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Human Rights Committee considers the report of Turkmenistan

GENEVA (9 March 2017) - The Human Rights Committee today concluded its consideration of the second periodic report of Turkmenistan on its implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Introducing the report, Atageldi Haljanov, Permanent Representative of Turkmenistan to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that progress made in the field of human rights and democracy had been achieved thanks to President Gurbanguly Mälikgulyýewiç Berdimuhamedow. Recent measures to promote and protect human rights in Turkmenistan included amendments to the Constitution, which had been drafted in cooperation with international experts and partners, as well as public and private entities, citizens and non-governmental organizations. The new Constitution included 28 new articles, extending the rights of citizens and ensuring that the country was now in conformity with international standards.  For example, Article 33 of the Constitution was aligned with Article 7 of the Covenant. The new Penal Code also contained a definition of torture in accordance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts shared concerns that their questions had not been fully answered, and that the responses by the delegation were either imprecise or simply repeated answers already provided in the report.  Among the issues raised by the Experts were those on human trafficking; domestic violence; restrictions on the freedom of movement of foreign citizens; the mandatory residence registration system; dual citizenship issues regarding citizens who held Russian citizenship; freedom of expression; access to employment, forced labour; the rights of asylum seekers, their registration, and the principle of non-refoulement; the freedom of association; the registration of political parties; forced evictions; conscientious objectors; and freedom of religion.  Experts were deeply concerned about the discrimination against persons with disabilities, and in particular, the concept of legal capacity which prevented such persons from marriage and voting. They were also concerned about the electoral rights of incarcerated persons, as well as the rights of persons living with HIV/AIDS and in particular their freedom of movement and their right to marry. Experts also expressed serious concerns regarding the persistent subordination of the judiciary to the executive power and the non-respect for the principle of presumption of innocence.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Hajlanov thanked the Committee for the constructive dialogue, stating that Turkmenistan was proud of its history and record in human rights. He saw dialogue with the United Nations Treaty Bodies as part of a valuable process to push all nations, including Turkmenistan to do better. 
Margot Waterval, Committee Expert, thanked the delegation for engaging in the constructive dialogue and reminded the delegation that it had 48 hours to provide additional responses in writing.  
The delegation of Turkmenistan included representatives of the Turkmen National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights under the President of Turkmenistan, the Committee of Legislation and Regulations of the Mejlis (Parliament) of Turkmenistan, and the Permanent Mission of Turkmenistan  to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. today to begin its consideration of the sixth periodic report of Italy (CCPR/C/ITA/6). 
The second periodic report of Turkmenistan can be read here: CCPR/C/TKM/2.
Presentation of the Report 
ATAGELDI HALJANOV, Permanent Representative of Turkmenistan to the United Nations Office at Geneva, stated that progress made in the field of human rights and democracy had been achieved under President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow. In preparing the Report, Turkmenistan had taken into account the previous observations of the Committee and other United Nations bodies, and had organised activities to disseminate information on international human rights standards throughout the country.
Recent measures to promote and protect human rights in Turkmenistan included amendments to the Constitution, which were drafted in cooperation with international experts and partners, as well as public and private entities, citizens and non-governmental organizations. The new Constitution included 28 new articles, extending the rights of citizens and ensuring that the country was now in conformity with international standards.  For example, Article 33 of the Constitution was aligned with Article 7 of the Covenant. The new Penal Code also contained a definition of torture in accordance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment.
The legal reforms had also made it possible to integrate the Covenant in domestic legislation, including in the Law on the Multiparty System, the Law on the Family, and the Law against Human Trafficking, to name but a few.  In addition, the Mejlis, the Turkmen Parliament, had received names of three candidatures for the post of Human Rights Ombudsman.  Turkmenistan was the second country for those seeking asylum and was an example in terms of reception for asylum seekers, migrants or stateless persons.  In 2015, more than 361,000 people from 20 countries had received residence permits. In order to implement the provisions of the Covenant, other measures had been taken, including the Gender Equality Action Plan for the period 2016-2020, and an Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking. 
Questions by Experts
An Expert welcomed the legislative efforts cited by the delegation, but was concerned that in practice the rights contained in the Covenant remained essentially violated. For example, more than a dozen requests for Special Procedures visits remained outstanding. The Committee also still awaited a response on eight cases which it had raised and which remained unresolved and on cases of enforced disappearances which it has raised in 2002.  The Expert also wanted to know whether the process of appointing the Commission for Human Rights was completed and whether it was in line with the Paris Principles, especially in regard to the office’s administrative and financial independence.
