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No prospect of justice for the victims of the Andijan massacre

M.S. Ahmed

The first anniversary of the massacre of unarmed civilian protestors in the eastern city of Andijan by security forces acting on Uzbek government orders on May 13, 2005, has also attracted worldwide attention, mainly because the basic issues raised by the tragedy have so far not been addressed. Not only is the autocratic regime of president Islam Karimov adamant in denying responsibility, blaming "Islamic terrorists" instead, but it also insists that the number of dead civilians is far smaller than the figures quoted by human-rights groups, and that there is no need for an enquiry into the killings or for the payment of compensation to the victims. Even more seriously, it will not brook any curtailment – or indeed discussion – of the enormous powers that enable Karimov to order this massacre and other abuses of human rights.

At first the US, Britain and the EU demanded an independent enquiry into the Andijan massacre, but Karimov – no doubt aware that they themselves were, and still are, committing similar massacres in Iraq and neighbouring Afghanistan – resisted, eventually blocking it. Without an independent enquiry, it is not surprising that he continues to insist that the number of people killed in Andijan was 187 instead of the 780 claimed by human-rights groups to have perished. This official figure includes 31 members of the security forces, 94 ‘terrorists' and about 60 civilians. Nor is it surprising that Karimov blames Islamic groups for the massacre, arresting hundreds of Islamic activists and putting them on trial in an attempt to give credibility to his claims.

Another dubious measure designed to back his position is a video prepared by the government, which sets out the official version that what happened was a planned uprising by Islamic militants, not a peaceful protest by unarmed civilians. But human-rights groups, and even the US state department, maintain that Uzbek special forces were the real killers. Despite this, the Hudson Institute, an American conservative thinktank, chose to air the video in a disgraceful move to back Tashkent's official version. In fact Fred Starr, the chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute of John Hopkins University, who introduced the video, even sharply criticised the CIA, think tanks and journalists for expressing opposite views.

He argued that research backed up the death-toll claimed by the government, and that evidence of a "planned jihad" was "virtually overwhelming". By vaguely referring to research and deliberately not specifying who had conducted it, where or when, he was trading on his academic background and the fact that he is supposed to be an expert on "Asia-Caucasus affairs". In the event he only succeeded in revealing how low the academic standards of the institution and think-tanks he serves are, and that he is even more hostile to Islamic groups than the neo-cons and Christian hardliners with whom the different branches of the US government and intelligence services are packed. Neither the Hudson Institute nor the John HopkinsUniversity has so far taken Starr for task for his conduct.

Just how damaging Starr's manoeuvre is, and how unreliable his claim is that there is overwhelming evidence of a planned jihad, are shown by the fact that the state department is distancing itself from his assertions and from the version of events set out in the video. On May 19, for instance, an unnamed state department official dismissed the claims that Islamic terrorists, not security forces, were responsible for the killings. He was quoted in a British newspaper as saying that "we see no reason to review our assessment of what happened". It must, of course, be said at once that the US government is not interested in the truth or in clearing the name of Islamic groups. On the contrary, it invents false stories about Islamic terrorists committing bloody massacres in the Muslim countries it wants to interfere in.

So the war in Afghanistan and Iraq is justified on the grounds that al-Qa'ida and Taliban terrorists are ravaging both countries and must be stopped. In the event, thousands of civilians in both countries are being massacred in almost-daily bombings by US and other western armed forces. Now the US government has moved its forces into the Horn of Africa, claiming that al-Qa'ida is exploiting the "failed state" of Somalia to establish military bases there. One reason for the state department's line is, therefore, to back up the government's claim that it is determined to spread democracy in the Muslim world. Another reason is that the human-rights groups addressing the issue of the Andijan massacres have shown beyond doubt that the security forces, not ‘Islamic terrorists', were responsible for the mayhem.

In fact, human-rights activists, some of whom were present at the scene of the massacres, accuse the US of allowing the Karimov regime to get away with the killings. One of these is Lutfullo Shamsuddin, an Uzbek human-rights activist who was present at the scene and witnessed the shootings by the security forces. He himself miraculously escaped and later obtained asylum in the US. In an article in the International Herald Tribune on May 15 he showed beyond doubt that it was the security forces who were responsible for shooting the hundreds of unarmed civilians left dead at the scene. In this article he said that he was “grateful to the US for all it has done for me and my family” but that he could not "understand how it can let the government of Uzbekistan get away with the murder of so many". Shamsuddin concluded that the US "should insist that the Uzbek government allow an independent investigation into the shootings and prosecute the perpetrators", adding that the victims of the massacre "deserve justice".

But he knows that Washington is more interested in restoring the close relations that it had with the Uzbek president before its vague criticism of the massacres ruined them. In 2002, for instance, Karimov was feted at the White House and there was a US military base in his country which was used for the war in neighbouring Afghanistan. Vice-president Dick Cheney also frequently visited Uzbekistan. It is not surprising that he and defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld are keen to re-establish close relations for strategic reasons. Both Bush and Karimov know that they have a common interest in preventing Islamic groups from becoming too influential in the politics of Central Asia, which is a significant region because of its proximity to Islamic Iran. Their cool relations are, therefore, not only transitory but are also not being allowed to get in the way of their cooperation .

Clearly there will be no independent investigation held as a result of Washington's insistence, and without such investigation there will be no justice for the massacre's victims.

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 35, No. 4

Jumada' al-Ula' 05, 14272006-06-01

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