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Uzbekistan: Rights Activists Call For Continued EU Sanctions

Activists say many Uzbeks are jailed and even executed for practicing their religion (file photo) (RFE/RL) BRUSSELS, February 28, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Human rights groups are sounding the alarm ahead of a meeting on March 5 at which EU foreign ministers will review sanctions against Uzbekistan, which were imposed after government troops brutally suppressed a demonstration in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon in 2005.

The International Helsinki Federation For Human Rights (IHF) wants EU sanctions against Uzbekistan to continue -- and possibly be extended -- because of the deteriorating human rights situation there. Based on a firsthand fact-finding mission to Uzbekistan, the group released a report in Brussels on February 27 saying there is no reason for the EU to ease sanctions.

The EU sanctions originally included a suspension of political cooperation, an arms embargo, and a visa ban against 12 officials held directly responsible for the violent crackdown against Andijon demonstrators.
"When states operate without any kind of transparency -- without any
kind of monitoring -- they can do what they want. We don't know what's
going on in Uzbekistan."

Political contacts were resumed in November after Tashkent agreed to "expert-level" discussions about Andijon. EU foreign ministers should examine Uzbekistan's progress on human rights at their upcoming meeting.

'Selling Out' Human Rights

"There's absolutely no basis for lifting these sanctions," IHF Executive Director Aaron Rhodes says. "There has been no improvement in the human rights situation -- there has been a severe downgrading of the human rights situation. And the effect of this is that there really [isn't] anybody monitoring human rights there. And so, when states operate without any kind of transparency -- without any kind of monitoring -- they can do what they want. We don't know what's going on in Uzbekistan."

Rhodes said Uzbekistan's human rights community has been "wiped out" since the violence in Andijon and the "lights have been turned off" by authorities there. He said United Nations rapporteurs are denied entry into the country at a time when the remaining OSCE presence is "ineffective."

Rhodes urged EU ministers not to "sell out" on human rights in order to create an "appearance of political progress." He ascribes that temptation to EU members seeking closer relations with energy-rich Central Asia.

In November, EU countries appeared split over a preferred course. In a meeting with Uzbek Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov in Brussels, the EU was promised an exchange of views on Andijon and a "human rights dialogue" at a later date.

Crackdown On Muslims

Rhodes declined to say how the IHF collected the information in its report. But he stressed that anecdotal evidence from isolated missions cannot replace systematic monitoring.

The IHF's report includes a detailed list of continuing repressive measures -- restrictions and abuse of imprisoned activists, as well as spurious attempts to discredit activists' reputations, harass their relatives, and persecute them for political reasons.

Rhodes also highlighted a massive crackdown by Uzbek authorities on Muslims who practice their religion outside officially sanctioned channels, in "unregistered" mosques. He said it appears that "thousands" have been imprisoned -- and that many have been executed.

Official Role In Abuses

Meanwhile, the IHF says it has direct evidence of collusion by high-ranking Uzbek officials in the political persecution of human rights activists.

It's still unknown how many people died in the government crackdown in andijon (AFP)

IHF Deputy Executive Director Brigitte Dufour told RFE/RL she was informed by a senior Uzbek official in 2001 that one woman activist was forced to undergo psychiatric treatment after complaining about the situation in Uzbekistan during a Warsaw meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

"She was demonstrating in front of the town hall, and she was taken directly to this [psychiatric] hospital and all that," Dufour says. "And he said, 'Well, I must admit [that] maybe we made a mistake here.' He said: 'She must be crazy. You recall what she said in Warsaw.' So, in a way, he was admitting to having some political role in her detention."

Dufour and Rhodes say the same Uzbek official who made those remarks now heads the country's delegation in talks with the EU.

Rhodes warned the EU against "appeasing" the Uzbek government. But he also said there appears to be "no lack of interest" on the part of Germany to hear the views of human rights groups on Uzbekistan.

Germany, current holder of the EU Presidency, is now drafting the bloc's first-ever strategy for Central Asia. It is expected to be unveiled at an EU summit in June.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier plans in late March to meet in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, with his counterparts from all five of Central Asia's former Soviet republics.

Andijon Anniversary Conference

Andijon Anniversary Conference

Violence in Andijon, Uzbekistan, on May 14, 2005 (epa)

TALKING ABOUT ANDIJON: On May 9, 2006, RFE/RL, the National Endowment for Democracy, and U.S.-based human rights organizations cohosted a conference on the May 2005 events in Andijon and their aftermath in Uzbekistan and throughout the region. The first panel featured Andijon eyewitness GALIMA BUKHARBAEVA, National Endowment for Democracy Fellow NOZIMA KAMALOVA, RFE/RL Central Asia analyst DANIEL KIMMAGE, and others. The second panel featured presentations by U.S. Senator JOHN MCCAIN and U.S. Congressman CHRISTOPHER SMITH, who used the forum to announce they had introduced legislation calling for sanctions and other measures against the government of President Islam Karimov.


Listen to the Andijon conference.
Part One (70 minutes):
Real Audio Windows Media
Part Two (60 minutes):
Real Audio Windows Media
The Uzbek government's response:
Real Audio Windows Media

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


For an annotated timeline of the Andijon events and their repercussions, click here.