The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has ended a two-day visit to Kazakhstan by calling for an independent international investigation into December’s violence in and around the western town of Zhanaozen, which officials say left 15 dead after police fired on protestors.
Pillay told a press conference in Astana on July 12 that “a precise account of exactly what happened in Zhanaozen […] remains elusive.”
“Allegations of torture and forced confessions do not seem to have been properly investigated, and there are many serious question marks over the fairness of judicial processes, and the conduct of trials,” Pillay continued.
Forty-five civilians have been convicted over the violence, of whom 17 are serving prison terms. Six police officers have also been jailed.
Pillay said the question of whether the use of live fire was “necessary and proportional” remains open, and that an independent investigation could be “a watershed for Kazakhstan” since the Zhanaozen affair encapsulates “in microcosm, many of the human rights concerns and critical gaps in the country’s laws and rule-of-law institutions.”
Astana has conducted its own investigation into the unrest, which – while acknowledging police wrongdoing – concluded that it was stirred up by “third forces” and perpetrated by local ringleaders.
Pillay appealed for Kazakhstan -- which positions itself as a regional leader -- to act over human rights (including concerns over freedom of expression, assembly and conscience) to become a role model: “It can, I believe, successfully rise to meet its human rights challenges if it chooses to do so, and in the process become a good model for other countries to follow, not just in Central Asia but also in other regions of the world.”
Pillay had previously visited Kyrgyzstan, where she urged Bishkek to tackle discrimination against minorities. This she found to be “particularly evident in Osh,” the epicenter of ethnic clashes between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities in 2010.
“[Discrimination] is perhaps most starkly illustrated by the June 2010 violence, during which around 75 percent of those killed were Uzbek, while some 77 percent of those arrested and charged with crimes relating to the violence were also Uzbek,” she said.
“Having three-quarters of the victims and three-quarters of the alleged perpetrators from the same group, during an episode of inter-ethnic violence, simply does not add up.”
Her remarks came as Amnesty International released a damning report on torture in another Central Asian state, Tajikistan. It outlined “shocking” coercion methods it said are “routine,” including “electric shocks, boiling water, suffocation, beatings, burning with cigarettes, rape and threats of rape.”