Experts of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination Commend Turkmenistan’s Cooperation with the United Nations, Ask Questions on Civil Society Organisations Representing Ethnic Minorities and Measures to Prevent Statelessness
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined twelfth to thirteenth periodic reports of Turkmenistan, with Committee Experts commending the State’s cooperation with the United Nations, while asking questions about civil society organisations representing ethnic minorities and measures to prevent statelessness.
Chinsung Chung, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said the Committee appreciated that a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the United Nations on the implementation of a socio-economic development plan in Turkmenistan. However, Turkmenistan had limited engagement with the special procedures mechanism, with only one visit from a Special Rapporteur having been conducted to date. What plans did the State have to increase engagement with the mechanism?
Ms. Chung said civil society reports stated that there was no space for genuinely independent media or civil society organisations to operate in Turkmenistan, and exile-based organizations were subjected to pressure. How had the State responded to these allegations? How was the State promoting the activities of non-governmental organizations? Ibrahima Guisse, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked about the number of organisations concerned with the rights of ethnic minorities.
Mr. Guisse also asked how the Refugee Act of 2017 guaranteed the rights of refugees. What measures had been taken to protect persons from statelessness, including the procedure for determining statelessness, and measures to remove obstacles to birth registration? What measures were taken to ensure that non-citizens had access to education, employment, housing, and health services?
Introducing the report, Vepa Hajiyev, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and head of the delegation, said that during the reporting period, the State had introduced amendments and additions to several codes and laws, guaranteeing equality for all. In April 2022, the National Parliament adopted a new version of the Criminal Code, which entered into force on 1 January 2023, where the commission of a crime on political, social, national, ethnic grounds, skin colour, religious hatred or enmity was considered as an aggravating circumstance. On October 24, 2020, the Administrative Procedure Code of Turkmenistan was adopted, which established the equality of all before the law.
The delegation said there were no registered civil society organisations concerned with ethnic minority issues; there had not been any requests to register such an organisation. There were currently 136 civil society organizations registered with the State, working in areas such as culture and the rights of persons with disabilities. There were also over 130 registered religious organisations.
On asylum seekers and refugees, the delegation said Turkmenistan had successfully addressed the issue of stateless persons through the “I Belong” campaign. It had introduced a law on defining the status of stateless persons, developed a system for registering stateless persons, and had completed an inventory of stateless persons. It aimed to bring the number of stateless persons to zero by 2024.
In concluding remarks, Ms. Chung said she appreciated that the delegation had participated in the open, fruitful dialogue. The information provided would help the Committee to draft concluding observations. It hoped that its recommendations would contribute to improvement of the human rights situation in Turkmenistan.
Mr. Hajiyev, in concluding remarks, thanked the Committee for the open, constructive dialogue. The State party, he said, would conduct a detailed analysis of all recommendations issued by the Committee and would assess the outcomes of its work in implementing the Convention. Tolerance of people of different races and ethnicities was promoted in Turkmenistan. The State planned to put forward proposals regarding actions to improve Turkmenistan’s delivery on its international commitments.
The delegation of Turkmenistan consisted of representatives of the Committee on Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms of the Mejlis of Turkmenistan; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Ministry of Justice; the Ministry of Internal Affairs; the Prosecutor General's Office; the Institute of State, Law and Democracy; and the Permanent Mission of Turkmenistan to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will issue its concluding observations on the report of Turkmenistan after the conclusion of its one hundred and tenth session on 31 August. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, while webcasts of the public meetings can be found here. The programme of work of the Committee’s one hundred and tenth session and other documents related to the session can be found here.
The Committee will next meet in public at 4 p.m. on Friday, 1 September to close its one hundred and tenth session.
The Committee has before it the combined twelfth to thirteenth periodic reports of Turkmenistan (CERD/C/TKM/12-13).
Presentation of Report
VEPA HAJIYEV, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and head of the delegation, said that the State’s report covered the period from 2016 to 2019 and contained information on key legislative, judicial, administrative and practical measures directly related to the provisions of the Convention and the actions taken by Turkmenistan since the submission of the report in 2019. On March 3, 2022, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Government of Turkmenistan and the United Nations on cooperation in the implementation of the "National Program for the Socio-Economic Development of Turkmenistan in 2022-2052", which aimed to accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in Turkmenistan. According to the 2022 population and housing census, the population of Turkmenistan was over seven million people, with more than 936,000 representatives of 61 nationalities living in the country, representing 14 per cent of the total population.
The Government was implementing measures aimed at eliminating all forms of racial discrimination. Turkmenistan promoted the principles of the Convention and the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, through the improvement of legislation and in law enforcement. On March 13, 2020, the Parliament ratified the 1960 Convention against Discrimination in Education and the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Currently, a draft national action plan on combating trafficking in human beings for 2023-2026 was being developed, as well as other programmes and projects implemented jointly with United Nations agencies. In July 2022, the Concept for the Development of the Judicial System of Turkmenistan for 2022-2028 was approved, which sought to improve the quality of the administration of justice and ensure the accessibility of justice and the independence of the judiciary.
