28 July 2010
16:16 - Helsinki Commission held a hearing on Kyrgyzstan
On July 27, 2010 the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) held a hearing - "Instability in Kyrgyzstan: the International Response"

The following figures testified:

The Honorable Robert O. Blake, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, U.S., State Department

Mr. Arslan Anarbaev, Charge d’affaires, Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic

Dr. Martha Olcott, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Dr. Bakyt Beshimov, Opposition Kyrgyz politician and visiting scholar at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

The text of Mr. Robert O. Blake’s speech is below.

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Statement before the Helsinki Commission
Washington, DC
July 27, 2010

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me. Last week I had the opportunity to visit Bishkek and Osh on July 18 and 19. I’m pleased to be here to give you our fresh perspective about the current situation in Kyrgyzstan and U.S. efforts there. I also want to thank the Committee members for their interest and continued engagement on U.S. policy in Central Asia. The Helsinki Commission has demonstrated exemplary leadership and bipartisan cooperation in forging a strong, sustained partnership between the United States and the five Central Asian countries.

Central Asia is a region of significant importance to U.S. national interests. Recognizing the uniqueness of each of the five Central Asian nations and their sovereignty and independence, U.S. policy supports the development of fully sovereign, stable democratic nations, integrated into the world economy and cooperating with one another, the United States, and our partners, to advance regional security and stability. We are not in a competition with any country over influence in Central Asia. We seek to maintain mature bilateral relations with each country based on our foreign policy goals and each country’s specific characteristics and dynamics.

With regard to Kyrgyzstan, our primary foreign policy interest is to facilitate its continued development as a stable democratic state that respects the rights of all its citizens. Kyrgyzstan is also a significant contributor to security in Afghanistan by hosting the Manas Transit Center through which nearly all U.S. troops enter and leave the theater. Maintaining the Manas Transit Center is an important national security priority for the United States, but that Center can only be maintained if Kyrgyzstan itself is a stable and reliable partner and we ourselves are totally transparent in the functioning of the Center. The Center is an important part of our partnership, but our focus has been and remains developing our overall political, economic and security relationship.

Mr. Chairman, as you know, in April of this year, a populist uprising overthrew President Bakiyev and brought a provisional government headed by Roza Otunbayeva, an experienced diplomat and consensus-builder, to power. Clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan from June 10-14 tested the provisional government. The violence killed an estimated 350 people and displaced around 400,000, with approximately 100,000 individuals going to neighboring Uzbekistan.

The security situation has since generally stabilized, though tensions still remain in the south. Humanitarian organizations are currently transitioning from emergency relief to recovery, reconstruction, and reconciliation. Of the 100,000 ethnic Uzbeks who fled to neighboring Uzbekistan, virtually all returned to Kyrgyzstan within two weeks. On June 27, the citizens of the Kyrgyz Republic overwhelmingly voted to adopt a new constitution in a national referendum and affirmed Roza Otunbayeva as “President for the Transitional Period” until December 2011. She was inaugurated on July 3.

While we are encouraged that there has not been a recurrence of violence since June, President Otunbayeva and the Provisional Government face daunting challenges. Fear and tension remain, especially among ethnic Uzbeks in the south. In Uzbekistan’s displaced persons camps, although there were no reports of force to promote returns, reports of psychological pressure, monetary incentives, threats of loss of citizenship, coercion and/or encouragement to participate in the June 27 referendum, and concerns for family members who remained in Kyrgyzstan may have factored into the rapid repatriation of those who were displaced.

Most of the estimated 75,000 persons who remain displaced in Kyrgyzstan and those who returned from Uzbekistan currently reside with host families; others are squatting in abandoned buildings or camping on the sites of their destroyed homes. An estimated 1,850 houses were burned or otherwise destroyed in Osh and Jalalabad. An undetermined number of homes are reported to be damaged and will need repair before they can be inhabited again.

