Human Rights Watch have published a new report on the Andijan massacre, titled '"Bullets Were Falling Like Rain"'
The attackers who took over government buildings, took people hostage, and used people as human shields, committed serious crimes, punishable under the Uzbek criminal code.1
But neither these crimes nor the peaceful protest that ensued can justify the government’s response. It is the right and the duty of any government to stop such crimes as hostage-taking and the takeover of government buildings. However, in doing so, governments are obligated to respect basic human rights standards governing the use of force in police operations. These universal standards are embodied in the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.2 The Basic Principles provide the following:
Law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, shall as far as possible apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force. … Whenever the lawful use of force … is unavoidable, law enforcement officials shall … exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense.3
The legitimate objective should be achieved with minimal damage and injury, and preservation of human life respected.4
As the subsequent sections of this report will show, Uzbek forces did not observe these rules. According to numerous witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch, there were many instances on May 13 when government troops on armored personnel carriers and military trucks, as well as snipers, fired indiscriminately into a crowd in which the overwhelming majority of people—numbering in the thousands—were unarmed. While some testimony indicates that, in one shooting incident, security forces first shot into the air, in all other incidents no warnings were given, and no other means of crowd control were attempted.
This report documents the government killings on May 13 and the government attempt to intimidate witnesses in the aftermath. The report places the events of that day against a background of Uzbekistan’s worsening human rights record, its brutal campaign against Islamic “fundamentalism,” and rising impoverishment, and explains how all three have affected the Fergana Valley in particular.