Servicemen drive armored vehicles in the city of Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan.

© 2010 Reuters

(Osh) – The United Nations Security Council should urgently take measures to help the Kyrgyz government stop the spiraling violence in Osh and ensure people are protected, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch called for the deployment of a UN-mandated force to assist the Kyrgyz government in providing protection, and to prevent the interethnic violence that began in the southern city of Osh on June 10, 2010, from spreading to other parts of the country.

“The sky in Osh is black with smoke, people are holed up at home terrified of marauding gangs and they need help now,” said Andrea Berg, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, who is in Osh. “The Kyrgyz government needs to protect people from ethnic reprisals, provide food, and let people leave Osh if they need to, but it can’t do all that effectively without international assistance.”

Human Rights Watch staff in Osh received reports that in some cases entire neighborhoods had emptied out, with people fleeing attacks. Several sources told Human Rights Watch that Kyrgyz gangs are targeting Uzbek neighborhoods and that many Uzbek-owned homes, shops, and restaurants have been torched. Human Rights Watch also received reports that some ethnic Uzbeks have written “SOS” on their homes in the hopes that this would deter attackers.

Panic-stricken ethnic Uzbeks phoned Human Rights Watch pleading for help to escape the threat of violence. A man from the eastern part of Osh said that the lone government armored personnel carrier posted to his ethnic Uzbek neighborhood on the night of June 11 had been commandeered by an ethnic Kyrgyz gang.

Safe movement within Osh and passage out of the city is extremely difficult. Ethnic gangs from both sides have established roadblocks in the city and are preventing people from passing.

Violence has also broken out in Jalal-Abad, a city about 50 kilometers from Osh that also has a large ethnic Uzbek minority and is the hometown of former President Kurmanbek Bakiev, who was ousted from power in April.

The leader of Kyrgyzstan’s interim government, Roza Otunbaeva, has appealed to Russia to send forces to restore order in the city. Russia declared that it would send humanitarian assistance but declined “for the moment,” to send troops, calling the disturbances an “internal” matter. The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which groups Russia, Belarus, Armenia, and most Central Asian states, is slated to discuss the situation on June 14.

“The UN Security Council should intervene now, before interethnic violence engulfs the rest of Kyrgyzstan,” said Berg. “Russia has declined to send troops for now, but a UN mandate might encourage Moscow and others to send in a force.”

Tens of thousands of ethnic Uzbeks have fled to the border of Uzbekistan seeking protection. Uzbekistan has opened the border for women, children, and the elderly. Human Rights Watch urged the Uzbek government to allow all those seeking protection to cross and to keep the border open. Although Kyrgyz citizens do not need visas to enter Uzbekistan, Uzbekistan closed its border several times following the April violence that resulted in the ouster of Bakiev.

Human Rights Watch urged the Kyrgyz government to reverse its decision to give security forces powers to shoot to kill, which will inevitably lead to violations of the right to life. It further urged all parties that engage in law enforcement action to adhere to the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials and the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, which call for law enforcement officials to take steps to preserve and protect human life and resort to lethal force only as a last resort.

Riots and clashes between mostly ethnic Uzbek and Kyrgyz gangs broke out in Osh, the largest city in southern Kyrgyzstan on June 10. Violence, including shooting, arson, and looting has continued since then and is ongoing. At least 75 people have been killed and hundreds have suffered injuries.