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Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights


Singing diplomat

Singing diplomat

On the results of the work of Natalia Drozd as head of the OSCE in Ashgabat

On May 4, at a meeting with Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov, the head of the OSCE Center in Ashgabat, Natalya Drozd, announced that she was completing her mission in this post. In Turkmenistan, she will be remembered as one of the main participants in events with President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, whether it is the Day of the Turkmen melon, planting seedlings or opening a new facility. For five years of work, the diplomat has never criticized the policy of the head of state, but rather even supported it. "Chronicles of Turkmenistan" recalls what Natalya Drozd distinguished herself during her work in one of the most closed and authoritarian countries in the world.

Linguist-diplomat Natalya Drozd is from Belarus. There she graduated from the Minsk State Pedagogical Institute of Foreign Languages, then postgraduate studies at the Belarusian State University (BSU) and defended her Ph.D. thesis at the Faculty of Journalism of Moscow State University on foreign policy and the media.

After working for some time as the deputy dean for work with foreign students of Belarusian State University, she got a job at the Belarusian Foreign Ministry. In 1998, her diplomatic career begins - Drozd became the Ambassador of Belarus to Italy, and a year later, to Malta concurrently. In 2002 she completed her diplomatic mission. She was also the representative of Belarus in the UN Commission on the Status of Women. According to Wikipedia, he speaks English, French, Italian, Serbo-Croatian and Macedonian. From 2005 to 2013, she served as the head of the OSCE mission in Macedonia, then she taught a little at the Faculty of International Relations of the Belarusian State University, and in July 2016 she received the position of head of the OSCE Center in Ashgabat.

Seven troubles, one answer - training the OSCE - is one of the largest international organizations that has the opportunity to directly appeal to the authorities of Turkmenistan and achieve positive changes in the field of human rights. Unfortunately, in recent years, her activities in the country have been reduced to conducting countless trainings - dozens of them a year on a variety of topics, and quite often they are repeated. What international experts did not teach officials, journalists, judges and students: human rights, the fight against corruption, combating money laundering, the fight against terrorism, obtaining economic benefits from labor migration, and even ensuring the security of TAPI. In 2020, the OSCE trained Turkmen border guards on how to reorganize the checkpoint to prevent COVID-19 from entering the country. Dozens of training sessions focused on improving the work of the Turkmen media, the work of which the president is still dissatisfied with. In private conversations, OSCE diplomats, when asked why tougher demands are not being made on the authorities, usually answer that an escalation can lead to the expulsion of an employee from the country, the loss of contacts and, as a result, the inability to conduct a dialogue with the government. Such demarches will not help the inhabitants of the country. In reality, a lot depends on the personality of the ambassador. Perhaps one should not expect revelations, loud statements and ultimatums from a diplomat. His job is to find compromise solutions and maintain contacts. But if a diplomat cannot (due to personal qualities, conditions imposed by the host or head office, or for any other reason) actively oppose the policy of the authorities, then it is quite normal to expect that he, at least, will not actively support the policy. Unfortunately, this cannot be said about Natalia Drozd. She will be remembered in Turkmenistan as a diplomat who did nothing and sometimes helped President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov's hardening authoritarian policies. With a constant smile on her face, she attended all major events and never expressed concern about the actions of the authorities. There was a feeling that, on the contrary, she encouraged them in every possible way. Drozd has always been among the main participants in the holidays held in the country, whether it is the Day of the Turkmen melon or the campaign for planting seedlings.

