 2006 trial monitoring report by advancing the call for the trial verdicts to be set aside and a re-trial to be conducted after an independent investigation into the Andijan events has been carried out.

The United States has yet to undertake concrete measures to respond to the Uzbek government’s failure to cooperate with the international community. It should adopt a visa ban and thus support the E.U. position as a matter of priority. Furthermore, the joint visa ban list should be expanded to include President Ka rimov, the prosecutor general and the minister of justice, as well as other key officials in the Ministries of Internal Affairs and Justice, the general prosecutor’s office and National Security Service who led and coordinated the Andijan investigations, prosecutions and trials, or otherwise participated in the cover up of the truth behind the massacre.

The international community should also freeze the assets of all who are subject to the visa ban by making it impossible for these officials to access or in any way use the banking system abroad.

In addition to the above-listed steps, the international community should request the Uzbek government to provide information about the whereabouts and fate of those forcibly returned to Uzbekistan from other countries in the region and to allow urgent access to them by international monitors. It should call on the governments of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Ukraine, and any other country hosting Uzbek nationals, not to forcibly return anyone to Uzbekistan who is at risk of being persecuted or tortured upon return and reminding the government that any such returns are in violation of international non-refoulement obligations.

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