ANKARA, 21 June (IRIN) - In a limited but significant step forward, a report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has further underscored the need for a full independent inquiry into what transpired in Andijan, Uzbekistan, last month, when upwards of 1,000 people are thought to have been gunned down by Uzbek military forces.
"This is the only thing we could do under the current circumstances but it does not mean that it ends there. Absolutely not," Urdur Gunnarsdottir, a spokeswoman for the ODIHR, said on Tuesday speaking from Warsaw. "If we are ever to know what happened in Andijan, there is a need for an independent inquiry in Uzbekistan."
Her comments came one day after preliminary ODIHR findings on events in Andijan were first made public, providing an inside-view of what transpired on 13 May. Based on 44 in-depth interviews by the ODIHR team between 26 May and 2 June, with asylum seekers who had fled Usbekistan living in the Suzak Camp near the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border, the report provides a first hand account of what activists both locally and abroad have called a massacre.
While the report estimated that the number of people killed at between 300 and 500, a figure Uzbek authorities gave as 173, it emphasised that force had repeatedly been used against unarmed civilians throughout the day, that it was indiscriminate and disproportionate and that many unarmed civilians were wounded or killed. But the fact that the ODIHR team was barred from visiting Andijan and speaking with residents there can not be ignored.
"It is impossible to put a number to the deaths or indeed know exactly what happened before there is an inquiry in Uzbekistan," Gunnarsdottir stressed, adding that "the report makes it absolutely clear that this is a very limited exercise and we are critical of the fact that we were not allowed into Uzbekistan."
Commenting on the report's release on Monday, OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, reiterated his call for a credible, independent and international investigation.
"I commend the ODIHR human rights staff for swiftly and systematically gathering and analysing the information available from eyewitnesses of the events," Rupel said. "However, as long as there is no international investigation, with access to Andijan, we do not have the full picture of what took play 13 May. I have made this clear to the Uzbek authorities and have shared the report with them," said Rupel.
They [the Uzbek government] did not contribute to this report at all," Gunnarsdottir explained. "They neither approved it nor vetoed it. That was not the point. It was just a matter of courtesy to show this to them. I'm not aware of what their reaction was but the aim was not to seek their approval," she stressed.
Meanwhile, local activists say much of what has happened has already come too late.
"The international organisations, including the UN, the OSCE and others reacted to Andijan too late. Even the US administration's reaction came only after HRW [Human Rights Watch] issued their report on Andijan," Tolib Yakubov, head of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (HRSU), a local rights group, said from the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.
"This [international probe into Andijan] would be the best solution but the Uzbek government would never agree to that and it appears that they are afraid of something. Both the UN and the OSCE should take a lead in the international probe should that happen," he added.
Vasilya Inoyatova, head of Ezgulik, another local rights group, condemned international bodies for not demanding answers from the Uzbek government.
"The OSCE should approach the Uzbek government and demand concrete facts and access to Andijan because Uzbekistan is a member of that organisation. And if the OSCE cannot demand that from the government than it is just a mock-up organisation like the UN is," said Inoyatova.
The OSCE report concluded what transpired in Andijan should be seen in the context of the role of the authorities in maintaining public order. It warned that while states had a legitimate security concerns in the current fight against terrorism, caution must be applied to avoid excessively broad and indiscriminate use of terms "terrorism" and "extremism". Otherwise this would present negative consequences for legitimate political opposition, ethnic and religious minorities and the effective enjoyment of human rights such as freedom of expression and association.
Uzbekistan has been a member of the OSCE, the world's largest regional security organisation, since gaining its independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
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