|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Human Rights Committee
2869th & 2870th Meetings (AM & PM)
Turkmenistan Poised to Move Forward with New Laws to Broadly Protect Human Rights,
after Implementing ‘Progressive Changes’, Human Rights Committee Told
Experts Pose Questions on Press Freedom, Right to Assembly, Says Report ‘Stark
Contrast’ with Outside Assessment; Also Conclude Consideration of Yemen’s Report
Following national elections in February, Turkmenistan was poised to move forward with a package of newly implemented laws and legal codes to protect human rights in a broad range of areas, the Human Rights Committee was told as it began its review of that country’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which it acceded in 1997.
“We have implemented progressive changes,” said Yazdursan Gurbannazarova, Director, National Institute of Democracy and Human Rights, who presented the country’s initial report. “People are not perceived as objects but as subjects so their rights could be upheld.”
Turkmenistan was indeed facing a period when it was seeking to change the ideas of development and social progress, she said. That meant the Government had to choose the right way forward and was doing so, while keeping the protection of human rights in mind.
In that vein, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov had already established a commission on improving the country’s Constitution, including strengthening work in democratizing society and laying the foundations for political, social and economic change, she said. Progress had already been made in areas, including the family, political parties, gender, prisoners and children.
New laws had also provided rights to foreign citizens, prisoners, juvenile detainees and patients of psychiatric institutions, she said, highlighting that the use of criminal legislation was in line with international humanitarian law.
All those efforts had a common goal of protecting human rights, she said.
Opening the floor to experts’ observations, the delegation was then peppered with questions on recent reports on human rights violations. One expert noted that Turkmenistan’s report, which was overdue since 1998, had painted a picture that was “in stark contrast” with an outside assessment of the country. Citing a March submission from the international non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch, the expert said the report had called Turkmenistan one of the most repressive countries in the world, where the Government had clamped down on rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.
“People profoundly fear talking about human rights violations,” he said, quoting the report.
Other experts asked for comments on other recent reports of violations, including of press freedoms, illegal detention, incidents of torture, blocking website access and the update on cases of three complainants who had sent communications to the Committee. Other questions centred on the implementation of the Paris Principles, which set out the minimum standards required by national human rights institutions to effectively fulfil their role.
Responding to the latter issue, Ms. Gurbannazarova said the Paris Principles were outside her Institute’s mandate. However, an inter-agency commission was working towards ensuring that Turkmenistan was in compliance with international standards and an ombudsman’s office would be set up, although she had no timetable for that, she said.
Answering a range of questions on violations, as well as press freedoms, Vepa Hadjiyev, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, first said the foreign press in Turkmenistan enjoyed broad freedoms.
Turning to reported violations, he said his delegation’s presence at today’s meeting was proof of his country’s desire to respond to information coming from external sources.
The “contrast” in the reality between his country’s initial report and external reports of human rights violations was not because Turkmenistan was “closed” but because the Government was now undertaking its own information work. By the next meeting, he hoped this issue would be resolved, as there was an increasingly large amount of official information provided to international organizations.
In response to other questions on violations, Ms. Gurbannazarova explained that Committee members should provide specific cases in order to receive specific responses on matters, notably data on exactly what websites were being blocked and the names of lawyers claiming to have been fired and of human rights activists reporting that they had been prosecuted and their rights had been curtailed. Again, if specific cases would be provided, a specific answer would be given, she said.
During the morning session, Committee members concluded their consideration of Yemen’s fifth periodic report. Responding to questions about the situation of minority communities, particularly the Akhdam group, Manaf Hamoud Alsalahi, Director-General, Organizations and International Reports, Ministry of Human Rights of Yemen, told the Committee that, while facing social discrimination, those groups had been the focus of increased reform efforts, with aims to integrate them into development plans and to increase their participation in elections.
Turning to the subject of capital punishment cases and the crimes warranting that punishment, he said a committee had examined the issue and he hoped its recommendations would be reflected in Yemen’s legal and administrative frameworks. The delegation also answered questions on birth registration, illegal detainees and early marriage.
“We are looking forward to a constructive and positive partnership with the international community,” Hooriya Mashhoyr Ahmed, Yemen’s Minister of Human Rights told the Committee in her concluding remarks. “We are looking forward to having profound and genuine reform, concerning the reconstruction of the legislative system and the State as a whole. We are witnessing an active movement in Yemen, and we listen to the young citizens and all citizens and look forward to having the following report for the Committee that would shed light on all the improvements ahead.”
The Committee Chair and expert from South Africa Zonke Zanele Majodina then said Yemen was in transition and she appreciated the Minister’s efforts to engage in a broad dialogue covering a number of issues, including women’s rights, the situation in South Yemen, security sector reform, arbitrary detention and special courts and their role.
“We hope the commitment the new coalition Government has made will continue throughout this transition period,” she said.
