Human Rights Committee Notes Turkmenistan’s ‘New Willingness’ to Improve Human Rights Record, but Says Gap Remains between Legal Framework, Implementation
Human Rights Committee Notes Turkmenistan’s ‘New Willingness’ to Improve Human Rights Record, but Says Gap Remains between Legal Framework, Implementation
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Human Rights Committee
2871st & 2872nd Meetings (AM & PM)
Human Rights Committee Notes Turkmenistan’s ‘New Willingness’ to Improve Human
Rights Record, but Says Gap Remains between Legal Framework, Implementation
After Two-Day Discussion on Report, Delegation Says Hoping For ‘Fruitful
Partnership’ with Committee in Working towards Meeting Covenant Obligations
Wrapping up its second day of discussion on the initial report of Turkmenistan, the Human Rights Committee acknowledged that, while the Central Asian country had shown a new willingness to improve its “troubling” human rightsrecord, there was still a broad gap between the legislative framework and its practical implementation, including in the prohibition of torture, degrading treatment, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association.
In her closing remarks, Zonke Zanele Majodina, expert from South Africa and Committee Chairperson, said she was pleased to have had the opportunity to learn the Government had adopted legislation in a number of areas to ensure better compliance with international standards. That Turkmenistan had allowed the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion to visit marked what she hoped would be the start of a long and productive relationship.
There also was much work to be done, she said, notably in developing a legal definition of torture and creating a clear legal framework for the freedom of expression and freedom of movement. Detention conditions had also raised concerns and she hoped the Government would take steps to set up an independent monitoring system. “There are many areas the Government of Turkmenistan needs to improve upon to reach compliance with international standards,” she stressed.
Throughout the day, Committee experts — who are charged with monitoring States’ implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights — engaged the Government on the evolution of its laws and policies in the 15 years since Turkmenistan had acceded to the Covenant. The three-person Turkmen delegation faced a host of questions on everything from child labour laws and provisions to protect minorities to policies on forced displacement and efforts to prohibit same-sex behaviour.
In morning commentary, experts asked about the reach of the criminal code and the Internal Affairs Bodies Act, which authorized the use of force and military technology in some cases. Access to information was another area of interest, with one expert wanting to know if today’s meeting with the Committee was being broadcast to Turkmens “as we speak”. Others pressed the Government to facilitate visas for human rights observers, such as Human Rights Watch, which had not been allowed into the country since 1999. “By cooperating with them, we can set aside all kinds of misunderstandings,” he said.
Responding to those concerns, Yazdursan Gurbannazarova, Director of the National Institute of Democracy and Human Rights, said the law on internal affairs covered standards for firearm use by police. An officer had the right to use physical force and firearms only under that law. Physical force and special force was permitted only through existing legislation. “We regularly have training of police officers with international experts,” she said, adding that Turkmenistan worked with United Nations agencies and other international organizations in that regard.
Regarding public access to today’s meeting, Vepa Hadjiyev, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, said: “We would be delighted to provide open access and information.” Turkmenistan had “a great deal of means” for providing information to its people on what was happening in the international community. Comments were made on various websites and information was readily provided through Turkmenistan’s media and resource centres.
As for issuing visas to human rights groups, he said that cooperation must be on equal footing and constructive in nature. “You do need to understand that work is under way in Turkmenistan. We need to respect the desires, standards and approaches taken by the State in receiving international organizations.” He insisted there was no political undertone regarding the activities of Doctors Without Borders. The Government had also worked with key ministries to impress upon them how important it was that they work with international organizations to bring practices in line with global standards.
Later in the day, questions swirled around the ability to move freely in and outside the country. There had been reports, one expert noted, that residents required identity documents, which limited their ability to buy a house. He asked for details on the system of mandatory registration.
Regarding freedom of movement within the country, Mr. Hadjiyev said that, since 2008, all restrictions on Turkmen citizens had been removed. Citizens could work anywhere. On the issue of residents’ permits and mandatory registration, he said procuring homes required mandatory registration. Publicly owned apartments posed a difficulty. However, there were many privately owned houses and apartments that did not pose a problem and people were openly allowed to buy.
As for the policy of forced resettlement, Mr. Hadjiyev said the criminal code contained provisions applicable to persons who had been sentenced, specifically regarding where they would be sent after sentencing. That location would not necessarily be a prison, but could be a place other than where they had originally lived. According to the Supreme Court, that provision had not been applied since 2007. “This was never applied to national minorities”, he said, who continued to live in their traditional areas in the central province, near the borders of Iran and Uzbekistan.
In closing remarks, Ms. Gurbannazarova pledged that her delegation would closely review all comments made by the Committee and identify measures to bring national standards into line with the country’s Covenant obligations. “The relationship with the United Nations and Turkmenistan is based on mutual benefit,” she said. “This means we can develop a fruitful partnership.”
The Human Rights Committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. on Monday, 19 March, to consider the third report of Guatemala.
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 its second day of discussion of Turkmenistan’s initial report (CCPR/C/TKM/1). The report contained an article-by-article update 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. (For more information, please see Press Release HR/CT/742).
