The 24 June meeting of the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is a crucial opportunity to strengthen support for measures to protect civilians in southern Kyrgyzstan and to stabilize the situation there. In this context, we write to urge you to respond to the Kyrgyz government's request for assistance by securing the deployment of an OSCE security assistance mission.
The wave of violence that erupted in southern Kyrgyzstan on 10 June engulfed Osh, Jalal-Abad, and neighboring areas, resulting in killings, rapes, beatings, and widespread burning and looting of homes and other properties. An estimated 400,000 people have been displaced as a result of the violence - 100,000 of them have sought refuge in Uzbekistan while the other 300,000 remain displaced inside Kyrgyzstan. The violence appears to have been well-planned and organized, and there are credible reports that Kyrgyz military and other security personnel failed to stop the violence, and in some cases may have been active participants.
Claims that the situation is stable are belied by the extremely tense standoff that persists. Even though there have been no further reports of large-scale violence in the past several days, incidents of violence continue. In recent days Kyrgyz security forces injured at least 20 people and killed two during search-and-seizure operations in ethnic Uzbek neighborhoods. Ethnic Uzbeks who move about Osh have been attacked, and many others feel trapped in isolated neighborhoods. They do not dare go out and risk attack. The government itself recognizes that new violence could flare up at any moment.
The Kyrgyz authorities have the primary responsibility for halting the violence and resolving this crisis, but reports from the ground provide ample evidence that the government is unable to protect those in need. Indeed, Kyrgyz authorities themselves have acknowledged that they need outside assistance.
The humanitarian situation is grave, in part because Kyrgyz forces cannot be relied upon to provide the secure environment needed for humanitarian assistance to reach the population. Humanitarian organizations are having great difficulty accessing those needing assistance and report incidents of theft and looting of aid.
Some 100,000 ethnic Uzbeks have sought refuge in Uzbekistan; the border is now closed except for those seriously injured or those crossing from Uzbekistan into Kyrgyzstan. Some are returning despite the risk of violence, but tens of thousands do not dare return. Thousands who fled the violence are without shelter, and given the destruction of hundreds of houses, many of the displaced have no homes to return to even if they feel safe to do so.
Security assistance is urgently needed in southern Kyrgyzstan. An international stabilization mission of limited size could make a significant difference by securing the area for humanitarian relief, providing security for some of the displaced to return home, and creating space for reconciliation, confidence-building, and mediation programs to succeed. This mission would have a policing mandate and could be bolstered by military forces, particularly constabulary forces or gendarmes, if necessary.
The OSCE has a special duty to ensure security in Kyrgyzstan because it is the preeminent multilateral organization in the region and because the Kyrgyz government has requested it to do so. For these reasons, OSCE participating states should ensure that such a stabilization mission is fielded as quickly as possible. We hope that at Thursday's Permanent Council meeting you will underscore that it is crucial for the OSCE to act on this without delay.
A short-term security presence is crucial to establishing the humanitarian corridor called for by the international community, and should lead the way for multilateral efforts to create a secure political environment for the eventual, but delayed, holding of a constitutional referendum and elections, and a longer-term effort to strengthen the rule of law and the protection of minorities, as well as to assist the government in security-sector reform.
Accountability for the recent violence, including on the role of state authorities, will be essential to securing long-term stability and reconciliation. The government should be encouraged to investigate crimes, ensure the protection of witnesses, and hold accountable those responsible for the violence. Given the extent and character of the violence, however, government efforts toward accountability should have an international component to be credible and effective. As an immediate step, the government should cooperate with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to begin investigations. The OSCE has an important role to play in encouraging the Kyrgyz government to invite the OHCHR to begin such cooperation.
Without a decisive international response there is considerable risk that widespread violence will reignite. It is possible that ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks may seek violent revenge for the past two weeks of mayhem. Prolonged insecurity could provide an opening, for example, for political opponents who may seek to further weaken or overthrow the provisional government through violence against its perceived supporters. It could also lead to the radicalization of minority communities. In the absence of an international mission to restore law and order, further such violence is likely to continue and could spill over to neighboring countries.
The potential for further violence in Kyrgyzstan is real and, despite the reduction in daily violence, still growing. The OSCE is uniquely positioned to respond to these risks and should act immediately to prevent further escalation of violence by authorizing international law enforcement and security assistance.
Thank you for your urgent attention to these pressing concerns.
Europe and Central Asia division