This is actively used in Turkmenistan to legitimize authorities. Local media portray the participation of representatives of international organizations in numerous ceremonies as a complete support for the policy of the head of state by the international community. And this is against the background of the fact that the OSCE central office criticized the president's policy. For example, in its report on the 2018 Turkmen parliamentary elections, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) noted that “the political environment in Turkmenistan is nominally pluralistic, and despite attempts to demonstrate transparency in the elections, their fairness is questionable.” The report emphasized that the lack of pluralism and independent media in the country deprives voters of access to different points of view. To solve this problem, it was recommended "to create independent media, encourage freedom of speech and ensure public access to information." What did the office of the organization in Turkmenistan do? Conducted a dozen more trainings for the media, after which nothing has changed. In 2018, representatives of international organizations supported the initiatives of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov at a briefing following the results of the first summit of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea in 2018. Then Natalya Drozd said that "the election of Turkmenistan as the chairman of IFAS is evidence of the high assessment of the country's activities to ensure environmental safety in the region." During the coronavirus pandemic, Natalya Drozd also did not refute the information that allegedly no cases of COVID-19 infection were recorded in Turkmenistan. On the contrary, at the briefing of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which was organized for foreign diplomats in April 2020, representatives of international organizations, including the heads of the UN country offices, WHO and OSCE, noted “the effectiveness of the actions implemented in Turkmenistan in the field of health, including the high level of immunization of the population in the country, as well as programs to combat communicable and non-communicable diseases”. The only diplomatic mission that periodically publishes information alternative to the official Ashgabat is the US Embassy. In the same April, it issued a statement in which it noted that “Turkmenistan is not inclined to admit the presence of COVID-19 even if infection is detected.” In addition, the US OSCE Ambassador James S. Gilmore has seriously criticized the work of the OSCE in Turkmenistan following the report of Natalia Drozd in June 2020 at the meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna. In particular, the American diplomat appreciated the efforts of Natalia Drozd to develop the institution of the ombudsman in Turkmenistan, but stressed that "it is important to provide him with political support and independence for the effective performance of his functions." Gilmore recalled that the United States continues to classify Turkmenistan as a country of particular concern in connection with violations of citizens' rights to freedom of religion and called on the OSCE mission in Ashgabat to direct efforts to address this problem. According to him, the OSCE should also intensify its work on the development of civil society and independent media in Turkmenistan. Touching upon the topic of the spread of COVID-19, the diplomat noted that “transparency and reliability of official data are a prerequisite for overcoming the crisis, and the government is responsible for publishing detailed and reliable data.” However, this did not affect the position of Natalia Drozd. Representatives of international organizations also accompany the president on some of his trips. For example, in February 2019, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov showed diplomats the artificial lake "Altyn Asyr". As the state news agency TDH wrote at the time, "representatives of international organizations expressed their gratitude to the president for supporting their projects and fruitful cooperation." Natalya Drozd took part in the opening ceremony by the President on April 15 this year of the Congress Center and the Reception Center and the conference "International cooperation of independent, permanently neutral Turkmenistan in the name of peace and trust." In her speech, the head of the OSCE Center noted the "exceptional timeliness" of the president's initiative to declare 2021 the International Year of Peace and Trust. “The Turkmen side seeks to provide an effective platform for maintaining an equal dialogue and strengthening international cooperation on the burning issues of global development. The OSCE highly appreciates the position of Turkmenistan regarding the strengthening of peace and confidence. And the cooperation between the country and the OSCE is based on the principles of openness and trust, and taking into account the interests of all parties,” - Drozd said.

Order for Neutrality For her loyalty to the President, Natalya Drozd became one of the few diplomats working in Turkmenistan, whom the President awarded in December 2020 with the State Order "Bitaraplyk" ("Neutrality") on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Turkmenistan's permanent neutrality. She received her medal "for her contribution to the development of international relations and the strengthening of cooperation between the OSCE and Turkmenistan." The order was also received by Russian Ambassador to Ashgabat Alexander Blokhin, the same one who, at a press conference last summer, denied the presence of the coronavirus in the country, as well as the lack of food. Two weeks later, in her New Year's greetings, Natalya Drozd noted that "for the OSCE Center in Ashgabat, the main event of the year was the celebration of the 20th anniversary of its activity." And in January of this year, the diplomat held a briefing on the neutrality of Turkmenistan for Turkmen diplomats and teachers of the Institute of International Relations and media representatives. In her speech, she "appreciated" the political, economic and humanitarian aspects of neutrality, contributing to the strengthening of regional and global security and stability.

Lost authority in recent years, the OSCE has squandered its authority among the people of the country, turning into another organization that, in the person of Natalia Drozd, endlessly assents to the president. At a time when the economic crisis began to worsen in Turkmenistan and repressions intensified, the Ashgabat office of the OSCE conducted trainings for cynologists. Request: “On October 1, the news was published on the OSCE website that the Ashgabat representative office of the organization handed over ten service dogs to the Turkmen border troops, which were delivered from Minsk. This post was later removed. Could you clarify why the news was removed from the site? Was the information wrong?

Answer: “Dear Mr. Tukhbatullin, Thank you for your message. In response to your request, we would like to inform you that, indeed, on October 1, an information message was published regarding the transfer of service dogs to the State Border Service (SBS) of Turkmenistan. We would like to confirm that the service dogs were delivered and handed over to the Dog Training Center of the State Border Guard Service. However, due to the fact that the transfer of service dogs is an integral part of the training for dog handlers planned at a later date, it was decided to postpone the publication of this information message until the aforementioned training. Best wishes. OSCE Center in Ashgabat”.

