By Jeffrey Thomas, Washington File Staff Writer
The United States continues to work with partners in the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the United Nations in support of an independent international probe into the events that took place May 18 in Andijan, Uzbekistan.
"I think our main mission and our main objective is to make clear to the government in Uzbekistan that having this inquiry is not only something that we want and is in the interest of the international community, but is in Uzbekistan's own interest in terms of assuring a stable and prosperous future for that country," State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said during the regular State Department briefing July 13.
Casey said the United States has a certification process in place for bilateral assistance to Uzbekistan and made a determination in 2004 that Uzbekistan had not made sufficient progress on the human rights and democratization criteria for that certification to allow $22 million dollars of aid to move forward.
"There's no decision that has been taken on that in this year, but obviously, how the government of Uzbekistan responds to this issue is certainly a factor in that decision making," said Casey.
On July 12, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) Louise Arbour again called for an international investigation into the events at Andijan. A new report by the Office of the UNHCHR has concluded that "consistent, credible eyewitness testimony strongly suggests that military and security forces committed grave human rights violations in Andijan," perhaps even a "mass killing."
The report is based on interviews in mid-June with eyewitnesses in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, where some Uzbeks fled immediately after the violence. "The UNHCHR report certainly adds to the many reliable eyewitness accounts of the shootings by Uzbek security forces of hundreds of people in Andijan back in May," said Casey when asked to comment during the July 13 briefing.
"The Uzbekistan government owes its citizens and owes the international community a serious, credible and independent investigation of these events," he said.
The United States stands ready "to cooperate and assist in such an investigation, whether that's done by the U.N. or the OSCE or any other credible body," Casey said.
OSCE is the world's largest regional security organization and has 55 participating member states.
Arbour originally called for an independent investigation into the Andijan events of May 18. On June 23, she wrote to Uzbek President Islam Karimov reiterating her call, but has not yet received a response.
In addition to calling for an investigation into the events at Andijan, the United States has consistently urged the Karimov government to take the path of reform.
President Bush on June 29 said that Uzbekistan has "been very helpful in helping fight the war on terror." Nonetheless, "we are sending very clear messages that we expect minority rights to be honored, that people ought to be allowed to express themselves in the public square without fear of reprisal from the government."
The Karshi-Kanabad Air Base in southern Uzbekistan plays an important role in supporting U.S. operations in Afghanistan.
The United States also repeatedly has expressed concern about the welfare of the Uzbek refugees currently residing in Kyrgyzstan.
The full text of a press release on the report is available on the UNHCHR Web site.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)