Experts’ Comments and Questions
Sir NIGEL RODLEY, expert from the United Kingdom, asked for details on article 39 of the criminal code on the use of firearms. On police powers, he said last year a new internal affairs bodies act was adopted authorizing the use of physical force and firearms. He wondered if the new act had replaced the police and internal troops act referenced in Turkmenistan’s initial report. He requested detailed information, including the texts, on the use of force and firearms with a view to its compliance with United Nations basic principles and whether those principles had influenced the drafting of that act. He also asked if any part of article 39 could be overwritten in cases of necessity.
KRISTER THELIN, expert from Sweden, said there may have been a misunderstanding during yesterday’s discussion of communications with the Committee. He said it was clear that there had been no implementation of the recommendations coming from the three cases mentioned in the communications. He urged Turkmenistan to proceed with implementing the recommendations, or to put in place a mechanism to do so.
Regarding website blockages, he asked if these Committee sessions, which were being broadcast via webcam, were indeed available now to people in Turkmenistan. He added it was advisable that the Government granted visas to international organizations, including Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders. He asked Turkmenistan to facilitate the issuance of visas for relevant organizations in order to put aside doubts about conditions in Turkmenistan.
On juvenile justice, he said would be glad to receive in writing answers to questions on that matter.
CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from The Netherlands, said he would prefer to hear the delegation’s responses to yesterday’s questions before new questions were asked.
ZONKE ZANELE MAJODINA, expert from South Africa and Committee Chairperson, agreed, suggesting the delegation respond first to the remaining questions.
YAZDURSUN GURBANNAZAROVA, Director of the National Institute of Democracy and Human Rights, took up a question raised yesterday on alternative measures for detaining juveniles, saying she was not able to provide specific figures on punishment. “The idea is not to punish our juveniles, but to correct them and get them back on the right path,” she said. The aim was not to isolate them from their upbringing.
To a question on how long juveniles could be detained, and whether access to a lawyer was guaranteed, she said article 25 of the penal code covered juvenile detention centres. Torture or inhuman treatment was banned. A separate chapter of the code regulated proceedings for juvenile crimes. Detaining juveniles in remand could not exceed six months. Parents or legal guardians must be informed if the length of remand was to be extended.
Moreover, the Government was working with UNICEF on a blueprint for improving juvenile justice, she said, which had been prepared over the last year and a half. It had been proposed for consideration at a January meeting of an interagency committee on international humanitarian law. “I can assure you that this blueprint covers all the standards covered by international organizations,” she said.
To questions raised yesterday by the expert from the United States, on measures to combat terrorism, she said that under the terrorism law - and its 2003, 2009 and 2011 amendments — if a person suspected of planning a terrorist act had helped police prevent a terrorist act, he or she would not be prosecuted. The victim received compensation. The accused person’s rights also were upheld, through the criminal procedural code. That person was entitled to legal defence. There was a review before a person was extradited to another country.
As to a definition of torture, she said the criminal code did not have a direct norm for explaining torture. That was regulated by various “articles”, because the “conditions” outlined in international documents were contained in different articles. International norms must refer to national legislation. Turkmenistan did not have an independent prison inspection body. Rather, the Prosecutor’s office had an office for overseeing the prison system.
Continuing, she said that under the Presidential Decree of 31 March 2010, a commission had been set up that was “on equal footing” with other agencies and was comprised of representatives of non-governmental organizations, unions, democratic parties and local authorities. In 2010, the commission had received 431 complaints from prisoners. In 2011, it had received 391 complaints. Since its creation, more than 11,000 citizens had been released from detention facilities.
Turning to access by human rights organizations, she said Francois Blancy, Deputy Head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Regional Delegation in Central Asia, had visited Turkmenistan on 16 July 2011. While there, he had visited an occupational therapy centre for detainees to learn about the conditions in which people were held. Three days earlier, a meeting between the Internal Affairs Ministry and ICRC had been held to discuss plans for a new women’s prison project. ICRC was to provide services during the construction of that facility.
In the first six months of 2012, the ICRC Regional Office was to carry out a fact-finding mission. In April 2012, a visit was planned to a juvenile correctional facility in one particular region, and in May, the Ministry of Internal Affairs would meet with ICRC to discuss the next steps. A memorandum of understanding had been signed in January by the Ministry and Ives Arnoldi, Chief of the regional office of ICRC in Central Asia, to train specialists, lawyers and diplomats.
In other areas, she said the National Institute of Democracy and Human Rights was working to accede to the Paris Principles. “In terms of torture, we have no cases of that”, she said.
As to whether there was a legal basis or institute to deal with complaints about illegal detention, she said that under the criminal procedure code, the Prosecutor must immediately release those unlawfully arrested, detained, placed in medical establishments or held for a longer time than specified by law. In line with article 144, criminal prosecution authorities must tell the Prosecutor within 24 hours that a person was being held. The total detention period must not exceed 72 hours following arrest.
“It is clear that when there is a legal or unlawful detention, the detainee can make a complaint to the Procurator, or appeal to a special commission that has been set up under the State commission for law enforcement agencies,” she said. The Institute of Democracy and Human Rights also had a body to receive such complaints. Family members of the detainee were not arrested or detained “without a good foundation”. Any detainee could complain to the bodies mentioned.
