Security forces in southern Kyrgyzstan are responsible for human rights violations, ranging from arbitrary detention to torture, threatening the fragile peace in the area six weeks after it was rocked by deadly inter-ethnic violence, a top United Nations official said today.
“Large numbers of people – most of them young men, and virtually all of them Uzbek – have been arbitrarily detained in ways that not only demonstrate flagrant ethnic bias, but also break many of the fundamental tenets of both Kyrgyz and international law,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stressed.
Her staff in Kyrgyzstan, she said, have received information suggesting that local authorities are “routinely turning a blind eye” to illegal arrests, torture and ill-treatment of detainees which result in forced confessions.
Further, the lawyers and families of victims, as well as human rights defenders, are also being threatened and intimidated, Ms. Pillay noted.
“All of these acts are clearly illegal under the Kyrgyz penal code as well as under international law,” she stated.
More than 1,000 people have been detained on the cities of Osh and Jalalabad since last month’s violence between Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks, which uprooted some 400,000 people.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported last week that 75,000 people are still displaced.
Ms. Pillay said today that her team in Kyrgyzstan has been informed about people being tortured or ill-treated immediately after being detained by police, military or local militia forces.
“We have reports of sustained, or repeated, beatings,” she noted, adding that her office has also heard accounts of detainees urged to confess to crimes they otherwise claim to not have committed, or to implicate others, and to pay large sums of money for their release.
In “an increasing climate of fear,” Uzbeks whose family members are wanted by security forces have also been detained, with many victims and their relatives believed to not be reporting violations carried out by authorities, the High Commissioner said. Attorneys and rights defenders who have tried to seek justice have been threatened and in some cases detained themselves.
There have also been reports of doctors allegedly refusing to issue medical certificates for people who have been tortured, as well as death certificates for some who died during the June clashes, making it impossible for their family members to claim compensation or inheritance.
Ms. Pillay urged Kyrgyz authorities to ensure equal access to health services, adding that her office has also been told that men in military uniforms have been increasingly spotted in hospitals, hindering victims’ access to medical care.
“I believe that accountability for past crimes and redoubled efforts at fighting impunity, while respecting the rights of all in Kyrgyzstan, are necessary to ensure protection, respect for the rule of law and to avoid a repeat of ethnic violence,” she emphasized.
The current situation spotlights the need for continued monitoring of the human rights situation, especially in the country’s south, the official said, calling for a “thorough international, independent and impartial investigation” into last month’s violence.