The Human Rights Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. Friday, 16 March, to continue its consideration of Turkmenistan’s initial report.
The Human Rights Committee, the 18-member expert body that monitors global implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, continued its 104th session today with continued discussion of the fifth periodic report of Yemen (document CCPR/C/YEM/5). (See Press Release HR/CT/741.)
The Committee was also set to consider the initial report of Turkmenistan (CCPR/C/TKM/1), which contained an article-by-article discussion of the implementation of the Covenant, including on the right to life, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, electoral rights and rights to due process and a fair trial.
MANAF HAMOUD ALSALAHI, Director-General, Organizations and International Reports, Ministry of Human Rights of Yemen, continued to respond to questions posed by experts yesterday.
On the subject of statistics, he said that field had been problematic, due to inadequate services for gathering specific information; for example, in the cases of abusive arrest or torture. There were also no statistics for determining the number of premeditated murders where authorities were implicated. Concerning arrests, lawyers had described civil rights cases that fell under the purview of international human rights laws. There were also attempts to include those laws and relevant instruments in judicial cases, and the Government was in the process of publishing those covenants and instruments in the relevant journals.
Turning to minority communities, particularly the Akhdam community, he said those groups had been discriminated against socially. Further, they had 80 per cent illiteracy and, since they were among the poorest and had a high demographic concentration in shanty towns, lacked access to clean water, education and State services. In addition, children in those communities left school at an early age, he said.
To overcome the situation of discrimination, Yemen had set up programmes and reform efforts, including integrating those communities in development plans to provide, for example, better housing in order to be integrated in Yemeni society. Election participation had been another effort, with citizens taking part in voting. There were 19 activists from those groups that had taken part in the 2006 elections, with some being elected. Those communities also benefited from aid for health, including those with disabilities, microcredit, education and other areas, including the situation of children.
Turning to the requested reduction in capital punishment cases and the crimes warranting that form of punishment, he said a committee had examined the issue and had concurred. He hoped that the recommendations would be reflected in the new legal and administrative frameworks.
Regarding torture, Yemen had taken measures against it, as detailed in a report on compliance with the Convention against Torture and presented in 2008 to the monitoring Committee. That report included recommendations on combating torture. Torture was not defined in Yemeni law, he said, adding that there would be definition to be included in new national legislation. A field visit into prisons and courts had resulted in reports of torture cases and that information was provided in a written answer submitted to the Committee.
On birth registration, Yemen had operated a free programme since 2007 and a computerized system was in progress, with assistance from UNICEF. The programme would be expanded in the coming years. Ten workshops on the subject aimed at raising awareness of the importance of birth registration.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
YUJI IWASAWA, expert from Japan and Committee Vice-Chairperson, said he was very pleased to hear that it was a priority for Yemen to set a minimum age for marriage. He hoped the Government would succeed in doing so. He also was pleased to hear that the new constitution would perhaps include a quota for women’s representation in various posts.
LAZHARI BOUZID, expert from Algeria, said he was pleased with the delegation’s responses, especially on the creation of a human rights commission. He also was pleased that the situation in the south was being studied, and further, that there were no limitations on discussing that issue. On Ministerial Decision 24, he wondered if a timeline had been set for the creation of an inquiry commission and when it would hear victims’ claims of human rights abuse.
MICHAEL O’FLAHERTY, expert from Ireland and Committee Vice-Chairperson, said he was grateful for the Minister’s determination in addressing so many human rights issues. “It is a vast challenge,” he said, adding that it was good to know that the prohibition of same-sex activity had not been exercised in a long time. He asked the Government to take the next step and decriminalize that behaviour. Yemen was one of seven countries that had the death penalty.
HOORIYA MASHHOYR AHMED, Minister of Human Rights of Yemen, said the national commission for women and other national associations had raised the issue of a minimum age for marriage. It was a very important topic. Article 15 of the Civil Code did not punish cases where girls were married at a young age and had suffered emotionally and physically. It gave the rights to the father to decide whether the girl was of an age to have sexual relations. The issue was a priority, but obstacles included the reality that Parliament was currently handling many issues. “We must ensure that this is integrated into our laws”, she said, in order to improve the situation. Some groups in Parliament insisted on “reactionary ideas”, making cultural attitudes a hurdle. Despite that, her Ministry was making every effort to settle the problem and punish perpetrators.
On the quota for women’s representation, she said a quota of 20 per cent had been set, which was a level that could be implemented. Outside of that, she said a conference would be held next week to address women’s representation in the political sphere, reflecting the important role women had played in the “Yemeni Spring”. Decision makers were aware that, without including women in the process, progress would be difficult.
The quota was to be reflected in the constitution, she continued, in order to tackle obstacles posed by fundamentalists, who were working to push women out of the political sphere. If the constitution were to address the issue, that would be most significant. There had been progress. The National Coalition Government was ensuring that women were involved in the ministries. In the past, there had been only one or two female ministers. Today, they represented around 11 per cent of all ministers, a “significant” change.
