A report issued by Human Rights Watch says that in May, security forces in Uzbekistan killed hundreds of men, women, and children in Andijan.
The victims, says Human Rights Watch, were participating in a massive public protest, sparked by the arrest of twenty-three Uzbek businessmen accused of "religious fundamentalism." The protest was then transformed, says Human Rights Watch, "into a massive expression of dissatisfaction with the endemic poverty, corruption, unemployment, repression, and unfair trials that plagued the area." The businessmen were freed when armed individuals stormed the detention center, occupied government buildings, and took hostages.
According to eyewitnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch, Uzbek security forces responded by firing "indiscriminately into a crowd in which the overwhelming majority of people – numbering in the thousands – were unarmed." The exact number of killed and wounded is not known, but Human Rights Watch says that "about three-hundred to four-hundred people were present at the worst shooting incident, which left few survivors."
The United States regrets the loss of life. U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says, however serious the attack on the prison that preceded these shootings, it cannot excuse this grave violation of the human rights of so many innocent Uzbek citizens. The government of Uzbekistan should permit a thorough and independent investigation of the violence, involving credible international organizations:
"We continue to urge Uzbekistan to undertake a credible and transparent assessment of the tragic events in Andijan, in cooperation with an international partner, as well as undertake fundamental democratic and economic reforms. The government of Uzbekistan owes its citizens and the international community a serious, credible and independent investigation of these events."
Independent news reporting from Uzbekistan is difficult. The Uzbek government of President Islam Karimov tightly controls all news media. Journalists who criticize the government risk arrest or harassment by authorities.
According to the U.S. State Department, Uzbekistan's human rights record is very poor. Uzbek citizens do not have the right peacefully to change their government. Police arbitrarily detain and torture political opponents of President Karimov and routinely detain citizens in order to extort bribes. Human rights monitors are harassed. Freedom of religion is restricted.
These policies do not serve Uzbekistan well. In the words of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, the U.S. "will continue to clarify for other nations the moral choice between oppression and freedom, and we will make it clear that, ultimately, success in our relations depends on the treatment of their own people."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States government.