Tag Archives: Uzbekistan

Turkmenistan and the Nabucco pipeline

Turkmenistan is one of those countries you may just about have heard of in the UK.  It’s in Central Asia, it borders the Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Iran and Afghanistan.  It was ruled until a few years ago by President for life Niyazov (aka Türkmenbaşy).  He has been replaced by former health minister,  Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow.

Human Rights Watch has described Turkmenistan as “one of the most repressive and authoritarian” countries in the world.  Freedom House has included Turkmenistan in their 2009 “Worst of the Worst” list for social and political freedoms alongside Saudi Arabia and North Korea.  There are regular disappearances, reports of torture and harassment of journalist, environmentalist and human rights defenders.  You get the idea; it is a pretty dark place.

Despite this, the EU is going to extraordinary lengths to court Turkmenistan into trading with them. Why…? Gas!

The EU’s flagship energy security project (after deciding they couldn’t trust the Russians anymore) was the Nabucco pipeline.  The pipeline is planned to traverse four countries (Turkey, Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria before terminating in Austria).  It will be over 3,000 km long and is expected to cost around 8 billion Euros (wait and watch as this figure will inevitably rise).  After sorting out some legality this summer, the only issue stopping the project going full-steam ahead is the issue of supply.  Who has gas, and is willing to sell it to the EU.  Iran is an obvious answer, but the US soon put their foot down there.  Iraq looks possible, but the internal fighting between the north and Baghdad may prove to be an issue).  Azerbaijan will almost certainly be providing some but does not have the capacity for much more than a third of the pipelines capacity.  This leaves the EU without many options other than Turkmenistan.

So this is the issue, does the EU provide wealth and fortune to a leader (who keeps his power through natural resource revenues) and secure the EU with another gas supply – this would fulfil their aim of diversifying (partially) their gas supply.  Or do they stand up for the Human Rights, development and democracy issues that they are committed to uphold? Is it possible to do both?

I feel as though it is important to approach this from a pragmatic position, what action by the EU might improve life for the average Joe in Turkmenistan?  We can see that previous attempts to isolate Turkmenistan have not bought about the sort of changes we would like to see.  Indeed, no real improvements (other than on paper) have been observed in Turkmenistan in the last two decades (despite what they would have us believe in their hearing at the UPR).  It would be very easy for the EU to sit on its high horse and criticise the Turkmens human rights record.  This however, would lose our strategic aim of securing their gas supply and secondly would probably make no difference for those who are currently suffering human rights abuses.

I am personally not sure what the answer to this is, but my former colleague Neil Endicott has just published a report (http://www.quaker.org/qcea/energysecurity/The_Nabucco_Gas_Pipeline.pdf) arguing that the EU should engage with Turkmenistan. It should do this he argues, by “seeking to engage the Turkmen government in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), a scheme which addresses resource revenue management issues and provides protected space for independent civil society groups to operate”.

This scheme is still relatively young.  I feel as though it’s a long shot at best.  It is however, by far the most appealing prospect when the other options are to engage and sell out, or to isolate and tacitly accept the human rights situation in Turkmenistan.  I cannot see any other option which is more likely to improve life for the population of Turkmenistan. I think it could be worth a shot.

1 Comment

Filed under Central Asia, EU politics, Human rights

Celebrating Human Rights Day in the centre of Europe

Today, the 10th December, marks International Human Rights Day.  All around the world people have come together to celebrate the anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).  I personally spent part of the day outside of the European Commission alongside Amnesty International highlighting the intrinsic relationship between the EU and human rights.  

Sometimes, it is easy to underestimate the role of the EU in protecting human rights.  It is easy to forget that the EU was founded as a union of principle set up to protect and advance these fundamental rights.  I opened this blog with a comment piece on the EU and Uzbekistan highlighting how the EU can have a detrimental effect on human rights.  Overwhelmingly however we can see that the EU has advanced the adoption of universal human rights through its work. 

The EU pushes human rights on a number of levels, through enlargement, trade agreements, foreign policy, neighbourhood strategies, strategic partnerships and in direct dialogues.  The EU has got a commitment main-streamed throughout nearly all of its work to further human rights.  What we need however, is a renewed commitment to making these commitments a reality.   Too often we can see human rights being sidelined because of other commitments whether it is energy security, trade or defence. 

I have written before that without common values the EU is reduced to a large lumbering block of countries.  It is only through shared values such as human rights that it draws any political strength.  If the EU wants to maintain its position in global affairs it must unite behind these shared values.

For more information on how the EU affects human rights, have a look at:


Leave a comment

Filed under EU politics, Human rights

The EU, principled or pragmatic?

The EU has decided not to renew its arms embargo on Uzbekistan. These sanctions were imposed after the indiscriminate killings in Andizhan in 2005 and were up for review this last week. These sanctions have always been symbolic, as the EU is not a major arms supplier to Uzbekistan. The arms embargo represented the EU’s collective dismay at the human rights violations that have occurred within Uzbekistan that cumulated in the massacres that took place in 2005. On the face of it, it would appear straight faced hypocrisy from the EU to drop this arms embargo despite the Uzbek authorities ignoring the EU’s call for a full investigation into the shootings.

If you look a little deeper however, we stumble across a problem that is symbolic for how the EU can hit a brick wall in certain Central Asian countries when addressing human rights concerns. We can see that despite slapping on sanctions there has been no significant improvement in human rights within the country. So how do we improve the lives of ordinary citizens within Uzbekistan? The current presidency makes an argument to say that it is better to look to the future to try and work in a long term cooperative relationship with Uzbekistan. To kick-start this relationship an act of good faith is needed, on this occasion it is the lifting of an internationally embarrassing arms embargo (or in the case of Turkmenistan agreeing to a lucrative gas pipeline). The EU is committed to promoting human rights in its external relations. Can we believe them when they say there is a human rights dialogue that is happening behind closed doors?

Call me a sceptic, but considering the importance we currently give to the war in Afghanistan, the need for energy security etc…, I find it very hard to believe that the EU will live up to its own standards and prioritise human rights in its external relations. With Uzbekistan holding significant German military bases and bordering Afghanistan we can see its strategic importance. Equally with the discovery of some of the largest gas fields in the world in Turkmenistan we can see the strategic importance of working with Ashgabat.

The sad truth of the matter is that the EU in this case has managed to commit both hypocrisy and yellow-bellied pragmatism. There are a number of member states who were opposed to the dropping of the sanctions but decided not to voice their concerns because of the perceived importance of creating a common position. Not only are certain member states (not to mention any Germanic names) happy to back track on human rights commitments because they see some political opportunities; but other member states (again not mentioning any yellow bellied names) are willing to let them get away with it for the sake of saving face.

In the UK we can see the logical conclusion of politics without ideology with no-one but Giddens still talking about a “third way”. Now, more than ever, we can see the importance of value driven politics. The EU has 27 member states and hundreds of millions of citizens. It is not the size of the EU that makes it such a powerful world player, but it is the values that unite us. If the EU does not represent these common values we simply become a large collective with little power. It is the time for the EU and all its member states to stand up and be counted. It is time for us to condemn the Uzbek’s inability to affectively investigate the Andizhan massacres. It is time for the EU to prioritise it human rights agenda.

Leave a comment

Filed under Central Asia, EU politics, Human rights