Ashgabat’s Report on Torture Underwhelms UN Representatives
HRW’s advocacy director for Europe and Central Asia Ms. Goldston urged the committee to call on the Turkmen government to take “immediate” action, including the release of political prisoners and the conduct of transparent investigations into allegations of torture.
Turkmenistan has, after nine years, presented its first report to the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT). UN representatives found the report to be lacking in detail, and disappointed by the responses of Turkmen officials to pointed questions.
UN rapporteurs reviewed Turkmenistan’s initial report during a two-day meeting in Geneva on May 17-18. They also had the chance to question members of a Turkmen delegation on the report’s contents, as well as on how the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment is being implemented in Turkmenistan.
Felice Gaer, the committee expert who served as rapporteur for the Turkmen report, described it as containing general information about the UN Convention and the Turkmen Constitution, but void of specifics. “The only statistic they gave us in the report, and in the oral presentation, was that the number of people in the women’s prison in the north is 2, 213, that was it. That was the only statistic they had,” Gaer said. “There were no statistics such as ‘this many people arrested, investigated, freed or punished.’ Nothing.”
Gaer characterized Turkmen officials as generally trying to be cooperative during the question-and-answer portion of the process. Nevertheless, Gaer came out of the session less than satisfied. “They didn’t give us the facts and figures we asked for and there is a lot of information that’s still missing,” Gaer said. “There were a lot of rebuttals, but not always on the questions we asked.”
Renate Bloem - UN Geneva representative for Civicus, an umbrella organization for civil society groups, attended the CAT session as an observer. She the Turkmen report lacked basic information. “There was no empirical data on anything and no definition of torture,” she added.
Prior to the CAT session numerous watchdog organizations , including Human Rights Watch, the Norwegian Helsinki Commission, the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights and Turkmenistan’s Independent Lawyer Association, submitted reports to the committee outlining fundamental human rights abuses in the Central Asian state.
Veronika Szente Goldston, Human Rights Watch’s advocacy director for Europe and Central Asia, urged the committee to call on the Turkmen government to take “immediate” action, including the release of political prisoners and the conduct of transparent investigations into allegations of torture. Turkmen officials should “acknowledge the problem of torture and ill-treatment in Turkmenistan as serious. This acknowledgment should come from the highest levels, meaning President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, and it should be a message publicly condemning torture and making clear that it has no place in Turkmenistan. That would be a critical first step,” Szente Goldston said. Turkmen officials should also ease restrictions on domestic human rights monitors, Szente Goldston added.
Gaer, the UN rapporteur, said the UN CAT intends to make “a large number of recommendations and we will identify four or five of those recommendations for immediate follow up within the year. “ She declined to go into specifics. The CAT’s recommendations are expected to be made public in early June. Later that month the European Parliament is due to vote on the ratification of a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) with Ashgabat.
Szente Goldston said it would be “absurd” for the EU to ratify the PCA “right on the heels” of the CAT review. “It would send a terrible message. What the EU should do instead is seize upon the review … and to really use [its] leverage with the Turkmen government to impress upon [Turkmen leaders] the importance of implementing [CAT] recommendations,” she said.
Editor's note: Deirdre Tynan is Bishkek-based reporter specializing in Central Asia affairs.