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Turkmenistan: UN Panel Expresses 'Grave Concern' At Abuses

A UN General Assembly committee has approved a resolution expressing "grave concern" at human rights abuses in Turkmenistan. The resolution cites repression of political opposition activities and harassment of people seeking freedom of expression, including local correspondents of Radio Liberty. But the measure also sought to acknowledge recent steps by Turkmenistan to cooperate with international rights monitors. The country's foreign minister denied the most serious charges in the resolution.

United Nations, 19 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A UN General Assembly committee has called on Turkmenistan to take stronger measures to curb human rights abuses, saying government policy was still based on repression of all political opposition.

A resolution adopted yesterday cited continued restrictions on the exercise of freedoms of thought, conscience, religion, and belief. It called for the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience.

The measure also expressed "grave concern" about what it termed "serious harassment" of local correspondents and collaborators of Radio Liberty.

The committee's action, sponsored by the European Union, noted improved dialogue between the Turkmen government and international monitors. This was a direct result of a similar measure passed last year by the General Assembly, said Dutch envoy Koen van der Wolk, whose country currently holds the EU Presidency.

"We continue to believe in the dialogue with Turkmenistan through all the existing mechanisms, through the [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe], and in that sense I think this resolution will certainly help to further improve in that cooperation," Van der Wolk said.
Most Western states voted for the resolution, and it was opposed by developing and Muslim states.

The measure was approved by a vote of 65:49, with 56 abstentions. Most Western states voted for the resolution. It was opposed by developing and Muslim states, including those belonging to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Such resolutions, when approved in committee, are routinely adopted by the full General Assembly. The assembly is due to vote next month on the measure, which is nonbinding but carries the weight of world opinion.

On 16 November, Turkmenistan invited the OSCE's high commissioner on national minorities to visit the country by the end of the year.

The country's foreign minister, Rashid Meredov, told the UN committee that such steps show Turkmenistan's sincerity in addressing rights issues. He challenged many of the allegations in the resolution.

"The co-authors of the resolution cannot provide a single fact or example substantiating [its allegations]," Meredov said. "We affirm that there is not a single case of arrest or conviction for political, religious, or any other motives related to the expression of opinions or beliefs by the people."

The foreign minister suggested the sponsors of the resolution were interfering with Turkmen affairs.

"We believe this draft resolution brings direct political pressure on Turkmenistan," Meredov said. "We consider this an attempt to involve Turkmenistan, which possesses many natural resources and has an important geographic position in the region, in the realization of plans by certain countries or groups of countries in spite of the neutral status of our country."

Van der Wolf told RFE/RL that EU officials have "credible and reliable" evidence to support all charges in the resolution. He said the EU will continue to press the Turkmen government to reform its rights practices.

"You may call it -- as the minister himself called it -- 'pressure,' but indeed pressure is not so bad at all," Van der Wolf said. "It really helps the government of Turkmenistan to continue on their way of taking positive steps."

Earlier this year, the UN's Human Rights Commission in Geneva passed a resolution on Turkmenistan similarly expressing grave concern about the government's crackdown on opposition.

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