Chairwoman Hautala opened a seminar “Uzbekistan 5 years after Andijan massacre” on 4th May at the European Parliament.[:]
Seminar to mark the 5th Anniversary of the Andijan Massacre in Uzbekistan was chaired by Heidi Hautala MEP and Niccolo Rinaldi MEP and jointly organised by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Andijan For Justice and Rebirth, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, International Federation for Human Rights, Front Line, International Crisis Group, Open Society Institute, Press Now, Uzbekistan Initiative-London and Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights.
Heidi Hautala opened the debate and delivered the following statement;
Dear colleagues, I am glad to have today the opportunity to open this seminar to mark the 5th Anniversary of the Andijan Massacre in Uzbekistan and speak to you on behalf of the European Parliament’s subcommittee on human rights of which I am the chairperson.
Last week I co-chaired with the European Parliament Central Asia Delegation an exhange of views with the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan, Mr. Islamov Bakhtiyor Anvarovich. He assured me that Uzbekistan makes efforts to ensure human rights for Uzbek citizens but agreed that further action is needed in this area. I feel strongly that we must continue this dialogue.
The already dire human rights situation has again deteriorated during the last year. Especially the situation of Human Rights Defenders remains difficult. They suffer from widespread torture, harassment and mistreatment and by large their perpetrators enjoy of full impunity. I fully support the calls of the NGOs that EU should increase the pressure on the Uzbek government to grant exit visas for the human rights defenders.
I would like to note here that my focus on these issues in Uzbekistan is not the case of EU just telling others how to conduct their affairs. The European Union has a history of striving to do better for its own citizens and most notable, only four months ago moved another big step forward in making the EU a better place with regards to human rights. The Lisbon treaty now legally obliges the European Union “to constitute an area of freedom, security and justice with respect for fundamental rights”. Moreover, the European Union has started to make arrangements to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights and the EU’s fundamental rights agency founded in 2007 is now up and running. These measures all work to guarantee better protection for the people inside, and even outside, EU.
While the Union is constantly seeking to upgrade its own performance, the EU must expect its political partners like Uzbekistan to do the same.
Dear colleagues, as we gather here, the accountability for the 2005 Andijan massacre remains elusive. The government still refuses to openly explain the circumstances that led to the massacre, investigate the events and bring to justice those responsible.
More worryingly, there are fears that the government is rather doing the opposite. Voices have been silenced while the true recourse of the violent events have been entirely denied. In fact, people have survived to tell stories of crackdown and persecution in Andijan, following the massacre. Families of the victims bear testimony to this, they have been hunted down from other countries where they fled and persecuted if they returned. Moreover, I have learned of hundreds of people who have been tried behind closed doors in 2005 and 2006 and who are now serving many years sentences. Persecution has created steady flow of refugees from Andijan.
I must concede here that EU has failed to take the multiple of opportunities available to raise the matter with the Uzbek authorities. My office raised this with the Uzbekistan delegation to EU, to not much avail but it was our principled decision to do so. I will continue to raise this with the officials also in the future.
In this context it is crucial to discuss the dismal human rights situation in the country in more detail because the abuses that the families still face, is closely related to that.
The persecution that continues to dominate the atmosphere in the Andijan, the threats to life and arbitrary and inhumane interrogations, would undermine any system for human rights protection in any country. These very crimes pierce also the rest of the human rights landscape in the country while in the wider picture includes also the political imprisonments, crackdown on civil society and harassment of journalists.
The problems are grave and manifold and so they should be acknowledged by the EU. Not only has the EU remained silent in the face of disrespect for the fundamental rights but quietly acquiesced in that maintaining the unprincipled relationship on trade comes at the cost of non-criticism. The decision by the EU Foreign Ministers to lift the arms embargo on 27 October last year was nothing short of a great disappointment against this backdrop.
The EU has failed to live according to its principles and as I have noted before in relation to different countries, if we do not live according to our principles we do not have any.
In my work we need to look forward, though. Next EU-Uzbekistan discussion on Human Rights takes place tomorrow, on 5 May in Brussels.
Now, that the EU is governed by the new legal obligations upholding the respect for human rights and about to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights, I remind my colleagues at the negotiating table that respect for human rights is no longer discretionary.
The EU must demand that the Uzbek government to ensure accountability for the Andijan massacre and cease harassment and other abuses of returned refugees and families of refugees who remain abroad. It should also press the authorities to release all human rights defenders and other activists, representatives of the political opposition, journalists who are imprisoned on politically motivated grounds. Moreover, the EU should demand release of human rights defenders Yuldash Rasulov, Habibulla Akpulatov, Solijon Abdurakhmanov, Akzam Turgunov Nosim Isakov, Alisher Karamatov, Norboi Kholjigitov, Rasul Khudainasarov, Jamshid Karimov, Ganihon Mamatkhanov, Farkhad Mukhtarov, Dilmurod Saidov and, Azam Formonov, just to name a few. In this context it is of utmost importance that the EU insist on ending the widespread torture and related impunity. Uzbekistan must implement the recommendations of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Committee Against Torture. Moreover, the EU must insist on that the authorities put a stop to the crackdown on civil society and issue visas for members of international organizations.
To conclude I note that Uzbekistan has agreed to pursue numerous reforms in the Universal Periodic Review procedure of the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2009. This is an excellent starting point. The European Union and the Subcommittee on Human Rights continue to support such courageous steps both politically and through our assistance programmes. Dear representatives of the civil society and the NGOs, your assistance in this effort remains, as ever, invaluable.