Amnesty International today (24 January) urged José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, who will receive a visit on 24 January by President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, to make human rights central to their discussions.
Nicolas Beger, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office, said:
“Every day in Uzbekistan, people are harassed, tortured, beaten up or imprisoned simply for speaking out.
“No matter how important trade relations might seem, the EU can’t turn a blind eye to gross human rights abuses.”
Human rights defenders and independent journalists in Uzbekistan are subjected to continuous harassment, beatings and detention without fair trial. One such human rights defender is Isroil Kholdorov, sentenced to six years imprisonment in February 2007, following the peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and association.
Amnesty International has frequently criticised the EU’s weakness towards Uzbekistan on human rights, including its decision to lift its sanctions imposed in response to the mass killings by security forces in Andizhan in May 2005. In October that year the EU called for an independent, international investigation. However, the EU has now lifted all sanctions, without any investigation having taken place. As a result, the Uzbekistani Government has said it considers the whole issue to be closed. “You simply can’t trade away the truth about the Andizhan killings”, said Beger. “Mr Barroso, by agreeing to this meeting, has contributed to increased pressure by security forces on Uzbek human rights defenders, their families and those in exile.”
Amnesty International is encouraging the EU to set up an on-the-ground diplomatic presence in Uzbekistan, providing it ensures its staff includes an experienced full-time human rights officer, since international organisations are not allowed into the country to monitor the human rights situation.