Lifting of EU Arms Embargo on Uzbekistan Sends Wrong Message on Human Rights

Washington

The European Union's decision yesterday to lift the arms embargo on Uzbekistan sends a message that the country’s egregious human rights record is inconsequential, Freedom House said today, adding that  the EU should be unequivocal in its condemnation of human rights abuses.

The arms embargo was a component of the sanctions package the EU imposed on Uzbekistan in the wake of the Andijan massacre of 2005, when Uzbek government forces reportedly killed hundreds of unarmed demonstrators and later instituted a brutal crackdown on opposition activists. Other components included a visa ban on 12 Uzbek officials and partial suspension of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), the framework that regulates the EU's relationship with Uzbekistan.

Despite the lack of any substantive progress in the Uzbek government’s human rights record, the EU has gradually eased the sanctions in recent years. After lifting the suspension of the PCA in 2006 and ending the visa ban in October 2008, the arms embargo remained the only sanction in place against Uzbekistan.

“The EU’s decision to end all sanctions against Uzbekistan is a grave mistake,” said Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House’s executive director. “Uzbekistan has not made any credible efforts to reverse its brutal and sustained repression of civil society, including independent journalists and political dissidents, and the EU’s claim of progress in those areas is unconvincing at best.”

“Instead,” she added, “we call on the EU to take its own declarations on human rights seriously and to uphold them in its dealings with governments that are repeat violators of human rights.”

The ministers who announced the lifting of the embargo on October 27 called their decision a means to “encourage the Uzbek authorities to take further substantive steps to improve the rule of law and the human rights situation on the ground.” Uzbek government representatives have been taking part in structured human rights talks with the EU and the government has recently signed international conventions on child labor and has released a number of human rights defenders from jail.

Freedom House has noted, however, that the situation has not improved in Uzbekistan over the last year, and has cited a number of specific cases highlighting the government’s continuing abuse of basic human rights. At least eight human rights activists and opposition members remain in Uzbek prisons.

Uzbekistan is ranked Not Free in the 2009 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in the 2009 version of Freedom of the Press. In 2009, Freedom House included Uzbekistan in its list of the most repressive regimes, along with North Korea, Burma and Turkmenistan.      

For more information on Uzbekistan, visit:
 
Freedom in the World 2008: Uzbekistan
Freedom of the Press 2008: Uzbekistan
Nations in Transit 2009: Uzbekistan

Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Uzbekistan since 1990.

 

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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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