Uzbekistan: fresh warning over UK arms loophole that contributed to Andizhan massacre

Dead bodies from the 2005 massacre in Andizhan © DENIS SINYAKOV/AFP/Getty Images
UK Land Rovers played key part in killings of protesters ten years ago after arms export loophole exploited
 
The killing of hundreds of protesters by Uzbekistani security forces in 2005 must be independently investigated and the ongoing persecution of those connected to the unrest must end, Amnesty International said ahead of the tenth anniversary of the mass killings in the city of Andizhan.
 
Uzbekistani troops used UK-manufactured Land Rovers, fitted with rifle clips and other military accessories, to travel to the scene of the massacre on 13 May, and to take cover behind the armoured vehicles as they aimed their guns at unarmed civilians. 
 
In July 2005 a UK government minister confirmed that “the Land Rovers in question were supplied by a Turkish company to the Turkish government, who then gifted the vehicles to the Uzbek government”.  Roughly 70% of the Turkish military Land Rovers were made up of components from the UK-based Land Rover company. The components were not listed as military or dual-use goods, so the UK government had no control over their export and re-export, a fact which arms control campaigners have described as a “gaping loophole” in the UK’s arms exports control system. 
 
Amnesty International UK Arms Control Programme Director Oliver Sprague: 
 
“A decade later this gaping loophole in the UK’s arms control system remains wide open.
 
“We were promised action to ensure that the export of UK components like military vehicle kits would be properly regulated and that they wouldn’t end up in the hands of trigger-happy security forces like those in Uzbekistan.
 
“It’s a disgrace that ten years later the exact same thing could still be happening. There is still nothing to prevent UK weaponry being passed on this way.”
 
In 2008 the UK government said it accepted that “there was a case for tightening controls on the export of non-controlled goods” such as the Land Rover components, but said it would push for this to occur within a European Union-wide framework. However, seven years later this has not been accomplished and no UK government efforts to close the loophole are currently envisaged. 
 
EU response to the massacre and ongoing repression
The EU’s response to the killings was an arms embargo and other targeted sanctions, and a key requirement that the Uzbekistani authorities should properly investigate the killings. However, in 2009 the EU embargo was lifted without mention of the lack of an Andizhan investigation. The US government also called for an investigation into the killings but in 2012 waived restrictions on military aid to Uzbekistan originally imposed in 2004, due in part to the country’s human rights record. This year the military relationship between the two countries strengthened significantly with the implementation of a new five-year plan for military cooperation. 
 
A decade after security forces indiscriminately gunned down mostly peaceful demonstrators, including women and children in Andizhan, scores of men and women have been unlawfully imprisoned or live in fear of prosecution whilst anyone who raises the issue in the country faces harassment or attack. 
 
Amnesty International Europe and Central Asia Director John Dalhuisen said:
 
“It is time to lift the veil of fear and official secrecy that descended on the Andizhan killings even before the blood was dry on the streets. 
 
“Instead of bringing those responsible for these killings to account, the Uzbekistani authorities have relentlessly persecuted those it suspects of involvement in the protests, torturing them, trying them unfairly and imprisoning them unlawfully.
 
“Governments in Europe and the USA have continued to turn a blind eye to this and other appalling human rights abuses in Uzbekistan, seemingly for fear of upsetting a strategic ally. Whilst an independent international investigation into the killings is long overdue, it is not too late to end impunity and ensure justice and reparation for the victims of Andizhan.” 
 
The Uzbekistani government has rejected recommendations by international bodies, including the United Nations Human Rights Council and the UN Committee against Torture, to institute a full and impartial inquiry. At the public examination of Uzbekistan’s human rights record at the UN’s Universal Periodic Review in 2013, the Uzbekistani delegation stated that “the issue [of an international investigation into the events] of Andizhan is closed for us”. No European state mentioned the need for an investigation. 
 

Torture in Uzbekistan

Last month an Amnesty report - Secrets and Lies: forced confessions under torture in Uzbekistan - revealed how torture and other ill-treatment plays a central role in the country’s justice system and the government’s clampdown on any group perceived as a threat to national security. For more on torture in Uzbekistan, go here.

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