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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination reviews the report of Turkmenistan

GENEVA (1 December 2016) - The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined eighth to eleventh report of Turkmenistan on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
 
Introducing the report, Atamurat Tayliev, Chair of the Committee of Social Policy of the Mejlis (Parliament) of Turkmenistan, noted the significant progress made in the elimination of racism and racial discrimination, including through the adoption of the new Constitutional draft which guaranteed the principle of non-discrimination and described fundamental rights and freedoms in detail, and the decision to set up the Institution of Ombudsmen.  The concept of racial discrimination was contained in the Criminal Code, while some aspects of discrimination were prohibited in specific laws.  The population was very diverse, with 81 per cent Turkmens, nine per cent Uzbeks, three per cent Russians, as well as Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Tatars and others; cultural rights of all citizens were guaranteed in the law, and this included the ethnic Baluchi minority.  The law on ethics 2016 prohibited State officials from any statements, accusations, slander, or behaviour which were discriminatory in nature, while incitement to social, national or religious hatred was criminalized.  The Criminal Code also prohibited the humiliation of national dignity and the propaganda of superiority or inferiority of citizens based on religion, nationality, ethnicity or race – this provision aimed to prevent hate speech.
 
Committee Experts welcomed the efforts to strengthen the democratic nature of national institutions and the adoption of the very first Human Rights Plan of Action 2016-2020, and urged Turkmenistan to ensure its full implementation.  They noted with concern the restricted space for civil society, the absence of opposition political parties, and the lack of a national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles.  Furthermore, the Government allowed no criticism of the State policy and strictly controlled the private media and access to social media and networks.  The definition of discrimination was not in line with the Convention as it lacked colour or nationality as prohibited grounds.  Experts asked about domestic priorities in reducing discrimination and any initiatives in this area.  Experts asked for detailed statistical data to illustrate the situation of ethnic and religious minorities and their access to health, education, housing and employment, and the ethnic and racial make-up of the prison population.  Discrimination against linguistic or ethnic minorities was an issue of concern: they were excluded from State employment, could not access higher education which was only provided in Turkmen, and were subjected to nationalist speech by politicians. 
 
In her concluding remarks, Afiwa-Kindena Hohoueto, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Turkmenistan, said that the concluding observations would be in the form of recommendations to Turkmenistan on concrete measures to reduce racial discrimination.
 
Mr. Taliyev said in his concluding observations that Turkmenistan would carefully study comments, proposals and recommendations made by the Committee Experts. 
 
Anastasia Crickley, Committee Chairperson, took positive note of the progress made in Turkmenistan, particularly in putting in place structures necessary for the implementation of human rights treaties, and said that the concluding observations would point out areas where more information was needed in order to assess the progress in the implementation of the Convention.
 
The delegation of Turkmenistan included representatives of the Ministry of Education, Committee on Social Policy of the Mejlis (Parliament), National Institute of Statistics and Information, National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, and the Permanent Mission of Turkmenistan to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
 
The Committee will reconvene in public at 3 p.m. today, 1 December to consider the combined nineteenth and twentieth report of Italy (CERD/C/ITA/19-20).
 
Report

The combined eighth to eleventh report of Turkmenistan can be read here: CERD/C/TKM/8-11.
 
Presentation of the Report
 
ATAMURAT TAYLIEV, Chair of the Committee of Social Policy of the Mejlis (Parliament) of Turkmenistan, said that positive changes had taken place in Turkmenistan which had allowed significant progress to be made in the elimination of racism and racial discrimination, and that all citizens enjoyed their rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal footing.  The law on improving the Constitution of Turkmenistan had been adopted in 2016, which now included 41 articles, including the right of all individuals to receive legal assistance, which was free of charge under certain conditions.  The Constitution also included provisions on the Institution of Ombudsmen of Turkmenistan, while the law on Ombudsmen, adopted in November 2016, defined the structure and funding of this institution.  The principle of non-discrimination was set aside independently and the Constitution also described fundamental rights and freedoms in detail.
 
