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UN: Turkmenistan, Iran Criticized On Human Rights

The UN Security Council (file photo) United Nations, 21 December 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The UN General Assembly has passed a resolution calling on Turkmenistan to end a range of abusive human rights practices, and also passed a resolution calling on Iran to carry out reforms to curb abuses.

The vote by the full assembly yesterday mirrored the action taken by its human rights committee last month and succeeded despite a last-minute effort by Turkmenistan to block the resolution. Turkmenistan's UN ambassador, Aksoltan Ataeva, proposed a "no-action" motion, a procedure that Belarus used last month to end debate on its record.

Ataeva said Turkmenistan had adopted an "active, open, and constructive" approach to rights issues since a similar resolution was adopted last year. She said the sponsors of the measure -- mainly European states and the United States -- had failed to substantiate the accusations in the resolution.

Dutch envoy Arjan Hamburger, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said it is a balanced resolution. He told the assembly that Turkmenistan's record requires the scrutiny of the international community:

"Despite registering some improvements, the resolution reflected the fact that the overall picture of human rights in Turkmenistan remains one of serious concern and requires the greatest attention of our organization," Hamburger said.

The resolution 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. It was adopted by a vote of 69 to 47, with 63 abstentions.

The UN's single-country resolutions are nonbinding but carry great symbolic weight. They are seen by human rights experts as an effective way of "shaming" countries into curbing abuses.

But a number of developing countries resent the measures and have increasingly banded together to defeat them. Turkmenistan's effort to block the vote drew the support of China and Pakistan. Pakistani representative Bilal Hayee told the assembly that such resolutions do more to antagonize states than to advance the cause of human rights.
The UN's single-country resolutions are nonbinding but carry great symbolic weight.

"It is our conviction that adopting resolutions by naming and shaming some countries will not serve the objectives of the United Nations," Hayee said. "On the contrary, it increases the risk of generating confrontation and politicization at the international level on human rights issues by creating a gulf between the developed and the developing countries, quite opposite to the very agenda of the United Nations."

But EU officials say that in Turkmenistan's case, the resolutions have brought needed international engagement with Ashgabat after its crackdown on opposition. EU officials note improved dialogue between the Turkmen government and international monitors in the past year, including a recent invitation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's high commissioner on national minorities to visit the country.

Iran Singled Out

Also yesterday, the General Assembly adopted a resolution for the second year in a row expressing concern about Iran's human rights record. That measure passed by a vote of 71 to 54, with 55 abstentions. The resolution cites an Iranian crackdown on media and also notes discrimination against women and the use of torture. It calls on Iran to take steps such as judicial and penitentiary reforms and eliminating all forms of discrimination based on religious grounds.

Iran has called the charges baseless and motivated by the domestic concerns of the resolution's chief sponsor, Canada. A Canadian photojournalist, Zahra Kazemi, died last year while in custody in Iran.

An Iranian court last summer moved to end the trial of the key suspect in her death. That prompted an outcry from Canada and Kazemi's legal team, led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi.