The sixth anniversary of the Andijan massacre on May 13 came and went this year with the few attempts to commemorate it inside Uzbekistan suppressed, and Western governments that had once protested it largely silent. The European Union originally called for an independent international investigation into the tragedy as part of its list of sanctions, but these were all dropped in 2009 when the EU normalized relations with Uzbekistan. The United States initially supported the call for an impartial inquiry, but dropped this demand in recent years, although the State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices continues to note the absence of an investigation.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) used the occasion to call on the US and EU to "re-examine their relationships with the Uzbek government in light of its atrocious rights record,” and then went further: Germany had "made no secret about its aversion to the EU sanctions from the outset and actively undermined them," said HRW. As EurasiaNet recently reported, Germany continued to make payments to the Uzbek government for use of the military base in Termez and even increased the amount of the fee. According to a document made public by Germany's Green Party, in 2010 Germany paid €15.9 million (US$22.7 milion) to the Uzbek Finance Ministry, in addition to just over 10 million for "rent of objects" and operation fees. Berlin will continue to pay the additional compensation in coming years that it uses the base, says the document. HRW called this “shocking” because it came with “no strings attached.”
Germany is not just engaging out of pragmatism – the dropping of sanctions and the muted response on human rights issues is a conscious tactic that the leadership believes works. As Michael Emerson, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies, said in an interview with EurasiaNet,, regarding to the EU “hanging on to those very minor sanctions…its utility was diminishing over time." If sanctions don’t work to bring about human rights concessions or reform, so the reasoning goes, why keep them in place? That removing them constitutes an unearned gift doesn’t disturb officials who believe that ultimately they will more readily convince authoritarian governments in Central Asia to change through close collaboration.
The anniversary comes as a key figure in US policy at the time of the Andijan events, then US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has published his memoirs, which include sections about the US debate around the Andijan events. As James Kirchick writes for The Atlantic, Rumsfeld played down the shooting of demonstrators by troops, mocking HRW, who called them “peaceful protestors” and Amnesty International which he said misrepresented the event as a “mass killing of civilians.” By this, Rumsfeld was referencing the fact that a group of businessmen organized a jailbreak for their fellow business associates whom they believed to be wrongfully tried and jailed, and killed guards in the process and took some police hostage. Yet these violent events were indicative of desperation at a justice system that indeed had unfairly singled out these Muslim business people who seemed to pose a competition and a threat to the excessively controlling Uzbek government. And those violent acts cannot distract from the fact that tens of thousands of unarmed civilians did come out into a public square to protest, thinking that officials were going to heed their grievances – but were mowed down by government tanks and guns. By official admission, 187 people were killed, but human rights groups have made estimates of many hundreds more.
At the time, Rumsfeld argued for maintaining the relationship with the Uzbek government – and the lease on the base at Karshi-Khanabad. But interestingly, he was overruled by other US officials; reportedly even Condoleeza Rice, who was usually tilted toward security interests rather than human rights, said, “'Human rights trump security,' at a meeting of the National Security Council, Rumsfeld recalls in his memoirs.
Then-Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said at the time, "We made a clear choice, and that was to stand on the side of human rights” – which ultimately led to the expulsion of the US by Uzbekistan. While Rumsfeld wrote later in his memoirs, that while "the [Uzbek] government's security forces and public affairs officials functioned poorly," "this was not a simple case of soldiers slaughtering innocents” – it was not a position that the State Department took.
In the ensuing six years, refugees from Andijan and human rights groups both inside the country and in exile have continued painfully to assemble the record and bolstering the case for condemning the events as indeed the slaughtering of innocents. Several new reports have come out based on refugee testimonies. The November 2010 report by a refugees’ organization called the Andijan Justice and Revival contains many eye-witness accounts of unarmed men, women, and children, who came to the square and were shot, wounded, and killed. The Paris-based Association for Human Rights in Central Asia also has published survivors’ and refugees’ testimonies, including the account of one detainee who later was sent to work in a morgue. He found that hundreds of cases of violent deaths were covered up, with official removal or falsification of records and even medical workers ordered to stitch up wounds to conceal the real reason of death from the families.
In Tashkent, several human rights leaders tried to hold a commemoration May 13 at the Monument of Courage in Tashkent in memory of the Andijan victims, but police seized them the night before in their homes or whisked them away before they could make it to the planned location. One activist managed to slip away early in the morning and leave a bouquet of flowers by the statue.
Catherine A. Fitzpatrick compiles the Uzbekistan weekly roundup for EurasiaNet. She is also editor of EurasiaNet's Choihona blog. To subscribe to Uzbekistan News Briefs, a weekly digest of international and regional press, write email@example.com