(Berlin) – Two years after ethnic clashes erupted in southern Kyrgyzstan, the targeting of Uzbeks and failure to redress abuses against them, such as arbitrary detention and torture, undermine efforts to promote stability and reconciliation, Human Rights Watch said today. The Kyrgyzstan government should take urgent steps to meet the unaddressed need for justice and accountability for the June 2010 violence and its aftermath, Human Rights Watch said.
In response to the 2010 violence between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, the government has opened more than 5,000 criminal cases. However while most of the victims of the violence are ethnic Uzbek, the majority of those prosecuted for homicide are also ethnic Uzbek. The vast majority of criminal cases in which the victims are ethnic Uzbeks have not yet been investigated. Dozens of trials in the immediate aftermath of the violence were seriously flawed by outrageous violations of the defendants’ rights from the time of detention through to conviction, and were followed by harsh verdicts handed down to mainly Uzbek defendants.
“Two years after the violence in Kyrgyzstan, the government has failed to ensure real justice,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Although the situation has begun to normalize, the rule of force still prevails over the rule of law in southern Kyrgyzstan.”
Violence between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks erupted in southern Kyrgyzstan on June 10, 2010, and lasted for four days, leaving more than 400 people dead, thousands homeless, and entire Uzbek neighborhoods burned to the ground. The government’s response to the violence was marred by serious human rights violations including widespread arbitrary detentions and torture, and a failure to acknowledge the role played by military and security personnel in the violence.
The Kyrgyzstan government needs to ensure both thorough and impartial investigations into the use of torture during the investigation into the violence, and due process guarantees for those on trial now, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch also called on the government of Kyrgyzstan to set up a review process for all criminal cases related to the clashes in which the verdicts are unsound because of credible allegations of torture and other human rights violations against the defendants.
Hundreds of defendants, mostly ethnic Uzbeks, have been found guilty and sentenced to prison terms ranging from several years to life, based primarily on confessions that many alleged were coerced under torture. In trials, several of which were monitored by Human Rights Watch, judges have routinely ignored allegations of torture. These verdicts have been upheld by the Kyrgyzstan Supreme Court, leaving the defendants with no other national remedies. Several of the accused who alleged that they were tortured have applied to the UN Committee Against Torture to review their cases.
Azimjon Askarov, a human rights defender who has worked on documenting police treatment of detainees,was found guilty of involvement in the gruesome killing of a policeman and injuring several officers during mass disturbances in the southern city of Bazar-Kurgan in June 2010.After a prosecution marred with fair trial violations and allegations of torture, he was sentenced to life in prison. On December 20, 2011, the Kyrgyzstan Supreme Court upheld the verdict. Kyrgyzstan’s prosecutorial authorities have refused to open a criminal investigation into allegations, including by Human Rights Watch, that he had been mistreated. Askarov’s lawyers are preparing a complaint to be reviewed by the UN Committee Against Torture.
“An investigation into allegations that Askarov was tortured would go a long way to showing the Kyrgyzstan government’s readiness to ensure real justice for what happened in June 2010,” Williamson said.
The hostile and violent environment in which trials occurred also undermined defendants’ fair trial rights. The trials were marked by harassment and physical attacks against lawyers in southern Kyrgyzstan who defended ethnic Uzbek clients. Although court staff and police officers often witnessed such attacks, no one has been held accountable for violence against lawyers. Lawyers defending ethnic Uzbek clients have been harassed and intimidated in several recent cases.
On June 12, 2012, the Regional court of Osh upheld a guilty verdict against Khasan Mirzakarimov, 22, for murder and participation in mass riots and confirmed his sentence of life in prison. During the trial, Mirzakarimov’s lawyer raised concerns about Mirzakarimov’s legal capacity because he had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and may suffer developmental delays. An expert who examined him during the trial referred him for further examination, but the judge declined to approve the referral.
His lawyer told Human Rights Watch that Mirzakarimov made credible allegations that he was tortured to confess during the investigation, but the court took no steps to investigate. During the trial, relatives of one of the victims shouted threats and ethnic insults at the defense lawyer and attacked Mirzakarimov as he sat in the defendant’s cage in the courtroom. Guards and court officials did not intervene to stop the attacks and the presidingjudge failed to maintain order and security in the courtroom.
Another lawyer told Human Rights Watch that in April, during the trial in absentia of a prominent leader of the Uzbek diaspora in Kyrgyzstan, a group of 10 to15 women claiming to be victims burst into the courtroom and insulted and threatened the defense lawyer. The judge and court officials did not intervene.
Under the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, the Kyrgyzstan government has a duty to ensure that lawyers can carry out their work without intimidation, hindrance, or harassment. The government should take immediate action to provide protection if a lawyer’s security is threatened as a result of professional activities.
Although the authorities have begun to rebuild Uzbek neighborhoods and have undertaken other efforts to promote stability and reconciliation, a climate of intimidation and a feeling of vulnerability persist for many Uzbeks, Human Rights Watch said.
Human rights defenders have told Human Rights Watch that police and local officials are using the June 2010 events as a basis to extort money from Uzbeks. Some law enforcement officers threaten to charge ethnic Uzbeks with involvement in the June violence unless they pay bribes. In other cases, officers claim that their targets are wanted by the police in connection with the violence but say they will not arrest the person if the person pays a bribe. Many victims of extortion who reported their cases to local human rights organizations refuse to press formal charges, fearing retribution.
The government has also failed to protect the property rights of ethnic Uzbeks who owned businesses in southern Kyrgyzstan. For example, in June 2010, following the clashes, a crowd of 70 to 80 Kyrgyz seized a farm belonging to Gapirzhan Dadazhanov on which he depended for his livelihood. They destroyed all the buildings and cut down more than 300 fruit-bearing trees, divided the property among themselves, and began to build houses.
Dadazhanov’s lawyers repeatedly petitioned the Osh region prosecutor’s office to evict the occupiers and return the property to Dadazhanov.The Nookat district police opened an investigation, and in February 2012 charged a single occupier with usurpation of authority, omitting more serious charges such as unauthorized occupation of land and intentional destruction of property. Despite the criminal case, 20 to 30 occupiers continue illegal construction on the land and the authorities have taken no effective steps to restore Dadazhanov’s property.
“Kyrgyzstan needs to restore more than buildings,” Williamson said. “Action to protect Uzbeks from unfair trials and extortion is needed as much as reconstruction of neighborhoods.”