The violence that started in southern Kyrgyzstan last week demands attention not only because of the deaths and displacement of civilians and a growing humanitarian crisis. Perhaps more worrying is the greater violence these recent events could portend. Reports indicate that the outbreak of killing in Kyrgyzstan not only is occurring along ethnic lines, but is also organized. These two characteristics are common harbingers of mass atrocities and have been seen in countries such as Rwanda, Bosnia, and Sudan. If those past episodes of atrocities taught us anything, it’s that the United States must not stand by and wait to see what happens next. The U.S. and the international community should take steps to ensure that even if the current wave of violence in Kyrgyzstan abates, the warning signs of mass atrocities – including the underlying ethnic tensions, political instability, and apparent group coordination that could again fuel the threat of mass violence – are taken seriously and acted upon.
In order to avoid further violence and potential mass atrocities in Kyrgyzstan, as in any other country where organized ethnic violence arises, it is important to understand the dynamics on the ground. The U.S. government should immediately seek answers to the following questions to inform its approach to preventing potential atrocities:
- Who are the organizers of the violence?
At what level was the violence organized? Did planning reach beyond the local to the national or international levels? Which specific people, states, or commercial entities are critical to the organization?
- Who is supplying the perpetrators?
What supply chains are being or were used to transfer weapons or other goods or services (including money, weapons, logistics services, and fuel) into the area of violence? Which local or international actors—state, commercial, or individual—are involved in those supply chains and thereby enable the perpetrators of violence?
- What can be done to disrupt the identified supply chains?
Which tools are most appropriate in this situation to tackle enabling actors? Such tools could include broad economic sanctions, targeted asset freezes and travel bans, border monitoring measures, and diplomatic incentives and pressures of varying degrees.
- Are U.S. trade and assistance indirectly benefitting the perpetrators of mass atrocities?
Is the U.S. government inadvertently (or knowingly) enabling atrocities? While many bilateral relationships are complicated due to the number of U.S. interests at stake, a threat of mass atrocities is a threat to serious national interests. Such a threat therefore warrants careful consideration by the U.S. government of its own actions in a country where indicators of mass atrocities have arisen
For more information about Human Rights First’s recommendations or to speak with the organization’s Crimes Against Humanity Program team, please contact Brenda Bowser Soder (firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-370-3323).