Matthew Russell Lee
As Turkmenistan Cracks Down on Journalists, Hospitals and Romance, UNDP Works With the Niyazov Regime
The European Union reacted to the torture murder of Turkmen journalist Ogulsapar Muradova while in state custody, and other excesses by Turkmenistan’s Saparmurat Niyazov, by declining the invitation to enter a trade agreement with the Central Asian coungtry. The UN Development Program has taken a different approach, and recently offered praise of Niyazov's government.
Today's Turkish Daily News quotes Niyazov that «for some years the state structures and public organizations of Turkmenistan have successfully realized joint programs and projects in collaboration with such organizations as the UNDP, UNICEF, UNESCO and many others.»
UNESCO, it should be noted, recently «voiced grave concern at the death of Ogulsapar Muradova in jail in Ashgabat,» the capital of Turkmenistan. The UN agency's press release, No. 2006-116, cited Reporters Without Borders that «Ms Muradova's children identified Ms Muradova's body in the morgue of Ashgabat on 14 September. Witnesses are reported to have seen a head wound and many other marks on the rest of her body.»
A month after Ms. Muradova's body was identified in the morgue, UNDP's resident coordinator in Turkmenistan Mr. Richard Young told two hundred people at a conference on UN - Government of Turkmenistan cooperation that «as a member of the United Nations, Turkmenistan recognizes the importance of working together to meet concrete targets for advancing development. National ownership is a key to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and adhering to global human rights values.» The quote is from a write-up provided by the UN System in Turkmenistan. The write-up contained no criticism of Niyazov or his regime.
It is not clear what «national ownership» the UN's Richard Young was referring to. In recent years, Niyazov has closed all hospitals outside of the capital, telling the BBC, «Why do we need such hospitals? If people are ill, they can come to Ashgabat.»
Niyazov, who has called himself Turkmenbashi, Father of All Turkmen, has also closed all libraries, including those in the capital, on the grounds that «nobody reads books or go to libraries».
In fact, the main book taught in schools in Turkmenistan is one written by Niyazov himself, called Ruhknama. Niyavoz has said Ruhknama, sometimes spelled Ruhnama, «was issued to eliminate all shortcomings.» It is available in 22 languages on the Turkmenistan government website. A UN staffer who has worked for the UN system in Turkmenistan (and who has read Rukhnama) tells Inner City Press that many of the UN offices in Ashkabat use the government's web servers, which block content objectionable to Niyazov and presumably record and register the communications traveling through them. (The UN staff asked not to be named, as for now still a UN employee.)
Like the Karimov government in Uzbekistan, which UNDP also assists in a range of ways from tax collection to help with open source software, Niyazov is cracking down on and thinning the ranks of non-governmental organizations. Reportedly the human rights group Arkadag «has files full of the most diverse explanations they have received about why they are being turned down – a misplaced comma here, a wrongly ordered paragraph there, or a demand for details of all rank-and-file members even though the law stipulates that only the board members need to be named...Re-registration is also a problem for existing NGOs, in the wake of the Law on Public Associations passed in 2003.» A more recent law restricts the ability of citizens of Turkmenistan to marry foreigners.
At UN headquarters on Wednesday, Inner City Press asked Kofi Annan's spokesman Stephane Dujarric about these laws, and to explain the contradiction between UNESCO's and even the Secretary-General's own denunciations of the Turkmenistan government's human rights record and UNDP's statement, on its dedicated Turkmenistan website, www.undptkm.org, that «UNDP provides advisory services to selected government agencies in improvement of institutional and legal frameworks for economic and financial management and social protection, statistical capacity development.»
The spokesman has indicated that while this is a good question, it should be answered by UNDP, rather than the Secretariat. The question was asked at noon, but as of ten p.m. no response of any kind had been received. We note that UNDP has now delayed two weeks in providing an update on its previously announced de-funding of violent disarmament in the Karamoja region of Eastern Uganda, and has also delayed in responding to Inner City Press' written request for comment on recent testimony to the Fifth Committee on A/61/5 Add.1, on «UNDP's failure to complete monthly bank account reconciliations,» «internal control weaknesses present in the implementation process of UNDP's enterprise resource planning (ERP) system» and «the adverse and qualified opinions on project auditors on the implementation of UNDP program expenditures executed by governments.»
To be fair to UNDP, here is another UN agency providing unexplained funding to Turkmenistan's government -- UN/DESA Division for Social Policy and Development providing technical cooperation funds to the Niyazov regime. Other supporters include Deutsche Bank, Turkmenbashi's private banker, and the French construction firm Bouygues, to build another palace. Thus is Turkmenbashi provided UN technical assistance to further the Millennium Development Goals. Developing...