Despite some progress, Turkmenistan still has a long way to go in promoting human rights, says a senior United Nations official, who cited the need to address issues such as judicial independence, discrimination and the plight of vulnerable groups.
“Respect for human rights and the rule of law are essential to transform the effects of economic development into social change leading to a democratic society, lasting peace and security and the well-being of all who live in Turkmenistan,” Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonovic said in a statement at the end of his two-day visit to the Central Asian nation.
“Some significant laws have been adopted or amended. However, a lot more work is needed to complete this process and to ensure practice is in line with international standards.”
He noted, for example, that criminal legislation was amended, defining the crime of torture and exclusion of evidence obtained through torture. However, there have been no cases of application of the exclusion provision in court proceedings, nor have there been any criminal prosecutions for torture.
Also, the Prosecutor General’s Office is in charge of monitoring all places of deprivation of liberty. “However, I was informed that it has not received any cases alleging torture from detainees or their lawyers, nor has it initiated an investigation of possible cases ex officio.
“This illustrates the need for independent monitoring of detention facilities in line with the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture,” he stated.
Mr. Šimonovic, who visited the country from 24 to 25 May, also noted that his discussions with the Ministry of Justice, the Supreme Court and the Prosecutor General’s Office led him to conclude that “there is no independence of the judiciary” and that court proceedings are still subject to an oversight of legality by the Office of the Prosecutor General.
“Without the appointment and promotion of judges in accordance with the internationally recognized principles of merit and separation of power, there will be no guarantees of their impartiality and independence,” he stated.
Among the issues he raised in his meetings was the representation and participation of women in public life, in particular in law enforcement bodies. “I understand that there are a few women police officers but no female prosecutors at all,” he said. “Empowerment of women and their inclusion in the justice system is a prerequisite for fighting discrimination and domestic violence.”
He also discussed human trafficking, juvenile justice, health, HIV/AIDS, education, human rights and counter-terrorism, enforced disappearances, as well as the situation of vulnerable groups such as persons with disabilities, refugees, asylum-seekers and stateless persons.
Regarding pending requests for visits by several independent human rights experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, Mr. Šimonovic emphasized the importance of granting their requests, especially for the Special Rapporteur on Torture, who has already been received by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
He also highlighted in his meetings that independent civil society is “indispensible” for democratic state-building, through ensuring effective enjoyment of the freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, religion or belief.
“I hope that the recently adopted laws on political parties and the mass media may be steps in the right direction that will lead to a widening of the democratic space,” he said, adding that the UN human rights office (OHCHR) is willing to support and cooperate with the Government if it decides to move in this direction.
The next stop on Mr. Šimonovic’s visit to Central Asia, which has already taken him to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, is Uzbekistan.