Regarding the independent human rights entity, she said all civil society organizations were interested in the creation of that body. The Government had brought together civil society, national human rights bodies and non-governmental organizations to discuss the issue.
On the commission of inquiry to investigate human rights claims, she said it was to be a neutral body versed in international humanitarian law. Efforts were under way to determine its mandate and timetable. It had been decided that the commission would require a legal framework to carry out its actions, in part to guarantee that witnesses could access State files. “This is an evolving concept” she said, which had progressed since the “revolution”. Civil society had insisted that it be independent.
The topic of the south was important, she continued, adding that failure to address that issue would give rise to instability. The national dialogue conference would allow for discussing the installation of a federal system in Yemen. Ultimately, representatives of the southern movement would be able to voice their opinions.
On the topic of same-sex activity, she said that topic was addressed by Islamic sharia, the principal source for Yemen’s legislation.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
KRISTER THELIN, expert from Sweden, said the speaker had provided a picture of the current situation, specifically the reality that Yemen was trying to avert a “looming civil war”. Indeed, there were armed conflicts that were occurring in Yemen, giving rise to serious considerations. He supported the delegate’s intent to come to terms with human rights issues and the answers that provided an idea of reforms being undertaken by the Government. Recognizing institution-building as a difficult activity, he understood the challenges Yemen now faced and pointed out that given recent efforts, there had indeed been updates since Yemen’s report was submitted to the Committee.
However, concerns remained, he said. International observers and non-governmental organizations had indicated that the current President did not have control of security forces and the Armed Forces. He asked for clarification on that matter.
He then asked if international independent monitors would be permitted to enter Yemen as the Government was conducting its activities. There was a large number of security services, including the criminal investigation department, the director-general for counter-terrorism, the central service for public security, national security and the Armed Forces, all of which were reportedly under no supervision whatsoever. He asked for the Government’s short-term plan to deal with that issue. Who was exercising the civilian supervision of all those security forces?
Turning to claims of arrests, he said reports in 2011 showed a total of nearly 5,000 illegal arrest and detention cases. He asked what was being done to address the subject of private prisons. Scarce resources and expensive prison operational costs were a reality in many countries. However, reports had cited overcrowding, illegal detention and unsatisfactory conditions in Government prisons. He asked if that was correct and, if it was, what was being done to address those problems. He also asked if long-term prison reform would involve alternative sentencing.
MARGO WATERVAL, expert from Suriname, said information received showed people had been imprisoned for not paying debts. She asked how the Government would deal with those cases.
On the subject of specialized courts, she pointed out that, in 2004, the jurisdiction had been expanded to cover crimes against society, and since then further crimes had been added to its dockets. She noted that many Yemeni lawyers believed those courts were unconstitutional, as they were closed and had not been approved by Parliament.
There were also concerns over the independence and corruption in the judiciary, she said, noting that the Minister of Justice was responsible to appraise the work of judges and could affect their promotion. She asked for details on measures taken to combat corruption and to ensure independence.
Turning to the right to privacy, she said reports had shown that in 2009 the Minister of the Interior had routinely searched homes, and listened and read private communications. She asked for details on the current situation on that matter.
Mr. BOUZID, expert from Algeria, asked if the final reform plan would include sentencing issues that would be codified in the law.
RAFAEL RIVAS POSADA, expert from Colombia, said as Yemen was in the process of change and reform, the report submitted to the Committee did not clearly reflect the current situation. The comments and concerns raised here must be studied in light of what would take place in the future, in order to help rectify the earlier situations that led to violations of human rights. Accordingly, new expectations existed, he said.
On the subject of the freedoms of movement, religion, expression and assembly, he first asked to what extent conversion to a religion other than Islam was permitted by Yemen and regulated by law. He then asked if that matter was governed by a religious norm. Demonstrations of dissatisfaction on the subject had led him to ask if the subject had been criminalized in Yemen. The Committee was also concerned about restrictions on, and targeting of, certain religious groups and sects, including the Shia and Jewish populations.
Regarding military service and conscientious objections to serving, he said there was no information provided on that subject. That freedom was related to the Covenant and States parties must, by that instrument, guarantee there was such a mechanism for an individual to object and face a non-punitive alternative.
Clear constraints and restrictions had been placed on the freedom of movement of foreigners, according to some reports, he said. Similarly, protest movements and the media had faced restrictions, as well. Reports had revealed a special court for journalists, which was a violation of the Covenant’s guarantee of the freedoms of opinion and expression, he said. Certain assemblies and associations had also faced restrictions, and he pointed out that the State party must guarantee freedom of assembly and related concerns in the reforms Yemen had embarked on.