In October 2022, following a capacity assessment of the Office of the Ombudsperson was conducted. Recommendations were received for capacity building and follow-up actions on accreditation in the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions. The budget of the Office of the Ombudsman for 2022 was doubled compared to 2021. International organizations were providing technical support to strengthen the capacity of the Office of the Ombudsman.
During the reporting period, the Parliament of Turkmenistan introduced amendments and additions to several codes and laws, guaranteeing equality for all. In April 2022, the National Parliament adopted a new version of the Criminal Code, which entered into force on 1 January 2023, where the commission of a crime on political, social, national, ethnic grounds, skin colour, religious hatred or enmity was considered as an aggravating circumstance. The Criminal Code criminalised violations of human and civil rights based on ethnicity. On October 24, 2020, the Administrative Procedure Code of Turkmenistan was adopted, which established the equality of all before the law.
As a permanent member of the Executive Committee of the Programme of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Turkmenistan participated in international efforts to protect the rights of refugees and stateless persons. Turkmenistan had made significant progress in reducing and preventing statelessness and intended to hold a Regional Conference on this topic in 2024. The laws of Turkmenistan "On the Legal Status of Foreign Citizens in Turkmenistan", "On Refugees" provided for the access of stateless persons to fundamental rights and freedoms, including the fundamental right to obtain citizenship of Turkmenistan. In January 2019, the national action plan to eradicate statelessness for 2019-2024 was launched. For the period from 2011 to the present, 29,697 people had been provided with Turkmenistan citizenship, and 4,438 foreign citizens and stateless persons had received a residence permit.
Turkmenistan had approved the Programme for the Development of the Cultural Sphere of Turkmenistan for 2019-2025, whereby festive concerts and cultural events were held to coincide with the national holidays of ethnic minorities, as well as the Days of Culture of Foreign Countries in Turkmenistan. The Government and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization were implementing a related action plan for 2021-2023. On the side-lines of the upcoming 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Turkmenistan would hold the International Week of Turkic Languages, dedicated to the 300th anniversary of the birth of the great Turkmen poet and thinker Makhtumkuli in 2024, and would establish the "World Day of Turkic Languages".
Turkmenistan continued to reform the national system for the protection of human rights, which included legal and institutional components. Special attention was paid to the implementation of international obligations in the field of human rights, and the recommendations of United Nations treaty bodies on the submitted national reports.
Questions by Committee Experts
CHINSUNG CHUNG, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said Turkmenistan had been acknowledged as a permanent State by the United Nations in 1992. However, Turkmenistan remained one of the world’s most closed countries. It did not provide official statistics to international organisations, and few foreigners entered the State. There was also limited space for civil society. No shadow reports had been submitted by civil society organizations before the dialogue. It was thus difficult for the Committee to obtain balanced information on the situation in Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan had the potential to evolve into a more democratic, open society. Ms. Chung expressed hope that the dialogue would contribute to this.
The State report did not have information from the 2022 national population and housing census. Did the State party have a plan to open the result of the census to the public, including international society? Could it update statistics on refugees, asylum-seekers, stateless persons and overseas Turkmenistan people? The Committee called for updated information on economic and social indicators for groups living in the territory of the State party, disaggregated by ethnic origin, gender and age; and on numbers of politicians, judges, police and the prison population, disaggregated by ethnic origin.
How did State legislation define “direct” and “indirect” discrimination, which were reportedly criminalised? What steps had been taken to develop and adopt a comprehensive anti-discrimination law that included a definition of direct and indirect discrimination? Were there any legal provisions for access to appropriate remedies for victims of discrimination? Would the State party adopt a comprehensive strategy and a national action plan to combat racism, racial discrimination and intolerance? How had the National Human Rights Action Plan for 2016 to 2020 contributed to the elimination of discrimination? Had the implementation of this plan been evaluated? Why were racial discrimination strategies largely unchanged in the current plan, and what had been changed overall? Although the Labour Code protected workers from discrimination, the Law on the Public Service did not include all the grounds of discrimination contained in the Convention. Why was this? What measures were in place to promote the advancement of minority groups? What measures had the State party taken to raise awareness among public officials regarding the prohibition of racial discrimination and of remedies available for victims? The new Constitution of 2016 prohibited political parties established on national or religious grounds, which would obstruct ethnic minority people from expressing their opinions. Why was this? Why had there been zero complaints and national court hearings involving racial discrimination or hate speech? Did the State plan to examine the reasons for this? How was the State implementing the Convention and its various national action plans?
The State party report said judges were independent and subject only to the Constitution and the law. Interference by any party in the work of the courts was prohibited and punishable by law. How and when was the law on interference enforced? What were the statistics on court hearings for interferences? What types of punishment were given for causing interference? What checks and balances were in place to make sure that judges stayed impartial if threatened by the President of being arrested? The President had the sole authority to dismiss any judge. What measures were in place to guarantee the full independence and impartiality of the judiciary?
Ms. Chung said civil society reports had said that there was no space for genuinely independent media or civil society organizations to operate in Turkmenistan, and exile-based organizations were subjected to pressure. How had the State responded to these allegations? How was the State promoting the activities of non-governmental organizations?
