06/07/2011, 00.00
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UN report raps Ashgabat for its poor human rights record, including torture

The document calls for urgent action after it found “numerous and consistent” cases of torture. The tough report could undercut closer EU-Turkmenistan economic relations.
Ashgabat (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) report released yesterday slammed Turkmenistan for its widespread human rights violations, including the use of torture against detainees. It called for urgent action. This comes at a time when the European Union is trying to consolidate relations with the energy rich nation.

Reports of torture are “numerous and consistent” and “there appears to be a climate of impunity resulting in the lack of meaningful disciplinary action or criminal prosecution against persons of authority accused of [torture],” the CAT report said.

The study called for radical reforms, calling on Turkmen officials to guarantee detainees immediate access to legal representation, and for them to be informed of their rights upon being taken into custody. In addition, the report said interrogations at police stations and detention facilities should be either audio- or videotaped “as a further means to prevent torture and ill-treatment.”

The committee also noted that the Turkmen government of President Kurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (pictured) failed to provide sufficient data on prison occupancy rates and on the number of deaths of suspects whilst in custody. It said that Ashgabat did not improve the situation after previous reports had reached similar conclusions.

The report comes at a time when the European Union, after years of criticism of Turkmenistan for its poor human rights record, has sought to improved relations and is poised to ratify a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) with Ashgabat later this year.

The agreement was scheduled to be signed in May, but in April, a European parliamentary delegation visited the Central Asian nation and reported a lack of progress in human rights, thus forcing a postponement of the deal.

Traditionally, the European Union had shied away from close economic ties with countries accused of serious human rights violations. An interim EU-Turkmenistan Trade Agreement exists but it contains an unfulfilled human rights clause.

A Finnish MEP who chairs the sub-committee on human rights, Heidi Hautala, said that any agreement with Ashgabat appears problematic given what the EU delegation saw in the country.

Equally important for her was the fact that the delegates "were not allowed to meet any representative of civil society in Turkmenistan."

Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton, does not share such concerns. “We believe that in order to have a better EU leverage, a better tool to promote human rights, it is important to sign this partnership and cooperation agreement,” she said.

Hautala, however, is not swayed by the arguments presented by the EU's foreign service. "They simply are trying to give the impression that they [are doing] something very serious in order to improve the human rights situation in Turkmenistan," she explained.

Human rights groups note that Europe should subordinate future trade agreements to human rights clauses if its partners are serious about reform.

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