The concept of racial discrimination was contained in the Criminal Code, while the law on the courts regulated important aspects of the judicial system and proceedings and ensured equality of all before the law.  Some specific aspects of discrimination were prohibited in specific laws, including in the laws on prosecutors, on migration, security services, and others.  The population of Turkmenistan was very diverse: 81 per cent were Turkmens, nine per cent Uzbeks, three per cent were Russians, and the rest included Armenians, Azerbaijan, Tatars and other nationalities.  The cultural rights of all citizens were guaranteed in the law, and this included the ethnic Baluchi minority.  Norms of international law were applied by judicial and administrative bodies.  The law on ethics 2016 prohibited State officials from making any statements, accusations, slander, or behaviours which were discriminatory in nature.  Incitement to social, national or religious hatred was criminalized in the Criminal Code of Turkmenistan and in the Code of Administrative Offences.  The Criminal Code also prohibited the humiliation of national dignity and the propaganda of superiority or inferiority of citizens based on religion, nationality, ethnicity or race – this provision aimed to prevent hate speech.
 
The Mejlis had approved Turkmenistan’s accession to the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons in 2011, and to the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness in 2012.  Between 2011 and 2013, and again in 2015, the Turkmen citizenship had been granted to more than 5,000 stateless persons who were permanently residing in the country.  The law guaranteed equal rights and opportunities of all without distinction to racial or ethnic origin.  The 2013 Parliamentary elections had seen the election of 125 members of which 122 were Turkmens, one Russian, one Kazakh and one Uzbek.  Currently, there were more than 1,850 schools in the country; in 70 of those, education was provided in foreign languages, including joint Turkmen-Russian and joint Turkmen-Turkish schools.  In closing, Mr. Tayliev said that Turkmenistan was a co-author of the resolution adopted in 2014 by the United Nations General Assembly on the fight against the glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism, and other practices that contributed to the fuelling of contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
 
Questions by the Rapporteurs
 
AFIWA-KINDENA HOHOUETO, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Turkmenistan, approved of the democratic nature of national institutions, and said that it was regrettable that the aim of the State based on the rule of law was not fully achieved: the space for civil society was restricted, there were no opposition parties and the National Human Rights Commission in line with the Paris Principles did not exist, as Turkmenistan had opted instead to set up several mechanisms which reported directly to the President, for example the National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, the State Commission for Citizens’ Complaints, and others.
 
Since thousands of people could not freely express themselves, it was logical to conclude that civil society in Turkmenistan did not exist, regardless of the existence of some non-governmental organizations, and trade unions in some sectors.
 
What criteria were used to determine which organization was the “most important” and why was the registration of independent non-governmental organizations deliberately delayed?  Could the delegation confirm that the new constitutional framework established the Institution of Ombudsmen?
 
The Rapporteur took positive note of the adoption, for the first time, of the Human Rights Plan of Action 2016-2020 and urged Turkmenistan to ensure its full implementation.
 
Turning to the definition of discrimination, the Rapporteur noted that the Constitution still did not include colour and nationality as grounds for discrimination.  Those grounds were also absent from the Criminal Code.  Was the supremacy of international treaties to which Turkmenistan was a party recognized?
 
Were the results of the 2012 population census published?
 
The Rapporteur was concerned about reports of arbitrary arrests by the public authorities, and expressed regret that disaggregated data about the prison situation was not available.
 
The legal aid mechanism was very vague, including the criteria applicable to the allocation of free legal aid, and the type of beneficiaries.
 
The Government allowed for no criticism of any State policy: private media and access to social media and networks were strictly controlled.
 
Education was provided only in Turkmen or Russian, which raised concern about access to education of minorities which did not speak those languages – how many children belonging to minorities were enrolled in schools?  Languages spoken by minorities were not considered in literacy teaching or cultural activities. 
 