IBRAHIMA GUISSE, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said Turkmenistan had an arid climate and a semi-nomadic way of life based on herding and agriculture. Mr. Guisse called for information on measures to strengthen the mandate of the Office of the Ombudsperson so that it could promote human rights and monitor progress in the implementation of the Convention. Was the Government considering allowing the Ombudsperson to make preventive visits to places of detention? Did the Office of the Ombudsperson investigate complaints of racial discrimination? The Office reportedly considered complaints alleged against Government bodies and officials for rights violations. What procedures were in place to assess such violations? If a violation was found to be legitimate, what were the remedies for the victim? Did the Office keep public records of their activities, and have a specific process for investigating racial discrimination?
What measures were being taken to amend the provisions of the Criminal Code and other relevant legislation, relating to racist hate speech, incitement to racial hatred and racist hate crimes? How was it ensured that measures to combat hate speech were not used in a manner that interfered with freedom of expression or freedom of peaceful assembly for civil society organizations, human rights defenders and journalists, particularly those working for the rights of ethnic minorities? There was a criminal law for racial discrimination under Article 145 of the Criminal Code. How were complaints of racial discrimination received and addressed? What were the exact factors needed to be convicted for this crime? How did the State party ensure that this law was appropriately and consistently enforced at all levels?
The National Human Rights Action Plan for the period of 2016-2020 had an objective to develop programmes for human rights. What actual programmes were created to help implement this plan? What was done within the Plan to investigate and combat racist hate speech? How were the results achieved through the implementation of the first plan linked to the second plan for 2021 to 2025?
The State Party Report did not provide sufficient information on civil society organizations. How many civil society organizations were registered in Turkmenistan? What organizations were concerned with the rights of ethnic minorities? How were civil society organizations implemented in Turkmenistan and what rules did they need to follow? How did the State party ensure that civil society organizations, human rights defenders and journalists, including those working on the rights of ethnic minorities, could carry out their work effectively and without intimidation? What laws were in place for those that expressed dissent towards the Government? How were these groups protected from being persecuted?
GUN KUT, Committee Expert and Follow-Up Rapporteur, said the previous concluding observations were adopted in December 2016. Within one year of adoption, the State party submitted a follow-up report on the issues raised, which the Committee was grateful for. The follow-up issues concerned hate speech, the Ombudsperson and freedom of religion for ethnic minorities. The Committee had asked the State party to ensure that domestic legislation criminalising hate speech was in accordance with the Convention. The delegation had reported that the law on racial discrimination had been amended in 2023. Was the application of this law in line with the Convention? Turkmenistan was not listed as a member on the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions website. Turkmenistan authorities reported that they were working to bring the institution in line with the Paris Principles. What obstacles were there in this regard? The Committee had also asked the State party to take urgent measures to protect ethnic minorities, including in exercising their freedom of religion. The State party had provided ample information regarding this topic, which the Committee would assess.
A Committee Expert said the State party had reported that the Constitution protected the human rights of all citizens, irrespective of religion. However, police in Turkmenistan had reportedly detained 10 Muslims due to their religion, forcing them to shave their beards and drink alcohol. What was the State’s reaction to this? There was no mention in the State party’s report of complaints related to racism which were submitted to the Ombudsperson. Was the Ombudsperson’s power more focused on Government entities rather than individual complaints?
Another Committee Expert asked how judges were appointed and dismissed. Had civil society organisations or the Office of the Ombudsperson been consulted in the drafting of the report? In 2018, when Turkmenistan presented in the Universal Periodic Review, the State indicated that it supported the recommendations of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions regarding improving its Ombudsperson institution. What progress had been made in this regard?
One Committee Expert asked about the retirement age for judges. The limit on judges’ tenures had reportedly been removed. Were judges ensured security of their tenure up to retirement age? What was the total number of judges in the judicial system? According to the head of delegation, the most recent census found that Turkmenistan’s current population was just over seven million, which was an increase from the figure of 6.7 million found in the previous census. Another source had estimated that Turkmenistan’s population was around 2.8 million. What was the reason for this large discrepancy?
A Committee Expert said some human rights defenders had reportedly been arrested in an abusive fashion and were still awaiting sentencing. Was the State party planning to adopt a law that protected human rights defenders? The police had been accused of using excessive force when stopping women in traffic; what was being done to prevent this? There was a law that prohibited dual nationality. What measures were in place to protect applicants renouncing a certain nationality from becoming stateless? Could the Ombudsperson assist victims before the courts? Was Turkmenistan planning to make a declaration concerning article 14 of the Convention?
Another Committee Expert said that no data on the ethnic makeup of the population or the workforce had been provided. How did the State party implement measures to support minority groups, especially promoting access to employment and State services, in the absence of such statistics?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said national human rights plans were geared towards delivering on international human rights commitments, and were informed by recommendations from the United Nations Human Rights Committee. When developing the second plan of action, an assessment of the implementation of the first plan was carried out, together with representatives from international organisations. The Government was now continuing this work.
