This month it is five years since the adoption of the EU Strategy for a new Partnership with Central Asia, which provides a framework for enhanced relations between the EU and the countries of this region. The implementation of the Strategy has resulted in a growing number of high-level meetings between EU and Central Asian officials, new initiatives for cooperation in terms of trade, energy, security and other areas, and efforts aimed at deepening bilateral relations. A new, strengthened EU-Kazakhstan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) is currently being negotiated. A process of adopting a PCA with Turkmenistan has also been re-initiated after being stalled for years during the rule of Turkmenbashi. The EU-Uzbekistan PCA was suspended by the EU as part of sanctions adopted by the EU over the 2005 Andijan events, when Uzbek government forces used indiscriminate force and killed hundreds of participants in a mass protest. However, since these sanctions were gradually eased and finally abolished in 2009, EU-Uzbek relations have “normalised”, as characterised among others by the opening of an EU delegation in this country in early 2012.
The EU Central Asia Strategy identifies human rights as a key element in EU-Central Asia relations and sets out that the EU will step up support for the protection of human rights in the region. However, while the EU has established annual human rights dialogues with the Central Asian governments and addressed human rights in other ways in its interactions with these governments in the past five years, there is broad consensus that the implementation of the human rights dimension of the Strategy has not been as effective as desired, given the lack of overall human rights progress in the region (see more in the next section). This document is meant as a contribution to the discussion on how to reinforce human rights action under the EU Central Asia Strategy and better realise the Strategy’s potential as a tool for strengthening respect for human rights. First, the paper makes a number of general suggestions for how we, the civil society organisations issuing it, believe the EU could improve the effectiveness and impact of its human rights action the region. While many of these points have been raised before and some of them may already have been partially addressed by the EU, we consider that they deserve renewed attention and focus. Second, the paper provides an overview of major human rights challenges that currently exist in three countries of the region (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) and makes recommendations for measures we believe the EU should pursue as objectives and priorities in its human rights policies toward these countries.
Read the full paper. See also separate civil society appeal, signed by more than 40 NGOs, Five Year Anniversary of EU Central Asia Strategy: Placing Human Rights at the Heart of EU Action