Turning to domestic violence, she said there were no statistics. That did not mean the Government was not paying attention to that issue. The Government had carried out an awareness raising campaign and related seminars to inform women of their rights. The criminal code stipulated criminal liability for harm done to women and children. Turkmenistan also was working with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on increasing awareness among women of their rights.
Responding to a question on the definition of discrimination in the Constitution, VEPA HADJIYEV, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, said article 5 defined it to be any distinction, exclusion or preference that impaired or nullified the activities of either sex in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field. Under an article of the Social Security Code, discrimination was punishable for any activity that nullified the actions of either sex in the above-mentioned fields.
On the question of whether homosexuality was a crime, it was currently a punishable offense under the Criminal Code, he said. There was no treaty or agreement to which Turkmenistan was party that required the country to legalize homosexuality. Current laws guaranteed equality regardless of language, religion, political beliefs, gender, but not in respect to sexual preference.
Turning to access to prisoners and whether families were informed about “secret” prisons, he said that matter did not apply in Turkmenistan’s prison system. There were foreigners in prisons who had met with family and their consulates’ representative, he said.
AKSOLTAN ATAYEVA, Ambassador of Turkmenistan to the United Nations, responded to a series of questions on education, health and the status of women. Under current laws, every citizen had a right to education, and the State provided access to training for all, elements enshrined in education laws, she said. A national development programme running from 2011 to 2030 focused on education, with, among other things, introducing curriculum standards, modernizing financial aspects and bolstering higher education programmes. “We want to help young people flourish and develop fully and then find a job in the labour market,” she said, adding that a special focus was planed on pre-school and rural area education.
Structural changes in the economy and social arena were also in progress, she said. In terms of education, programmes would focus on legal, economic and teaching issues at all levels. To improve the quality of education, UNICEF assistance had provided funding for national teacher training conferences, with 60,000 participants in 2010 alone. There were now 6,000 students in Turkmenistan and another 20,000 abroad were studying in higher education institutes.
Turning to the issue of women, she said they were represented in the legislature, administration and local councils, and that there were 22 women parliamentarians, including the chair and vice chair. Women also held high-level positions at regional, municipal and district levels. Women primarily worked in the food industry and service sector, and they enjoyed equal rights. A focus on women was made in a national programme on social change for people in rural and urban areas, which would continue through 2020, and an economic development programme runs through 2030.
Turning to improving medical care in rural areas, she said a national rural living conditions programme along with other projects were already in place, including health initiatives, including reproductive health, family planning and tuberculosis control. She concluded by noting that minority women also were present in many professional sectors.
Mr. HADJIYEV addressed a number of questions, including the subjects of the labour code, combating corruption and strengthening the judiciary.
The current labour code was in line with international standards, he said, noting that women and men had equal rights under the Constitution. Violations of equality were subject to legal regulations. At present, Government programmes ensured that women were able look after their families and carry on with their jobs, he said.
The independence of the judiciary was governed by laws and there could be no interference in judges’ work. There were also equal rights and freedoms and equality under the law, he said.
Turning to specific cases, several citizens had been found guilty in August 2006 under an article of the penal code, and sentenced. He said they were fully informed two days after their arrests. He said that one of the citizens, Ogulsapar Muradova, had committed suicide, and an investigation ensued that determined suicide as the cause of death. He said the Council on Human Rights and other international organizations had commented on that matter, and he said the appropriate international bodies had been kept well informed.
Turning to questions on the state of emergency, he said the president had the power to declare it. There was an ongoing review of that law and the law on civil protection, the latter currently being studied by the department of disaster prevention.
On health issues, he said vaccinations were free and mandatory. Rural areas were indeed serviced and the Government was currently rebuilding and replacing old clinics in those areas.
On a question of access to HIV care, the Government was trying to reduce demand for illegal drugs, particularly in view of drug-addicted HIV-positive patients.
Ms. GURBANNAZAROVA addressed a question regarding the law on internal affairs and the police, saying that the law covered standards that regulated firearm use by police. An officer had the right to use physical force and firearms only under the law on internal affairs. “We regularly have training with police officers with international experts,” she said. “Often we work with the United Nations agencies and other international organizations.”
Firearm use was also regulated by the internal troops law, she said. Similar standards and norms were contained in the law on internal affairs agencies as well, she said.
On access to her Institute’s library, which contained, among other things, documents on national reports, international human rights standards and instruments, she said a recent information fair had distributed many relevant documents. The information was always available and accessible for Turkmenistan’s entire population, she said.
Mr. HADJIYEV then addressed the issue of communications made to the Committee by individuals. He said one of the communications was now being considered by an international legal body.
“It was a confirmation that we are not indifferent to the matter,” he said. “ Turkmenistan was listening to all the different messages coming from organizations and our partnerships. Turkmenistan had undergone change. It was not in our interest to hamper that change.”
In terms of access to meetings and sessions, including this meeting, he said he was delighted to provide open access and information. “Turkmenistan had a great deal of means for providing information on what’s going on in the international community to our people,” he said. Comments were made on different websites and that information was readily provided through Turkmenistan’s media and resource centre.