The Office of the Ombudsperson and United Nations agencies had carried out joint projects to enhance the capacities of the Ombudsperson, starting the process of accreditation to the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions. A roadmap towards accreditation had been developed. An assessment of the alignment of the Ombudsperson with the Paris Principles had also been conducted. The Parliament had set up a working group to develop a draft law on the Ombudsperson. The Ombudsperson received individual complaints. In 2022, it had registered 553 complaints. The Ombudsperson’s website contained reports of its annual activities. Compared to 2021, the number of complaints had increased in 2022, indicating an increase in trust in the Office. The Ombudsperson conducted ongoing consultations with United Nations agencies regarding accreditation, which had reviewed its activities and provided recommendations. The Government hoped to make an application for “A” status accreditation next year.
A high-level working commission on follow-up to treaty body recommendations had been set up. Since the commission was established, the procedure for submitting treaty body reports had stabilised. The committee worked to implement all recommendations from treaty bodies.
There were over 600 ethnicities recorded in Turkmenistan in the most recent census and 2.4 million people were of working age. Census data would soon be published. The data on population presented by the Committee was outdated. 70,142 foreign citizens had entered Turkmenistan during the reporting period. In recent years, the State had given citizenship to more than 30,000 stateless persons. Stateless persons, following naturalisation, had equal access to all rights afforded to citizens.
The number of foreign citizens deprived of liberty represented 0.1 per cent of the prison population. The Government had adopted several decrees pardoning persons previously deprived of liberty. This indicated that the Government was committed to upholding human rights and fundamental freedoms. 26 pardons had been handed down since 2016, and as a result more than 500 persons had been released. Conditions of detention for foreign persons were identical to those of citizens. One of the human rights defenders mentioned by the Committee had committed acts of hooliganism and bodily harm and had been convicted of a custodial sentence. Another human rights defender the Committee mentioned had been convicted of large-scale fraud and forgery of documents and had been issued a custodial sentence. However, both people had been pardoned and freed in December last year.
There were no registered civil society organizations concerned with ethnic minority issues; there had not been any requests to register such an organisation. The law on registration of civil society organizations had been amended to reduce the number of maximum members by 50. There were currently 136 civil society organizations registered with the State, working in areas such as culture and the rights of persons with disabilities. There were also over 130 registered religious organisations.
The Social Protection Code and other legal acts prohibited discrimination in all forms. The Constitution recognised the right of freedom from discrimination. In the code of administrative offences, there was a penalty for inciting racial or religious hatred. The new Criminal Code also included criminal responsibility for inciting ethnic or religious hatred.
The independence of judges was guaranteed in the Constitution. Judges answered only to the Constitution and the law of the country, and were guided by their personal convictions. Interference with judges’ work by any person was prohibited and punishable by law. A national action plan had been launched to build the capacity of judges, increase access to justice and increase the quality of judicial practice, including on the issue of racial discrimination. From 2018 to 2023, judges had taken part in more than 300 international training sessions, including on eliminating racial discrimination. There were regular workshops held to enhance judges’ expertise in various areas.
The human rights situation in Turkmenistan was a difficult issue that required dedicated, systemic work to address. The Government had set up a distinct system and national action plans for meeting its human rights obligations. Following the removal of restrictions implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of persons entering the State had increased by around 10 per cent in comparison to the pre-pandemic period. The Government was developing a streamlined visa application procedure. Turkmenistan’s registration system for permanent residents did not restrict freedom of movement or living locations, except in areas close to the border, nor did it affect work rights or economic rights.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan had not seen a single conflict on a racial or ethnic basis. The situation had never been serious enough to require a dedicated plan addressing racial discrimination. Around 80,000 Tajikistan citizens and thousands of Afghans had found shelter in Turkmenistan following conflict in those countries. Although Turkmenistan did not have an action plan on racial discrimination, it was not ignoring the issue.
The Ombudsperson was a new institution for monitoring the human rights situation. Its Office was currently working hard to align with the Paris Principles, although it had not yet met those standards. There was a programme in place that promoted a tolerant attitude to persons of different nationalities. Sunni Islam was the main religion practiced in Turkmenistan. Police ensured that all persons could practice their religion freely, while upholding citizens’ security. There were reports of harm being done to women in unregistered beauty salons. The State had taken measures to bring all private beauty salons in line with health standards. This had led to complaints that beauty salons were being unjustly closed, however women in the State had sufficient access to such salons.
The State did not require dual citizens to renounce their citizenship of a foreign country. It simply did not recognise citizenship of other States for such people. National development plans applied equally to residents of all nationalities. The State was collecting data on the population of foreign citizens working and studying in the education sector, and on cultural events held in the State. The State did not keep statistics on non-governmental organisations working in exile. Every citizen had a right to express their opinion outside of the country. There were Turkish, Russian and Ukrainian cultural centres, and schools with children of various nationalities. Non-Turkmens were given support to receive education in their own language, through bilateral agreements.
In response to a follow-up question on special measures to help new citizens adapt to Turkmenistan society, the delegation said stateless persons who had not received citizenship after fleeing wars in neighbouring countries had the same rights as regular citizens in Turkmenistan, other than voting rights. These people had opened businesses and attended educational institutions. Special measures for their integration were not necessary. Some of these people spoke Turkmen.
