Back in June: football failure, violence in Kyrgyzstan

Back in the days before England were thrashed by Germany and dumped out of the World Cup – and obviously back before Sepp Blatter was making “jokes” about abstinent gay football fans in Qatar in 2022 – I remember being in a pub in east London thinking “No-one’s going to be reporting on the violence in Kyrgyzstan when England are playing in the World Cup”. Too true. They didn’t. Well not much.

I blogged about this at the time. I know, I know – football and foreign stories aren’t really in the same news dimension, so why bring the two together? But my point was – still is – that it’s difficult enough as a press officer getting news coverage of faraway “obscure” countries even without major sporting events getting in the way.

In any case, six months ago I ended my online ramblings with the (slightly pious) hope that “the international community doesn’t drop the ball on Kyrgyzstan”. Has it? Well, it’s still holding the ball, but the Kyrgyz authorities have meanwhile fumbled it very badly (read on!)

You’ll recall that there were claims at the time from ethnic Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan that the majority Kyrgyz population had been indulging in an orgy of ethnic violence – variously described as “ethnic cleansing” and even “genocide” (watch the Al-Jazeera clip in this Daily Telegraph report to remind yourself how bad it was). In the end hundreds of people were killed (mostly ethnic Uzbeks), thousands injured and tens of thousands of ethnic Uzbeks fled across the country’s southern border into Uzbekistan.

What caused the violence in the first place is, as a new report from Amnesty explains, still hotly contested. Armed gangs of ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks seemed to have been able to whip up violence relatively easily, especially in the second city of Osh and in the southern Jalal-Abad region. The main victims were the ethnic Uzbeks. There were chilling reports of men, women and children being butchered in their home, of decapitations and of desperate communities painting dozens of giant “SOS” messages on the roads to attract help from the air. A pattern has since become evident – backed by satellite images publicised by Amnesty – of Uzbek homes being burnt to the ground while nearby Kyrgyz ones were left alone.

What happened was so serious that we may be talking about crimes against humanity (see page 10 of the Amnesty report). The present focus is on whether or not the Kyrgyz authorities are properly investigating the June violence. Basically, they’re not. Among numerous causes of concern is that more than half of 5,000-plus criminal investigations underway are apparently directed at Uzbek suspects. The real worry is that ethnic bias in how the authorities are behaving with the investigations is only going to feed into a new cycle of grievance and bitterness.

Any cause for hope then? Sort of. But it needs an International Independent Commission of Inquiry to do what the Kyrgyz authorities are not doing – investigate properly. OK, as news goes it’s not as accessible or as exciting as (say) whether Tevez is going to stay at Manchester City. But – surprise, surprise – it’s actually far more important.

 

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