Many ethnic Uzbek businesses in the south remain closed, and some Uzbeks are unable to return to work while remaining with host families or in community shelters. Some, confronting the destruction of fields and crops, anticipate food insecurity in the fall and winter. Reports that the Kyrgyz government intends to expropriate property in destroyed Uzbek neighborhoods, as part of an urban renewal effort, replacing traditional houses organized into ethnic neighborhoods with modern apartments for ethnically mixed communities, are feeding fears of disenfranchisement and possible renewed violence.

The United States supports a number of steps that we believe should be taken to help reconciliation. Right now, our principal focus is to provide humanitarian assistance to all those who were displaced by the violence. We need to make sure that people have the ability to return to their homes, to have shelter for the winter, to help schools reopen, and to meet the near-term needs. As always in such humanitarian emergencies around the world, the United States has been one of the leading donors, committing up to $48 million thus far to help the people of Kyrgyzstan. This aid is in addition to normal foreign aid levels, which will continue as planned. We have also been working with Kyrgyzstan’s neighbors and the international community to support the High-Level International Donors’ Conference, which is taking place today in Bishkek.

As a second step going forward, we believe that security must be boosted to prevent future violence. The United States welcomes the decision by the OSCE during the recent informal ministerial in Almaty, Kazakhstan, to agree to a Police Advisory Group that will be deployed to Kyrgyzstan to support the efforts of the authorities to reduce inter-ethnic tensions, restore public order, and strengthen police capacities. The OSCE and Kyrgyzstan concluded that the group would comprise 52 police officers with the possibility of sending an additional 50 officers at a later stage. The group would be in Kyrgyzstan for four months, with a possibility to extend as needed. We hope that the government of Kyrgyzstan and the OSCE can work together to ensure that this force is deployed as soon as possible.

A third step to ensure reconciliation is that the local Kyrgyzstani law enforcement and judicial institutions must be reliable and credible and have the trust of the people. The security services in Kyrgyzstan must fulfill their responsibilities in a professional and accountable manner so that they can win the confidence of all of Kyrgyzstan’s communities. In Osh, I heard many disturbing reports of arrests of human rights activists, arrests of Uzbek community leaders, and reports of torture and other abuses while in custody. I also heard complaints that the mayor of Osh does not act in a balanced manner and that he is pursuing a nationalist agenda. I shared these concerns with government officials and urged that they be addressed on an urgent basis. The United States is prepared to work with the Government of Kyrgyzstan to deal with the challenges of strengthening the professionalization and accountability of the police.

A fourth and very important step for achieving reconciliation is that there needs to be a serious investigation launched into the causes of the violence of June, both to help understand how to prevent fresh outbreaks of violence, but also to ensure accountability for those who were responsible. A number of factors likely contributed to the violence, but what is important is to have a systematic and credible inquiry into what those factors were. The United States welcomes President Otunbayeva’s decision to establish a national commission of investigation, as well as her decision to ask Finnish parliamentarian and vice president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Kimmo Kiljunen to constitute an international investigation with the support of the UN, OSCE, and Nobel Prize winner Martti Ahtisaari that will complement the national investigation in Kyrgyzstan.

Finally, one of our top priorities is to help Kyrgyzstan establish democracy. Part of the U.S. assistance package to Kyrgyzstan includes funding to support free and fair parliamentary elections in October. The U.S. will provide assistance for Central Election Committee capacity building, local election officials’ training, civil society support for elections outreach, journalist training, media monitoring and coverage, voter list review, public information campaigns, elections observation by domestic and international observers, parallel vote tabulation, dispute resolution training and assistance, and voter education. We are also providing long-term support to strengthen democratic governance, reconciliation, civil society, independent media, and human rights.

In closing, the United States has a strong commitment to Kyrgyzstan. We and the international community want to work with the Provisional Government and with the people of Kyrgyzstan to help the nation establish democracy, provide assistance to all those who were affected by the recent violence, and encourage reconciliation to assist in the country’s stabilization. While we recognize that the situation remains very fragile and that there are real risks, we remain very hopeful that with the goodwill and sustained efforts of all, including the United States and the international community, the people of Kyrgyzstan can chart out for themselves a more hopeful, democratic and stable future.

Thank you. I would be happy to take your questions.