The delegation said that a special committee made up of Government officials and civil society organization representatives, including organisations dealing with women’s and children’s rights, had been established to assess national action plans, considering the achievements made and the gaps which remained. The latest adopted national action plan addressed the rights of the child. When conducting assessments and considering when to accede to international treaties, the State invited representatives from civil society and academia. The Bar Association was advocating to advance human rights. An international conference was planned to discuss the advocacy of human rights.
Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts
CHINSUNG CHUNG, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked whether the census included economic, social and cultural indicators for various ethnic groups.
IBRAHIMA GUISSE, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked if there were civil society organisations working in the field of human rights. Was it possible to register international organisations in the country? How did the Ombudsperson respond to complaints submitted by citizens?
One Committee Expert said the State party report stated that the Ombudsperson received complaints about human rights violations. How many complaints on racial discrimination were received? How did the Ombudsperson and judicial authorities interact when processing these complaints?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said there were no civil society organisations that addressed human rights in their charter, but many organisations worked in the field of human rights, providing social services to vulnerable persons, such those with disabilities. One organisation provided shelter for vulnerable persons, while another offered social support to vulnerable families. The Government was providing funds to civil society organisations which provided inclusive social services to vulnerable members of the public. A law on social services had been adopted, and 43 new social workers had been trained since 2021. These workers were enhancing public awareness around human rights. There were also initiatives underway to strengthen the training of social workers.
Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts
One Committee Expert asked whether there were ethnic minorities who had alleged violation of their rights. Did the Ombudsperson carry out the functions of a national human rights institute?
A Committee Expert asked whether judges received official homes. If judges were not financially independent, it was very difficult for them to provide quality justice. Was this the case? On what grounds were judges removed from their positions?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said data on ethnic and social groups was collected in the most recent census. The Government was cooperating with international organisations on the issue of human rights. Dialogue between these organisations needed to be impartial and cooperative.
The Ombudsperson referred complaints and communications to the judicial system and carried out monitoring of public administration. It held meetings with law enforcement officials and courts to discuss complaints. There were no complaints or legal proceedings regarding racial discrimination before the courts. Most complaints were about the actions of law enforcement officials and property issues. National action plans aimed to enhance awareness of the complaints procedure. The Ombudsperson and the National Human Rights Commission were separate entities. The Ombudsperson carried out monitoring of Government entities, while the National Human Rights Commission monitored the State’s international obligations.
Judges had five-year terms and an age limit to prevent corruption. Every person in the judiciary was provided with subsidised public housing, which did not affect the independence of the judiciary. The State guaranteed the inviolability of judges’ housing and means of transport.
Questions by Committee Experts
CHINSUNG CHUNG, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked about the constitutional provision which provided protection of ethnic minorities. Could the delegation give examples of individual cases when courts applied this provision, and of cases when compensation had been claimed by victims of discrimination?
How did the State party ensure that members of all ethnic minorities had access to education in their mother tongue? Were school textbooks in minority languages available? Were ethnic minorities' languages used in media and on television? What educational avenues were available to persons from Afghanistan or Iran who could not speak Turkmen?
The new Constitution prohibited political parties established on national or religious grounds and a similar ban was included in the 2012 Law on Political Parties. Did these laws interfere with the political representation of ethnic minority groups? What special measures were in place to ensure the effective participation and representation of members of ethnic minorities in public and political life?
According to the 2019 State report, the representation of ethnic minorities within the judicial staff stood at a mere 3.61 per cent, accounting for 31 staff members. Furthermore, out of 133 judges, none represented ethnic minorities. Why was this? What was the ethnic minority representation among lawyers and law enforcement bodies?
In April 2023, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended the redesignation of Turkmenistan as a “country of particular concern” for religious freedom violations. Members of some Christian organisations reportedly continued to face harassment, raids and house searches. What measures had been taken to protect the rights of minorities, including their right to freedom of religion? What had been the impact of the implementation of the Freedom of Religion and Religious Organizations Act of 2016?
During the dialogue with the Human Rights Committee in March 2023, the delegation indicated that the pardon of Mansur Mingelov, who was sentenced to 22 years’ imprisonment after exposing torture and ill-treatment of members of the ethnic Baloch minority, had been considered. What measures had been taken to release Mr. Mingelov and safeguard the right to a fair trial for all? How did the Government ensure the rights of national minorities in the criminal justice system? Had the State investigated allegations that members of national minorities had been subjected to human rights violations by law enforcement, judicial or prison officials, and held accountable anyone guilty of such violations?
Why had ethnic minority groups reportedly been impeded from receiving and disseminating information through the internet? Foreign news on the human rights situation of Turkmenistan was also reportedly blocked inside the country. It was reported that in 2023, only Turkmenistan authorities had access to satellite dishes to watch independent channels without Government censorship. Why could ethnic minorities not use satellite dishes to watch television in their native language?
The Committee received information that the Soviet-era propiska system of mandatory registration at the place of residence remained in force and continued to be enforced in ways that limited freedom of movement , including for ethnic minorities. Why was this? Some national minority leaders were subject to travel bans, and relatives of dissidents, journalists and activists had fled the country and now lived in exile. Ms. Chung called for an explanation of the situation.