Mr. O’FLAHERTY, expert from Ireland and Committee Vice-Chairperson, asked the delegation for a better sense of how trade unions were controlled and organized. What was the extent to which it was compatible with article 22 of the Covenant, which focuses on freedom of association?
He also asked about corruption and fraudulent voter registration. Would it be fair to say there was an endemic problem of corruption that impacted the Covenant’s implementation? He asked if tackling that perceived problem was a priority for the Ministry.
On issue 39, which referred to dissemination of knowledge of the Covenant, he asked how the Government, in its new phase of governance, could promote a culture of human rights in Yemen. What were the Ministry’s plans in that regard? Was a national human rights plan of action envisioned?
He believed that possibilities for such efforts would be opened by Yemen’s partnership with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which would allow that office to carry out the full range of its functions. It could, indeed, provide capacity-building, as had been mentioned, but that work would only have integrity if it were delivered in a broad programme that monitored the whole human rights situation.
Ms. AHMED pointed out that the alternative to signing treaties, such as the Gulf Cooperation Council convention, would have been civil war. Indeed, there were enclaves, in Abyan, for example, where armed groups, such as Al-Qaida, were active. Some groups had engaged with other groups. There were also problems among tribes. Those kinds of disputes had been resolved through treaties or conventions signed under the auspices of the Gulf Cooperation Council, in an effort to restore order, and ensure monitoring and inspections in towns outside Sana’a. Security forces were doing their utmost to restore order under the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative.
She went on to note that other problems centred on the presence of weapons in Yemen. Some 63 million arms were in circulation, meaning that each Yemeni had access to two or three weapons each. In discussing the implementation of the rule of law, the Government must tackle that issue. “The new coalition Government is facing truly huge challenges”, she asserted, which impacted human rights and people’s daily lives.
Regarding freedom of movement restrictions, she said international observers were in Yemen to monitor implementation of Security Council resolution 2014 (2011), including the United Nations Special Envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar. Reports had been submitted to the Security Council on the implementation of resolution 2014. Moreover, a number of non-governmental organizations — including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International — were in the country and reported regularly. There also was strong cooperation between local and international organizations in following the human rights situation and strengthening local capacities.
The transitional Government did, indeed, control the army, she continued, noting that on 23 March 2011, there had been a split in that body, with one section joining the uprising and the other remaining with the State. “We’re focusing on restructuring the Armed Forces”, she said. The army must obey one State authority. Political parties must tackle that issue before engaging in the national dialogue.
With regard to illegal detentions, she said Yemen had received representatives of detainees, including their lawyers, and set up working groups to address the freedom of expression of those detainees. Several documents had been tabled to achieve that end. Further, the Ministry had decided to release all political detainees and decrees had been issued to ensure that situation was handled. It was also keeping “a very close eye” on the list of individuals accused of criminal acts — those not considered political prisoners. Those people had not yet stood trial and their rights to a lawyer and family visits must be upheld. There had been problems in that regard. Those suspected of terrorism must be held in conditions that respected the law.
Regarding the special courts, she had received information that people had been arrested and placed in special prisons. The Government required information on the location of those prisons. The heads of the courts were not under State authority; they competed with the State authority. There was a rivalry between the two entities.
Turning to the secret prisons, she agreed that their existence posed a huge challenge. Yemen must ensure that the rule of law was in place throughout the territory. Overcrowding in those prisons occurred, she said, because individuals often had not been tried. Others had finished their sentence and been released, but remained in prison because they were in debt. The Government was doing its utmost to handle that issue. The private sector and Ramadan also played a role in that regard. Ramadan was time when many people, through charity, sought to ease the debt burden of prisoners.
Regarding the legal system, she said corruption was among the reasons why the judiciary was not truly independent and must be reformed. That issue was an example of why the separation of Government powers was extremely important. Wire tapping was prohibited, but she pointed out that even developed democratic States had made use of that tactic. Anything that violated citizens’ rights must be abolished.
On other matters, she said the freedom of religion and belief were outlined in the Constitution and that Jewish and Christian minorities enjoyed such freedoms. She contradicted claims that Shiites had not been able to practice freely. Also, “there is no anti-Semitism in our country”, she said, adding that there were 400 Jewish people in the north. Jews were Yemenis. They enjoyed the same rights and were under same obligations as others.
Regarding the army, she said anyone could join the army. Compulsory service had been abolished. Various articles in the Constitution referred to election of parliament or the President, and underscored that a person must have an ethical code. That could be interpreted in many ways. “These are quite flexible texts”, she said. The national legislative reform would allow for examining international texts in that regard.
On the freedom of movement of foreigners, she said issues around their safety and security had arisen. Armed groups that were not under State control had kidnapped foreigners. The State had done its utmost to protect them. Some foreign embassies in Yemen had placed restrictions on their people.
