EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue: Push for implementation of new benchmarks

© Russel Trow/CC BY 2.0/

The annual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue will take place in Turkmenistan’s capital Ashgabat on 29 March 2019. The dialogue comes shortly after the European Parliament adopted a resolution setting out concrete human rights benchmarks that it expects to see sustainable progress on by Turkmenistan before giving its consent to the EU-Turkmenistan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA). The Parliament has withheld approval of this agreement for years because of human rights concerns. International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR) welcome these important benchmarks and urge the EU to insist on their implementation at the upcoming dialogue.

“The resolution passed by the European Parliament is a milestone in EU-Turkmenistan relations. It makes it clear that closer cooperation, for which the PCA provides, is not possible without real human rights improvements in Turkmenistan,” said Tinatin Tsertsvadze, IPHR’s Advocacy Manager.

The benchmarks set out in the European Parliament resolution include, among others:

  • Ensuring unhindered access to alternative sources of information;
  • Ending the persecution of independent journalists and civil society and human rights activists based in the country and abroad, as well as their family members;
  • Guaranteeing freedom of expression and assemblyand removing restrictions on the registration and functioning of NGOs;
  • Ending arbitrary travel bans and allowing free travel abroad of those prohibited from leaving;
  • Ending secret detentions, enforced disappearances, and torture, and disclosing the fate and whereabouts of disappeared persons; and
  • Allowing visits by UN and other international human rights representatives who have requested visits.

“We call on the EU to use any occasion, including the upcoming Human Rights Dialogue to push for the implementation of the benchmarks endorsed by the European Parliament. The prospect of ratification of the PCA grants the EU leverage to bring about real human rights change in Turkmenistan,” said Farid Tuhbatulin, Head of TIHR.

As highlighted in a briefing paper that TIHR and IPHR have prepared for the Human Rights Dialogue, the human rights situation in Turkmenistan remains fundamentally repressive. While the current economic crisis has had a serious impact on the population, the authorities have sought to cover up its impact by rigidly controlling state media, preventing citizens from accessing foreign sources of information and intimidating those who dare to speak up about socio-economic problems, including journalists, civil society activists and common citizens. The authorities continue forcibly mobilising citizens en masse for public celebrations and days of free labour and arbitrarily bar inconvenient individuals from travelling abroad. An unknown number of people remain imprisoned on politically motivated grounds and the relatives of dozens of individuals who have disappeared within the prison system have not received any information about the fate and well-being of these prisoners for years. Independent human rights groups cannot operate openly and requests of numerous UN human rights experts to visit the country have been pending for years. The authorities have demolished houses and forcibly evicted residents as part of government-initiated construction projects, failing to ensure fair and adequate compensation to all those affected.

Turkmenistan is the only Central Asian country with which the EU does not currently have any bilateral PCA. The draft EU-Turkmenistan PCA was signed in 1998, but has since been pending ratification.

TIHR’s and IPHR’s briefing paper for the EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue can be downloaded here.