There were reports about intimidation and harassment targeting the Baluchi, Persian and Afghan communities. What measures had been taken to punish and prevent those discriminatory practices? What was the situation of the Uzbek and Luli/Roma minorities, especially after the 2002 failed coup attempt against President Niyazov?
Turkmenistan adopted a system of compulsory military service, but failed to recognise the right of conscientious objection to military service. How many people had been imprisoned because of conscientious objection, and what were their ethnicities? How did the State guarantee the right to conscientious objection of some religious and ethnic minority groups? Were there plans to establish an alternative service replacing conscription? How had the Government revised so-called “Turkmenization” policies, assimilation policies that infringed ethnic minorities’ rights?
The Committee had received information on the dire situation many Turkmen migrants faced abroad, including extraterritorial killing, kidnapping, forced returns, or threats of violence. How did the State respond to this kind of information? In 2022, there had been threats against relatives of dissidents abroad. Could the delegation comment on these allegations? The Government continued to refuse to renew expiring passports for many Turkmen citizens residing abroad, and in September, Turkey, following the Turkmen Government’s request, abolished the visa exemption regulation for Turkmen nationals, placing many Turkmen migrant workers at risk of deportation. Why was this done?
In April, police in Ashgabat reportedly conducted mass raids against domestic migrant workers, detained and beat them, breaking a man’s jaw. In January, authorities expelled nearly 250 internal migrant workers from the Lebap region because they lacked “special permits” from authorities. What was the situation of undocumented migrant workers, including in the above cases?
The International Labour Organization had reported on forced labour organised by authorities in Turkmenistan in 2023. Were migrant workers also mobilised for forced labour? What measures had been taken for the prevention of forced labour and punishment against the perpetrators? The new Law on Civil Status Acts, which came into force in 2020, ensured that all children born in the country, including those with undocumented parents, had their births registered. How was this law implemented?
The Committee appreciated that a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the United Nations on the implementation of a socio-economic development plan in Turkmenistan. However, Turkmenistan had limited engagement with the special procedures mechanism, with only one visit from a Special Rapporteur having been conducted to date. What plans did the State have to increase engagement with the mechanism?
IBRAHIMA GUISSE, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked for information on the legislative and policy frameworks relating to asylum seekers and refugees, including updated information on measures to prevent the refoulement of asylum seekers. What measures would the State party take to respond to complaints to the Ombudsperson from foreign nationals and stateless persons in Turkmenistan? Could the Ombudsperson provide documents on the process of investigating violations of non-citizen’s rights? Apart from the Ombudsperson, did the Government have a mechanism for investigating violations of non-citizens’ rights? How many asylum seekers were coming into the country each year? How many applications had been rejected by relevant authorities?
How was the Refugee Act of 2017 reinforced and how did it guarantee the rights of refugees? How many refugees came into the country each year? What measures had been taken to protect persons from statelessness, including the procedure for determining statelessness, and measures to remove obstacles to birth registration? What measures were taken to ensure that non-citizens had access to education, employment, housing and health services? What legislative and policy frameworks relating to asylum-seekers and refugees were in place? How did the State party prevent the refoulement of asylum-seekers?
Were there examples of specific human rights education initiatives that had been integrated into school curricula? What had their impact been? How were teachers trained to effectively teach human rights principles and combat racial discrimination in their classrooms? How had the law enforcement sector been engaged in promoting cultural diversity and combating racial discrimination? Were there specialised training programmes in place to ensure law enforcement officials could handle diverse communities sensitively? Was the State implementing programmes for the Decade of People of African Descent?
One Committee Expert said that less than 40 per cent of girls were studying in higher education, which was lower than other countries in the region. Why had mosque schools which taught minority languages been closed? At universities, women were reportedly not allowed to study theology. Why was this?
Another Committee Expert asked for more information on the “third generation” test for proving that candidates for public offices were of Turkmen origin. The death penalty was still in force. How many death sentences had been handed down? Did the State party intend to declare a moratorium on the death penalty? What was the state of residual cases regarding statelessness after the termination of the related agreement with Russia?
A Committee Expert said that since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the region in which Turkmenistan was situated had experienced conflicts, including the most recent conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Turkmenistan maintained extremely fraternal relations with Russia, which was not the case with other countries in the region. Had Turkmenistan promoted discussions between the parties to the conflict to achieve peace? What could Turkmenistan do to intervene in the conflict?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said during the reporting period, the Ombudsperson visited correctional facilities several times, including women’s and children’s prisons. These facilities were also visited by diplomats accredited in Turkmenistan, and recently by diplomats from European Union countries and the United States. The citizen mentioned by the Committee had been convicted of several crimes in 2012, including illicit drug trading. He was currently serving a prison sentence handed down by a court. None of his rights had been violated. He had been visited by his family and had sent communications several times. The State party was considering pardoning this man and would inform the Committee of its decision.
Law enforcement officials were provided with regular training sessions on preventing racial discrimination and the Convention. Since 2019, over 1,000 training sessions for over 10,000 employees had been held. The allegation that police had broken a migrant’s jaw in Ashgabat was not fully true; the incident was not as serious as alleged. Police work was very risky and sometimes incidents did occur.