With regard to the situation of ethnic minorities, Turkmenistan had been asked during the previous review in 2012 to produce demographic statistics of the population based on self-identification, but it seemed that the population census had not taken this recommendation into account. 
 
The Committee had received reports of the many arbitrary arrests and detentions of human rights activists, journalists and religious groups in 2015.  The delegation was asked to inform the Committee about the fate of Mansur Mingelov, a minority Baluchi human rights activists who had been arbitrarily arrested in 2012.
 
Could the delegation inform on the asylum process in the country, which had been described as very slow?  Some 20,000 asylum seekers were still awaiting decisions.
 
Turkmenistan was commended for ratifying the two conventions on statelessness, but because of the prohibition of dual citizenship, all the persons who originally held Soviet citizenship had been stateless since the dismantling of the block in 1991.  What measures were in place to ensure that the prohibition of double citizenship did not cause the breakdown of families?
 
Finally, Ms. Hohoueto urged Turkmenistan to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. 
 
GUN KUT, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Follow-up, commended Turkmenistan for promptly reporting on the follow-up issues that the Committee had identified in 2012, namely the ethnic composition of the country, hate speech by politicians and the issue of statelessness.  However, the report was not sufficiently detailed and more information was needed on those issues.
 
Questions by Experts
 
A Committee Expert was concerned about the repressive measures Turkmenistan had undertaken over the past several years: restriction of access to information, harassment of journalists and exposing everyone taking photographs in public to imprisonment.  Muslims were particularly exposed to harassment and frequent checks on whether they consumed alcohol or pork meat.  Discrimination against linguistic or ethnic minorities was also an issue of concern: they were excluded from State employment, could not access higher education which was only provided in majority languages, and were subjected to nationalist speech by politicians.
 
Could the delegation provide information of detailed cases in which the provisions of the Convention had been applied, including the number of complaints for racial discrimination, prosecution of perpetrators, and reparations for victims?
 
What was the status of the establishment of a national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles and of the draft bill on the Institution of Ombudsmen?
 
The Expert also asked for detailed statistical data to illustrate the situation of ethnic and religious minorities and their access to health, education, housing and employment, as well as statistics on the prison population, including sex, age, ethnicity, and others?  How many journalists were detained and on which grounds?
 
In terms of the protection of refugees, the delegation was asked about the specific programmes in this regard, the State bodies responsible for their implementation, and the allocated budgets.
 
What was the share of the ethnic minorities enrolled in higher education in relation to the overall population?  Which action had been taken to connect people to the Internet and had a budget been allocated for this? 
 
What were the domestic priorities in reducing discrimination; new initiatives in this area; and how was the effectiveness of these steps measured?
 
Turkmenistan needed more accountability and transparency: without the political reforms and guarantees of judicial independence, the efforts to reduce racial discrimination would fail.
 
Another Expert asked about the new Constitution adopted in September 2016 and what had changed in terms of human rights regulations at the highest level.  Had the law on the Ombudsmen been adopted?
 
The Committee was concerned about the situation of ethnic minorities, particularly Baluchi, but also Persian, Azerbaijani, Russian and others – did they have an opportunity to be taught in their own languages, and could the delegation confirm reports that the number of schools offering education in minority languages was being decreased?  Were there any Roma living in Turkmenistan?
 
The delegation was asked to provide information on the make-up of non-nationals, and the list of minorities and special measures adopted to promote their better integration in the society.  The Committee saw genocide as the end stage of racial discrimination or discrimination on other grounds – what was the definition of genocide in Turkmenistan?
What was the situation of financing of education in minority languages?  What was the marriageable age for women and men?
 
