A top UN human rights official has concluded a weeklong visit to Turkmenistan by noting the situation has "much improved" over the past two years.Asma Jahangir
, the UN's special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, said a "number of initiatives" have been taken by the Turkmen government since 2007 to set up mechanisms to address human rights issues. She did not elaborate.
"Turkmenistan is a fast progressing country and there is a high level of tolerance in its society," Jahangir said, while noting that "individuals and religious communities still face a number of difficulties."
She said she had been assured by the government "that any concerns I may have regarding the situation will be taken into account." She thanked the government of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov for its "very good cooperation."
Berdymukhammedov succeeded the late Turkmen authoritarian ruler Saparmurat Niyazov, who died in December 2006. Berdymukhammedov is credited with taking limited steps toward liberalization.
In addition to meetings held in the capital, Ashgabat, Jahangir said she was able to travel to the cities of Dashoguz, Turkmenbashy, and Balkanabat.
During her mission, Jahangir said she raised concerns about vague or excessive legislation on religious issues and the arbitrary implementation of the legislation. In addition, she said, a number of religious communities face restrictions relating to places of worship and imports of religious material.
She said she is also concerned that conscientious objection remains a criminal offense in Turkmenistan, and that no alternative civilian service is offered.
Jahangir will make a full country report to the Human Rights Council
in March 2009.
At least one Turkmen rights groups disagrees strongly about the extent of the reforms in Turkmenistan, however. Read more from the Watchdog blog here