The editors of the "Chronicles of Turkmenistan" tried several times to send questions and requests to the OSCE office in Ashgabat. However, all the responses received can only be characterized by the word “reply.” For example, an appeal to the OSCE with questions about the training in 2017: Request: “The OSCE Center in Ashgabat regularly conducts trainings for local journalists. Recently, a training course was held on the rights and obligations of journalists. Could you answer a few questions on this topic? What do you think about the level of training of Turkmen journalists? In what publications do the journalists present write and do they have the opportunity to apply the acquired knowledge in practice? Does the training lead to any positive changes? Could you give examples? As the OSCE Ambassador in Ashgabat stated, “The OSCE Center in Ashgabat organized this training course to assist the host government in implementing the National Action Plan and to contribute to the promotion of international standards and OSCE commitments in the area of freedom of expression.” There is no independent media in Turkmenistan, does this mean that the OSCE contributes to the success of promoting a single official point of view of the host government? Does this situation comply with OSCE standards and commitments in the field of freedom of expression?”.

Answer: “Dear Mr. Tukhbatullin, Thank you for your letter and interest in the activities of the OSCE Center in Ashgabat. Your letter has been forwarded to the Communications and Media Relations Department for review. We provide you with the following answer to your questions. “The OSCE Center in Ashgabat organizes various events aimed at promoting international standards and OSCE commitments in the field of freedom of the media, as well as improving the professional skills of journalists and communications professionals. The training on the rights and responsibilities of journalists, to which you refer in your email, was organized by the Center to assist in the implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan, which also includes provisions regarding freedom of the media and freedom of expression. The event was intended not only for journalists from the media of Turkmenistan, but also for judges and lawyers, and its purpose was to raise their awareness of international standards regarding freedom of expression, as well as the rights and obligations of journalists. The activity of the Center related to the conduct of such trainings is not to assess the level of professionalism of the participating journalists, but to provide them with the opportunity to exchange the best international practices. Thanks again for your interest."

«Chronicals of Turkmenistan», being unable to send its correspondents to the OSCE training, turned to the organization's office with a request to share at least training material in order to study the course on their own. Unfortunately, without success.

Badescu: But it wasn't always like that. From early 2000 until mid-2004, the OSCE mission in Ashgabat was led by Ambassador Paraschiva Badescu.

She took her duties seriously and responsibly, both in her work with the government of Turkmenistan and with the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) then existing in the country. “Despite the fact that the public worked in accordance with the laws, the secret services still put serious pressure on us. Largely thanks to the support of the OSCE, the ambassadors of the United States, Germany, Great Britain, we could continue to carry out our activities. In particular, with the help of Badescu, the Dashoguz Ecological Club was restored in its rights. It was closed at the initiative of the regional department of the KNB, although the law allowed this to be done only by a court decision,” - recalls Farid Tukhbatullin, head of the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights. The Ambassador also facilitated the release of the human rights activist from detention in April 2003. With the assistance of Paraschiva Badescu, an OSCE delegation visited the country in May 2004, which then prepared a report on human rights violations in Turkmenistan. Two months later, the ambassador was forced to leave Ashgabat. “Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov, without explanation, refused to extend the accreditation of the OSCE Ambassador. The reason for the presidential disgrace lies on the surface: it was with the assistance of Paraschiva Badescu that an OSCE delegation worked in the country for a whole week. The result of this work was an official report on human rights violations in Turkmenistan. Official Ashgabat clearly did not like his conclusions, with all the ensuing consequences,” «Nezavisimaya Gazeta» wrote in July 2004.

With hope for change as it became known, after Natalya Drozd, John S. MacGregor, a Canadian citizen, who previously headed the representative office of an international organization in Uzbekistan, will become the head of the OSCE Center in Ashgabat.

In 2020 he was awarded "The OSCE Gender champion" award for his contribution to the promotion of gender equality. Turkmen human rights activists do not have the opportunity to appeal to the country's authorities directly. Representatives of Turkmenistan do not meet with activists either in the country or during international conferences abroad. The activities of OSCE staff who have the opportunity to communicate with the authorities and influence decision-making related to human rights in Turkmenistan is one of the few existing ways to make progress in this area. In recent years, human rights activists have been deprived of this opportunity. I would like to believe that the new leadership of the office will be more open to contact with representatives of NGOs and will become more insistent in demanding respect for human rights in a dialogue with the authorities of Turkmenistan.


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