(Berlin) – The United States and the European Union (EU) should not allow strategic interests to distort reality about the Uzbek government’s deplorable rights record. The eighth anniversary of the government massacre at Andijan is the week of May 13, 2013.
Both the US and EU have been enhancing their relationships with the Uzbek government, including on military cooperation. Uzbekistan is strategically located along the so-called Northern Distribution Network (NDN). The US and EU member countries have sent supplies to Afghanistan through that network as an alternative to what are viewed as unstable supply lines through Pakistan.
“Eight years on, Washington, Brussels, and key EU member states have yet to hold the Uzbek government accountable for the Andijan massacre and for the ruthless campaign against all forms of dissent in its aftermath,” said Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Uzbekistan’s partners should recognize the downward spiral in its rights record since Andijan and reiterate calls for justice for this terrible atrocity.”
The US and EU should demonstrate that unless the Uzbek government makes measurable improvements in human rights, they will institute targeted restrictions such as visa bans and asset freezes against Uzbek government entities and individuals responsible for grave human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said.
On May 13, 2005, hundreds of largely peaceful protesters were killed by Uzbek government forces indiscriminately and without warning. No one has been held accountable for the killings, nor has the Uzbek government ceased its relentless persecution of people it suspects of having ties to the protest and of human rights activists and others critical of the government.
The massacre, the Uzbek government’s refusal to allow an international investigation, and the ensuing crackdown led the US to tighten already-existing congressional restrictions on military aid. The EU imposed sanctions and established human rights criteria for the Uzbek government in 2005. The Uzbek government has not met those criteria, Human Rights Watch said. But the EU gradually eased the sanctions and in 2009 lifted them completely. In January 2012 the Obama administration followed suit by waiving restrictions on military aid.
Uzbekistan’s highly repressive policies came up for rare international scrutiny on April 24, 2013, at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) procedure. At the review of its human rights record, the official Uzbek government delegation declared that “the issue [of an international investigation into the events] of Andijan is closed for us!”
The Uzbek government stands out as among the most repressive in the world, as well as for its failure to heed recommendations made during its previous Human Rights Council review, in December 2008. In a submission on Uzbekistan, drawn up in advance of the 2013 review, Human Rights Watch highlighted key concerns with respect to Uzbekistan, and the steps needed to address them.
One immediate step the Uzbek government should be urged to take is to end its longstanding denial of access for the UN’s own rights monitors. Eleven UN rapporteurs have requested permission to visit Uzbekistan to monitor its human rights situation.
Cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is another pressing issue. On April 12, 2013, the ICRC took the unusual step of announcing publicly its decision to end prison visits to detainees in Uzbekistan. It cited its inability to follow the organization’s standard working procedures for such visits, including being able to access all detainees of ICRC concern and to speak to detainees in private. Even the most authoritarian governments usually allow ICRC visits given the group’s terms of confidentiality, Human Rights Watch said.
“Uzbekistan’s action to force the ICRC out of detention sites is a telling indictment of the government’s atrocious rights record,” Swerdlow said. “Uzbekistan is skilled at exploiting the desire of its negotiating partners to see progress, while giving no ground. The US and EU should change this dynamic and respond in a substantial way to abuses on the ground.”
Authorities regularly threaten, imprison, and torture rights defenders and civil society activists and block international rights groups and media outlets from operating in Uzbekistan, Human Rights Watch said.
Human rights defenders in prison for no reason other than their legitimate human rights work include: Solijon Abdurakhmanov, Azam Formonov, Mehrinisso Hamdamova, Zulhumor Hamdamova, Isroiljon Holdarov, Nosim Isakov, Gaibullo Jalilov, Abdurasul Khudoinazarov, Erkin Kuziev, Ganihon Mamatkhanov, Chuyan Mamatkulov, Zafarjon Rahimov, Yuldash Rasulov, Dilmurod Saidov, and Akzam Turgunov.
The journalist Jamshid Karimov was reported to have been released in 2011 from a psychiatric ward where he was forcibly confined. But his whereabouts since then remain unknown, prompting fears that he is the victim of an enforced disappearance and is being held by the authorities incommunicado.
Other prominent writers, intellectuals, and opposition figures in jail on politically motivated charges include: Isak Abdullaev, Muhammad Bekjanov, Batyrbek Eshkuziev, Ruhiddin Fahruddinov, Khayrullo Hamidov, Bahrom Ibragimov, Murod Juraev, Davron Kabilov, Matluba Karimova, Samandar Kukanov, Gayrat Mehliboev, Yusuf Ruzimuradov, Rustam Usmanov, Ravshanbek Vafoev, and Akram Yuldashev.
In addition, the Uzbek government has imprisoned thousands of Muslims and other religious believers who practice their faith outside state controls or who belong to unregistered religious organizations on overly broad and vague charges of so-called “religious extremism,” “attempts to overthrow the constitutional order,” and possession of “illegal religious literature.”
The US and EU should publicly and privately insist that Uzbekistan fulfill core human rights commitments, which echo the human rights criteria attached to the EU’s post-Andijan sanctions, Human Rights Watch said. The Uzbek government should:
- Free all imprisoned human rights defenders, journalists, and political prisoners;
- Allow unimpeded operation of nongovernmental organizations in the country;
- Cooperate fully with all relevant UN monitors for various human rights issues;
- Guarantee freedom of speech and of the media;
- Carry out the conventions against forced and child labor, including fully cooperating with the International Labour Organization; and
- Fully align its election processes with Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) standards.
“From continuing prosecutions of journalists to religious persecution to the practice of forced child labor in the cotton sector, the Uzbek government’s resolve to violate basic rights shows no sign of abatement,” Swerdlow said. “The US and EU need to put Tashkent on notice that it needs to make changes or suffer consequences.”