With regard to the legislation on discrimination, an Expert asked about the 2013 amendments to article 145 of the Criminal Code and what exactly had been amended.  This article spoke about the violation of equal civil rights and freedoms on grounds of ethnic background, sex, origin, etc., if such acts had serious consequences – could the delegation explain?  Such qualification could bring in an unnecessary restrictive criterion and would be within subjective appreciation of individual judges, remarked the Expert.
 
How many cases had been brought under the various articles of the Criminal Code which concerned the incitement to ethnic or racial hatred and what were their outcomes?
 
In relation to the independence of the judiciary, the delegation was asked to explain what triggered the dismissal of judges, how the judges were appointed, the length of the term of appointment and what the President meant when he recently called on the Mejlis to reconsider the terms.
 
How could migrants access and benefit from State services?  What was the situation of human trafficking in Turkmenistan?
 
Minorities in Turkmenistan were very similar to the people of Turkmenistan but it was necessary to address the historical baggage.  Turkmenistan should ensure the collection of disaggregated data on minorities, and adopt a comprehensive definition of racial discrimination in accordance with article 1 of the Convention - this could be done without a detriment to the State interest of Turkmenistan.
 
What was the situation of hate speech in Turkmenistan, did politicians and influential people engage in nationalistic rhetoric?
 
An Expert asked about the impact of conflicts in the region – notably in Afghanistan and in Ukraine – on the inflow of refugees to Turkmenistan.
 
Responses by the Delegation
 
Responding to questions concerning the role of the Parliament, a delegate explained that the Mejlis was a legislative body composed of 125 deputies.  It was organized in committees on human rights and freedoms, legislation, economic policy, social policy, education, science and youth policy, environment and agro-food complex, inter-parliamentary relations, and cooperation with local authorities.  The Parliament adopted the laws and played a major role in the implementation of international treaties. 
 
The Constitution had been adopted in a new drafting on 14 September 2016.  It contained a new article which guaranteed the right to free legal aid to everyone.  The right to political diversity and a multi-party system, and the obligation of the State to provide conditions for the functioning of civil society were affirmed.  There was a new heading on the financial and credit system in which the right to own and dispose of property was guaranteed.  The Constitution further prohibited child labour in its worst forms, and recognized the supremacy of international law.
 
The recently adopted National Human Rights Action Plan provided for the adoption of a law on the Institution of Ombudsmen, in compliance with the Paris Principles and the recommendations of the United Nations treaty bodies; the creation of the institution had been proposed by the President in 2014.  The law had been developed in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and other international organizations and experts.  It defined the appointment procedure of Ombudsmen:  the President proposed three candidates and the Mejlis would vote by a secret ballot, with a simple majority of votes necessary.  The institution could not engage in political activities, and the Ombudsman could not be a member of a political party – those provisions guaranteed the independence of the institution.
 
The population census had taken place in 2012 and had been conducted according to the United Nations standards; the results had not been widely published as Turkmenistan had not joined the International Monetary Fund data dissemination system.  In 2016, Turkmenistan began to collect race and ethnicity disaggregated data, and started developing the big data concept which provided for the disaggregation of statistical data according to gender, ethnicity, race and other criteria using a broad range of sources to collect data, particularly administrative ones.
 
In response to questions on the language of instruction in Turkmenistan, the delegation said that there were 1,850 schools in the country; 70 of which provided in-depth education in foreign languages.  There were four schools which taught in Russian.  Education and textbooks were free of charge.  Twenty different nationalities were represented in higher education, which was provided in the Turkmen language.
 
The law on countering trafficking in persons adopted in 2016 provided for support to victims, including social, medical and legal assistance.  Race, religion or nationality were qualifying circumstances which aggravated crimes and ensured more strict sentences.  Turkmenistan was constantly monitoring its domestic legislation to ensure it was in conformity with international legislation that the country was a party to.
 
Active steps had been taken to reform national legislation and set up mechanisms for the protection and promotion of human rights, including the adoption of action plans on gender equality, combatting trafficking in persons, and implementing international humanitarian law.  Concrete steps were being taken to implement those important strategic documents, in compliance with recommendations received by the United Nations treaty bodies and through the Universal Periodic Review process. 
 