Regarding Human Rights Watch and Doctors Without Borders and the prevention of the issuance of visas to his country, he said any form of cooperation needed to be on an equal footing and constructive in nature. The interests of both parties needed to be kept in mind, he said. Unlike in the past, he said, due to dialogue, now Turkmenistan and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) understood each other. If any international organization wanted a dialogue under mutually understandable conditions, his country was readily available.
Regarding Doctors Without Borders, there were no political aspects regarding their activities in his country. Regarding the issue surrounding reports of tuberculosis, the Government had worked with the World Health Organization (WHO), but were limited by certain factors, he said. Local doctors and Ministry of Health personnel had been involved; however, whenever “personal interests” came into play, a “deadlock” occurred, he said.
“We must not slam the door in these people’s faces,” he said. “What is important is to explain things to each other.” He said after meeting and corresponding with Doctors Without Borders, work had been done with them through the organization’s office in Tashkent. The claim that Doctors Without Borders did not work with Turkmenistan was simply wrong. The Government had also worked with key ministries to impress upon them how important it was that they work with international organizations in order to bring practices in line with international standards.
Experts’ Comments and Questions
LAZHARI BOUZID, expert from Algeria, asked about reports by non-governmental organizations on trafficking in girls from minority ethnic groups. There were 40 minorities. The Government had stated that such reports were untrue. There were claims that girls had ended up in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. Could the delegation provide information on those claims?
Turning to freedom of religion, he said the report explained the legal procedures for ensuring that freedom. He had noticed that the registration requirements were in the form of decrees by the President — why were there no specific laws on these matters or decisions by Parliament? There had been reports that security forces had entered places of worship and destroyed them. He asked for comment on that. Also, some religions had not been registered and he wondered why.
On that point, he said registration of the Catholic Church had occurred after 13 years of that church applying for registration. “There should be freedom of religion,” he said, and all due process should be followed. The delegation had said yesterday that non-registered religions could not practice and he asked for more information. Also, Turkmenistan did not allow religious teaching for children. How did the Government explain that children were not allowed to go on the Hajj pilgrimage? On a final point, he named four Jehovah’s Witnesses who had been imprisoned because of their religious beliefs.
GERALD L. NEUMAN, expert from United States, asked about military conscripts forced by the Government to perform labour in the economic sector. Citing an example, he said a 2006 report by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development on its involvement with Turkmenistan stated that forced labour issues were a concern, as conscripts were being widely used as unpaid labour for hospital and other construction activities. Had that been a practice and if so, did it continue?
He then turned to controls on the importation of religious materials, asking if standard Christian texts, like Bibles, were strictly regulated. If so, what was the justification? In 2008, the Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Religion had said that religious organizations faced challenges in finding or renting facilities where they could hold religious services. The State should not prevent them from acquiring and using places for such services.
CORNELIS FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, focused on the freedom of movement within the territory, and the ability to leave the country, asking for clarity on reports that residents needed identity documents, which limited their ability to buy a house. In practice, there were claims that it was impossible to find employment or buy property elsewhere. He asked for precise details on what the system of mandatory registration entailed and what the implications were.
Also, he cited reports of travel bans against people considered “disloyal” to the Government — members of the political opposition, journalists, religious leaders or students who were not able to freely leave Turkmenistan. Other people had been prevented from leaving the country for reasons of urgent medical treatment. In that context, he named one former Government official who had fallen out of favour.
He had been informed that the 2008 Constitution prohibited dual Russian-Turkmen citizenship. He asked what would happen to people who held two passports when their Turkmen passport expired. Would they be forced to give up their Turkmen nationality? Would they be sent back to the Russian Federation? If they left the country, would they be entitled to re-enter Turkmenistan? He also asked about deportation of foreigners with HIV/AIDS. On the minimum age for marriage, he was pleased that the new family code had set a minimum age of 18 and asked when it would be adopted.
MARGO WATERVAL, expert from Suriname, requested information on measures to end the forced resettlement policy employed as a punishment for certain crimes, which had led to the forcible displacement of ethnic minorities. She also asked about efforts to remove restrictions on the freedom of movement imposed through internal travel documents which disproportionately affected minorities.
She went on to ask about human rights activists seeking to exercise their freedom of movement or expression, requesting information on how surveillance activities complied with the Covenant, in light of the absence of laws regulating such activities. Did the Government plan to enact legislation?
KRISTER THELIN, expert from Sweden, said questions on conscientious objectors had not been answered. The report referred simply to a military code, which did not introduce alternative services. “It was a very incomplete response” and he repeated the request for information on a number of people in prison because they refused military service. As of 9 March 2012, four people were still in Seydi prison serving terms for refusing to perform military service on grounds of conscience: Mahmud Hudaybergenov, Matkarim Aminov, Sunet Japbarov and Dovran Matyakubov. Amnesty International conscientious objector Dovleyet Byashimov had been released on 28 January. Ahmet Hudaybergenov was due to be released on 6 March. Amnesty International had not heard whether that had happened and he requested information on it.
