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UN rights official wraps up visit to Central Asia

UN rights official wraps up visit to Central Asia

A top United Nations rights official has wrapped up a two-week visit to Central Asia with a stop in Turkmenistan, where he urged decision-makers to step up cooperation with human rights institutions and activists to help address widespread allegations of grave violations of human rights.

The Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bertrand Ramcharan, was in the region to enhance dialogue and technical cooperation between the governments of Central Asia and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and to follow-up Secretary-General Kofi Annan's visit to the area last October.

In Turkmenistan from 13 to 15 March, Mr. Ramcharan met with a number of high-ranking officials, including the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Education, and with representatives of the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights.

Mr. Ramcharan discussed with the leaders the submission of overdue reports to the UN human rights panels on efforts to implement international human rights conventions, noting that Turkmenistan had submitted none of the reports due under the covenants it had ratified. Recently, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) considered the situation in the country without a report, and had recommended that the Government avail itself of technical assistance from the OHCHR.

During his visit, Mr. Ramcharan also went to the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights and discussed possible areas of cooperation with the Institute's leadership. In meetings with the Chairman of the Supreme Court, he discussed the idea of a conference for senior judges on international human rights law. He also explored the idea of stationing a human rights expert in the UN's country office to work on human rights projects, including human rights education.

Prompted by a number of written submissions from international organizations and international non-governmental organizations about serious human rights violations said to be taking place in Turkmenistan, Mr. Ramcharan also met with local civil society leaders. They told him about what they considered grave deficiencies in the rule of law, abuses by law enforcement officials, the absence of opposition parties, and incidents of torture. They also voiced concerns on the right to education.

For his part, the Deputy High Commissioner called for full compliance with the principles of due process and fair trial, and suggested that the Government invite the UN's top legal affairs experts to visit the country. He also suggested that the Government consider allowing visits from the UN's top experts on torture, the right to education, and racial discrimination to look into the serious concerns raised by local leaders.

During his trip to Central Asia, which began on 4 March, Mr. Ramcharan also made stops in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, as well as a brief stopover in Azerbaijan.