Another Expert welcomed the amendments of various laws which contained a list of grounds of discrimination, including “other circumstances,” but wondered why other laws, such as the Procurator’s Office Act, the Act of Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities, and the Notaries Act, did not contain those.  Did “other circumstances” include sexual orientation? How were anti-discrimination clauses applied?  Did the State party have a plan to adopt a general anti-discrimination law?
The Expert commended the fact that the concept of equal rights and opportunities for men and women had been implemented, thanks to which the proportion of women in Parliament had increased by 27 percent.  However, provisions still remained restricting the employment of women, including in non-traditional work places, such as odious work, underground work and work under harmful conditions. Could the delegation give examples of measures to combat discrimination against women in the work force?
Another Expert raised the criminalization of sexual relations between males, and asked whether steps were taken to combat stigmatization and violence in that regard and with regard to gender identity?
Would there be specific legislation dealing with violence against women? What policies were in place in order to raise public awareness on such issues? Could figures on that be provided?
The Expert also asked a series of questions regarding the prohibition of slavery and forced labour, and appealed to the delegation to provide more specific information in that regard.
Another Expert asked a series of questions regarding the compliance with the State of Emergency Act with Article 4 of the Covenant. Could the delegation clarify and explain the derogatory provisions and measures that could be discriminatory on the ground of race, colour, sex, language, religion or social origin? Was there a mechanism in place that would guarantee periodical review by the executive that would justify the continuous limitations to the rights and freedoms of individuals?
The Expert was concerned about some provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure in relation to the rights of an arrested person, in particular the unclear provisions of detention and custody.  What was the role of the Prosecutor in that process and was there any guarantee for the suspect or the accused to be detained only upon a decision by a judicial body?  Could a person appeal against the extension of the time period of remand, which could be extended up to one year?  Was there judicial control over the release of a suspect?
More information was also sought on the rights of political dissidents, journalists, members of non-governmental organizations who had contact with foreigners, and accusations that some of these persons had simply disappeared.  Specifically, could information be provided on Bibi Rahmanova, a Jehova’s witness, who had been arrested twice and thereafter convicted for hooliganism and violence against a police officer?
Another Expert inquired whether torture could be justified, according to legal provisions?  Did those legal provisions allow for torture to extract information from prisoners?  There was concern that a high number of persons had been tortured at the time of apprehension, during investigations and in pretrial detention. That included mass beatings and electric shocks, incarceration in sever temperatures with mosquitoes and no water, and hunchback cells with no room in which to stand. The Ovadan Depe Prison conditions were allegedly particularly harsh. Could the delegation provide information on Lukman Yaylanov and Narkuly Baltayev, the latter of whom had weighed only 25 kg at the time of death?  How could that be explained other than by the use of starvation and torture?
What steps had been taken that the Ombudsperson would be able to carry out unannounced visits to places of detention independently? What steps were taken to ensure that the United Nations Special Mechanisms and the International Committee of the Red Cross had full and independent access to all prisons?  Was it true that two conscripts had died due to hazing incidents?
On prison conditions, the Expert asked for information on the number of the incarcerated as compared to places? Was it true that some prisoners were exposed to extreme temperatures, that others were deprived of water, and that others were completely isolated without access by family members?  Could specific numbers be provided on the number of deaths in prison?
In a series of questions related to enforced disappearances, another Expert noted that the State party had not provided a clarification on the approximately 100 individuals who had disappeared. He reminded that hiding the whereabouts of those persons and hiding information about the circumstances of their deaths amounted to torture and constituted a violation of Article 7 of the Covenant.
Another Expert asked the delegation to indicate to what extent the State party was open to international visits, including by Special Rapporteurs.
What were the limitations on the use of force, asked the Expert.  
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation stated that the Law on the Ombudsman had been drafted according to all international standards and the Paris Principles, and upon consultation with the relevant international institutions. The Ombudsman had broad rights, and he could conduct visits to prisons and other facilities without prior notification.
The introduction of a state of emergency was a temporary measure introduced exclusively to protect citizens. The grounds on which the Government could introduce exceptional circumstances was a threat to the life of citizens.  The law had an exhaustive list of circumstances regulating the circumstances under which the state of emergency could be introduced, and the time period for which it could be introduced.
Measures had been undertaken to combat torture and prison conditions. Detainees had sleeping quarters and bathing facilities as well as artificial lighting, in accordance with domestic standards. The laws stipulated that the space may not be less than four square meters for men and five square meters for women.  In order to ensure that each prisoner had sufficient space, work was being carried out to reconstruct and equip facilities, as well as to build new facilities. The penitentiary system had undergone many changes which ensured the health of each inmate, and 1,540 public officials had been trained. A decree had been adopted on the nutritional norms and material facilities to be made available to each detainee.  The Oversight Commission conducted visits to places of deprivation.
