Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

Addressing Turmoil in Kyrgyzstan

July 15, 2010

Mr. President, in the last few weeks, great turmoil has unfolded in Kyrgyzstan. According to media reports, ethnic riots in the southern cities of Osh and Jalalabad have left up to 2,000 dead--309 confirmed by the Kyrgyz Government--thousands have been injured, and approximately 400,000 Uzbeks have been displaced.

I am deeply concerned about ethnic clashes and ongoing tension between the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, especially given reports that international observers have noted they are reminiscent of the tragedies in Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990s. Today, the situation appears to have stabilized, but we cannot discount the potential for renewed conflict after an apparent lull, which happened in both Bosnia and Rwanda.

We must also not forget that what happens in Kyrgyzstan has implications for U.S. interests throughout central Asia. As the Senate noted in Resolution 566, which passed unanimously on June 25, the events of the past month could spark unrest across the Ferghana Valley, which borders Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. Kyrgyzstan also plays host to a U.S. air base at Manas International Airport that serves as a critical supply line for NATO and U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan.

For these reasons, I rise today to urge the provisional government and all citizens of Kyrgyzstan to move ahead with the process of reconciliation. I would also like to commend the Obama administration and others in the international community--particularly the United Nations and Russia--who have rendered fiscal and humanitarian aid to the Government of Kyrgyzstan during this difficult time. The international community must call on all parties to refrain from violence, cease persecution of minorities, and explore peaceful routes to conflict resolution.

There is other news out of Kyrgyzstan worth noting--namely, the referendum held on June 27 in support of a constitution that will establish central Asia's first parliamentary democracy. This referendum was peaceful and inclusive, and I commend the provisional government for organizing this process. The referendum marked a historic opportunity to usher in a new period of democracy and stability in Kyrgyzstan, and the stakes are high. This is why I would like to highlight three areas where I hope there can be additional progress can be made.

Perhaps most importantly, there must be a credible investigation into the recent violence. One of the most important actions to take is to establish an investigative team that is viewed as credible by all sides. This investigation must ensure the perpetrators of violence are held accountable for their actions and initiate a process whereby all citizens, including ethnic Uzbeks, see themselves as sufficiently represented in the country's national institutions.

The interim government must also ensure a smooth transition to the new Constitution. This means that the Kyrgyz authorities should redouble efforts to prevent the escalation of violence, and observers must monitor the elections. The first transition of power is critical to the success of this democratic transition because it will set the baseline for all future elections. The people of Kyrgyzstan have shown overwhelmingly that they want democracy, and now the provisional government should do everything in its power to make those aspirations a reality.

Finally, the government must promote freedom of the press. According to Freedom House, in 2010, Kyrgyzstan was ranked 159th of 192 countries. At this critical juncture, the interim government may feel tempted to muzzle criticism to avoid giving fodder to dissidents. But to do so would undermine its credibility far more than any words published in a free press. There is an undeniable connection between a population's confidence in their political system and the capacity of that system to ensure the free flow of information through an independent media. If the interim government and its successor want to identify the failures of previous governments in Kyrgyzstan, they need look no further than its abysmal record in the area of press freedom. To make the new constitution in Kyrgyzstan a success, the nation needs a truly independent media.

Mr. President, we are at an important turning point in Kyrgyzstan, where there is a glimmer of hope about democracy taking root in the future. At the same time, the potential for renewed unrest, rampant corruption, and curtailed freedoms could easily jeopardize recent progress. It is incumbent on all sides to act responsibly and to ensure there is not a resurgence of violence, so that the new Government of Kyrgyzstan can set an example of successful democracy for the region.

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