September 20, 2008

EU Sells It's Soul for Gas Pipelines

Human rights are almost completely non-existent in the countries towards which the EU is crawling. Journalists are arrested, tortured and worse, but that doesn't stink enough to slow profits. PEOPLE: WE NEED TO THINK BEYOND THE MERCANTILE MODE!

Human rights take back seat at EU-Central Asia talks


19.09.2008 @ 16:56 CET

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - EU and Central Asian foreign ministers pledged to work together on new gas pipelines and counter-terrorism at a meeting in Paris on Thursday (18 September), with the problem of grave human rights abuses in the region pushed down the agenda.

"We re-affirm the importance of active co-operation in the development of different hydrocarbon transport corridors that aim to ensure a guaranteed and reliable supply for European markets," the ministers' joint statement said.

The EU and the five Central Asian countries - Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan - will in future hold "regular exchanges" on security risks. [my bold] The EU will help combat terrorist financing and offer expertise on how to stop the illegal traffic of people, arms and drugs.

The EU also offered to develop hydro-electric and water management projects to head off confrontation between upstream and downstream countries, such as Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan.

"The expression 'common threats and challenges' may seem audacious, as it covers two vast regions separated by ... six thousand kilometres,"" [my bold] EU foreign relations head Javier Solana said. But energy security, terrorism and drug smuggling "impact our two societies equally and in a direct way." [my bold]

The Paris meeting was in itself a diplomatic coup for the EU's Central Asia policy, launched in June 2007 with the aim of pulling the young, post-Soviet states closer to the West.

The modest package, which sees EU spending of just €100 million a year on all five countries, has had little impact so far. EU plans to open large embassies in the five capitals have stalled, with the blue flag visible only in Astana[capital of], Kazakhstan. Plans to build a major gas pipeline - Nabucco - linking Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan to Europe via Turkey, are also wobbling.

EU states such as Italy, Bulgaria, Hungary and Greece have backed a competing Russian pipeline. The Georgia conflict has made the Nabucco transit route more risky, and the European Commission is sending mixed messages on whether it backs the Nabucco pipe or small-scale, compressed gas alternatives instead.

"We intend to redouble our efforts to develop energy links between the EU and Central Asia through diversified energy transportation routes and new energy infrastructure, including Nabucco," external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in Paris.

Human rights nuisance

EU diplomacy has not been entirely ineffective. Earlier this year, Turkmenistan pledged to supply 10 billion cubic metres of gas a year for EU energy projects and none of the Central Asian countries have joined Russia in recognising Georgia's rebel enclaves as independent states.

But efforts to build relations with the repressive regimes are complicated by obligations to make at least some noise on democracy and human rights, with the values enshrined in the EU's foreign policy charter and monitored by NGOs such as Human Rights Watch (HRW).

"It's unrealistic to expect these countries to become like Europe. None of our [energy] competitors in the region - Russia, China, America - make co-operation conditional on human rights," an EU official said.

The EU has taken an increasingly soft line on values since the launch of the Central Asia package. EU states suspended a visa ban on Uzbek officials for six months and will in October debate scrapping the ban entirely. The EU's special envoy to Central Asia, Pierre Morel, is keen to push through a trade agreement with Turkmenistan desite objections from MEPs.

Salijon Abdurakhmanov

Neither Ms Ferrero-Waldner nor Mr Solana mentioned human rights in their Paris speeches, while the joint text made Central Asia sound like a co-guardian of EU values.

"Driven by a shared commitment to developing and organising our long-term partnership on the basis of ... respect for human rights and the development of the rule of law and democracy," the statement began.

Boiling water

The Paris meeting saw activists from French NGO Reporters Without Borders mount a brief protest inside the Turkmen embassy to demand the release of two journalists.

Annakurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khadjiev have been in jail since 2006. They were arrested with a third reporter, Ogulsapar Muradova, who died in prison, AP reports.

HRW is calling for Uzbekistan to free human rights activist Akzam Turgunov, arrested for bribery, and journalist Salijon Abdurakhmanov, charged with drug smuggling, with 18 other dissidents also stuck in prison.

Mr Turgunov had boiling water poured on his neck during police questioning. "In evaluating Uzbekistan, the EU should demand evidence of real reform, because Turgunov's prosecution shows that nothing has changed," HRW researcher Igor Vorontsov said.


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