Kyrgyzstans SOS to the world

If in Britain we’d recently had major unrest with hundreds – possibly thousands – of people killed in apparently ethnically-motivated bloodletting, I don’t think we’d have conducted a polite referendum on the constitution within a fortnight.

Yet that, essentially, is what has happened in Kyrgyzstan at the weekend. It’s not clear how this really worked. An estimated 400,000 people – mostly ethnic Uzbeks – fled their homes when the killing began, and tens of thousands are still in Uzbekistan. Did all these get the opportunity to vote? Apparently not. The Independent reports that some ethnic Uzbeks were apparently unable to vote even if they were in the right place and felt inclined to as their identity documents had been stolen in the recent mayhem.

In any case, fortunately the vote seems to have passed off peacefully and Central Asia may be about to have a country with parliamentary democracy – but huge questions remain about the official response to the horror of the past few weeks.

Satellite imagery recently analysed by Amnesty and the American Association for the Advancement of Science paints a disturbing picture of 1,640 buildings destroyed or damaged (297 in Cheremushki, 172 in Furkat, 448 in Kizil Kishtak, 172 in Nariman, and 551 in the epicentre, Osh), with entire neighbourhoods of houses being burnt to the ground.

Heartrendingly, the sat images also show over a hundred large “SOS” messages painted onto roads and sports fields throughout Osh during the violence. One desperate community was trying to send an SOS to the world that they were under attack and desperate for help. Did they get the protection they needed?

Amnesty is calling for an international investigation into all the violence that engulfed southern Kyrgyzstan earlier this month. The truth, surely, is that nothing else is likely to reassure those thousands of ethnic Uzbeks who have come under attack in their own country.

Perhaps the new parliamentary government approved under the referendum will make an investigation one of the first things it signs off on.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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