A new report by the U.N. Human Rights Office says there is evidence that military and security forces committed grave human rights violations during protests last May in Andijan, Uzbekistan. The agency is calling for an independent investigation into these events.
The report says information received from the Uzbek government about what happened when government forces put down a riot in Andijan in mid-May differs significantly from accounts received by the U.N. fact-finding mission from eyewitnesses.
Uzbek authorities refused to grant the mission access to the country. So, the U.N. investigators were forced to gather their information from among the nearly 500 Uzbek asylum seekers who fled to neighboring Kyrgyzstan after the riots.
The Uzbek government claims fewer than 200 people were killed during the protests. However, the report says other sources, including human rights groups and asylum seekers, put the death toll at hundreds more. It says eyewitnesses interviewed say the Andijan incident amounted to a "mass killing."
A U.N. spokesman, Jose Dias, says the report shows a consistent pattern of human rights violations in Uzbekistan. It also shows inconsistencies between eyewitness and government allegations that warrant further investigations.
"Unanswered questions about the seizure of a regional administrative building, the overrunning of a prison and the subsequent release of prisoners require clarification through comprehensive investigation," Mr. Dias said. "Through the report, the High Commissioner is reiterating her call for an independent, international investigation of the events in Andijan in mid-May."
Following the findings of the mission, Mr. Dias says the high commissioner, Louise Arbour, wrote to Uzbek President Karimov on the 23rd of June reiterating this call for an international, independent investigation. He says no answer to the letter has been received so far.
Describing the events of May 13, eyewitnesses accuse armed soldiers of having shot indiscriminately into the crowd. They say no warnings were given prior to the shootings.
Eyewitnesses report that people trying to hide behind trees were shot by snipers. One witness says soldiers were shooting at everybody lying on the ground. This applied to wounded, dead and living people alike.
Mr. Dias says the report finds an urgent need to trace those who have disappeared and to try to reunify family members who survived the shootings.
"The other recommendation: the government of Uzbekistan should ensure adequate compensation for the families of the victims," he said. "There is an urgent need for a stay of deportation of the Uzbek asylum-seekers and eyewitnesses of the Andijan events who would face the risk of torture if returned to Uzbekistan. They should be relocated urgently to a third country, under the guidance of UNHCR."
The report also calls on the Uzbek government to grant the international community access to the four asylum seekers who were deported from Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan on June 9. Earlier this month, the UNHCR reported that it had received information from a credible source that one of the four men had been taken to a military hospital in critical condition.