Human Rights and Democracy Report 2013: Turkmenistan - Country of Concern update

Published 10 April 2014


We continue to have significant concerns about the human rights situation in Turkmenistan and the pace of reform remains slow.

In March, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) released its report into the parliamentary elections of December 2013. ODIHR identified a number of flaws in the election’s framework and processes and reported that “the elections took place in a strictly controlled political environment characterized by a lack of respect for fundamental freedoms that are central to democratic elections”. They noted the absence of political pluralism and an insufficient separation of powers between different branches of government, and concluded that the elections needed to be “significantly improved to live up to OSCE commitments and other international obligations for genuine and democratic elections.”

ODIHR outlined a list of 30 recommendations to help Turkmenistan improve its electoral system, and made clear the OSCE’s readiness to assist the authorities in following up those recommendations. Read the full OSCE/ODIHR Election Assessment Mission report here.

In its response to an address at the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna on 27 February by the Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan, Mr Rashid Meredov, the EU encouraged Turkmenistan to persevere on the path of reform and implement new regulations to strengthen the rule of law and good governance. In particular, it called for more electoral reform; simplified registration procedures for NGOs and the media and the limitation of restrictions on and interference in their work; and for the finalisation and adoption of Turkmenistan’s National Human Rights Action Plan.

The EU encouraged Turkmenistan to cooperate fully with international organisations, with a view to improving the promotion and protection of human rights in Turkmenistan. It also encouraged Turkmenistan “to respond to recommendations made previously, including in the UN Human Rights Council and in the OSCE Permanent Council, in relation to human rights concerns as well as to recommendations made in the report of the fact finding mission after the invocation of the OSCE’s Moscow Mechanism in 2002.” The latter relates to an inconclusive investigation into the fate of individuals believed to have been involved in a failed coup attempt against former Turkmen President Niyazov. The EU ended by reiterating its commitment to support Turkmenistan in its democratic and socio-economic reform process.

In other developments, the NGO Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkmenistan at 178 out of 180 countries in its 2014 World Press Freedom Index, which was released on 12 February 2014, and measures the level of freedom of information violations around the world.

We continue to receive reports of undue pressure against certain religious groups in Turkmenistan. In particular, in March, the NGO Forum 18 highlighted a Jehovah’s Witness who has been imprisoned because of his belief, bringing the number of known conscientious objectors currently detained in Turkmenistan to seven. Forum 18 also reported that 15 current and former conscientious objector prisoners have lodged complaints to the UN Human Rights Committee about their imprisonment and maltreatment. The UK will look for suitable opportunities to raise with the government of Turkmenistan the importance of respecting the fundamental and universal values of freedom of thought, conscience and belief.

On a more positive note, the OSCE Centre in Ashgabat held a seminar for policy-makers and law-enforcement officials on 26 February to raise participants’ awareness about women’s empowerment and the importance of gender mainstreaming in the development of public policy. This seminar will be followed by another event on women’s rights for civil society representatives to increase awareness about – and build their capacity to implement projects on – gender equality. In March, Turkmenistan hosted a visit by the regional head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Jacques Villette, which concentrated on the implementation of action discussed during earlier visits (as covered in the 2013 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy).   ####This publication is part of the 2013 Human Rights and Democracy Report.