Judges were appointed by qualified members of the Supreme Court and acted independently. There were currently 32 judges of various ethnicities and 23 lawyers of ethnic minorities. 2.6 per cent of the police force were members of ethnic minorities. Judges could have their terms ended if they committed crimes. In the reporting period, cases against judges had not been considered. In recent years however, some judges had faced disciplinary action. Judges could retire from 62 years of age and could also leave their tenure voluntarily. The State guaranteed the independence of judges. 33 people had received administrative sentences for abusing their office, though there had been no such cases this year. The 2016 Law on Civil Servants established that officials needed to refrain from discriminatory speech on any grounds. The judges’ ethics code called on judges to respect the specificities of cultures. No complaints on racial discrimination had been lodged by citizens. The Code of Administrative Offences outlined that preventing the establishment of civil organisations was a violation of citizens’ rights. However, civil organisations that promoted ethnic hatred were not permitted. More than 800 people had received legal aid in 2021. Citizens, foreign nationals, and stateless persons had the right to appeal to the courts following damages.
26 per cent of employees of public organisations and 19.6 per cent of employees of religious organisations registered in Turkmenistan were from ethnic minorities. There were no reports of intimidation towards members of religious organisations. Authorities carried out preventive actions to curb acts of radicalism and terrorism, by engaging in outreach work.
One of the priorities of the 2022 Memorandum of Understanding with the United Nations was to introduce human rights education and to implement a national action plan on human rights. The project aimed to enhance awareness among public officials and students of human rights. A special working group had been set up to develop and implement human rights teaching materials. Several training seminars had been conducted, with the participation of international experts, to enhance the human rights teaching process. Human rights were addressed in school curricula in the ninth and tenth grades through various subjects, but a dedicated course had yet to be developed. The working group had drawn up a roadmap to developing a human rights course, which was expected to be finalised later this year. A special gender course for civil servants had also been drafted, which would be finalised by the end of 2024. The State was cooperating with United Nations agencies to publish manuals for lawyers and judges on the protection of human rights. A team of national trainers on human rights education had been set up and training for trainers had been developed. At the Sustainable Development Goals Centre within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, roundtables on topical human rights issues, including the implementation of the Convention into national legislation, were held regularly. Information on international treaties to which Turkmenistan was a party had been made available in all Government libraries and universities. A democracy and law journal was published in Russian, which was a lingua franca for various ethnic minorities. By the end of 2024, the Government aimed to introduce human rights courses at high schools and universities.
Non-citizens had the same rights as citizens, including in health, education, housing and employment rights, but excluding voting. Refoulement was prohibited. There were no reports of expulsion of asylum seekers, however asylum seekers could be expelled in the event of violations. Turkmenistan had successfully addressed the issue of stateless persons through the “I Belong” campaign. It had introduced a law on defining the status of stateless persons, developed a system for registering stateless persons, and had completed an inventory of stateless persons. It aimed to bring the number of stateless persons to zero by 2024. All children in Turkmenistan were registered at birth. Children of stateless persons were given access to all State services. Visas were provided in as little as three hours if fast tracked. The Government provided assistance to stateless persons to obtain necessary documents free of charge.
The right to education was fundamental. Turkmenistan residents were guaranteed to receive high-quality education throughout their life, regardless of their ethnicity. There were 1,400 students of minority ethnicities in colleges. Over 5,000 Turkmenistan students were studying abroad. Foreign language tuition was mandatory. Tuition was provided in Russian and English in certain schools. Due to a lack of resources, there were few schools which provided education in other minority languages. There had been no requests to the State to provide tuition in minority languages. Intensive education was provided in a variety of foreign languages in over 140 schools. There were 17,000 representatives of minority groups working in the education sector.
The claims that the State blocked minority groups’ access to the internet was groundless. The coverage of the broadband network had recently been increased, with such efforts expedited during the COVID-19 pandemic. The majority of the population sought content by domestic creators on internet platforms.
Turkmenistan had cooperated with the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, to implement the national action plan on human rights. The United Nations Development Programme had provided support to prepare for the dialogue. The Government sought to increase the presence of international organisations within the State. A Memorandum of Cooperation on linguistic and cultural diversity in Turkmenistan had been signed in 2021 with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. This project promoted the development of education resources promoting mother tongue education for ethnic communities. The State party was considering issuing a declaration concerning Article 14 of the Convention.
Legal proceedings were carried out in Turkmen, and persons who did not speak the language were provided with interpretation assistance in their mother tongue. A law on political parties had been developed that did not restrict the rights of ethnic minorities.
In December 1999, a Presidential Decree abolished the death penalty. Turkmenistan was working with countries in Central Asia and Mongolia to abolish the death penalty locally.
Several visits by the International Labour Organization to Turkmenistan had been organised in recent years. The International Labour Organization aimed to review Turkmenistan’s legislation and issue recommendations regarding regulation of seasonal work and inspection of places of employment. Several ministries and local entities were actively engaged in the process. Within the limits of their authority, supervising bodies ensured compliance with the State’s labour laws. 2,600 individuals had violated labour laws in 2022, which was a decrease from 2021.
Turkmenistan was also closely working with the special procedures mechanism, and had issued a standing invitation. It had cooperated with working groups on issues such as torture and was discussing a visit from the Special Rapporteur on cultural rights.
