by Rhodri C. Williams
The Kyrgyzstan Inquiry Commission set up to examine the violence between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz that killed nearly 500 people last June in the country’s south has just released its report. Most media attention has been devoted to the fact that the Commission identified the minority Uzbek community as the overwhelming victims of the attack, found evidence of official complicity, and alleged that some of the acts committed may amount to crimes against humanity. However, a number of the Commission’s less prominent findings confirm both the role of property destruction in consolidating the victimization of the Uzbek minority and the need for reparations to address these and other crimes.
In releasing its Report, the Commission also reprints the comments issued in response by the Government of Kyrgyzstan. Without rejecting the report outright, the Government takes issue with many of its findings. It also continues to display a willful obtuseness with regard to the ethnic dimension of the conflict (as previously blogged on here) that bodes ill for the Commission’s recommendation that greater minority rights protections be accorded to the Uzbek population:
The Government of Kyrgyzstan considers it completely unacceptable that the KIC’s documents clearly display an overwhelming tendency that only one ethnic group has committed crimes, ignoring the victims and deaths of this very group, and portraying the other group solely as defenceless victims.
The Report has a number of interesting things to say about land and property issues in southern Kyrgyzstan, beginning with recognition of the role of Soviet ‘ethno-territorial construction’ in shaping the conflict (paragraphs 79-80). However, while the Commission notes that land conflicts played a role both in last year’s violence and an earlier set of clashes in 1990 (para. 38), it clearly views these conflicts as triggering events rather than root causes:
The parallels between the June 1990 and June 2010 events are similar and instructive. Both outbreaks of violence occurred at a time of political ferment, when political leaders were manouevering to replace old elites and when the central government had been suddenly and drastically weakened by political changes. Rumours of rape and torture played a crucial role in the mobilization of participants in each event. The conclusion that the dispute over title to land and the unlawful seizure of property were the basic cause of the 1990 clashes is probably too simplistic. (para. 41)
The Report goes on to list a number of factors contributing to the violence, including lack of significant Uzbek political representation and language rights. It describes the course of the riots and their toll in detail, including deaths, destruction of property (para. 228) and displacement (231). In assessing the legal classification of violations committed during the riots, the Commission finds that some acts amount to crimes against humanity. Included among these, in an echo of the recent Gotovina decision by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), is the intentional destruction of property:
The massive destruction of houses and other buildings that largely belonged to Uzbeks was also clearly part of a systematic and widespread attack on the civilian population. It had a detrimental effect on the liberty and livelihood of those people, forcing their displacement outside the area of violence. The destruction was carried out unlawfully and wantonly. That the overwhelming majority of the buildings destroyed belonged to Uzbeks indicates that it was carried out in a discriminatory manner. More so considering the fact that in many mahallas property owned by Kyrgyz or Russian residents was spared. The KIC is satisfied that it amounts to an „intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law by reason of the identity of the group or collectivity‟, which constitute a crime of persecution, as a crime against humanity. (para. 265)
The Report goes on to find continuing human rights violations including arbitrary arrests and torture of Uzbeks and attribute responsibility primarily by way of omission to the National Government and by commission in the case of local actors and security forces that participated in the attacks. The recommendations of the Commission are wide-ranging, including measures such as re-naming the country in a less ethnically exclusive manner, implementing minority rights for Uzbeks, criminal prosecution of perpetrators and reparations to victims:
R.34: The Government should, as a matter of priority, create a comprehensive reparation programme to provide victims with adequate material compensation for loss and rehabilitation.
R.35: The international donor community should support the reparations programme.
R.36: The Government should undertake symbolic measures aimed at affirming to the society as a whole that the victims of June 2010 are citizens of Kyrgyzstan, whose rights and dignity must be respected, independent of their ethnic origin, sex, religion, or political beliefs.
Judging by its initial reaction, the Government of Kyrgyzstan may have gotten more than it had in mind when it mandated the Commission “to explore the facts and circumstances, causes and aftermath of the tragic events of June 2010 in the South of the Kyrgyz Republic.” Nevertheless, its willingness to take such a step broke with an authoritarian tendency in Central Asia to sweep such events under the carpet. Implementation of even some of the Commission’s recommendations would represent a complete – and very hopeful – departure.