Taking up restrictions on the freedom speech, she said there was a generous margin for the freedom of expression for the media. The Government was working to broaden that space. There were no restrictions on the freedom of assembly. There were more than 11,000 civil society organizations in Yemen. Some might be small, but once established, they must register with the State to ensure their legality. If the Ministry of the Interior upheld that registration, their freedom to carry out activities would be upheld. Some organizations were State-run. “Naturally, we would prefer civil society to be separate and distinct from the State.”
Turning to the electoral list, she said the Ministry was reviewing it. A number of people on the list had deceased, had moved, or did not have the right to vote and now did. A national civil registry for elections must be set up to ensure that each person was assigned a national identity number. Legal measures were being implemented to support such developments.
She agreed on the importance of raising awareness of international instruments, but pointed out that many Yemenis did not even know their own national laws. The Ministry was holding awareness-raising workshops. “People don’t even know there is this international Covenant”, she said, adding that illiteracy — including “legal illiteracy” — must be overcome.
Expert’s Comments and Questions
Mr. THELIN, expert from Sweden, questioned if the State had full control over security forces since the estimated 5,000 illegal detainees out of a total of 11,000 detainees, was a considerable percentage. He suggested non-governmental organizations could work to establish exactly who was being detained. Pointing to articles of the Covenant that related to all detainees, he said it would benefit future reform if the matter of illegal detainees could be resolved in the short-term, with either their release of appearance before a judge.
Ms. AHMED said the number of detainees was not fixed, as some were released and others detained. Certain institutions had not provided exact figures in that regard, she answered.
Mr. BOUZID, expert from Algeria, sought clarification on the matter of journalism and recent events. Al-Ayyam was a newspaper that was affected, with a number of journalists brought to specialized courts. He asked how the Government would deal with journalists in the new era.
Ms. AHMED said Al-Ayyam had indeed stopped publishing for about two years. She had spoken to the editor and Minister of Information with a view to permit the newspaper to publish again. One person was arrested, based on a claim that he used weapons in an incident that killed people. She had suggested to the Minister of Information that the two matters, the arrest of that individual and the newspaper’s right to publish, should be separated.
Freedom should be given to journalists, who should enjoy a wide margin of liberties, she said. She had noticed recently widespread activities of individuals issuing pamphlets expressing varied points of view. While the media would be the focus of reform, she said, the unbiased stances of media were given higher levels of freedoms.
In her concluding remarks, she said the Committee members had enriched the discussion on the report her country had submitted. The thanked them for their comments, saying she would take their suggestions back to Yemen with her.
“We are looking forward to a constructive and positive partnership with the international community,” she said. “We are looking forward to having profound and genuine reform, concerning the reconstruction of the legislative system and the State as a whole. We will take back all of the ideas expressed here. We are witnessing an active movement in Yemen, and we listen to the young citizens and all citizens and look forward to having the following report for the Committee that would shed light on all the improvements ahead.”
In her closing remarks, ZONKE ZANELE MAJODINA, expert from South Africa and Committee Chairperson, said the dialogue had been fruitful. Yemen was in transition and she appreciated the Minister’s efforts to engage in the broad dialogue covering a number of issues, such as women’s rights, the situation in south Yemen, security sector reform, arbitrary detention, special courts and their role, freedom of movement, association and expression, and religious minorities.
“We hope the commitment the new coalition Government has made will continue throughout this transition period,” she said.
The Committee then discussed its working methods, including such topics as the length of follow-up on recommendations and other procedural matters.
Presentation of Turkmenistan’s Report
Turkmenistan’s delegation was made up of Yazdursun Gurbannazarova, Director, National Institute of Democracy and Human Rights, Vepa Hadjiyev, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Aksoltan Atayeva, Ambassador of Turkmenistan to the United Nations.
Presenting the report, Ms. GURBANNAZAROVA said a constructive dialogue with Committee members would help to resolve any current challenges in terms of human rights and freedoms. In introducing her country’s initial report, she said Turkmenistan had a policy of neutrality implemented by her President. In many areas, Turkmenistan was trying to support the “flourishing of its people”.
Turkmenistan was facing a period where it was seeking to change the ideas of development, primarily social progress, and social and economic development. That meant the Government had to choose the right way forward and was doing so, keeping the protection of human rights in mind.
She said the report centred around efforts being made in terms of issues relevant to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The President had already established a commission on improving the country’s Constitution, including strengthening work in democratizing society and laying the foundations for political, social and economic change in the country.
Turkmenistan also sought to defend the rights and freedoms of the individual, including setting up a commission on health in 2007. Everybody had the right to freedom and the right to life was an integral right. Her country had acceded to the second Optional Protocol to the Covenant specifically to eliminate the death penalty, she said, adding that the Constitution was in line with international law and had already abolished the death penalty.
The Constitution also prohibited the restriction of rights and freedoms, including torture or degrading treatment. A person could only be arrested if provisions were enshrined in the law. Laws innately guaranteed human rights for all, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or gender, she said.
