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Turkmenistan: UN Human Rights Commission Condemns Turkmen Abuses For First Time

  • Robert McMahon

The top United Nations human rights body has condemned violations in Turkmenistan for the first time. It passed a resolution citing, in particular, abuses in a crackdown following the November assassination attempt against President Saparmurat Niyazov. Human rights activists greeted the resolution, saying it sheds a rare spotlight on Turkmenistan's affairs. But they regretted other moves by the commission, including a failure to consider measures on China, Iran, and Zimbabwe, and the defeat of a resolution condemning Russian practices in Chechnya.

United Nations, 17 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations Human Rights Commission has passed a resolution condemning Turkmenistan for a range of abuses including torture and political and religious repression.

The commission, which is the world's foremost human rights body, approved a resolution yesterday that criticized what it called a Turkmen government policy "based on repression of all political opposition."

It cited, in particular, a wave of arbitrary detentions and arrests, and harassment and forced displacement of family members of those accused in the assassination attempt on President Saparmurat Niyazov last November.

The resolution was sponsored by the European Union and was approved by a vote of 23 to 16, with 14 abstentions.

A Turkmen representative (whose name was not immediately available) told the commission that the resolution was based on a superficial view of the situation in Turkmenistan, especially the events following the assassination attempt. The representative said the resolution would have a negative impact on the progress of human rights in his country.

But human rights activists welcomed the resolution, saying it could provide a new lever for countries to press for rights reforms in Turkmenistan.

It could also mark the start of steady UN monitoring of the country, said Rory Mungoven, an expert at Human Rights Watch. She said "it puts the human rights situation in Turkmenistan on the international agenda for the very first time. This resolution is something we can build upon. I think the first and foremost step is to try and get the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the other UN human rights experts into the country to really look at things firsthand and to come back with some recommendations."

Mungoven tells RFE/RL that one signal of the Turkmen government's concern about the Human Rights Commission vote was its release last week of Farid Tukhbatullin. He's an environmental activist who was arrested in December in the postassassination crackdown.

Mungoven says it is significant that Turkmenistan -- considered one of the world's most closed societies -- has now been singled out for censure by the UN. He said: "I think it's important -- particularly with a country like Turkmenistan, which tends to manipulate its participation in the UN and various international bodies domestically as a kind of endorsement for its policies, feeds it into its domestic propaganda -- that a very clear signal be sent by the international community that it's way out of line."

The UN resolution urged the Turkmen government to ensure full respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms and to cooperate with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello and his office. But it did not authorize sending independent monitors to the country.

Rights watchdogs have increasingly raised concern about conditions in Central Asia. They accuse the United States of shielding many of the region's governments from censure because of their support for antiterror efforts in nearby Afghanistan.

In yesterday's vote, the United States voted for the resolution. Russia, Armenia, and Ukraine voted against the measure.

Another country from the region that recently came under UN scrutiny was Uzbekistan. In December, the UN human rights rapporteur on torture, Theo van Boven, concluded a two-week fact-finding mission in Uzbekistan with the declaration that torture is "systematic" in the country's prisons and detention camps.

Aside from the vote on Turkmenistan, the commission yesterday also condemned North Korea for its repressive practices. Otherwise, the session was marked by a move away from the "naming and shaming" of countries that had been seen as an effective part of its work in the past.

The commission voted against a resolution that would have called on Russia to prevent human rights violations in Chechnya and a resolution that would have criticized Zimbabwe for its widely publicized crackdown on dissent.

Human Rights Watch officials expressed concern that resolutions were not even tabled on several countries previously under scrutiny at the commission, including Iran, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Serbia and Montenegro.

It said a chairman's statement on Afghanistan, drafted for final adoption next week, fails to endorse a proposal for an international commission of inquiry to address past crimes, or to call for an increase in UN human rights monitors.

The commission will consider resolutions today that would highlight abuses in Belarus and call for a reassessment of the situation in Iraq.

Additional information/audio from the session will be available at