Greetings from Turkmenistan 19 March 08 - At Monday’s (March 17) Human Rights Council meeting, members examined, behind closed doors, the thousands of individual complaints inherited from the former Commission. According to a confidential report, Turkmenistan, which has come under heavy criticism, has three months to respond.
Juan Gasparini/Carole Vann/Human Rights Tribune - The Human Rights Council has finally begun to sort out the cases left over from the former Commission which ended in June 2006. Several thousand individual complaints from around the world addressed to the office of the High Commissioner, Louise Arbour, were examined on Monday at closed door session. One confidential report condemns human rights violations in Turkmenistan.
On ending his term as president of the Council in June 2007, Luis Alfonso De Alba tasked five diplomats from Jordan, Italy, Angola, Bosnia Herzegovina and Nicaragua to review the procedure known as 1503. This opaque mechanism allows individuals around the world to lodge complaints directly with the UN. Between 20,000 and 60,000 cases arrive every year in Geneva where they are classified by category. When the number of complaints shows systematic and massive violations and when the accused State fails to cooperate, the Council appoints an expert to investigate. Finally, if the recommendations of the Rapporteur are not followed, the Issue is no longer dealt with behind closed doors and the country is publicly reprimanded.
This is what could happen to Turkmenistan if it does not respond in 3 months. In the secret report, which HRT has seen, the Moroccan expert Halima Warzazi reveals that this large country situateded between the Caspian Sea and Uzbekistan, is conducting appalling repressions on its citizens. This includes arbitrary detention, torture, ethnic cleansing, persecuting and driving the opposition into exile. According to Halima Warzazi the number and the nature of the complaints are sufficient to conclude that the abuse in Turkmenistan is systematic and massive. The violations have also been condemned by Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders.
Next Tuesday (March 25), the Council will examine, also behind closed doors, six other countries: Syria, Botswana, Maldives, Nepal, Spain and Peru. However, the complaints made against them appear not to be sufficient to conclude that there have been systematic and massive violations.
The 1503 procedure, established to allow individuals to have recourse to the UN when they have exhausted all avenues in their native countries, nevertheless has several flaws. In 2007, Iran and Uzbekistan were accused of systematic violations of freedoms yet managed to have the cases against them closed thanks to a network of alliances among the majority in the Council. Turkmenistan apparently does not have enough powerful allies to benefit from this impunity.
Another perverse effect of 1503 is that only countries where civil society is already strong and well organised, risk finding themselves in the dock. Other countries, no matter how repressive, may find ways around this procedure.