02/06/2023, 09.20
TURKMENISTAN
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Ašgabat responds to the UN on human rights

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Domestic compliance with international commitments under observation. Corruption and personal discrimination are also in the crosshairs. The Turkmen government's attitude is evasive. Religious groups obliged to register.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Turkmenistan has prepared responses to the questions posed for the country's third periodic report under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The answers will be presented to the 137th session of the UN Human Rights Committee on 27 February, although the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has already published them on its website.

The first issue concerns the so-called implementation of international commitments within the state. The Turkmen list a number of documents, from the 2021-2025 National Human Rights Plan to the Recommendation for Cooperation with the Agency for Guarantees in Public Security Bodies, the Legal System and Law Colleges. Various initiatives such as the Asia-Pacific Forum meeting of national human rights associations are mentioned.

The practical achievements on display are the possibility of contacting the guarantor by telephone and the site of the Guarantor Agency, active since April 2021. The rights guarantor is a figure that only appeared in Turkmenistan in 2017. It took a good four years to provide the population with basic rights.

The site itself is rather crude and substandard, and the 'news' are relays of government communications. The guarantor's initiatives are communicated separately, and often without updates.

The guarantor received 355 appeals in 2021, 244 written and 111 oral; the agency took up only 79 of them, while for 85 it limited itself to the consultation opinion. In comparison, Kyrgyzstan, a similar country in terms of region and number of inhabitants, assessed 13,048 appeals in the same year.

The second question concerns the fight against corruption, to which the Turkmen respond by citing state laws, without giving any statistics on the enforcement of these laws. Then the policy towards Covid-19 is investigated, to which the answers are relegated to a list of 'states of emergency' without any details.

Turkmenistan was perhaps the most denialist state in this regard, ruling out any spread of the pandemic and classifying every respiratory disease under other names, except for applying draconian measures to isolate the population on several occasions.

The fourth question invests the fight against discrimination: it is dismissed with a couple of paragraphs, reminding how the equality of Turkmen citizens is guaranteed by law, and informing that 'Turkmenistan does not have any information on citizen Kasymberd Garaev', a young cardiologist who revealed in 2019 that he was homosexual; the police arrested him for attempting approaches via the internet, only to be sent for 'special treatment' under the supervision of a local mullah. He has since disappeared, having returned to his family without permission to have contact with the outside world.

On other issues too, Ašgabat's answers are rather evasive, such as the one on gender equality, for which the active presence of women in political life and business is claimed, or the one on the fight against terrorism and the right to life.

On the condition of the detainees, mention is made of the various waves of presidential pardons, which have freed many people accused of violating the rules on expatriation and bureaucratic fraud.

It is reported that torture practices against detainees are totally excluded in the country, quoting the penal code regulations in this regard in correspondence with international standards and citing many cases of detainees that have appeared in the press, denying that violent practices have been used against them.

People deprived of their liberty are 'continuously monitored by observation commissions, to prevent any damage to their living conditions from any point of view', even reporting on the menus regularly offered to prisoners, for whom the living quarters are 'regularly fumigated with garmalas aromas', a herb with great capacity to act against microbes.

On religious freedom, Turkmenistan admits that it does not give space to unregistered religious associations, but points out that 'it is not so difficult to obtain registration'. In 2021, only one organisation, called the 'True Way' (Dogry ýol), applied for registration, which was quietly accepted, while in 2022 none was submitted.

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