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Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Review


9 December 2008 (morning)
For use of information media; not an official record

The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfilment of human rights obligations by Turkmenistan this morning, during which 35 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

· This morning, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the report on the United Arab Emirates following the review of the country on Thursday, 4 December.

· Presenting the national report of Turkmenistan was SHIRIN AKHMEDOVA, Director of the Institute for Human Rights and Democracy under the President of Turkmenistan, who noted that the new Turkmenistan was carrying out broad an important reforms in education health social society and in the legal sphere to improve the welfare of people including those living in remote areas in the country. Turkmenistan had become party to several international human rights instruments and in 1992 became a full fledged member of the United Nations. In Turkmenistan there were now broader spheres of freedoms and the Government was endeavouring to eliminate all forms of discrimination. Among other steps taken, the Committee on the Rights of Women drafted new legislation extending the scope of anti-discrimination measures protecting women. The new Constitution enhanced government support to civil society and strengthened the independence of the judiciary, among other things.

The head of delegation noted that on 14 December this year elections will be held for new Parliament during which 125 new deputies will be elected; under the previous Constitution there were only 65 members. The deputies will have the task of paving electing a new President, as laid down in the Constitution. The parliamentary elections are being organized by the State’s Electoral Commission and will include both national and foreign observers; some 40 international observers had been identified from CIS countries. The new Constitution will give an impetus to those Government bodies working in the area of human rights in the country. At present, they are tasked with rationalizing all national legislation in line with the Constitution. In addition to the conventions already ratified, the State was preparing for the ratification of the CEDAW [Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women]. By way of concluding she said Turkmenistan sought technical cooperation from the international community in order to assist it in preparing its treaty body reports and to bring its legislation up to international standards.

· During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the establishment of an inter-ministerial commission in 2007 tasked with drafting reports for the treaty bodies and for overseeing compliance with the respective conventions; the ratification of most international human rights instruments, including the recent ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; the extended invitation to the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief; the abolition of the death penalty; the establishment of the Citizens’ Complaint Commission; cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; steps taken to sensitize the public about human rights matters; and initiatives taken towards democratic reform.

· Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and observers participating in the interactive discussion related to measures taken to combat all forms of religious intolerance to ensure religion could be practiced freely in Turkmenistan; challenges to provide education for all without discrimination; how the State ensured free education for children in remote areas; reported favouritism to ethnic Turkmen in areas of higher education and education and public sector employment; main steps taken and shortcoming with regard to the issue of refugees; steps being taken to guarantee the rights of minorities in the country; policies of forced assimilation and discriminatory attitudes and practices toward national and ethnic minorities; steps intended to remove restrictions to the functioning of independent civil society organizations; measures to promote awareness about and prevent HIV/AIDS; and the urgent needs of the State in terms of receiving technical assistance and capacity building in the area of human rights.

Other questions pertained to legislative measures being set forth to fight discrimination against women and the main steps being taken in the promotion and fulfilment of the rights of the child, the rights of women and to combat all forms of discrimination; actions to better protect victims of the practices discrimination against divorced women and on the practice of arranged marriages; plans to extend the role of women in decision making processes; intentions of the State to increase the level of women in secondary education; the existence of registration procedures for children of detainees; measures taken to combat the challenges of human trafficking; and the timing for ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

Another set of questions covered the measures taken to address the issues of restriction of freedom of expression and access to the Internet; initiatives planned to ensure a reliable investigation the death of journalist Ogulsapar Muradova while in prison in September 2006; the fate of two journalists, Mr. Ovezov and Mr. Khommadov, both working for Radio Liberty, who had been arrested on 7 March 2006 and held in incommunicado since then; the State’s polices to ensure the freedom of movement; how the Government was tacking corruption; plans for a transparent review of political cases of the past deemed unjust; and the State’s policy and measures to prevent and combat torture and ill treatment, including in prisons and detention centres.

· A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: To implement the provisions of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on Transnational Organized Crime geared towards preventing and punishing human trafficking, especially of women and children; to step up measures to combat all forms of human trafficking; to strengthen its policy on the prevention of combat of child labour and on the full guarantee on the rights of the child, with special attention to children without parental care; to cooperate closely with UNICEF as well as Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the protection of the rights of the child; to follow up on the recommendations of CEDAW to adopt laws and procedures to ensure that women had access to justice and were apprised of their rights better; to continue with efforts to implement measures to ensure education services were in line with international standards.

