By: Anna Malinovskaya
Turkmenistan, a post-Soviet state in Central Asia, has appeared in the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International news recently. Information on human rights in Turkmenistan is scarce, because the country is known to impose severe limits on international human rights monitoring. According to Amnesty International, the authorities have denied international non-governmental human rights organizations requests to visit the country, including the Amnesty International own repeated requests. But some progress has been achieved recently.
The Human Rights Watch reports that in March 2012, the Human Rights Committee, a UN monitoring body consisting of 18 independent experts, scrutinized Turkmenistan’s rights record as part of its mandate to review governments’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It notes that although Turkmenistan has been a party to the Covenant since 1997, it only submitted its initial report to the committee in 2010. So, the review was the committee’s first opportunity to scrutinize the Turkmen government’s record.
The review was held in New York and was organized a direct exchange between the committee and a delegation of Turkmen government officials over two days. The committee announced its observations publicly on March 30, 2012, at the conclusion of its three-week session.
Some of the areas of concern emphasized by the committee are:
- Turkmen government’s longstanding denial of access to the country for independent human rights monitors, including no fewer than 10 UN rapporteurs, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and nongovernmental organizations, through its “refusal to grant entry visas to international human rights organizations.”
- repression of free speech and civil society. According to the committee, the government “systematically does not respect the right to freedom of expression,” “harass[es] and intimidate[s] journalists and human rights defenders,” and “monitors the use of the internet and blocks access to some websites.”
- torture and ill-treatment, specifically “at increased reports of torture and ill-treatment in places of detention, where it is often used to extract confessions from accused persons,” and the government’s denial of access to places of detention to international human rights monitors.
- violation of the right to freedom of movement through 1) restrictions on “the exit and entry into [the country] by certain individuals who are on the list of individuals under State surveillance,” and 2) “the system of mandatory registration at the place of residence, which is a prerequisite for residence, employment, acquisition of real estate and access to health services.”
- the Law on Public Associations, which “severely restricts freedom of association,” forcing associations to “undergo cumbersome administrative processes for registration,” and containing “onerous obligations on associations to report to authorities.”
- the use of child labor in cotton harvesting.
- an overly restrictive law on religious organizations, providing “for the compulsory registration of religious associations and similar entities.”
- criminalization of homosexuality.
- the “alleged use of a forced assimilation policy of ‘Turkmenisation,’ which seriously reduces opportunities for ethnic minorities in the fields of employment, education and political life,” and the “limited access of ethnic minorities to employment in the public sector and in decision-making bodies.”
The meeting in New York and the resulting review may mark a turning point inTurkmenistan’s government attitude to human rights organizations and their work. Although it is not clear whether the government will take any definitive action regarding the review’s findings, the first step has been taken.
Human Rights Watch