Amnesty International said on Tuesday an EU group led by Germany’s foreign minister should get tough on human rights on a trip this week to central Asia.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his European Union delegation was to hold talks on energy cooperation with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in the Kazakh capital Astana on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Amnesty said it was particularly worried by rights violations in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and urged the EU to send "a strong signal" to them.
"Some Central Asian countries are trying to reform and the EU should encourage these efforts," the human rights group’s EU office said in a statement.
"But others remain caught in a cycle of abuse and ignoring this is turning your back on the citizens of those countries."
Amnesty urged the EU to inquire about prisoners of conscience, including journalists and politicians, and raised concerns about the death penalty in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
A statement from the EU presidency on Friday stressed opportunities for economic and energy cooperation with Central Asia and listed human rights and the promotion of the rule of law among "possible areas of cooperation".
Germany, currently holding the presidency, has rejected rights groups’ concerns it is putting energy interests before human rights in drawing up a strategy for closer EU ties with the region.
Analysts say Germany is pushing for closer engagement with Central Asia because it fears the EU has fallen behind rivals like Russia, China and the United States in competition for the region’s energy resources.
Reuters March 27, 2007