Regarding freedom of movement within the country, Mr. HADJIYEV said that since 2008 all restrictions on Turkmen citizens had been removed. On the issue of residents’ permits and mandatory registration, he said those regulations were not a concern for the private sector, but were required in the public sector. However, there were options, he said, including that an employer could, through the Ministry of Labour, hire specialists from other regions. The regulations were not an obstacle to employment, he said. Further, when workers came from other regions, for construction, for instance, employers provided their names to the local mayor. Citizens could, indeed, work anywhere, he said.
Procuring homes, however, required mandatory registration, and publicly owned apartments posed a difficulty. However, there were many privately-owned houses and apartments that did not pose a problem and people were openly allowed to buy homes.
Regarding the “black list” of some 37,000 students, he firmly said “of course, this list does not exist.” There was, however, a category of individuals who were being investigated, he said, noting that debtors and others were on that list, which was much smaller than 37,000.
Concerning civil activists, he said if those people wanted to leave “the doors are wide open”. On student incidents, he said actions on a certain incident were linked to Kyrgyzstan. With Government assistance, aircraft had been chartered to bring students out of that country.
He said he was currently studying the issue of one individual, about which he had received information by a group of activists two weeks ago. He said no restrictions had been placed on that individual. “I see no problem with him leaving the country,” he said, especially because on numerous occasions that individual had been to the Russian Federation.
In 2003, a protocol was signed banning dual citizenship. The Presidents of the Russian Federation and Turkmenistan had held discussions. The other side had been carrying out procedures for about eleven or twelve years. The internal policy had been in place for that long. However, it was not being appropriately implemented, which was the Russian Federation’s responsibility.
All those issues had been discussed in a 2009 meeting in Ashgabat. Before 2003, citizens with two passports were recognized as having dual citizenship. After 2003, passports were issued according to the appropriate article of the Constitution, and dual citizenship was no longer recognized. However, the Government was not restricting which passport citizens could possess. That was their choice, he said, noting that according to regulations, all Turkmen citizens must exit the country with a valid Turkmen passport.
There was a diplomatic agreement with the Russian Federation for those with passports issued after 2003. A 1993 agreement had been signed for a specific purpose: to provide assistance to people who expressed a desire to live on a permanent basis in the Russian Federation. The purpose of that agreement had now been achieved. Now, it was being used by citizens to privatize their apartments, to go to the Russian Federation for free or for business purposes.
Turkmenistan raised the issue in 2003. There were consultations with the consulate and information was provided to immigration services. A public awareness poster campaign had highlighted the rights and duties of citizens. During the current transition period, the Government was ensuring that the population remained unharmed. Of course, no one wanted to lose their second passport, he said, as they “wanted their cake and to eat it too”. Recently, the number of people granted private Russian visas had risen six-fold, he said.
Regarding the deportation of HIV patients, he explained that, if a foreigner intended to spend three to six months in Turkmenistan, he or she must provide proof of being free of HIV. However, that stipulation did not include tourists. The increasing numbers of foreigners reflected the business and development realities in Turkmenistan.
Turning to the subject of marriage, Ms. GURBANNAZAROVA said a code that had been adopted ensured that the minimum age of marriage was 18, which could only be reduced by one year in certain circumstances.
On human trafficking, Mr. HADJIYEV said that problem affected all nationalities living in Turkmenistan. An act had been adopted on that subject and work had begun to tackle some of the related issues, including statistics, trafficking in people and murder. At the consulate level, information exchanges on, for instance, the names of traffickers, had taken place with countries, including Turkey. A related conference on trafficking had been aimed at raising awareness among young people who were asked to work abroad.
Trafficking had occurred in a number of minority ethnic groups, he said. However, compared to 2006 and 2007, the current social and economic situation of the State, the level of employment and construction projects had produced a trend of falling numbers of people seeking to work abroad. Through state organizations and through, for example, USAID, infrastructure development in that area was being undertaken, he said.
Turning to religious organizations, he said presidential decrees had implemented existing laws. While 500 members were, at one time, required to register an organization, he said minimum membership numbers had now been reduced. There had been no reports that any Jewish or Armenian organization sought registration, he said. On the topic of prohibiting religious meetings, he said there was generally a desire on the Government’s part to resolve any problems.
Reports in 2008 had contained information on certain groups being attacked, but no such reports had subsequently been made, he said, noting that there had been a common prayer meeting at a mosque that had included the Seventh Day Adventists. During Soviet times, there had been two mosques. Now there were 280. After the Soviet collapse, there was little general awareness of religion and any related information had certain consequences, a situation that could be seen in a number of countries in Central Asia. Students active in certain religions had come to Turkmenistan to set up.
Now, classes on the study of Islam were common, he said. The Koran and the Bible were openly allowed to be imported, distributed and translated into Russian. Each year there were 187 people that travelled to Saudi Arabia for the annual Muslim pilgrimage. Private trips there were permitted and the Government of Saudi Arabia openly issued visas.
On the Jehovah’s Witness cases, he said the detainees were not being kept in isolation. He would look into the matter and then provide the information to the Committee. He said the Jehovah’s Witness “cult” had beliefs that were opposed to the views and values of Turkmenistan.
