As the European Union prepares to review its Central Asia strategy, a leading international human rights watchdog has urged Brussels to demand the five republics improve their human rights records, or face consequences.
In a June 21 statement ahead of an EU meeting on Central Asia policy, Human Rights Watch urged the 27-member organization not to allow geopolitical interests to serve as “an excuse for downplaying the EU’s focus on human rights abuses in the region.”
“Affecting positive change in Central Asia isn’t easy, but being clear about expectations and linking closer engagement to progress is a good place to start,” Veronika Szente Goldston, HRW’s Europe and Central Asia advocacy director, said in a statement. “The EU has resisted doing this so far, but it’s not too late to set things right.”
EU foreign ministers will meet on June 25 to assess its 2007 program, “The EU and Central Asia: Strategy for a New Partnership.”
HRW said the governments of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan “all have distinctly poor human rights records and to various degrees resist meaningful reform.”
The watchdog documented concerns in a report issued on June 20, which singled out all five states for failing to prevent torture in places of confinement, restricting media freedoms and pressuring civil society activists.
Kazakhstan received flak for a “glaring lack of accountability” over allegations of torture following a fatal clash between police and protestors in Zhanaozen last December.
In neighboring Kyrgyzstan, HRW found that political instability and ethnic clashes in 2010 had “disastrous results for human rights.”
Tajikistan was criticized for religious repression and gender-based discrimination.
But the rights watchdog reserved its harshest words for Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which “stand out as particularly closed and repressive, clamping down on independent civil society activism and silencing critics through a combination of threats, harassment, and politically motivated imprisonment.”
The review of the EU’s Central Asia strategy comes as the geostrategic importance of the five states increases with the pullout of NATO troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The five lie on transit routes vital to NATO.
Also, Western states have been regularly accused of ignoring human rights abuses in the region to secure oil and gas interests.