Between June 28 and July 1, I traveled to the Central Asian countries of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to assess humanitarian response efforts in the wake of the horrific violence perpetrated in the south of Kyrgyzstan, primarily against the Uzbek community. Members of this community make up about fifteen percent of the population of Kyrgyzstan, and a much larger percentage of the population of the south.
As you know, the violence was characterized by coordinated attacks and destruction of thousands of homes in the Kyrgyz cities of Osh and Jalalabad; officials have also documented the deaths of several hundred people, although the actual number of deaths may have been much higher. And as many as 100,000 Kyrgyz citizens fled to neighboring Uzbekistan.
While those responsible for these attacks have yet to be identified, it seems clear that the violence was not a spontaneous manifestation of inter-ethnic conflict. Rather, the violence appears to have been orchestrated by individuals or groups bent on destabilizing the situation to achieve political or economic advantage.
I began my visit in Uzbekistan, where I met with government officials, representatives from international humanitarian organizations and members of civil society. The government of Uzbekistan acted quickly and constructively in response to the humanitarian crisis, providing food, water, shelter and medical assistance to some 100,000 refugees. Government officials also cooperated closely with UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross and non-governmental organizations. These efforts helped many people in a time of dire need.
A UNHCR relief convoy enters Kyrgyzstan at the border with Uzbekistan. Since mid-June UNHCR has provided hundreds of tons of emergency relief to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. With most refugees having now returned to Kyrgyzstan the focus of help has shifted to the displaced populations in and around Osh and nearby Jalalabad.
Photo courtesy of UNHCR/ S. Grigoryan
Although most refugees have now gone back to Kyrgyzstan, concerns have been raised about the circumstances of returns, and the situation in Kyrgyzstan remains fragile. Thus, I encouraged Uzbek officials to sustain their relationships and cooperation with international humanitarian organizations such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. I also told my interlocutors that the United States believes it is important that the border stay open, and that any refugees who may still be in Uzbekistan and fear return have the option to remain temporarily. Anyone can appreciate the deep concerns of those who fear returning to the scene of such horrific violence, and it is thus important that returns be voluntary.
In Kyrgyzstan, I traveled to areas impacted by the violence, and conferred with government officials and representatives of non-governmental and international organizations. On June 30, I visited Osh, joined by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Gutteres, the U.S. Ambassador, Tatiana Gfoeller, and the Ambassador of the Russian Federation, Valentin Vlasov. We went with colleagues from the United Nations and from the Russian Federation to demonstrate our commitment to work closely and collaboratively with partners in supporting the reconciliation and recovery effort. In Bishkek on July 1, I met with Interim President Rosa Otunbayeva, with deputy head of the interim government, Almazbek Atambayev, as well as with representatives of a range of UN affiliated agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and others.
I first sought to express the strong solidarity of the citizens and the government of the United States with the people and the government of Kyrgyzstan in efforts to pursue national reconciliation and recovery, and, in particular, to express our profound sympathy and solidarity with the victims of the terrible attacks of last month. The United States is helping in a number of ways. First, on the whole, the U.S. is the largest donor to major international humanitarian organizations that are playing a leading role in Kyrgyzstan, such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Food Program and the International Committee of the Red Cross. In addition, the U.S. is providing some $30 million in new funding that will be focused on addressing the current crisis.
While the process of rebuilding the physical infrastructure will take great effort, the greater challenge of course is promoting reconciliation – and a future in which different communities in Kyrgyzstan live peacefully and cooperatively together. I discussed these issues at length with Kyrgyz officials, stressing that members of the Uzbek community should have a meaningful role in the critical decisions on recovery and reconstruction that will so impact their lives and well-being. The constitutional referendum, held peacefully on June 27, sends a signal of the government’s commitment to constitutional development, but much more needs to be done to bring groups together.
I also discussed with President Otunbayeva and other officials the critical civilian protection concerns in the south, and welcomed Kyrgyz government support of proposals for a monitoring mission by the OSCE. A robust international presence in the south, including monitors, advisors, and relief workers can play a key role in building confidence and promoting peace and cooperation among communities who remain so seriously affected by the recent violence, and we are prepared to do what we can to help implement such proposals. With those objectives in mind, PRM will provide financial support for the monitoring and reporting efforts of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Finally, I discussed with officials the importance of an impartial international inquiry into the events of last month, as a complete accounting will serve not only the interests of justice, but also of reconciliation. The United States has supported such an inquiry, and we look forward to further discussion with officials on this issue in the days and weeks to come.