National minorities residing in Turkmenistan did not face restrictions in accessing information. On social networks, various ethnicities transferred information in their own languages. Most countries had a colonial past. Members of various ethnicities were comfortable sharing information in Russian, and the use of Russian was not restricted. Currently, 47 Afghan citizens were receiving education in Turkmen universities. Afghan exchange students received a year of training in Turkmen before commencing studies in Turkmen and English.
Citizens were free to exercise their right to freedom of religion. Members of unregistered religious organisations, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, could freely practice their religions in private spaces. Mansur Mingelov had been convicted of smuggling. He falsely labelled himself as a human rights defender.
Card access to foreign language television channels was gradually being rolled out in Turkmenistan for all citizens. An agreement had been signed with Uzbekistan, to demarcate the border between the two States. Uzbeks were not resettled in uninhabited places. Currently, there was no strong need to develop an alternative to military service. Members of Jehovah’s Witnesses were provided with opportunities to carry out their public service in non-military bodies. Turkmen passports were extended during the COVID-19 pandemic. Turkish visas had been annulled to reform and streamline the migration process. Turkmen citizens had previously had their labour rights abused by Turkish employers. Under the new visa system, Turkish employers were required to uphold Turkmen citizens’ labour rights.
The Government had prepared a special document obliging employers hiring migrants to comply with strict regulations and respect migrants’ rights. Migrant workers needed to be provided with housing, salaries and medical insurance. Migrants also needed to be registered, so the State could monitor their situations. No company employees had been beaten by employers.
Persons of African descent were not present in the country. There were seven madrasa centres where both boys and girls could study. There was a uniform and dress code for female and male students at universities in Turkmenistan. This did not violate the rights of ethnic minorities to wear their own dress in daily life. Candidates for Government positions did not need to prove that they had been citizens for three generations; one or two would suffice.
Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts
CHINSUNG CHUNG, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked how stateless parents were protected from deportation when registering their children. How could people in exile register their children? The Uzbek population represented more than 10 per cent of all ethnic groups. What specialised education was provided for Uzbeks? What was the reason for the low rate of representation of ethnic minorities in the judiciary and law enforcement?
The Ombudsperson reportedly conducted human rights education at prison facilities. What was the impact of this education? Was it conducted at closed maximum security prisons? Did the State party plan to ratify the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment?
IBRAHIMA GUISSE, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked how minorities were represented in school textbooks. Action needed to be taken to allow the registration of non-governmental organizations. Why were only seven Afghan families registered with the State?
One Committee Expert asked if judges in all courts who had served their five-year terms could be reappointed.
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said parents could not be deported from Turkmenistan when registering their children. There were no such cases of deportation. Citizens of Turkmenistan residing abroad could provide a foreign birth certificate, on the basis of which Turkmenistan citizenship was issued to their children.
There were no refugees from Afghanistan who were staying in Turkmenistan long-term other than those who had fled to the State in the early 1990s. Afghan citizens who had fled to the State in recent years had since returned to Afghanistan. School textbooks were available in Turkmen, English and Russian only.
Judges in all courts could be reappointed for subsequent terms. The Ombudsperson issued requests to conduct visits to prisons and the relevant facility set the date of the visit. Visits to maximum security facilities were planned.
CHINSUNG CHUNG, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said she appreciated that the delegation had participated in the open, fruitful dialogue. The information provided would help the Committee to draft concluding observations. It hoped that its recommendations would contribute to improvement of the human rights situation in Turkmenistan. Ms. Chung expressed thanks to all persons who had contributed to the dialogue.
IBRAHIMA GUISSE, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, thanked the delegation for the important dialogue, given the situation in the region. The Committee typically cross-referenced data provided by the State party with data from non-governmental organizations, but this was not possible for this dialogue. Mr. Guisse looked forward to future in-depth discussion with the State party.
VERENE ALBERTHA SHEPHERD, Committee Chairperson, said that it did not matter that there were no people of African descent in the country. The idea of the Decade of People of African Descent was to teach about the harms caused by racial discrimination. Education on tolerance and acceptance of diversity was important. The Committee expected all State parties to the Convention to engage in these efforts. Discrimination did not need to be direct. State parties also needed to watch out for indirect discrimination.
VEPA HAJIYEV, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and head of the delegation, thanked the Committee for the open, constructive dialogue. Turkmenistan, as a neutral State, partnered with the United Nations and its agencies. Mr. Hajiyev said that the State party would conduct a detailed analysis of all recommendations issued by the Committee and would assess the outcomes of its work in implementing the Convention. Education on racial discrimination was important. The State party intended to implement the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. Tolerance of people of different races and ethnicities was promoted in Turkmenistan. The State planned to put forward proposals regarding actions to improve Turkmenistan’s delivery on its international commitments. Turkmenistan was not immune from the problems of other States. Turkmenistan had hosted talks with the Taliban to secure peace in Afghanistan. It sought to achieve peace for its neighbouring countries. It was providing contracts to Ukrainian refugees so that they could secure employment. Turkmenistan was not involved in the export of weapons to conflicting parties.
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