Constitutional provisions contained specific rights and freedoms, as well, she said. Legal reform included the adoption of a series of laws to protect individuals, including from judges’ actions, in the Criminal Code and in the Labour Code. The judicial branch was independent of the executive and legislative branches, she said. In addition, the Constitution protected citizens’ rights, including the right to free legal assistance.
A new gender law guaranteed equal rights, she said, noting that her country had also made a commitment to relevant international obligations in that matter. In 2011 through 2012, Turkmenistan also adopted important laws on change and reform, including a Criminal Code, a law on foreign citizens, a Forest Code and a Code on Political Parties.
A new Family Code enshrined the legal basis of State policy to help families by providing conditions for economic viability. Turkmenistan recognized officially registered marriages of men and women aged 18 and older. Child rights were also protected, she said.
New laws also provided rights to foreign citizens, prisoners, juvenile detainees and patients in psychiatric institutions, she said. The use of criminal legislation also was in line with international humanitarian law.
Focusing on the issue of prisoners’ rights, she outlined a range of issues, from child care to legal assistance to accessing information surrounding their incarceration. They also had a right to be treated courteously, and could not be subjected to torture. In addition, prisoners had a right to, among other things, submit complaints to the prisons, courts or international human rights organizations, she said.
Children’s rights were protected as well, including efforts towards the improvement of the juvenile justice system, to bring it in line with international standards. Meetings and round tables were ongoing on the topic. Last May, a forum focused on protecting the rights of the child and the reform of the judicial system in Central Asia.
An inter-agency commission was created to focus on Turkmenistan’s implementation of humanitarian law. Her country now had an action plan that would be implemented through the inter-agency commission.
The Government had implemented many policies after the initial responses were submitted to this Committee, she said. She pointed out that legislation had incorporated positive additions, including changes made to the Code on Social Welfare, with the level of benefits increasing.
A 2001 presidential decree focused on improving the financing of State salaries, pensions and student grants. A project with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees/European Union/United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) aimed to strengthen human rights, train experts and raise awareness. A legal interpretative dictionary was also in the process of being drafted, she said.
All those efforts had a common goal of protecting human rights, she said.
“We have implemented progressive changes,” she said. “People are not perceived as objects, but as subjects so their rights could be upheld.”
The focus on those aims reflected a priority that national unity was important, she said. Recently, the Turkmen people and the international community celebrated the country’s twentieth anniversary as a United Nations Member State. She anticipated a constructive dialogue with Committee members over the coming two days, she concluded.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
Launching the discussion on issues 1-15, Mr. THELIN, expert from Sweden, said one would have perhaps expected the delegation’s composition to have reflected the vast array of issues before the Committee, a point compensated by the seniority of the officials present. Turkmenistan had joined the Covenant and the two Optional Protocols in 1997. The initial report should have been submitted in August 1998. Its submission was just five years short of 20 years late. A number of States were also in arrears in submitting their reports. “Let me assure you, this report is extremely welcome.”
He welcomed that complementary information had been put forward today on legislative developments since the report’s submission, which would allow the Committee to explore those issues more in depth.
Generally, the picture that emerged from the report was “in stark contrast” with outside assessments of Turkmenistan, he said, noting that the Committee relied on submissions from non-governmental organizations in and outside the country. Citing a March submission by Human Rights Watch, he said the group’s report had the “somewhat depressing” headline of: “A country marked by extraordinary levels of repression”. Human Rights Watch had called Turkmenistan among the most repressive countries in the world, where the Government clamped down on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.
“People profoundly fear talking about human rights violations,” he quoted the report as saying, with activists working in extremely dangerous circumstances. The country carried out some of the worst human rights practices — hallmarks of the Soviet era — such as sending into eternal exile those who had fallen out of Government favour. “There is a complete void in media freedoms,” he quoted the report as saying, all of which were controlled by the State. Many websites remained blocked and internet cafes required people to show their passports.
With that, he sought clarification on the extent to which the Covenant had been invoked by Turkmen courts. In her address, Ms. Gurbannazarova had said the Covenant was applicable in domestic courts. Mr. Thelin said he was from a country where that was not the case, and in that sense, Turkmenistan was more advanced than Sweden. But, it was clear from the written replies that the Covenant had never been applied by the domestic courts and he asked why — was it a lack of awareness among lawyers, citizens, judges and other professionals?
He said nine communications had been registered with the Committee, four of which had been disposed of and five were pending. Question 2 had not been responded to in written replies. With three communications, the Committee had found a violation and prescribed a remedy — what had happened to those communications? He had been informed that attorneys were discouraged from dealing with human rights matters.