Responding to questions on the media and combating terrorism, Ms. GURBANNAZAROVA said recent activities included this month’s joint BBC project, the creation of a working group involving television and broadcast journalists and last year’s increase in the number of satellite channels. The President had announced there was a need to increase the information flow on events in the country and what was being done to improve the lives of the people in Turkmenistan. In the same vein, she said the State noted in a decree that it was important to have highly qualified staff to work as journalists.
On the next subject, she said teacher and police training on combating terrorism had been held, giving participants an increased awareness of the issues affecting human rights.
Mr. HADJIYEV responded to a number of questions. Regarding the use of military conscripts for work and labour, he said those activities were regulated by Government policies that had been appropriate in the past. At that time, military training had occurred in the same time and place where conscripts were used for different types of labour that had met certain needs, such as agricultural, to provide food for military servicemen, he said.
In 2010, a military doctrine had been adopted. Given Turkmenistan’s statement of neutrality, there was a possibility of further improving the armed forces in order to ensure it was appropriate to address the threats and challenges of the region. He pointed out that his country was in a strategic area, with an 800 kilometre border with Afghanistan and a long border with Iran. Military servicemen in Turkmenistan were only involved in improving preparedness and training, he said.
Regarding religious practice, he said no restrictions were placed on people wearing religious costumes. Turkmenistan was a predominantly Sunni country, but there were no restrictions on others, he said. Regarding statements on notions that individuals could not wear beards, this was clearly not true, he said, nor were the references made to other restrictions. As an example, he said an independent church in Turkmenistan had no restrictions on bringing in religious books into the country. Also, any religious organization registered in the country was entitled to appropriate premises for carrying out their services.
Turning to the policy of forced resettlement, he said the Criminal Code contained provisions applicable to persons who were sentenced, and specifically regarding where they would be sent after sentencing, which would not necessarily be to a prison, but could be to a place other than where they originally lived. According to the Supreme Court, since 2007 that provision had not been applied in Turkmenistan. Earlier, such measures had been implemented, for instance, and an individual could be sent to the north to live. It was never applied to national minorities, who today continued to live in their traditional areas, he said.
Regarding freedom of movement and activists, he said there were laws permitting the monitoring of matters relating to the movement of citizens throughout the country. However, activists had not been hindered in their movements, he said. Concerning the cases of individuals mentioned during the experts’ commentary, he said he would look into those matters and appropriate decisions would be made.
Ms. WATERVAL, expert from Suriname, requested information on how freedom of opinion and expression was guaranteed in law and practice, including all aspects of circulating information in any form. She also wondered about information on the existence of non State-controlled media, and claims of harassment of correspondents of Radio Liberty, or interference with local Russian radio transmissions.
Mr. BOUZID, expert from Algeria, addressed public associations and political parties, commending the fact that a new regulation had been adopted two months ago. According to information he had received, there was reluctance among politicians who were living abroad as refugees to return, since they doubted whether the new law would be applied. He asked the Government for reassurance that a genuine policy was being pursued to apply that law. Since the law’s creation, had several parties been established? Also, there was no law on demonstrations or peaceful assembly. He asked about information he had received about a 50-person demonstration, in which four women had been arrested.
On a related point, he said that, apparently, applications by public associations were being rejected on the grounds that the applications contained unacceptable wording. Would the law be reviewed? He welcomed the presidential decree to ban child labour in agriculture, especially during the cotton harvest, but wondered if it was being carried out. Were there examples of persons who had been prosecuted for hiring children in any particular sector?
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, said the report contained little information on the protection of minorities, which was notable in a country where they comprised 20 per cent of the population. Had efforts been made to improve their access to employment, especially in the public sector? He had heard that many non-ethnic Turkmen had been removed from their jobs.
Also, he asked if forced assimilation policies had been abolished, and further, for a response to claims that use of minority language and enjoyment of minority culture had been restricted. Those concerns had been raised by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Mr. NEUMAN, expert from the United States, explained that he was unclear what it meant when the delegation stated “there are no restrictions”. He did not know if that meant that provisions did not exist, or perhaps that they did exist but were not being applied.
He understood that a law on political parties finally had been enacted, which included requirements that to found a political party, there must be 1,000 members. The law also outlined that the party must be represented in all provinces; that unregistered political parties were unlawful; the names of all members must be reported to the State; that people residing abroad could not be members; and that Justice Ministry officials must be permitted to attend party meetings.
Some of those rules — taken individually — might be considered disproportionate restrictions on the right to form political party, he said. They were more troubling in combination, especially in a country that had been under one-party rule for so long. They might obstruct the transition to a politically competitive system.
Mr. THELIN, expert from Sweden, said he had not heard responses to questions regarding reforms to the law providing alternative services for conscientious objectors. On the issue of hate speech, he asked for examples of when that law had been implemented. Were there programmes to diminish expressions of that kind?
He also asked how many Russians had lost their previously held Turkmen citizenship. He had been told that, in six months time, the situation for people who had previously held dual citizenship would be worse.
Finally, he wondered if the Government translated into Russian all information it received from the Committee and, through the internet, allowed everyone to access it. Could the ordinary citizen easily access that material? He asked if the Committee’s views were properly translated, stored and accessible in the same manner. He also urged that civil society be involved in the preparation of the country report. “It makes for a better product,” he said.