The road map had been set up for the implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan, which identified key ministries responsible for specific activities.  The Plan called for the strengthening of the legislative framework, including through the adoption of new legislation, for example on Ombudsmen and trafficking in persons.  It also contained two concrete projects, one with the Supreme Court of Turkmenistan on enhancing the role of law enforcement bodies in promoting human rights, and another on the protection of the population through the improvement of the law on employment and labour rights of citizens.  Indicators had been developed for the monitoring of the implementation of this National Action Plan, and Turkmenistan was seeking to develop a unified system for monitoring and evaluation of all the human rights protection mechanisms.  Human rights education programmes for primary and secondary schools were being developed.
 
There were a number of laws in Turkmenistan that regulated criminal liability for ethnic or racial hatred or violence, or incitement to hatred or violence.
 
The Law on Political Parties adopted in 2012 ensured the constitutional right of citizens to establish political parties and freely express their political will, and provided equal rights and equal opportunities for all to participate in political parties in accordance with their political views.  The President had declared that he would leave his Democratic Party during his term as President, in order to comply with the law which stated that the Commander in Chief could not belong to a political party.
 
With regard to the independence of the judiciary, the delegation explained that judges were appointed for a period of five years by the Supreme Court.  The candidates were proposed by the President, who also had the right to revoke judges, in accordance with the law.  Turkmenistan was considering the possibility of appointing judges for an indefinite mandate.  
 
On questions concerning the rights of minorities to fully enjoy their cultural life, it was said that each individual was entitled to participate in cultural, artistic or scientific life, and those rights were guaranteed by the law.  The law on culture contained the concept of cultural values and regulated participation in culture and cultural life.  This right was guaranteed irrespective of the cultural, ethnic or religious background of citizens.  Great importance was accorded to the rights of minorities in Turkmenistan, which had hosted the Conference on Regional Cultural Values in June 2016. 
 
The Committee Rapporteur had asked about Mansur Mingelov, a minority Baluchi human rights activists who had allegedly been arbitrarily arrested in 2012.  The delegation explained that he was not a Baluchi but a Persian.  He had been prosecuted in 2012 and sentenced to 22 years in prison for the production and dissemination of pornographic materials involving a minor, and for antisocial activities and drug trafficking.  He was serving his prison sentence in Lubinski prison at the moment and received visitors.
 
The age of marriage was 18 years, both for boys and girls.  Any discrimination in the workplace was covered by the Labour Code and the Code of Administrative Procedures.
 
Questions by Experts
 
AFIWA-KINDENA HOHOUETO, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Turkmenistan, asked the delegation to explain the obligation of citizens to register in any town or village they moved into, and also to confirm whether the minorities employed in public service were under an obligation to dress in Turkmen clothes.
 
Following the dissolution of collective farms of the Soviet era – kolkhoz and sovkhoz– what was the process of attribution of land to individuals?

Responses by the Delegation
 
The delegation explained that registration was mandatory when one moved from one area to another and wished to receive housing or employment; it was not necessary if one moved to rural areas.
 
In 1995, the kolhkhoz and sovkhoz, or the collective farms, had been handed over to peasant associations, while land continued to belong to the State and was leased to those associations free of charge.  There was also land in private ownership.  The law on land ownership regulated the process of change in ownership. 
 
Next Round of Discussion
 
A Committee Expert expressed concern about the lack of application of the section of the Constitution concerning discrimination, and about the process of nomination of judges which seemed to weaken the independence of the judiciary.  Could the delegation explain the process?  The Expert warned against the unlimited appointment of judges which Turkmenistan said it was considering at the moment, and recommended that an age limit be put in place.
 
Responding, the delegation said that Turkmenistan was looking at the experience of other countries in the matter of judicial appointments, and was hoping to put in place laws that were in keeping with best international norms.
 