Next, he asked about steps to strengthen the independence of the National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, in line with the Paris Principles. In its written replies, Turkmenistan had referred to efforts to seek international support from UNDP and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which was commendable. But, he wanted to know when to expect results. “I think you would agree it would be important to have the independence of your institute,” he said. When it came to awareness of the human rights field, the library provided information on human rights instruments. But, he had been told that concluding observations by the Committee against Torture were not to be found in the National Institute. “Please tell me my information is wrong,” he said. He also had been told that, to enter the library, one was obliged to present a passport, which could be perceived as an obstacle for those seeking information on human rights.
On issue 13, juvenile justice, he cited paragraphs 168-178 in Turkmenistan’s written replies, asking how many cases — in percentage terms — there were in which juveniles had not been put into detention, but instead left with their parents. Paragraph 171 stated that the Prosecutor authorized a juvenile’s remand into custody, but he had not seen any reference to an arrested person as having the right to be brought before a judge. The Writ of Habeas Corpus required that provision. He asked how long juveniles were held — on average — before a trial if they were not in the care of a child institution or their parents. Did a minor have the right to legal assistance? Paragraph 178 referred to work with UNICEF to improve the juvenile justice system and he asked when Turkmenistan expected an outcome from that.
GERALD L. NEUMAN, expert from the United States, focused on legislative measures to combat terrorism and how they affected rights contained in the Covenant. The Government’s reply had said nothing about how human rights might be affected. How did the State ensure that activities to combat terrorism did not intrude on those rights, especially non-derogable Covenant rights? How did it ensure that surveillance did not disproportionately interfere with the right to privacy? What did the State do, in terms of extradition, to ensure that individuals were not sent to other States where they risked torture? Were such decisions subject to independent judicial review?
Taking up question 10, relating to the legal framework to prevent torture, he said the question had been asked about inspection of prisons and detention bodies by independent observers. The Committee was interested in “what really happens inside States parties”. The reply did not identify any such independent observer and had given no response regarding inspection requests by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). He concluded that no arrangement of that kind existed, was that right? Were there plans to create an independent body or grant access to the ICRC?
As for question 11, on ill-treatment of detainees, he said there had been many allegations on that front. The response indicated that such treatment would be unlawful. In a State where reports of ill treatment were so frequent, did that not suggest that victims were afraid to complain? It would appear that no one had been prosecuted or investigated for ill treatment of a detainee, was that correct? Did not the findings by external bodies motivate the State to learn about any instances, if people themselves were not complaining?
A question had also been asked about the Covenant’s article 9.3, he said, which required those arrested on criminal charges to be brought before a judge, not merely a prosecutor. The same question had arisen with regard to children and adults. Persons claiming to be unlawfully detained had the right to do so before a court — was there a procedure that allowed for that? There were allegations that family members also had been arrested. If that were to happen, would those innocent family members have remedy in the courts? Was there indeed a practice of arresting family members for acts for which they were not responsible?
Regarding question 12 — on protecting women against violence — he said no one had ever complained about domestic violence. In 2006, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women pointed out that the State appeared unaware of the urgent need to deal with that abuse. When would the State act on its responsibility and extend protection to victims of domestic violence?
Ms. WATERVAL, expert from Suriname, asked about the definitions of discrimination, perhaps in the Constitution. Also, homosexual conduct between consenting men had not been decriminalized. According to the Government’s replies, everyone had access to higher education and civil service. How effective were measures to ensure such access? She also asked for more information on the status of women — not just in the law — and that of minorities.
Turning to question 14 — she had not heard any answers on the issue. A number of people had been convicted in December 2002 and January 2003 for their alleged involvement in an assassination attempt on the President and they were still being held “in communicado”. What State measures had been taken to ensure those people had access to lawyers and families, and to ensure that their whereabouts were known. Who were the people detained?
CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, said he had looked forward to today’s opportunity to engage with Turkmenistan’s delegation, 15 years after the country had signed the Covenant. Labour codes appeared overly protective of women in the labour market. It seemed that children had no fathers and women were only seen as the main caregivers, which perpetuated gender stereotypes. For that reason, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 2006 had expressed concern. He asked if there were plans to revise the Labour Code.
In its written replies, Turkmenistan indicated it was making strides in overcoming gender inequality. What had been the impact of policies on women’s status?
On other matters, he said it was beyond dispute that judiciary independence was of crucial significance to upholding the rule of law, and fundamental rights and freedoms. While Turkmenistan had adhered to that principle, serious questions about the judiciary’s independence had been raised in the 2009 Universal Periodic Review. At that time, questions had been put forward about ensuring greater independence through the creation of a constitutional court and ombudsman. Likewise, the Committee against Torture had expressed “deep concern” at the ineffective functioning of the justice system. Decisions on judge appointments rested with the President.
