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That "early, meaningful, and regular" human rights dialogue

Human rights groups have recently come forward to ask that the European Union (EU) continue to implement sanctions against Uzbekistan in response to the Andijan Massacre of May 12, 2005.  The EU met on March 5, 2007, to review the sanctions, which have not thus far borne any positive behavioral results.  They called for Uzbekistan to engage in "early, meaningful, and regular" human rights dialogue.  Well, it's a little late for early dialogue; in the past we have had regular, fruitless dialogue; but the meaningful part sounds pretty good.

It is worth remembering that the Andijan Massacre was the Karimov regime's response to a largely peaceful civil disobedience.  Seven area businessmen, inspired by religious teaching that stressed good works as a sign of piety, arranged their businesses to not just make a profit, but also to provide social services to their employees.  The contrast between "the Seven" and local government's provision of social services was very distinct, and prompted official backlash.  The Seven were arrested and tried as Islamic religious extremists.  During the trial, townspeople came in increasing members to stand outside the jail and the courthouse in orderly fashion, to be silent witnesses to a travesty of justice.  As the trial proceeded to its close, it became clear that the Seven were not going to be given any quarter.  A jailbreak was organized; the next day, the protesters were barricaded within the town square by Uzbekistan's military and fired upon from above.  It is alleged that President Karimov himself directed the opening of gunfire.

Andijan TrialThe Andijan trials that started in November of 2005 further affronted the West's sense of justice, as drugged and battered defendants came into court to confess their wrongdoing, stumbled over the words, and were relegated back to the gulag.  At this point, the EU set down targeted sanctions against Uzbekistani officials.  But the trials continue: refugees from the conflict have been extradited or kidnapped to await their turn at Karimov's justice.  Some homesick refugees have voluntarily returned to Uzbekistan, but Uzbekistan no longer has a string of international reporters to document their safe return.

Western outrage toward the Andijan Massacre triggered a comprehensive reciprocal shunning of the West.  EU sanctions were targeted against those implicated in the massacre, but Karimov has essentially turned them into full sanctions.  The Kharsi-Khanabad base was closed to the United States; foreign direct investment inside Uzbekistan was expropriated.  Uzbekistan revoked permits for international media and un-invited organizations for human rights, education, water conservation, and medical services.  The vulnerable members of Uzbekistan's society have therefore been hurt the most, especially domestic journalists and human rights activists, who continue to be arrested.

Realism intrudes on Liberal Humanitarianism
EU members should analyze the results of Uzbekistan's position vis-a vis the West, because it's not good.  China, Russia, and three of the other four Central Asian states now constitute virtually all of Uzbekistan's international diplomatic, economic, and social services community.  Both China and Russia are interested in maintaining their sphere of interest in their Central Asian backyard.  Uzbekistan has modest amounts of oil and gas, in which China in particular has invested.  Whether this is a mere gesture toward cooperation and revenue, or a significant amount for China's Northwest provinces, it allows Uzbekistan to limp along as the client state of two allied powers.  Uzbekistan's central position in the Central Asian region affects the fates of all the other states on its periphery: particularly Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which do not have access to the Caspian Sea, and who rely on Uzbekistan for utility power.  Kazakhstan, sandwiched between Russia, China, and Uzbekistan, is potentially affected by Uzbekistan's inner failure or by patron-client moves.  Therefore, under realist considerations, it is important to have relations with Uzbekistan in order to keep Western influence in the region as a whole.

But Realism, about power, can acknowledge limits
Nevertheless, lifting the sanctions is not conducive to a Realist view. As the October 2006 International Crisis Group (ICG) Report points out, the EU cannot back down on their sanction regime in any way consistent with dealing from a stance of realist strength.  Furthermore, alliance with Uzbekistan can be seen as gravely counterproductive.  As long as Uzbekistan's view of counter-terrorism reinforces Karimov's malicious regime rather than regional safety, its use to the world at large is negligible.

Nor can the EU abandon a stance of liberal compassion.  To re-open relations with Uzbekistan when no improvement has been made only reinforces Karimov's ability to act atrociously with impunity.  The ICG graciously interprets the replacement (and re-replacement) of Andijon's governor as a meager gesture to the West.  More likely, this gesture was made to threaten a still restive Andijan population.  It further warns other provincial governors not to let things get out of hand.

The EU agreed to keep sanctions in place this past week, until they can discuss it more fully on May 5, 2007.  Let's hope they stick with measurable, meaningful criteria, just like they say they are going to do. 

Photo: Kommersant