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Uzbekistan: Amnesty Presses For Concrete Demands On Human Rights

  • Ahto Lobjakas --> Andijon, May 2005: Rights groups insist the casualties keep coming (RFE/RL) March 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Critics of Uzbekistan's human rights record appear to have won a minor victory this week. A leaked EU draft declaration suggests the bloc will put off a planned review of its sanctions against Tashkent until May.

The EU declaration is expected to be approved at a foreign ministers' meeting on March 5. It cites persisting "serious concerns" about Uzbekistan's human rights situation.

Still, rights advocates want Brussels to do more.

The postponement of a fresh sanctions debate represents a concession to international human rights organizations. Amnesty International -- like the International Helsinki Federation and Human Rights Watch -- argues that Uzbekistan's rights record is so bleak that the existing sanctions should be extended.


After the deadly suppression of a mass protest in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon in May 2005, the EU suspended its cooperation agreement with Uzbekistan. It also imposed an arms embargo and denied visas to a dozen officials held directly responsible for the crackdown -- or attempts to cover it up.

In November, the EU revived "technical" contacts with Uzbek officials. Other punitive measures were left in place, dependant on further progress by Uzbekistan.

EU governments now appear to have concluded that no progress has taken place.

Maisy Weicherding, a Central Asia analyst for Amnesty International, tells RFE/RL that she is pleased by the EU decision. But she says Brussels should now apply concrete pressure on Uzbekistan, demanding action on specific issues.

"What I want more than anything is for [the EU] to actually start raising serious human rights concerns and serious abuses with Uzbekistan." Weicherding says. "I mean have a serious discussion, and say 'Why are you not allowing access to the International Committee of the Red Cross even though you promised you would do that? Why are you not releasing such and such and such prisoners of conscience? Why are you not publicly condemning torture as you've been asked to do? Why do you continue to torture? Why don't you put in place an immediate moratorium on executions?'"

...Much Like Pre-Andijon

Weicherding appears to have little faith in EU attempts to reestablish a "human rights dialogue" with Uzbek authorities. This is one of the key demands of the leaked EU declaration.

She points out that the EU conducted a long "dialogue" with Uzbekistan prior to the mass killings in Andijon -- with no effect.

Weicherding says Amnesty International now wants sanctions to continue until "effective and durable guarantees for the protection of human rights" are in place in Uzbekistan. She says promises aren't enough. She notes that Uzbekistan has had a national program on human rights in place for the past 10 years, with no sign of improvement.

Weicherding says Amnesty International recognizes the EU has limited leverage: It is not among Uzbekistan's major trading partners and its political clout in Central Asia is tiny compared with Russia or China.

Not Urging Total Break

But Weicherding is not advocating breaking off all contact with Uzbekistan. She says Amnesty's main goal is to secure the release of imprisoned rights activists -- and direct contacts sometimes get results.

"At the moment, I wouldn't like to say, 'Have no engagement whatsoever,' because I'm very concerned about the individuals who are actually in prison," Weicherding says. "And sometimes individuals do get released because we carry on putting pressure on the Uzbek government and the EU."

But Weicherding notes that the results of international pressure can be unpredictable. One prominent journalist was released from detention in November -- on the eve of the EU decision to resume contact -- but another was detained on what critics describe as trumped-up charges in January.

The current holder of the EU's rotating presidency, Germany, is presently drafting the bloc's first-ever unified strategy for Central Asia. It will be unveiled in June. Weicherding says the German government has been responsive to human rights concerns -- but only "up to a point."

She worries that the new strategy appears to make no mention of human rights.

"It seems like human rights are longer very prominent in the political strategy." Weicherding says. "And we just want to see it actually being maybe even written into the actual strategy so that it does say 'and respect human rights...' Because there is absolutely no mention of rights at all in the strategy."

Weicherding predicts that the apparent absence of rights concerns will eventually undermine the EU's own goal of securing its energy security. She argues that repressive societies are inherently unstable and that, specifically in Central Asia, repression against Islamic groups will only serve to radicalize the population.

Aftermath Of Andijon

A dedicated webpage bringing together all of RFE/RL's coverage of the events in Andijon, Uzbekistan, in May 2005 and their continuing repercussions.


An annotated timeline of the Andijon events and their repercussions.