Background Briefing

Accountability for the Andijan massacre

Assertion: “Following the tragic events in Andijan, investigative actions were carried out to identify those involved in the criminal acts and to shed light on the circumstances surrounding the events.”

Sixteen months after the Andijan massacre of May 2005, no one has been held accountable for the killing of hundreds of unarmed people. To this day the circumstances surrounding the massacre have not been clarified. The Uzbek government has adamantly rejected the numerous and repeated calls for an independent international inquiry into the Andijan events and has persisted in its refusal to cooperate with the international community in establishing such a mechanism. As a result, the government has denied justice to the victims of the Andijan killings.

The June 30 aide-memoire confirms the Uzbek government’s continued refusal to cooperate with an international inquiry, arguing that it is an “independent and sovereign State and in possession of all the necessary resources to conduct a full-scale investigation of the circumstances surrounding the tragic events in Andijan.” In the document the government also criticizes the July 2005 report on Andijan by the UN high commissioner for human rights as failing to “correspond to the real situation” and as being compiled “in violation of the principles of the mandate of the High Commissioner.”

In the fall of 2005, the Uzbek authorities began a series of trials related to the Andijan events. These trials were portrayed by the government as a means of clarifying what had happened in Andijan on May 12-13, 2005, and focused on establishing accountability for the armed uprising and other actions that the government characterizes as crimes against the state or public order. But they did nothing to answer outstanding questions about the scale of and responsibility for the massacre. According to the scarce information that is publicly available, the trials did not seek to clarify which government forces actually shot at unarmed protesters in Bobur Square, Cholpon Prospect, and other nearby locations, and did not attempt to identify who gave the orders for the shootings. Instead, the trials appear largely to have been staged to support the government’s version of events and to provide justification for the crackdown that followed the massacre.

Assertion: “All these legal proceedings respected procedural safeguards and were in strict compliance with international standards and norms of domestic law.”

A comprehensive trial monitoring report on the one trial that the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) was able to monitor, published in March 2006, highlighted numerous fair trial rights violations, expressed concern about lack of cooperation by the Uzbek authorities with the OSCE monitors, and recommended that the trial verdicts be set aside and a re-trial be conducted after an independent, international investigation into the Andijan events has been carried out.2 The UN high commissioner for human rights likewise issued a statement expressing concern that the trial had been “marred by allegations of irregularities and serious questions remained about its fairness.”

Assertion: “Those involved in the trial included not only numerous victims, civil plaintiffs and witnesses, but also over 100 representatives of foreign and local media, diplomatic missions and international organizations, including …  the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights…”

This statement is partially inaccurate. The Office of the High Commissioner made clear in several public statements that it was unable to monitor the trial due to the Uzbek government’s failure to meet the very basic conditions for monitoring that the office had set.3

Assertion: “Some of the trials of participants in the terrorist acts were closed to the public by decision of the court and pursuant to article 19 of the Criminal Procedure Code of Uzbekistan, which stipulates that the safety of victims, witnesses and other individuals involved in a case must be ensured…”

With the exception of the Supreme Court trial, held from September 20 to November 14, 2005, all trials were closed to the public. At no point, to our knowledge, did the government provide specific grounds justifying the necessity of closing these trials. Between November 2005 and July 2006 at least another 287 people were convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms in 21 trials—including one trial of Andijan Interior Ministry employees and another involving Andijan prison staff and soldiers. The international community was not informed about the place or the starting date of the trials (neither, at least in some cases, were the relatives), and those international observers who sought access were denied it. In a January 2006 statement to the OSCE Permanent Council, the European Union expressed “grave concern” about the closed nature of the trials and stressed that protection of “state secrets or relatives of victims or witnesses should not exclude international monitoring.”4

Assertion: “The actions of the Uzbek law enforcement agencies were not directed against the civilians who had been assembled by the gunmen near a local administration building for use as a human shield, but rather were carried out responsibly and within the bounds of extreme necessity and necessary defence as universally accepted and understood under criminal law.”

Reports by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, by Human Rights Watch, and other organizations, based on dozens of in-depth interviews with eyewitnesses, indicate that Uzbek government forces used excessive force on May 13, 2005, particularly on Cholpon Prospect, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of people.5  But the Uzbek government has not, to public knowledge, opened an investigation into the actions of law enforcement agencies to determine whether they used excessive force. In the one trial involving staff of the Andijan department of the Ministry of Interior, the 12 defendants were charged only with crimes related to their alleged failure to prevent acts of terrorism during the night of May 12-13. They were also charged with failing to “conduct radical and necessary measures” to control the situation during the trial of the 23 businessmen that had triggered the Andijan protests. The verdict did not make any mention of the massacre on May 13.

Although the Uzbek parliament has created an independent commission to investigate the Andijan events, to the best of our knowledge it has not made the results of any investigation publicly available in Uzbekistan. To this day the local human rights organization Ezgulik is demanding the publication of the report from the Uzbek parliament.

2 “Report from the OSCE/ODIHR trial monitoring in Uzbekistan – September/October 2005,” March 3, 2006.

3 See for example “UN Human Rights Chief Voices Concern over Convictions in Uzbek Unrest Trial,” UN press release, November 15, 2005, and “Statement of Ms. Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Human Rights Council,” June 23, 2006.

4 EU Statement on Uzbekistan to the OSCE Permanent Council No. 588, January 19, 2006.

5 See Human Rights Watch, Bullets Were Falling Like Rain: The Andijan Massacre, May 13, 2005, vol. 17, no. 5(D), June 2005,; UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Report of the Mission to Kyrgyzstan by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Concerning the Killings in Andijan, Uzbekistan, of 13-14 May 2005, July 12, 2005, (accessed August 9, 2005); and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Preliminary Findings on the Events in Andijan, Uzbekistan, 13 May 2005, released by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, June 20, 2005, (accessed August 9, 2005).