Turkmenistan’s human rights record up for UN review: NGOs document new decline in freedoms as economic crisis deepens

Happy faces in Turkmenistan at official event to open new UN House. The human rights reality is less cheerful. UN Photo/Amanda Voisard/CC BY

At its session in Geneva this week, the UN Human Rights Committee will review Turkmenistan’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a core human rights treaty. The review takes place against the background of a serious economic downturn and unprecedented pressure on alternative voices in the Central Asian country, whose president was formally re-elected with nearly 98 percent of the vote last month.

In a two-part meeting held on 8-9 March 2017, the Human Rights Committee will examine the second periodic report submitted by Turkmenistan under the ICCPR and take stock of measures taken since the country’s human rights record was first assessed in 2012. Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR) and International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) have prepared an alternative report for the review, highlighting the continued gloomy human rights situation in the country, as well as the further decline in freedoms seen in the context of the economic crisis now facing the country and other recent developments.

“The upcoming review is a rare occasion when Turkmenistan’s government will have to publicly answer questions about its repressive policies,” said Farid Tuhbatullin, TIHR Chair. “Simply quoting legislation, plans and programs will not do, but the government will have to explain its failure to bring about real-life improvements for its citizens,” he continued.

Major concerns detailed in TIHR’s and IPHR’s alternative report for the review include:

  • The lack of independent media, civil society organizations and political movements;
  • Forcible mass mobilization of residents for regime-praising events and a growing personality cult surrounding the current president, who will be able to stay in office for life under the new constitution adopted last year;
  • A new wave of pressure on foreign media correspondents, civil society activists and dissidents in the context of the worsening economic situation, last month’s presidential elections and the upcoming Asian Games that will be held in the country in September 2017;
  • Internet censorship, intimidation of social media users and arbitrary blocking of internet access of known government critics;
  • Blacklisting of inconvenient individuals for travel abroad and police raids against internal migrants;
  • Arbitrary detentions, including of purported Gülen followers and the imprisonment of government critics in secret, unfair and politically motivated trials;
  • The failure to initiate any investigations or court cases under a new Criminal Code provision banning torture, as well as to make known the fate of dozens of disappeared prisoners;
  • The continued lack of access to the country for international human rights monitors;
  • Forcible evictions of residents without due legal safeguards, such as in relation to construction projects carried out ahead of the Asian Games; and
  • The adoption of a new religion law that seriously curtails the practice of religion and ongoing harassment of members of minority religious communities.

The Human Rights Committee’s review of Turkmenistan will feature an interactive dialogue with the government of the country and will conclude with the adoption of a set of conclusions and recommendations, which the government will be expected to implement.

“The Human Rights Committee will provide an independent, authoritative expert assessment of Turkmenistan’s human rights record that its government cannot simply dismiss,” said Brigitte Dufour, IPHR Director. “It is crucial that Turkmenistan’s international partners use this assessment in their engagement with the government and press for implementation of the recommendations set out in it,” she added.

TIHR’s and IPHR’s alternative report to the Human Rights Committee is based on information obtained by TIHR through its monitoring of developments in Turkmenistan with the help of an in-country network of activists, as well as analyzes of national legal instruments and other relevant information. It provides updates to an earlier report submitted by the two organizations prior to the Committee’s adoption of a list of issues for the current review.

On 6 March, TIHR Chair Farid Tuhbatullin and Timur Misrikhanov from Turkmenistan’s Independent Lawyers Association will participate in a civil society briefing held in Geneva, where they will have the opportunity to share additional information about the current situation in their country with the Human Rights Committee.

TIHR’s and IPHR’s alternative report can be downloaded here.

The review of Turkmenistan will be streamed at the UN Web TV site at: http://webtv.un.org/

For more information, please contact:
Farid Tuhbatullin, TIHR Chair, +43-699-1 944 13 27, turkmen.initiative@gmail.com
Brigitte Dufour, IPHR Director, +32-473-36-38-91, brigitte.dufour@iphronline.org