Human Rights and Democracy Report 2015 - Chapter IV: Human Rights Priority Countries - Turkmenistan

Updated 21 July 2016

The human rights situation in Turkmenistan throughout 2015 remained of significant concern. Little progress was made towards the implementation of its international obligations. Movement on the reform programme, to which the government has said it is committed, was slow. The reform programme includes an amended constitution, the adoption of a Human Rights Action Plan, and the appointment of an Independent Human Rights Ombudsman. Against a backdrop of a worsening economic situation, due to loss of revenue from gas, 2015 saw restrictions on the internet tighten, and space for civil society shrink still further. Widespread corruption and the lack of freedom of assembly or religion remained serious problems in 2015, as did an absence of government transparency or an independent media. Turkmenistan is yet to demonstrate that it is committed to genuine reform.

In 2015, our objectives remained consistent in continuing to use every suitable opportunity, both bilaterally and through international partners, to encourage the Turkmen government to comply with its international human rights obligations and to underline the importance of human rights reform. Bilaterally, human rights were raised during the visits made to Turkmenistan by the FCO Minister for Central Asia, Tobias Ellwood, in July and December. The British Ambassador regularly made representations to the government on human rights issues, including on individual cases. In one case, following lobbying over several years by the British Embassy and other organisations, a former Turkmen Minister, who had been barred from travelling overseas following several years of imprisonment, was finally given permission to leave the country for medical treatment. The British Embassy supported projects with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in the areas of judicial independence, racial discrimination and educational reform, and we expect the results of these projects will be reflected in the Human Rights Action Plan due in early 2016.

Some limited progress on human rights was discernible. For the first time in 12 years, Turkmenistan attended the OSCE Human Dimension meeting in Warsaw, and a long-awaited visit to a prison by EU Ambassadors took place. However, there is much to do, and reform needs to focus on implementation of current human right policies, rather than new laws.

In 2016, we will continue to press for the range and pace of reform to increase, including through the new constitution and the Human Rights Action Plan. The British Embassy will support the work of the UN and OSCE through the funding of human rights projects. Presidential elections are due in 2017 (last held in 2012 when the EU noted its concern about their conduct). The hosting of the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games will be an opportunity for Turkmenistan to demonstrate progress on human rights at a time when the sporting spotlight will be on them.