Responding to the Committee’s queries, Ms. GURBANNAZAROVA first addressed the issue of the dissemination of all types of material. Without listing all the legislation, she said dissemination of material in the mass media needed to be improved. The law governing that matter was adopted during Soviet times, she said and now events were being conducted, involving work with international experts to set up a draft law, while discussing provisions on the media.
She confirmed that any type of mass media could report on any topic in any language, including on television, which includes channels in six languages. The dissemination of material was not currently restricted, she said.
Mr. HADJIYEV added that concerning ethnic minorities, his country hosted several cultural centres, including Iranian and Russian. Embassies also operated their own schools that offered, among other things, language classes. If a Turkmen person wanted to learn English, Polish or Ukrainian, he or she was free to do so, he said. Pointing to more examples, he said in Ashgabat, the Pushkin Theatre featured performances in Russian and, in addition, Turkish was taught in schools.
On the media, he said foreign journalists were accredited at the Foreign Ministry and reporting and documentaries had been produced in Turkmenistan, particularly before the recent presidential elections. He then turned to the media outlet Radio Liberty.
“They call it ‘journalism’; however, this type of activity does not fall under any journalism legislation,” he said. “The people regularly broadcast reports on events that take place in Turkmenistan, about human rights, for example, and they share their opinions. It’s fine for them to do so. However, when it comes to journalism, that is somewhat different. People are allowed to collect information and disseminate it. Radio Liberty has the right to do so.”
However, he noted that for Radio Liberty, one piece of information was worth $20. “Radio Liberty broadcasts false information,” he said. “They are in it for the money.” However, he noted that there were no reported cases of harassment of anyone involved in collecting information for Radio Liberty or anyone else.
Unfortunately, people were using that information for their own purposes, he said, noting that a few years ago, a relationship with the State station and Radio Mayak came to an end. He also noted that satellite television offered 1,500 channels that everybody could use.
Ms. GURBANNAZAROVA said there were no restrictions on political parties before the new law. Now conditions had been established on the circumstances in which political parties could be set up.
“It’s a little early to say how it is coming along,” she said. “As the rules of the law are applied, we will see how it works. The actual adoption of the law is one step forward in improving the political life in our country.”
Turning to the issue of child labour, she said there was a law guaranteeing the rights of youth. The new labour code had also been adopted, she said.
“Raising children is our top priority in the country and we prohibit children working in harsh conditions,” she said. “The law provides for standards to be applied. When contracts are assigned involving children under the age of sixteen, a provision indicates that a child of age fifteen can enter into a contract with their parents’ permission. Children cannot be hired to work in harsh conditions. Parents may not let their children work during school hours.”
In the past, children were hired to harvest cotton, but now they are not allowed to work in that job, she said, noting that now “we don’t really have a problem with child labour at all.”
On questions about political parties, Mr. HADJIYEV said the president had put forward in 2010 an initiative to reform the political culture. Now, the opportunity had a risen to set up an agrarian party, where rural populations could assemble and convey their opinions and concerns to their national assemblymen and the Government. In that context, he noted that the political culture has began to develop, particularly vis à vis the previous period, and the people were now gradually getting used to the fact that they were free to participate in political life.
“People now are beginning to understand that they are at liberty to share their opinions within their particular organizations,” he said. “Over the past two years, dozens of different, interesting groups had been registered, including musicians, artists and dog racers. They all want to gather together and make their contribution to society.” Therefore, the Government was seeking to encourage those NGOs, he said.
Regarding a situation where a number of women gathered to protest a plan to rebuild areas in Ashgabat, he said. “We’ve got many new buildings under construction. These areas under construction were taken by the inhabitants. The administration, however, did not just throw people out. Rather than throwing them out, they offered them a better apartment or house. However, people decided that demonstrating was the best way to get the attention of the international community.”
When he returned to Turkmenistan, he said he would ask the Internal Affairs Ministry and would inform the Committee about that matter at a later date.
On child labour, he said in economic terms, there was no reason to use child labour. Farmworkers and peasants had a very good income these days, with equipment and land rentals, he said. Authorities now had the responsibility to ensure that child labour was not used.
On housing, Ms. GURBANNAZAROVA said Ashgabat had abundant housing available. Even without the correct legal documents to occupy the dwellings they lived in, citizens did have housing, she said. A task force had been set up with social organizations, the public sector and municipal councils, and met regularly to discuss how housing was allocated.
Turning to the issue of minorities, Mr. HADJIYEV reiterated that all citizens had an equal opportunity to work, including in the public sector. In the Foreign Ministry, there were people of Russian, Ukrainian and Uzbek nationalities. In the Security Ministry, and other ministries, there were people of many nationalities.
Concerning reports that people with dual citizenship were fired from certain ministries, he said certain Government departments required hiring only Turkmen nationals. That provision did not, however, affect any minority, he said.
The reasons behind that provision related to the “third generation tests” concept [whereby applicants must prove Turkmen ancestry for three generations] as it applied to the public sector. He said that provision was not directed against members of minorities. Instead, the concept related to avoiding the concentration of people from the same clan or family in one province.
