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Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights

Turkmenistan

Scepticism Over Human Rights Plan.

Scepticism Over Human Rights Plan.

The Turkmen government has introduced a national human rights programme that looks more like an attempt to improve the country’s image than to improve the situation on the ground.

On September 15, a government interdepartmental human rights commission held its first session in Ashgabat. The commission was set up three weeks ago by presidential decree.

Its head, Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov, has said the commission’s job is to prepare reports on Turkmenistan’s observance of its international human rights obligations, to monitor domestic legislation to ensure it complies with international conventions, and to produce a new National Human Rights Programme.

Turkmenistan has signed up to more than 90 international conventions and accords on human rights since it joined the United Nations in 1992. But the Turkmen authorities have repeatedly come under fire from the UN for ignoring their obligations and failing to submit national reports to the relevant committees. For example, it has not reported to the UN committee on human rights since 1998, on economic, social and cultural rights since 1999, and torture since 2000.

The administration of the late president Saparmurat Niazov, who died in December, did not allow human rights investigators into the country and refused to let the International Committee of the Red Cross and Amnesty International inspect its jails.

In its 2007 World Report published in January, Human Rights Watch said the persecution of human rights activists and independent journalists, the repression of people deemed “enemies of the state”, restrictions on movement, religious persecution, ethnic discrimination and breaches of prisoners’ rights were ongoing.

Tajigul Begmedova, head of the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation, an émigré group based in Bulgaria, says violations of human rights have been “so flagrant that the government had to react somehow”. Since it was not going to dismiss large numbers of officials for human rights abuses, the government has set up this commission to gently acknowledge that there is a problem and to be seen to be addressing it.

“This is part of the government’s policy of promoting Berdymuhammedov abroad as a new type of Turkmen leader,” she said.

An NBCentralAsia analyst in Ashgabat agrees, predicting that the authorities may launch a major international campaign to the effect that human rights are fine in Turkmenistan.

However, he says the real human rights situation is unlikely to improve in the near future. For that to happen, the government would have to demonstrate a genuine will to change, for example abolishing restrictive laws and tearing up the black lists which determine who can or cannot leave the country and where they can get jobs.

“Turkmen towns effectively have a curfew, and anyone who breaks the rules is detained by the police. How can we talk about improving human rights in conditions like these?” he asked.

(NBCentralAsia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region)

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