A call to suspend Uzbekistan from NATO partnership

Below is the House of Commons debate on Uzbekistan from 1 November. Greg Hands is to be congratulated on tabling the question, with very good follow up from David Drew and Alistair Carmichael.

The point on NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP)is an important one. Last Autumn one hundred and fifty British troops trained in Uzbekistan alongside Uzbek forces whose principle role is the suppression of their own people. To impose an arms embargo while retaining Uzbekistan as a member of NATO PfP is meaningless. I hope we can start a campaign to suspend Uzbekistan from NATO PfP. In the UK, please contact your MP and MEP to this effect using the fax your MP facility on the front of this website. In other NATO members please write to your own representatives, to urge the suspension of this tyrannical regime from NATO PfP.

4. Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): If he will make a statement on the steps that the United Kingdom has taken to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Andijan massacre in Uzbekistan on 13 May. [23244]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Douglas Alexander): We have been at the forefront of efforts to establish what happened in Andijan on 13 May. Our ambassador and his embassy team have visited the area, spoken to eyewitnesses and met NGOs. Our ambassador has spoken repeatedly to the Uzbek Government. We remain as convinced as ever of the need for a credible, external inquiry. That is why, under our presidency, the European Union has adopted a series of new measures against the Uzbek Government, including an arms embargo and a targeted visa ban.

Mr. Hands: I appreciate what the Minister says about the arms embargo, but is it not incongruous that his Government should support the Uzbekistan’s continued membership of the NATO partnership for peace programme?

Mr. Alexander: The NATO partnership for peace process relies not just on the will of one country, the United Kingdom, but on a number of other members of NATO. I respect the hon. Gentleman’s point, but I think that we have taken what opportunities are available to us to register our profound concern at the failure to establish an independent inquiry and to take the practical measures that have been outlined through the European Union.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): It would appear from the various e-mails that the Uzbek embassy kindly sends me that it has already made up its mind about the relative guilt of those who were shot. Is it not about time that the international community took the Uzbek regime much more seriously and tried to do something about it, rather than showing it far too much leniency as it has done in the past?

Mr. Alexander: I assure my hon. Friend that we take extremely seriously both the monitoring of the trial and, more generally, the need for an independent inquiry into the events in Andijan. We have led the international efforts to co-ordinate monitoring of the trial on behalf of the European Union, and we expect verdicts on the 15 defendants in only a few days. I assure my hon. Friend that the matter will continue to be of concern to the British Government.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): Has there not already been a series of independent inquiries, organised by groups such as Human Rights

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Watch and the Institute for War & Peace Reporting? Have they not established that what happened in Andijan was at least as bad as what happened in Tiananmen square? Should we not now seek sanctions against the Uzbek Government, similar to those that were imposed on China after Tiananmen square?

Mr. Alexander: We believe that the Uzbek authorities did use excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate force, but we also believe that the case for an independent inquiry endures.

As for the specific efforts made by the British Government, I have already mentioned the imposition of an arms embargo under the British leadership and presidency, and the visa restrictions imposed on those deemed to have been responsible for the disproportionate use of force in Andijan. All technical meetings have been suspended under the European Union’s partnership and co-operation agreement. We will of course support the reorientation of the Commission’s funding programme for Uzbekistan to promote an increased focus on poverty reduction along with democracy, human rights and civil societies. We have taken action, but the Council of the European Union has not ruled out additional steps if they prove necessary.