Illegal acts by security forces threaten fragile peace in Southern Kyrgyzstan, says UN Human Rigths Chief

20 July 2010

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Tuesday that she has information that security forces in southern Kyrgyzstan have been responsible for repeated human rights violations – including arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment – and said their actions threaten the fragile peace and re-establishment of the rule of law, six weeks after inter-ethnic violence shook the Central Asian nation.

“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,” Pillay said. “My staff in Kyrgyzstan have received information suggesting that local authorities are routinely turning a blind eye to illegal arrests, torture and ill-treatment of detainees leading to forced confessions.”

“Victims’ lawyers, families and human rights defenders are also being threatened and intimidated to an alarming degree,” she said. “All of these acts are clearly illegal under the Kyrgyz penal code as well as under international law.”

Pillay said she had information that suggests more than 1,000 people have been detained in Osh and Jalalabad since the June violence.

The High Commissioner said her team in Kyrgyzstan had received reports of detainees being tortured or ill-treated immediately upon being taken into detention, either by police, military or local militia forces. “We have reports of sustained, or repeated, beatings,” she said. The UN human rights office has also heard accounts of detainees who were urged to confess to “crimes” they otherwise claim not to have committed, or to implicate and name others, and/or to pay sometimes large sums of money to procure their release.

In some cases family members of Uzbeks sought by security forces have also been detained. In what the High Commissioner characterized as an “increasing climate of fear,” many victims and their families are believed not to be reporting illegal acts by the authorities, and lawyers and human rights defenders who have tried to seek justice have been directly threatened, and in some cases detained themselves.

In addition, the High Commissioner urged the Kyrgyz authorities to ensure equal access to health services. Doctors have been reported to be refusing to issue medical certificates for people who have been subjected to torture or ill-treatment, as well as death certificates for some people who died during the June violence, thereby making it impossible for family members to claim compensation or inheritance. The UN Human Rights Office has also received reports that men in military dress have been increasingly seen in public health institutions, including hospitals, hampering 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,” Pillay said. “The current situation underscores the need for on-going monitoring of the human rights situation, especially in the South.”

The High Commissioner also stressed the urgent need for “a thorough international, independent and impartial investigation into the events in June.”