The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development called for promoting cooperation with Turkmenistan in exchange for accelerated political reforms and improved human rights situation in the country. However, NBCentralAsia experts warn that the authorities are unlikely to adequately respond to such calls.
On April 22, in Ashgabat, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development presented its strategy for Turkmenistan for 2010-2013. It includes support to the Turkmen government in enhancing the country’s investment climate through refining the existing legislation.
The level of the bank’s cooperation will depend on the achievement of such targets as political pluralism, reforms of the political system, the improved situation with human rights and freedoms, release of political prisoners, and unlimited access for representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross to places of detention.
The bank intends to constantly monitor the situation in Turkmenistan and submit annual reports to its Boards of Directors.
«A key test of this commitment will be the bank’s - and indeed its shareholders’ - resolve in enforcing this linkage, which requires staying true to the reform demands, and engaging in a genuine effort to ensure they are carried through,» says Veronika Szente Goldston, advocacy director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch.
Opening of the EBRD credit lines in Turkmenistan was launched after in 2008 the West started evincing interest to Ashgabat as a potential participant of the large pipeline project Nabucco, which will transport Turkmen gas to Europe bypassing Russia.
Later, in April 2009, the European Parliament approved the Interim Trade Agreement with Turkmenistan, whose ratification was postponed over eleven years due to the lack of real progress in the country’s human rights record.
In 2009, the EBRD provided a loan of 1.8 million US dollars to the Turkmen private firm Payhas – a large ice cream producer. It was also announced that the bank would invest about 2 million US dollars in the construction of a network of food stores Ak Enar.
Although the European institutions are trying to establish dialogue with the regime and hope for positive changes, in practice this progress is insignificant as the authorities are obviously reluctant to implement democratic reforms, commentators say.
This time, NBCentral Asia analysts express their skepticism that the authorities will promptly respond to the situation.
“The authorities flatly refuse to admit human rights violations,” says Tajigul Begmedova, who heads the Turkmen Helsinki Fund for Human Rights based in Bulgaria.
Turkmenistan is usually put at the bottom of various ratings of international human rights groups and is included in the list of unfree repressive countries together with North Korea and Eritrea.
Despite numerous calls of the international community and declared reforms, the authorities did not release Turkmen political prisoners but continue to prosecute dissidents, ban independent press and registration of non-governmental organizations, with civil activists either leaving the country or working in great secrecy.
“In this situation, it is quite reckless to speak about real prospects for the future cooperation [given the EBRD targets],” says Begmedova.
Annadurdy Khajiyev, a Turkmen economic analyst and dissident based in Europe, warns that by proposing “its targets” the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development can become hostage to its own statements.
“If the official Ashgabat gets displeased with the bank’s critical report, or if [the bank] provides an unsatisfactory assessment of the authorities’ actions, the bank will be shown the door,” adds Khajiev “… the bank will come across this problem and will have to choose – either to hold on to its principles or to concede to Turkmenistan”.
The economist thinks that Turkmenistan will benefit from the cooperation with the EBRD only for the reasons of “prestige on the world arena”.
For example, in 2003 Turkmenistan refused to take the loan of 50 million US dollars offered by the EBRD for the reconstruction of the Ashgabat-Mary road because the authorities did not like the terms of the deal.
“The only thing that bank will be able to do is to occasionally call on Turkmenistan to respect human rights and build democracy. But it is generally known that it is pointless to call on the deaf or blind,” says the commentator.
The article was prepared under the News Briefing Central Asia programme funded by the foundation National Endowment for Democracy.
Institute For War & Peace Reporting