Last Updated: Thursday, 26 May 2016, 08:56 GMT

Human Rights and Democracy: The 2010 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report - Turkmenistan

Publisher United Kingdom: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Publication Date 31 March 2011
Cite as United Kingdom: Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights and Democracy: The 2010 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report - Turkmenistan, 31 March 2011, available at: [accessed 26 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Turkmenistan is a signatory to most international human rights instruments, including the core UN human rights conventions, and its national legislation and constitution contain provisions for the protection of basic human rights principles. However, implementation remains a problem and we continue to have concerns about Turkmenistan's human rights record. In the first half of 2010 President Berdimuhamedov made a number of encouraging statements pledging his commitment to introduce reforms, including a move to a multi-party electoral system and the creation of an independent media. While there have been some positive steps this year, such as the registration of the Catholic Church and the adoption of a new criminal procedural code in August, we have yet to see the implementation of wider reforms and there was little substantive progress in the second half of 2010. The government of Turkmenistan nevertheless reiterated its intention to introduce reforms, with a focus on new legislation, but at its own pace.

The UK took all appropriate opportunities to raise human rights with the government in 2010. We continued to press for access to all detention facilities by the International Committee of the Red Cross. We have sought to persuade the Turkmen government of the value of civil society, including through supporting local projects on issues such as youth leadership which encouraged young people in Turkmenistan to debate government policy. We have also raised individual human rights cases. Our Embassy continued to support a BBC World Service Trust project on media regulation reform which we hope will lead to the introduction of new media legislation in 2011. A key area of our work in 2010 was on reform of the penal code and efforts to ensure that the code was consistent with international human rights standards. We also funded seminars on alternatives to imprisonment, prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration into society, and strengthening advocacy skills.

In 2011, the Turkmen government is likely to maintain its policy of committing itself to reform, but taking only incremental steps. The Turkmen government continues to monitor political developments elsewhere in the region closely and we judge that further instability in the region will reduce the prospects for more substantive and accelerated reform in Turkmenistan.

Human rights are an important component of our bilateral relationship with Turkmenistan. We will continue to encourage the government towards greater respect for human rights, genuine political pluralism, better governance and greater tolerance of civil society. In doing so, we will urge Turkmenistan to act in accordance with its international obligations, including the recommendations it accepted in the course of its UN Universal Periodic Review in December 2008. We will encourage the Turkmen authorities to focus on specific and concrete outcomes, including those related to multi-party democracy and media independence. We will continue to support the BBC World Service Trust with their project on reforming media regulation, and will encourage other donors to contribute. We will also look for opportunities to build on our support for reform of the penal code and will continue to press for access to prisons by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Rule of law

Corruption remains a problem in Turkmenistan. Transparency International ranked Turkmenistan 172 out of 178 states surveyed in its 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index. We will continue to encourage the Turkmen government to take action to address corruption, including by reporting under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

While the adoption in 2010 of a new criminal procedural code was a welcome development, we have yet to see evidence of an improvement to sentencing and prison conditions. It also remains difficult for individuals to challenge court decisions. We are aware of instances in which implementation of the law varies from the written code, resulting in sentences being passed that bear little resemblance to those recommended in the criminal code. We will continue to raise with the Turkmen authorities the issue of adherence to the rule of law, including, where necessary, lobbying on individual cases.

Torture and other ill treatment

There remained no access for international bodies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross to detention facilities in Turkmenistan, and it was therefore difficult to ascertain an accurate picture of the treatment of prisoners. However, there were reports pointing to the use of torture and inhumane practices in prisons. Although the International Committee of the Red Cross continued to cooperate with the government of Turkmenistan through assistance with humanitarian law as well as in other areas, there was no progress on their access to prisons in 2010, despite UK and EU efforts.

Prisons and detention issues

There is no independent monitoring of prisons and conditions remain poor. There are reports that some prisoners have only limited access to basic food and healthcare, and visits by family members remain extremely difficult. However, we understand that the government is considering the construction of new prisons. We are looking at how we might be able to support this process, for instance by putting the government in touch with appropriate British companies. Our Embassy also worked with the government on the reform of their penal code, in particular on compliance with international human rights standards, including prison management procedures. A new criminal procedural code was adopted in August which took into account important elements of our advice. Our Embassy also funded a visit to the UK in February by the deputy interior minister which focused on prison management, reform and rehabilitation of offenders.

Human rights defenders

We remain concerned that no human rights defenders are able to operate in Turkmenistan. On a number of occasions during 2010, the Turkmen authorities tried to prevent those Turkmen human rights defenders based outside the country from attending international human rights and civil society meetings held outside Turkmenistan. There were also reports of the Turkmen authorities taking action against human rights defenders based abroad by targeting the extended family still living in Turkmenistan. This included preventing family members from securing jobs, gaining access to schools and medical facilities, or from leaving the country. We continued to voice our concerns to the government of Turkmenistan, including in the annual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue.

Freedom of expression

The media in Turkmenistan remains government-controlled and very few independent journalists are allowed to operate freely. The increase in internet access in 2010, including the opening of a small number of new internet cafés in Ashgabat and other towns, was a welcome development, but targeted internet censorship remains a concern. There has also been a significant increase in the use of mobile telephones. However, in December, the government suspended the operation of an independent Russian mobile operator who also provided internet access, which effectively forced all customers to use the state-run service. It is not possible to buy international newspapers or any other foreign written media in Turkmenistan. However, satellite dishes capable of receiving Russian, Turkish and many other international news and entertainment programmes are readily available. The government continued to welcome important assistance from the BBC World Service Trust on the reform of media regulation and we hope this assistance will be reflected in the media legislation in 2011.

Freedom of religion and belief

After much delay, the Catholic Church was finally registered in March. While we welcomed this development, religion remains largely government-controlled and any religious organisation wishing to operate in the country must register with the authorities. Obtaining registration is not easy, and those organisations that have registered find it very difficult to operate due to government constraints on the opening of new premises and the size of services. It remains almost impossible to bring any religious material into Turkmenistan and those who try to do so can be subject to a range of repercussions such as being forced out of their jobs, banned from international travel or by having access to education restricted for some family members. Jehovah's Witnesses are subject to harassment and several have been imprisoned for objecting to military service. The government have backtracked on their 2008 commitment to consider alternatives to military service, making it clear that the law will not be changed. Citizens who do not sign up for military service therefore continue to break the law and are dealt with accordingly. Freedom of religion and belief was one of a number of issues raised during the annual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue in June.

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