Other recommendations included: To adopt adequate measures for the promotion and protection of religious freedoms; to ensure that the right of freedom of religion was not limited to members of registered religious communities; to consider additional policy measures to prevent discrimination against LGTB [lesbian, gay, transgender and bi-sexual] persons; to decriminalize same sex activities; to fully respect the right of everyone to be free to leave and return to their own country in conformity with the ICCPR article 12, to which Turkmenistan was a party, and by this revoke any existing travel bans on human rights defenders; to provide free social services for all; and to abolish legislation and practices arising from the residence registration systems.

Additionally, Turkmenistan was recommended to conduct a nationwide, transparent review of all potentially political cases of past years and release all those found to have been incarcerated on politically motivated charges; to consider positively the request of the Special Rapporteur on torture to visit the country as a matter of priority; to grant access to detainees by the ICRC; to eradicate impunity for torture and other ill treatment and to investigate such cases thoroughly and ensure perpetrators were brought to justice; to take steps to ensure greater independence of the judiciary, including through the establishment of a constitutional court and ombudsman system; to ratify the ICC Rome Statute; and to establish an institution to receive and investigate complaints by the public.

Another set of recommendations included: To hold an independent inquiry into the September 2006 death of journalist Ogulsapar Muradova while in prison; to adopt all measures to maximize the plurality of the media to fully respect the freedom of the press; to take additional steps to guarantee freedom of opinion, association and assembly; to comply to its international obligations to act against any forms of harassment or intimidation of journalists; to guarantee that human rights defenders were able to enjoy the freedom of association and to work freely according to United Nations standards; to release all human rights defenders and take measures to protect them from prosecution and to ensure the safe environment for their activities; to take effective measures to allow civil society groups to register and work freely; to reforms the registration process to facilitate the work of civil society organizations; to ensure that opposition parties were permitted to participate freely in the political process without fear of retribution; and to invite the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders to visit the country.

Other recommendations included to extend a standing invitation to all Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council; to provide human rights courses in the school curriculum; to take appropriate attention to taking up the relevant provisions in domestic legislation were brought in line with the international conventions it was party to; to present its periodic reports to the human rights treaty bodies as soon as possible and ensure that civil society was included in the process of producing the reports; to continue efforts in seeing through its reform agenda as stipulated in the newly adopted Constitution; and for the international community to provide technical assistance to Turkmenistan towards attaining the Millennium Development Goals.

· Working Group Members taking the floor during the interactive discussion were France, Switzerland, Russian Federation, Azerbaijan, Italy, Brazil, the Netherlands, India, Mexico, Canada, Slovenia, Japan, Slovakia, the Republic of Korea, Pakistan, Malaysia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Qatar, China, Argentina, Bangladesh and Uruguay.

· Observer States participating in the discussion were Turkey, Algeria, Poland, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Iran, Romania and Hungary.

· The two-person delegation of Turkmenistan consisted of representatives of the Institute for Human Rights and Democracy under the President of Turkmenistan and the Permanent Mission of Turkmenistan to the UN Office at Vienna.

· The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Turkmenistan are the Philippines, Chile and Gabon.

· In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Turkmenistan can be found here.

· Adoption of report on the United Arab Emirates: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on the United Arab Emirates are Indonesia, Argentina and Cameroon. Introducing the report on behalf of the troika WESAKA PUJA (Indonesia) said the troika noted that the UAE had been constructive to the suggestions and recommendations put forward by different members of the Working Group and was certain that their contributions and consistent promotion of human rights could only serve to further consolidate the future progress that the UAE had shown itself keen to attain. The draft report accurately reflected the discussion during the interactive dialogue. Representing the State under review, ANWAR MOHAMMED GARGASH, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said the UPR provided an opportunity to take into account the progress the UAE had made. It also served as a reminder of the shortcomings and challenges that required attention in the future. The UAE accepted a number of recommendations made by States aimed to improve the human rights situation in the country. The UAE was committed to the objective of the UPR and looked forward to working with the international community to ensure that the rights of all human beings were respected with the highest international standards.

· The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Turkmenistan on Thursday, 11 December.

· When the UPR Working Group continues its work this afternoon at 2.30 p.m. it will review the fulfilment of human rights obligations by Burkina Faso after which it is scheduled to adopt the report on Israel.

Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx. To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp

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