On the question of “Turkmenization”, he said there were no instructions, declaration, or provisions, at least not in his ministry, about that term or concept.
To the question on minorities, Ms. GURBANNAZAROVA said 1,522 people from 13 ethnic groups were studying in high schools; 232 people from those groups were working in those schools. There were 136 students who were ethnic minorities studying in universities. Some 30 per cent of the people working in her Institute were from minority groups. Moreover, there were Russian and Uzbek minorities serving in parliament, as elected by the Turkmen people.
As for cultural restrictions, she said: “I’m afraid you were given the wrong information”. Minorities were able to celebrate alongside Turkmen people and, in that context, she drew attention to festivals for “the friendship of peoples”, both outside and inside the country. Each year, Turkmenistan held the Golden Age competition, in which 20 per cent of the people winning medals were from minority groups.
To the question on exceptions to the minimum age for marriage, she said such cases were due to people engaging in early sexual relations. They often involved orphans. The cases were studied by the Guardianship Commission, which assessed whether a marriage should be upheld with someone under the age of 18.
She could not say that 100 per cent of the Committee’s recommendations and conclusions were translated, but they were translated to the extent possible. They were given to those who wanted them or participants in State-organized events. They also were available to the public.
As for the participation of non-governmental organizations in the drafting of the report, she said groups representing youth, trade unions, women and minorities had participated. On a related point, she said there were nine disabled persons organizations, whose leaders were involved in drafting another national report, which represented normal practice.
Adding to that, Mr. HADJIYEV, referring to people with dual citizenship, said their situation, should they lose one nationality, did not become worse. Over the last six years, Turkmenistan had seen the opposite happen. People who had moved to the Russian Federation — 40 per cent of whom were Turkmens — had begun to apply for a residence permit in Turkmenistan. He invited Committee members to visit Turkmenistan to see the improvements in the social and economic conditions. Under a four-year programme, almost $1.5 billion had been spent on roads, schools, factories and industrial plants. There was a shortage of labour, which had prompted people to come from Ukraine, Belarus and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). He had no figures on the number of Russians who had lost their citizenship.
Expert Comments and Questions
Mr. THELIN, expert from Sweden, noted the positive tone set with the invitation to visit Turkmenistan, expressing hope it also would be extended to the nine Special Rapporteurs, at least eight of whom had tried to visit the country. It had been a very productive dialogue over the two days. “In all honesty, there are still areas of concern that remain,” he added.
Mr. FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, thanked the delegation for its detailed answers. On the issue of homosexuality, he said that while there was no international agreement that obliged States to legalize homosexuality, the Covenant’s article 26 obliged States to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. On the independence of the judiciary, he hoped there were sufficient guarantees to ensure such independence. How were judges recruited and nominated? How long were their appointments and on what basis were they promoted?
In response, Mr. HADJIYEV said nine special rapporteurs expressed interest in visiting. In 2002, the Human Rights Commission Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief had visited his country.
In 2010, a special rapporteur was to visit, but technical complications over the dates prevented the visit. The Government was studying the matter of visits by special rapporteurs on health and on education. When he returned to Ashgabat, he would discuss those issues with the relevant authorities.
Turning to judiciary issues, Ms. GURBANNAZAROVA said judges were appointed by the President and must have had five years of experience and be at least 35 years of age. Even though the President appointed judges, that did not mean that the judges were dependent on any State leaders or structures. Legislation on judges stipulated that they were independent, she said. The law specifically stipulated that when fulfilling their mandates, they must be guided by their own personal beliefs and convictions, demonstrating their independence, she said.
Following with her closing remarks, Ms. GURBANNAZAROVA thanked the Committee for its recommendations and the constructive dialogue. Her delegation would study and analyse all the comments and indentify measures to implement them.
“Everyone is actively participating in our well-being,” she said. “The relationship with the United Nations and Turkmenistan is based on mutual benefit. This means we can develop a fruitful partnership. Bringing our country’s standards in line with international standards is a priority.”
In her closing remarks, Ms. MAJODINA, Committee Chair, said she was pleased to have had the opportunity to engage in the dialogue and to learn from the delegation’s statements, replies and written reports that the Government had adopted legislation with a number of areas to ensure better compliance with international standards.
“A lot has been said about opening your country to special rapporteurs and I appreciate the fact that you allowed the special rapporteur on freedom of religion,” she said. “This shows the willingness of the Government and I hope it is the beginning of a long a productive relationship on what remains to a long and troubling human rights record.”
She noted that there remained a broad gap between the legislation and its implementation. Progress was not only achieved by adopting new legislation but by implementing it, she said.
Much remained to be done in the legal framework, she said, noting that torture had not been defined and clear legal frameworks had not been formed for freedom of expression and of movement. Detention conditions had also raised many concerns among Committee members, she said.
“We’re hopeful the Government will take steps to set up an independent monitoring system,” she said. “There are many areas the Government of Turkmenistan needs to improve on to reach compliance with international standards.”
She noted that the Committee would be sending its concluding observations next week with guidelines on when the Committee expected a reply. If there were any replies to questions posed by the Committee yesterday and today, she informed the delegation that is had 48 hours to provide written answers.
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