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'No Uzbek Rights Progress' Ahead Of EU Sanctions Review

  • Ahto Lobjakas

Riina Kionka (file) (epa) BRUSSELS, October 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A senior EU official has told a European Parliament hearing in Brussels that the human rights situation in Uzbekistan remains "miserable."


The comments by Riina Kionka, an EU human rights envoy, come two weeks before EU foreign ministers are due to discuss whether to extend the bloc's sanctions against Uzbekistan, imposed in the wake of the mass killings of protesters in the city of Andijon in 2005.


Kionka told the committee on human rights on October 1 that the sanctions had "worked to an extent" in opening a channel of communication, but that Uzbekistan had not substantively cooperated with EU efforts to open up a rights dialogue.


Kionka, a personal representative of EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, said the Uzbek side appeared intent on sidelining key EU concerns and avoiding further meetings, including at a meeting in Tashkent last month.


"There was no agreement to have a follow-up human rights discussion in October," she said. "In addition, the Uzbek side gave the indication that they would not like to discuss any more any events connected to Andijon or anything having to do with the sanctions -- that this is regarded to be the EU's internal problem."


Limited Penalties


The sanctions were imposed after Uzbek authorities forcefully put down an uprising in the eastern city of Andijon in May 2005.


The Uzbek government says 187 people died in Andijon and that Islamic militants instigated the violence, but rights groups say hundreds of people were killed, most of them unarmed demonstrators that included many women


The EU's sanctions include a visa ban on officials involved in Andijon, a freeze on technical contacts, and an arms embargo. In May, the bloc marginally relaxed the penalties, taking some officials off the visa ban list and reducing the period after which it reviews the measures.


Now, two years after initially imposing sanctions, the EU finds itself in a quandary.


In a sense, the sanctions have arguably worked. A dialogue of sorts has been launched with Uzbek authorities, with meetings to discuss the events of Andijon and human rights issues. But Uzbek intransigence at those meetings has left EU officials wondering precisely about the value of opening up channels of communication for their own sake.


Kionka said Tashkent "has very ambitious views of the goals for EU-Uzbek cooperation but" -- in her words -- "very ambiguous views on how to get there."


This leaves the 27 EU foreign ministers with very little new to go on when they meet in Luxembourg on October 15 to debate the fate of the sanctions.


Kionka told the parliamentary hearing that many member states want to "refocus" the sanctions and add other criteria beyond the demand for an international inquiry into the Andijon events. She did not elaborate what those criteria might be.


One EU official told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity that Uzbekistan's refusal to face tough questioning on Andijon means Brussels' focus is likely to shift to more topical issues such as human rights standards and attempts to pursue a dialogue with Uzbek civil society. On the other hand, the official said, the EU could expand its visa ban list and freeze the assets of some officials.


Divisions Within EU


The EU's difficulties in communicating with Uzbekistan are compounded by divisions within the bloc. Britain, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Ireland are said to implacably resist any easing of the sanctions without tangible progress in the field of human rights.


On the other hand, the EU's previous chair, Germany, and the current holder of the bloc's rotating presidency, Portugal, are keen to show that the EU's new Central Asian strategy, adopted in June, is bearing fruit. For that, they need the cooperation of the Uzbek government.


Kionka, however, stressed that human rights standards are a key element in the EU's Central Asian Strategy.


Alain Deletroz of the International Crisis Group, a think tank, spoke at the October 1 hearing as an expert. Deletroz said that apart from a deteriorating human rights situation, Uzbekistan also faces social catastrophe. He said standards in fields such as health care, education, and others are plummeting.


Deletroz particularly warned Brussels not to relax the sanctions before Uzbekistan's presidential election in December, when some observers expect long-serving President Islam Karimov to orchestrate a new term.


"What is certain is that if the Council of the European Union is going to relax the sanctions against Karimov's administration," Deletroz said. "Karimov's propaganda apparatus would immediately seize upon it to prove that he is right, that European democracies admit it, and [to say] 'Look, they have dropped the sanctions!'"


Deletroz also said the EU should isolate Uzbekistan from the other Central Asian republics, and treat it the way Brussels treats the worst rights offenders -- such as Myanmar (Burma).

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.


CHRONOLOGY

An annotated timeline of the Andijon events and their repercussions.

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