On Oct. 3, the European Union voted to impose arms sanctions and other restrictions on Uzbekistan. The sanctions include a ban on the sale or transfer to Uzbekistan of arms, military equipment, or any other equipment that might be used for internal repression.
The EU expressed concern about Uzbekistan’s human rights record, particularly the government’s violent response to a protest in May in which Uzbek government forces opened fire on a group of protestors in the town of Andijon. The government has denied wrongdoing, asserting that it acted in self-defense against armed Islamic extremists and killed fewer than 200 people. However, other groups and witnesses have placed the death toll much higher and asserted that most of those killed were unarmed. The incident has yet to be subjected to closer official scrutiny, as Uzbekistan has so far resisted calls for an international inquiry.
In addition to preventing arms transfers, the EU’s move cancels all official EU/Uzbek meetings and prevents Uzbek officials associated with the shootings in Andijon from entering any of the EU’s 25 member states. The restrictions are scheduled to last for an initial period of a year, with the possibility of extension if Uzbekistan continues to block an investigation.
Uzbekistan’s relations with the United States are more complex. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, Uzbekistan allied itself with Washington’s war on terrorism and offered the United States the use of the Karshi-Khanabad airbase for operations in Afghanistan. However, this summer the Uzbek government demanded that the United States vacate the base by the end of the year. On Oct. 6, the Senate voted to block a $23 million payment for the use of the base.
So far, the United States has not stated whether it will impose measures similar to those of the EU. In an Oct. 6 interview with Radio Free Europe, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried said, “There’s a lot of concern…in the United States about the direction [Uzbek President Islam] Karimov is leading Uzbekistan, leading his country. That is, the Uzbeks need to think about this, and we will see what they do. I don’t want to speculate about what we will do in response to their actions because they haven’t taken them yet.”
However, the effectiveness of Western arms sanctions on the Uzbek government is unclear. The Uzbek military and state police forces are predominantly equipped with Russian- and Chinese-made equipment, and neither country has given any indication that it intends to levy sanctions on Uzbekistan.