Questions arise over German role in ending Uzbek sanctions | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 30.10.2009
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Germany

Questions arise over German role in ending Uzbek sanctions

The EU has lifted sanctions it imposed on Uzbekistan after a 2005 massacre. Human rights groups angered by the move are blaming it on Germany's desire to protect economic ties with the autocratic Central Asian regime.

Uzbek and German soldiers at the Termez military base in southern Uzbekistan

Some say Germany was only interested in keeping its Uzbek military base

International human rights organizations have reacted angrily to the news that the EU has lifted its sanctions on Uzbekistan.

They say the atrocities of a 2005 massacre in the city of Andijan, where government troops opened fire on thousands of unarmed protesters, reportedly killing hundreds, have been forgotten too soon.

Andrew Stroehlein, a spokesman for the International Crisis Group, told Deutsche Welle that Germany led the way in lobbying against the prolongation of the sanctions, which include lifting an arms embargo.

He said Berlin was looking to keep its Termez military base in southern Uzbekistan alive by doing away with the embargo, both to supply its troops in northern Afghanistan but also to promote its own political prestige in the region.

Map of Uzbekistan

Termez is right at the Afghan border

"Central Asia is one of the few parts of the world where the other big players in the EU members don't have post-colonial interests," Stroehlein told Deutsche Welle.

"This is one of the areas where Germany has set out to be a leader, so it would be very embarrassing for them to be kicked out."

Dangerous precedent

Stroehlein went on to say that the EU decision also had symbolic ramifications. Brussels' departure from Uzbekistan, he warned, could give a green light to dictators around the world.

"The signal that this sends to other authoritarian regimes around the world is that, if you massacre your own citizens, the European Union will impose some sanctions, but they won't be taken very seriously," he said.

Stroehlein said that if regimes can get the support of at least one of the bloc's 27 member states, sanctions tend to disappear after a few years.

The German foreign ministry has rejected the claims, saying that most EU members were against continuation of the sanctions. It issued a statement to Deutsche Welle saying Germany had the same amount of influence in the decision as any other EU nation.

The ministry added that Berlin would repeat its calls on Uzbekistan to make improvements to civil rights and that it would continue to observe the human rights situation in the country "with care."

"Unproductive" sanctions

Andrea Schmitz, an analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), said the situation in Uzbekistan is more about the failure of the EU, not about Germany's desire to manipulate European diplomacy.

A place for prayers at the site of the Andijan massacre

Human rights groups say the EU move could lead to further bloodshed like that in Andijan

She told Deutsche Welle that Brussels' sanctions against Uzbekistan had proved "sadly ineffective" from the outset.

"Instead of making Uzbekistan comply with international law, the sanctions have turned into an instrument for Uzbekistan to actually set the conditions for cooperation with the European Union," she said.

Schmitz also said that Uzbekistan had made some advancement with regard to civil rights. She mentioned the release of some political prisoners and also the abolition of the death penalty in the country.

However, she remains skeptical that these improvements will hold.

"One problem with the steps taken by Uzbekistan is that the sustainability will not be monitored - because it cannot be monitored. The Uzbeks will not allow the EU to monitor such things," Schmitz said.

Uzbekistan is well known for its poor human rights record. Human rights observers, including Amnesty International and the Council of the Europe, consider Uzbek President Islam Karimov an autocrat with limited regard for the rights of his citizens.

Karimov has led Uzbekistan since it became an independent state after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Author: Gabriel Borrud
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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