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Activists Urge EU Not To Lift Uzbekistan Arms Embargo

Rights activists from the Independent Civil Society of Uzbekistan in Germany are calling on the European Union not to lift its last sanction against Tashkent, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports.

The activists, members of the Uzbek diaspora, and Andijon refugees issued an open letter to the EU in advance of the decision about the arms embargo against Uzbekistan. The EU is expected to make the decision later this month.

Lejla Medanhodzic, an Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights official, told RFE/RL that the EU's decision to lift the last remaining sanction against Uzbekistan's government "would be a big mistake."

The activists' open letter stresses that suspending the last of the sanctions -- which were made following the 2005 mass killings of protesters in the southern Uzbek city of Andijon -- would signal to the Uzbek authorities that the EU is prepared to accept the country's "atrocious human rights record."

The letter also draws attention to the fact that the Uzbek authorities did not fulfill their obligations by refusing to conduct an independent international investigation into Andijon, denying entry to Human Rights Watch researchers, and convicting human rights activists "on trumped up charges" because of their civic activity.

The EU imposed an arms embargo on Uzbekistan and a travel ban on 12 high-ranking Uzbek officials in November, 2005, in the aftermath of the Andijon events. In October 2008, the EU and Uzbekistan appeared to have normalized their relationship after the EU dropped its visa ban on top Uzbek officials. In exchange, Uzbekistan agreed to hold some human rights meetings every year and to allow the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and selected nongovernmental organizations greater access to the country.

The rescinding of the travel ban came as EU officials said Tashkent had made progress in human rights, including abolishing the death penalty, releasing some political prisoners, and instituting habeas corpus. Rights organizations said that the human rights situation in the country has not improved and protested the EU decision.