(Jalal Abad, Kyrgyzstan) - The Uzbek authorities must permit an independent international investigation into the killing of possibly hundreds of civilians in Andijan and surrounding cities last week, Human Rights Watch said today. Such an investigation is essential to establish the truth and ensure justice for the victims.
According to eyewitnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the Uzbek army fired on crowds including unarmed civilians in Andijan on May 13, killing possibly hundreds of people.
“They pointed their weapons at us and started firing without warning. People in the front rows fell to the ground, killed or wounded, and the rest of us lay on the ground. The shooting continued for almost two hours with brief breaks," said Razia, a 40-year old Uzbek woman, describing how security forces attacked civilians fleeing Andijan’s central square.
“Whenever someone tried to get up, they started shooting again. I couldn’t see two of my daughters. I tried to get up to look for them, but everything around me was covered in blood and there were dead bodies everywhere,” she told Human Rights Watch in a refugee camp in Jala Abad in neighboring Kyrgyzstan.
On Friday, during a telephone conversation with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, Uzbek President Islam Karimov reportedly rejected the possibility of an international inquiry into the events in Andijan. Human Rights Watch backed calls by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, for an independent investigation into last week’s killings.
“The United States and European Union should support the U.N. request for an independent investigation into the killings in Andijan,” said Holly Cartner, executive director of the Europe and Central Asia division at Human Rights Watch. “U.S. and E.U. leaders need to make it clear that a failure to allow such an investigation will have serious consequences on their relationships with the Uzbek government.”
Last week, the Uzbek government organized a trip to Andijan for diplomats and journalists in Tashkent. According to an embassy source, the trip—which only lasted a few hours—was entirely staged to show only what the authorities wanted the visitors to see. The diplomats and journalists were given a cursory bus tour only to certain parts of the city, shown the prison, but not allowed to talk to any Andijan residents or conduct any inquiry of their own.
“This staged visit is no substitute for real access or a real investigation,” Cartner said. “It’s unacceptable that journalists and human rights groups are denied access to the city.”
Human Rights Watch called for immediate and unconditional access to Andijan for humanitarian and human rights groups, journalists and forensic experts.
“So far, the government has twice allowed international experts to investigate individual deaths in custody,” said Cartner. “The killings of possibly hundreds of people call for an urgent, thorough, international investigation.”