Another Expert asked about changes in the new Constitution that would have an impact on the implementation of the Convention. 
 
Would Turkmenistan ratify amendments to article 8 of the Convention, and make a statement on article 14 on the right of the Committee to receive individual complaints once domestic remedies were exhausted?
 
The delegation was asked where the burden of proof lay in all cases of violations of the labour law in discrimination matters.  What importance did Turkmenistan give to the International Decade of People of African Descent?
 
A delegate said that Turkmenistan would study the questions concerning article 8 and article 14 of the Convention and would inform the Committee accordingly.  Since its independence, Turkmenistan had acceded to more than 130 international legal documents, including a number of human rights treaties.
 
The Constitution recognized the supremacy of international law, the inalienability of human rights and freedoms, and the principle of equality for all in the country irrespective of race, ethnicity, nationality, and other grounds.  All legislative acts and regulations in Turkmenistan were adopted in line with those principles, otherwise they would be considered unconstitutional and repealed.  There were more than 40 articles in the Constitution which dealt with human rights.  The principle of presumption of innocence ran throughout the legislation, and all accused were considered innocent until otherwise proven.  The burden of proof was therefore on those who filed a complaint.
 
Further Questions by Experts

A Committee Expert asked about mechanisms in the Constitution to protect the secular character of the State and to protect it from Islamist movements which might question the secularity of the State.  What was the institutional architecture in the country, was the President accompanied by a Head of Government, or did he embody the functions of the Prime Minister as well?
 
ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, asked about the nomination of Ombudsman and how the three candidates proposed by the President to the Mejlis were initially chosen. 
 
Which activities were undertaken to raise awareness about the Convention among the law and order officials, and what measures were undertaken to promote the implementation of the Convention by those officials.
 
The Committee was concerned about the situation of ethnic minority women, particularly the Baluchi, and their access to education and housing.
 
Which were the instances in which freedom of information was restricted and which Government bodies enforced the restriction?
 
What measures were in place to raise awareness about racial discrimination and how was their implementation being monitored?
 
Responses by the Delegation
 
In response to the issues raised by the Experts, the delegation said that article 1 of the Constitution confirmed that Turkmenistan was a democratic, secular state with the rule of law and that it was a presidential republic.  The President was the Head of State and the highest official in the State. 
 
There were no conflicts between different population groups and different religions in the society.  Turkmenistan was a secular State and religion was separate from the State.
 
Pursuant to the law adopted in November 2016, the President submitted candidates to the Mejlis which then elected the Ombudsmen.  The President looked at civil society, received proposals from several parts and then selected three most worthy candidates to propose to the Mejlis, which had the right to reject all three of them.
 
A number of events were being planned to raise awareness about human rights treaties ratified by Turkmenistan, including on racial discrimination.  An event was being planned on the occasion of International Human Rights Day, which would be held in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme country office.  Awareness raising campaigns were regularly conducted among police officials, and such activities were included in the Human Rights Plan of Action.
 
There were no obstacles to Baluchi women receiving an education, said a delegate, confirming that access to education, health and housing was guaranteed to all citizens, regardless of their age, gender, ethnicity, and other grounds. 
 
Concluding Remarks
 
AFIWA-KINDENA HOHOUETO, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Turkmenistan, said that the concluding observations would be in the form of recommendations to Turkmenistan on concrete measures to reduce racial discrimination.
 
ATAMURAT TAYLIEV, Chair of the Committee of Social Policy of Mejlis (Parliament) of Turkmenistan, said that the dialogue was an effective one and that Turkmenistan would carefully study the Committee’s comments, proposals and recommendations. 
 
ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, took positive note of the progress made in Turkmenistan, particularly in putting in place structures necessary for the implementation of human rights treaties.  The Committee’s concluding observations would point out areas where more information was needed in order to assess progress in the implementation of the Convention.

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