Letter to Jean Asselborn, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration of Luxembourg
March 17, 2005
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration
Hôtel Saint Maximin 5, rue Notre-Dame L-2240 Luxembourg
Via facsimile: + 352 22 31 44
Dear Minister Asselborn,
We are a coalition of nongovernmental organizations concerned about the state of human rights in Turkmenistan. We urge you to introduce a resolution at the 61st session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights condemning the Turkmen government’s human rights record. This resolution should recognize that the human rights crisis in the country has worsened to the point that it is necessary to appoint a Special Rapporteur on Turkmenistan.
You are doubtless fully aware of the situation for human rights in Turkmenistan. The extent of Turkmenistan’s non-compliance with the international human rights instruments to which it is party is appalling. There are no free media, and no freedom of expression, assembly or association. No election in Turkmenistan has been free and fair. There are numerous people imprisoned on politically-motivated charges, after grossly unfair trials; often their relatives have been deprived of homes and livelihoods as collective punishment. Torture is widespread, and prison conditions can be deadly. National minorities are subject to blatant discrimination, and religious freedom is curbed. Individuals lose their homes, without adequate compensation, to the president’s grandiose urban remodeling schemes or to gratuitous demolitions.
When judged against global social and economic development goals, Turkmenistan represents an almost unique contemporary case of a country whose leadership is sending it on a backward course. State policies and practices on education (where the curtailing of higher education and the filling of the curriculum with classes devoted to President Niazov’s Rukhnama ideology represent a double blow), on overseas travel and contacts, and on access to information, are consigning Turkmenistan’s entire society to conditions of insularity and ignorance. A presidential order for the widespread closure of public libraries, including all libraries in rural communities, is currently being carried out. In the name of building the Turkmen nation, the government has also banned opera, ballet, circus, the philharmonic orchestra, and non-Turkmen cultural associations. Many members of the intelligentsia have left the country; people from all social strata and particularly from national minority groups are coming to see migration as the only alternative to a future living in such a restricted society cut off from the global community.
The president’s announcement on February 28 that he had ordered the closure of all hospitals outside the capital, if enacted, would be a development so grave in its implications for the suffering of the population at large that its only parallel would be with some of the actions of the most heinous regimes of modern times. As matters currently stand, Turkmenistan is not educating a new generation of doctors. If the past is any indicator, the wealth generated by Turkmenistan’s natural resources is more likely to be spent on grand projects of doubtful public benefit than on public services, leaving much of the population in poverty and deprivation. Under current conditions, public oversight of and accountability for how natural resource revenue is spent in Turkmenistan is inconceivable.
The resolution adopted at last year’s Commission expressed grave concern about many elements of this repression. The General Assembly adopted a resolution at the end of 2004, covering many of the same concerns. This was a very welcome development in the accrual of international criticism, but we would argue that the fact of the recent General Assembly resolution does not obviate the need for Turkmenistan to again come onto the Commission’s agenda this year. Most importantly, the 2004 General Assembly resolution does not take the international community’s position to the next level of action that is now required on Turkmenistan. With no significant positive response by Turkmenistan to the series of resolutions already passed, and developments such as the hospital closure announcement opening up new areas for grave concern, the international community must show that it is now prepared to step up the pressure. Specifically it should take the very concrete step of passing a new resolution at the Commission which authorizes the appointment of a Special Rapporteur.
This Special Rapporteur should be mandated to closely examine the situation of human rights in Turkmenistan. Specifically, the Special Rapporteur should determine what obstacles are preventing the implementation of provisions set out in previous resolutions for full respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms, fair trial, access to detained persons, ending forced displacement, lifting restrictions on civil society, and the submission of reports to all relevant United Nations treaty bodies. The Special Rapporteur should suggest specific steps to be taken by Turkmenistan to overcome or remove those obstacles, as well as to comply with the provisions of the present resolution, and should make a realistic assessment of the scale and impact of steps taken by Turkmenistan to meet elements of previous resolutions. As a necessary step towards achieving these mandated activities, the Special Rapporteur should establish direct contacts with the government and with the people of Turkmenistan.
Further, we ask you to give serious reflection to how the absence of a resolution on Turkmenistan at this year’s Commission on Human Rights will be understood in Turkmenistan. The international community should resist giving in to the frustration and fatigue engendered by Turkmenistan’s intransigence towards the series of resolutions already passed in international fora—to do so would convey to the Turkmen government that its tactic of “facing down” the international community is working. It will also convey to the Turkmenistan authorities that small steps of the kind that Turkmenistan has reportedly signaled it may concede and which only fractionally meet the requirements of previous resolutions, can be traded for a relaxation of public international condemnation. It would be a very grave error to convey to a government such as this that basic obligations can be treated as “negotiables.”
The people of Turkmenistan languish under the rule of one of the most abusive governments in the world, and their situation is worsening. This is not the moment for the Commission on Human Rights to fall silent about this.
We thank you for your attention to our concerns.
Civil Activists for Democracy
Vyacheslav Mamedov, Timur Misrikhanov
Environmental Justice Foundation
Juliette Williams, Director
Human Rights Watch
Rachel Denber, Acting Executive Director, Europe and Central Asia Division
International Helsinki Federation
Aaron Rhodes, Executive Director
International League for Human Rights
Peter Zalmayev, CIS Program Manager
Memorial Human Rights Center
Vitaly Ponomarev, Head of the Central Asia Program
Turkmen Helsinki Foundation
Tadzhigul Begmedova, Chair
Turkmenistan Helsinki Initiative