The Uzbek government continues to persecute people it believes have any connection with the May 2005 unrest in Andijan, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today.
The 45-page report, “Saving its Secrets: Government Repression in Andijan,” documents intense government pressure on people who participated in the Andijan protests, families of refugees who fled Uzbekistan in the aftermath of the Andijan violence, and refugees who returned to Uzbekistan. Interrogations, constant surveillance, ostracism, and threats continued to generate new refugees from Andijan. Some of the refugees are fleeing for the second time since May 13, 2005, when government security forces massacred hundreds in an attempt to quell anti-government protests that followed an armed attack on the city.
“The Uzbek government has said that Andijan refugees have no reason to fear returning home, but this isn’t so,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “They have every reason to fear for their safety.”
Human Rights Watch is asking the international community to remind Tashkent of its obligation to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the massacre and to end its repressive practices that are creating a climate of fear in Andijan.
“Many of the ongoing abuses in Uzbekistan are directly linked to the legacy of Andijan,” Cartner said. “Uzbekistan’s international partners should not let Tashkent off the hook by closing the book on what happened there.”
Early on the morning of May 13, 2005, gunmen in Andijan attacked government buildings, killed security officials, broke into the city prison, and took hostages. A public protest followed, with thousands of demonstrators airing grievances about the government. When government forces started shooting indiscriminately, people fled. Hundreds of people, the vast majority of them unarmed protesters, were ambushed and killed by government forces. The Uzbek government has not held its forces accountable for these killings.
Human Rights Watch said the harassment and coercion of returned refugees and families of refugees who remain abroad are directly linked to Tashkent’s efforts, ongoing since the Andijan massacre, to punish the protesters and silence independent voices who might challenge the government’s version of what happened on May 13, 2005.
Several refugees who returned to Uzbekistan, only to flee again, told Human Rights Watch they had been subjected to repeated interrogations upon their return, and forced to sign false confessions or statements supporting the government’s version of the May 2005 events. Some were also forced to confess publicly, “admit” their mistakes, and beg for forgiveness. Refugees’ family members who had stayed in Uzbekistan – most of whom are women and children – told Human Rights Watch of humiliation and harassment by the authorities, being denied social services that would normally be available for single mothers, and being ostracized by the local government.
The Human Rights Watch report also documents how some children of Andijan refugees have faced humiliation and the threat of disciplinary measures by the school administration, and in some cases have been prevented from continuing their education outright. Others, especially young men, have faced interrogation, detention, and threats of prosecution for the alleged conduct of their parents.
Andijan refugees continue to be at great risk even once they have fled Uzbekistan, as Tashkent aggressively seeks their forcible return and the neighboring countries are unable or unwilling to protect them. Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Russia have all flouted their international obligations and forcibly returned refugees and asylum seekers to Uzbekistan.
In its report, Human Rights Watch urges the Uzbek government to:
- Immediately cease harassment and other abuses of returned refugees and families of refugees who remain abroad;
- Ensure that all those who may wish to return to Andijan can do so in true safety and dignity;
- Allow independent human rights organizations and media to work unfettered in Andijan and the rest of the country; and
- Grant Tashkent-based diplomatic missions and independent monitors, including nongovernmental organizations, access to those who have been forcibly returned to Uzbekistan by the countries where they had sought asylum.
Human Rights Watch called on Uzbekistan’s international partners to:
- Urge Tashkent to allow full access to Andijan for independent human rights monitors, organizations and media;
- Renew calls for accountability for the Andijan massacre; and
- Prioritize for resettlement Uzbek asylum seekers until conditions are in place Andijan to guarantee they can return with safety and dignity.
Human Rights Watch also called on states receiving asylum seekers from Uzbekistan to ensure no one is forcibly returned to Uzbekistan in violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, or the Convention Against Torture.
In October 2005, the European Union imposed a limited sanctions regime on Uzbekistan, consisting mostly of an arms embargo and a visa ban for 12 government officials. In the past two and a half years, however, the EU gradually eased sanctions. On April 29, the EU for the second time in a row suspended the visa ban altogether for six months.
“Tashkent’s international partners should reverse the gradual shift away from Andijan in their discussions with the Uzbek government,” said Cartner. “They should make ending the ongoing persecution in Andijan a core objective of their engagement with Tashkent.”
In the three years since the massacre, the Uzbek government has denied responsibility for any of the deaths that occurred on May 13, 2005, despite overwhelming evidence gathered by intergovernmental organizations and nongovernmental organizations alike that government forces indiscriminately shot and killed hundreds of unarmed civilians. It has rebuffed calls by the international community for an independent, international inquiry, and has gone to great lengths to cover up the truth. In the aftermath of the Andijan unrest, Tashkent initiated an intense crackdown in Andijan and exerted pressure on individuals who knew the truth about the events – in particular witnesses to the massacre – and on the protesters in the demonstration that preceded the massacre.
The government also unleashed a fierce crackdown on civil society and imprisoned human rights defenders, independent journalists, and political activists who spoke out about the Andijan events and called for accountability for the May 13, 2005 killings. At least 12 defenders remain in prison to date on politically motivated charges. Hundreds of individuals who were charged for involvement in the armed attacks and in the protests were convicted and sentenced following trials that were, with the exception of one, closed.