(Osh) - Residents of Kyrgyzstan's southern city of Osh are being brutally attacked, beaten, and raped, despite government claims that the situation has stabilized, Human Rights Watch said today. The reports come from Human Rights Watch researchers, who visited several neighborhoods in Osh on June 16 and June 17, interviewing witnesses and documenting human rights violations.
Osh residents are in urgent need of protection and humanitarian assistance, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group called for the United Nations Security Council to work with regional organizations to ensure that an international stabilization mission is sent without delay to secure the area for the delivery of much-needed humanitarian relief, help ensure security, and create the opportunity for reconciliation programs to succeed.
"Osh feels like a tinderbox that might ignite at any moment," said Ole Solvang, a Human Rights Watch researcher who is in Osh. "Without protection from attacks, people won't be able to get the humanitarian or medical aid they so badly need."
Nineteen-year-old Nadira (not her real name) told Human Rights Watch researchers that she tried today to reach her neighborhood in the Kirpichni Zavod district, carrying her 5-month-old son, to check her house and to search for her husband and other relatives. She was stopped by four men in military uniform driving a black car.
The men beat and pushed her and at least some of them raped her, she said - Nadira was too shaken to remember how many. She lost consciousness. When she came to, she was lying in a ditch by the road. Her baby was missing. When Human Rights Watch spoke to Nadira, she was bleeding from a deep cut on her brow, and her clothes and hands were covered in blood.
Human Rights Watch said that Kyrgyz human rights defenders are also documenting human rights abuses in southern Kyrgyzstan, but one defender, Azimjon Askarov, was arrested on June 15, 2010, in Bazar Kurgon, several days after he had filmed police standing by and allowing a gang to engage in looting and arson. Askarov's brother has said that police beat him in custody.
Human Rights Watch also called on the government to begin cooperating immediately with the UN human rights office as part of its responsibility to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the crimes and abuses in southern Kyrgyzstan over the past week.
Since massive violence erupted in Osh on June 10, ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks have separated into largely ethnically homogenous neighborhoods that are separated by ad hoc barricades and military checkpoints. In Uzbek neighborhoods in particular, residents told Human Rights Watch that they were concerned for their safety, fearing that they would be attacked if they left their neighborhood.
Their security concerns seem to be well-founded, Human Rights Watch said. In addition to the attack on Nadira, Human Rights Watch documented other violent attacks against Uzbeks who left their neighborhoods during the last two days:
- On June 16, Mahamat was on his way to attend the burial of his sister when he was stopped at a military checkpoint near the center of the city. When Mahamat got out of his car, four men in civilian clothes started beating him. When Mahamat tried to drive away, one of the men opened fire on the car, wounding Mahamat in his left shoulder.
- On June 16, five ethnic Uzbek men went to collect humanitarian aid that local officials told them was available. Their truck was stopped at an ad hoc checkpoint near the village of Aktash. The Uzbek men said that armed men at the checkpoint told them, "There will be no aid for you. Get out while you are still alive." The armed men severely beat one of the Uzbek men, who was taken to the hospital while the others returned to the village without the aid.
- On June 17, 48-year-old Rasul and his son went to the Osh city hospital to pick up Rasul's mother. At the entrance to the hospital, they were stopped by armed men in camouflage uniforms. The men demanded identification documents from Rasul and his son, then took them behind a corner of the building, where the men punched and beat them with rifle butts and threatened to kill them.
The tense security situation, barricades, and checkpoints have significantly limited distribution of aid, medical supplies, and access to medical treatment, the researchers found. Many ethnic Uzbeks told Human Rights Watch that they had not received any humanitarian aid from the government or international organizations since the conflict started. There is also a shortage of clean water.
The director of a private clinic in Cheremushki district told Human Rights Watch on June 17 that his clinic is facing a shortage of medicines and that he is afraid to go to the central hospital for supplies. He said hospital officials told him that they could not deliver medicines to the clinic because it is in an Uzbek neighborhood. When Human Rights Watch spoke to the director, the ambulance service had just refused to pick up from the clinic a woman who was facing serious complications during her pregnancy, saying that they could not drive to the neighborhood with a Kyrgyz driver.
In several neighborhoods people expressed despair that they had been unable to bring the bodies of relatives who had been killed from the district hospital morgue for burial. They told Human Rights Watch that they were afraid of being attacked on their way to the hospital.
"No one who has seen the situation firsthand could describe southern Kyrgyzstan as stable," Solvang said. "The Security Council should act now to protect those living in fear and prevent further deaths and displacement."