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UN: General Assembly Committee Presses Turkmenistan To Improve Rights Conditions

United Nations, 25 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A UN General Assembly committee has approved a resolution calling on Turkmenistan to end what it calls "serious and continuing human rights violations" in the country.

The assembly's human rights committee approved the measure by a vote of 72 to 37, with 53 abstentions. The main supporters of the measure were European states. Russia also voted in favor of the resolution although it normally votes against efforts to single out states for rights abuses.

Approval by the UN committee means the resolution is likely to be passed by the whole General Assembly next month. Such measures are not binding but carry symbolic importance

The resolution, introduced by current EU President Italy, urges compliance with the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Commission on ending abuses, particularly religious and political repression. The abuses are linked to a crackdown that followed an alleged assassination attempt on President Saparmurat Niyazov one year ago.

The rights situation has deteriorated since the commission's April resolution calling for reforms in Turkmenistan, according to an Italian UN envoy, Andrea Cavalieri.

In introducing the new measure on 21 November, Cavalieri pointed to new restrictive laws on public associations and freedom of religion and religious organizations passed by the Turkmen Parliament in October.

Cavalieri told the committee the laws impose onerous legal requirements for organizations to acquire official registration.

"Individuals involved in a civic organization, operating without registration, face harassment, intimidation and, most disturbing of all, criminal prosecution for their peaceful activities. These laws are not in line with international standards of human rights and the international obligations of the government of Turkmenistan," Cavalieri said.

The resolution, approved yesterday, calls for the Turkmen government to work with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to facilitate further visits by its high commissioner on national minorities. It calls on the government to grant international organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as lawyers and relatives, immediate access to detained persons.

Turkmenistan's UN ambassador, Aksoltan Ataeva, said her country was making progress in addressing human rights concerns and the resolution was undeserved.

Ataeva told the committee yesterday that Turkmenistan has begun working with the UN's high commissioner for human rights and has invited UN experts to the country in January for technical assistance. It has also worked with the OSCE on various rights projects, she said.

The ambassador said Turkmenistan is willing to maintain dialogue and cooperation with international bodies on human rights issues. But the resolution, she said, was not an effective way to deal with them.

"We believe that the attempt to expedite the process of democratization and transformation of a sovereign state through these methods will not produce the desired results," Ataeva said.

Most of the opposition to the measure came from Islamic states, which regularly vote against efforts to single out developing states for rights abuses. An envoy from Pakistan, Ishtiaq Andrabi, defended Turkmenistan's rights record, saying it has taken a number of concrete steps since April to work with UN rights experts.

Andrabi told the committee there is a need to maintain what he called a "conducive atmosphere" for deepening cooperation in human rights reform.

"This practice [of adopting a resolution] transforms the work of this committee into an extremely political exercise rather than to advance the call of human rights," Andrabi said.

Yesterday's resolution does take note of the Turkmen government's recent contact with UN and OSCE experts. But Cavalieri, in his introductory remarks, said the government still must take significant steps to improve the rights situation.

"We want the nascent dialogue between Turkmenistan and the international community, including the OSCE, to continue, and most of all, we want it to yield concrete results, like more cooperation with all the commission of human rights mechanisms and access to detainees for independent international bodies like ICRC," Andrabi said.

The resolution calls on Turkmenistan to inform the UN Human Rights Commission of the steps it has taken prior to the commission's annual meeting next March. If rights abuses continue, Turkmenistan is likely to face another critical resolution by the commission.