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Senior UN human rights official concludes visit to Turkmenistan, 24 - 25 May 2013

ISTANBUL (26 May 2013) -- Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic issued the following statement at the end of his visit to Turkmenistan:

"On 24 - 25 May I visited Turkmenistan where I met high representatives of the State and international community. I saw visible signs of economic development. Respect for human rights and the rule of law are essential to transform the effects of economic development into social change leading to a democratic society, lasting peace and security and the well-being of all who live in Turkmenistan.

During the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) held in Geneva in May 2013, Turkmenistan received 183 recommendations from the UN Human Rights Council, of which it accepting 85, rejected 8 and took the remaining 90 home for consideration by September 2013. I met the Interdepartmental Commission on the implementation of the international human rights obligations of Turkmenistan, chaired by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers. Coordinated at the working level by the President’s National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (NIDHR), it represents a useful model of a senior-level national coordination mechanism.

In my meetings with both, I discussed the areas and forms of possible cooperation in implementation of recommendations from all the UN Human Rights mechanisms, including the UPR. The NIDHR is growing fast and deserves support to stand on its own feet. I encourage the development of an independent Paris Principle compliant national human rights institution.

My interlocutors were frank in admitting that while certain results have been achieved, there is a long way to go to realise all the human rights obligations that Turkmenistan has accepted. Some significant laws have been adopted or amended, however a lot more work is needed to complete this process and to ensure practice is in line with international standards.

For example, criminal legislation was amended, defining the crime of torture and exclusion of evidence obtained through torture, yet there have been no cases of application of the exclusion provision in court proceedings, nor have there been any criminal prosecutions for torture. The Prosecutor General’s Office is in charge of monitoring all places of deprivation of liberty. However, I was informed that it has not received any cases alleging torture from detainees or their lawyers, nor has it initiated an investigation of possible cases ex officio. This illustrates the need for independent monitoring of detention facilities in line with the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT), as recommended by the UPR. I strongly urged the authorities to accept the recommendation to ratify OPCAT.

From my discussions with the Ministry of Justice, the Supreme Court and the Prosecutor General’s Office, I concluded that there is no independence of the judiciary and that court proceedings are still subject to an oversight of legality by the Office of the Prosecutor General. Without the appointment and promotion of judges in accordance with the internationally recognised principles of merits and separation of power, there will be no guarantees of their impartiality and independence.

I raised the question of representation and participation of women in public life, in particular in law enforcement bodies. I understand that there are a few women police officers but no female prosecutors at all. Empowerment of women and their inclusion in the justice system is a prerequisite for fighting discrimination and domestic violence.

I also discussed other issues of human rights concern, including human trafficking, juvenile justice, health, HIV/Aids, education, human rights and counter terrorism, and the UN Secretary-General’s human rights due diligence policy, as well as the situation of vulnerable groups – persons with disabilities, refugees, asylum seekers and stateless persons. I also raised some individual cases, involving alleged arbitrary / incommunicado detention, enforced disappearance and violations of fair trial rights.

With reference to pending requests for visits from nine Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council, I emphasised the importance of granting their requests, and especially for the Special Rapporteur on Torture, who has already been received by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The Minister of Foreign Affairs indicated the Government’s willingness to engage in discussions in view of possible invitations in the near future.

I highlighted in my meetings that independent civil society is indispensible for democratic state-building, through ensuring effective enjoyment of the freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, religion or belief. I hope that the recently adopted laws on political parties and the mass media may be steps in the right direction that will lead to a widening of the democratic space. The UN Human Rights Office is willing to support and cooperate with the Government if it decides to move in this direction."

*A separate statement will be issued at the end of Mr Simonovic’s visit to Uzekistan on 29 May.

UN Human Rights, country page – Turkmenistan: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/ENACARegion/Pages/TMIndex.aspx

For more information or media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+ 41 22 917 9767/ rcolville@ohchr.org) or Liz Throssell (+ 41 22 917 9434/ ethrossell@ohchr.org)

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