He shared such concerns and asked about measures taken since those issues had been raised. What had been done to eliminate corruption within the judiciary? Paragraph 499 of Turkmenistan’s report stated that all persons were equal before the court and entitled to due process and a hearing. That statement reflected article 14 of the Covenant, but yet again, the reality on the ground appeared “quite different”. Citing information on violations of the right to fair trial, he recalled that in 2006, three human rights defenders had been arrested. Two of them were serving seven-year sentences. One had died. All three were journalists. They had been charged one month after their arrests. In August 2006, they had been tried briefly and convicted for possession of illegal munitions. Other similar cases had been brought to his attention and he asked for comment.
Mr. BOUZID, expert from Algeria, asked about the matter of the state of emergency, on which Turkmenistan had reported that the law dated to the Soviet-era. He asked if that law had been referred to Parliament and whether the Covenant’s relevant provisions had been taken into account. He also asked about the Constitution’s provision that gave the President the right to declare a state of emergency.
Turning to the right to life, he asked for further details on the Government’s vaccination plan to be undertaken through 2020. He noted that children in remote areas had limited access to such services, especially since the Government had closed many clinics serving those areas.
Responding to the comments made, Ms. GURBANNAZAROVA first described the work done by the Institute of Democracy and Human Rights, which included monitoring the activities of the legislature, ensuring laws were in accordance with international standards, and working on research on developing institutional democracy. The research results were then used by the national legislature. One department worked with citizens and dealt with complaints, which were referred to the appropriate authorities.
She noted that the Paris Principles were outside the Institute’s mandate, but it worked closely with national and regional entities on related issues. The matter of Turkmenistan’s compliance was before the inter-agency commission, she said. An ombudsman’s office would be set up; however, she had no timetable for that. She trusted that the matter would be resolved in the future.
Turning to a question on access to the Institute’s library, she said her office was located beside the Ministry of Justice. The resource centre, opened last May as a joint project with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), was often confused with the library, which was opened in 1996. She said people were using the resource centre and there had been no reported problems of having access to it.
Answering a question on the direct use of the Covenant, she said in order to improve the situation many events had been held with international experts, including forthcoming round tables and seminars.
Her colleague, Mr. HADJIYEV said his delegation’s presence at this Committee was one of the steps Turkmenistan was taking to respond to reports coming from external sources. There was an increasingly large amount of official information provided to international organizations. The “contrast” was not because the country was “closed”, but rather because the Government was undertaking its own information work. By the next meeting, he hoped the issue would be resolved, he said.
On the Paris Principles, he said each mechanism should have the chance to be effective in the future, when put to use. For example, if the work of the Paris Principles was examined a few years ago and now, one could surmise that good conditions had been created in areas governed by international standards.
On the three communications to the Committee from individuals, he responded to each. The first applicant, Faruk Bozbey, had said his rights were not being upheld. However, upon examination of the situation, Mr. Hadjiyev said Mr. Bozbey had received a fair and public trial. All the procedural actions surrounding that case were carried out in strict compliance with the Criminal Code. During the investigation, as a foreigner, he was provided with an interpreter, contrary to the applicant’s claim. He said the applicant was provided with a lawyer, and when in prison he was not subjected to discrimination for religious or other reasons. He said Mr. Bozbey raised allegations of torture as well, but there was no evidence of that.
Expert’s Comments and Questions
Mr. THELIN said he had brought up the issue not to listen to the State Party reargue the case. He said his question was whether or not there was a mechanism to give views, and not to open the case. There was no need to continue to pore over the individual communications.
Mr. HADJIYEV said he was simply explaining the measures taken and attention given by Turkmenistan to indicate, and not just to describe, that the matter was not ignored. Certain measures were taken, he said.
The Ministry for Foreign Affairs was actively involved on working on those cases and information was available on that.
Turning to the foreign media, he said 32 journalists from well-known agencies, including Agence France Presse, Associated Press and others, operated freely. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs held weekly press conferences and exchanges of views on current events in the country. In addition, in the second half of 2011, there were 50 foreign journalists who visited to report on events occurring in Turkmenistan. One and a half years ago, a project with the BBC, had moved into a new phase, with training provided to local journalists.
Turning to religion, he said there were 128 religious organizations, 104 traditional Muslim and groups with other religious beliefs, including those following Christian, Baha’i and Hare Krishna beliefs, in a free manner without discrimination. Noting a recent report concerning the Jehovah’s Witnesses followers, he would be glad to discuss that point.
Ms. GURBANNAZAROVA asked Committee members for specific data on websites being blocked, as there were no restrictions on educational sites. There were some restrictions, such as pornographic sites. However, blocking access to information did not take place.
On reports that human rights activists were prosecuted and their rights were curtailed, she said specific cases would receive specific responses. Responding to reports on lawyers being fired for protecting clients, she said there were five legal personnel that provided assistance to individuals. She had not heard of any incident of any individual lawyer being dismissed on those grounds, nor had she received any complaints from Bar Association members. Again, if specific cases would be provided, a specific answer would be given.
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