Regarding gender equality, the Declaration of 1995 indicated that Turkmenistan guaranteed same rights and freedoms;  the Constitution also secured the equality between men and women.  Sexual activity between two persons of the same sex was contrary to the law, and Turkmenistan focused to traditional family values. The National Plan of Action on Gender Equality, adopted in 2015, had been drafted following consultations with national and international stakeholders.  Its implementation contained 60 activities, as well as 14 goals.
Forced labour and child labour were prohibited, said the delegation, and domestic legislation was in line with the International Labour Organization standards.  Remuneration could not fall below the minimum wage established by the Government. State support was given to agricultural workers, to cover expenditures when wheat and cotton were produced. Those engaged in compelling children under 18 to work were penalized. The Union of Entrepreneurs, the National Trade Union, the Women’s Union, and the Ministry of Labour worked in cooperation with the International Labour Organization to improve the protection and promotion of human rights in that area.
Regarding questions in reference to the journalist Nepeskuliev, the delegation stated that he had been sentenced to three years in prison and the essence of his complaint had been inadmissible. He was psychologically unbalanced and had been repeatedly treated in psychiatric hospitals. Allegations made by the Committee were untrue. The Committee was asked to note the lack of any level of education or professionalism authorizing him to practice journalism.
In August 2012, the Government had adopted a law to amend the Criminal Code, implementing recommendations by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, as well as the Committee against Torture. According to that law, there was a new article which defined torture fully in compliance with international definitions, and, namely Article 1 of the Convention against Torture.  The circumstances under which a law enforcement officer could use force were when protecting their lives or the lives of other citizens. Physical force could only be used if those actions could not be averted or prevented without the use of physical force.  That was the case for the use of weapons and firearms.
In keeping with Article 62 of the Constitution, evidence or confessions obtained under psychological or physical torture were not permitted and could not be used in court. Any persons who carried out such actions bore responsibility.
Efforts to remove the root causes of human trafficking, bring perpetrators to justice, and hand down appropriate penalties, were currently ongoing. A Presidential Decree had established the National Plan of Action to Combat Human Trafficking in Turkmenistan.  A Law to that effect had been drafted in accordance with international standards.  Victims of human trafficking were provided with legal counsel free of charge.
Follow-up Questions by Experts
An Expert thanked the delegation for their answers, and asked for details on the maximum duration of detention. He also asked the delegation to address the other individuals who had been deprived of their liberty and whose cases the Committee had raised.  In addition, he reminded that in the case of Nepeskuliev, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had found in 2015 that his deprivation of liberty had been extrajudicial.
Another Expert stated that many of the questions had not been answered, and expressed concern regarding the statement that some rights were simply not in line with the traditions in Turkmenistan. The Committee knew that forced labour on paper was prohibited, however, the State party had to comment on the fact that practices which might amount to forced labour were continuing. The effort was to have a positive dialogue with the State party and not to condemn it.
An Expert stated that Boris Şyhmyradow had been recognized as having undergone enforced disappearance, and yet the Committee had not received information on it.
Another Expert said that for the dialogue to be productive, it had to go beyond a perfunctory formal process. The Committee had only heard reiterations from the report, without addressing the true concerns of the Committee. The promotion of human rights was about human beings, and concerned specific people. The Committee awaited concrete and precise information on those individuals.
Replies by the Delegation
An invitation to Special Rapporteurs would be extended, but it was still unsure on which issue.  The process of deciding was ongoing.
The delegation said that it would provide additional information in written form within the 48 hours.
On human trafficking, the delegation said that a hotline had been opened, and guidelines had been published and would be distributed. In 2016, the law enforcement investigation authorities had accused three persons on human trafficking.
Regarding domestic violence, a dialogue had been established to determine whether there was a need to adopt a special law in that regard. The State guaranteed equal rights between men and women under the existent laws. Those were the basis for further legislation on those issues and would serve to prevent violence against women in any form.  The Criminal Code included provisions to that effect, including Article 134 on rape and Article 136 on compelling women to enter marriage forcibly.  The National Plan for Action for Gender Equality looked into the root causes of violence against women, and provided for events to raise awareness on that issue and to voice the Government’s zero tolerance on that issue. Other activities in that direction were seminars, as well as an upcoming survey, for which trainings were currently in place.
Questions by Experts
An Expert regretted that the written replies were silent on the mandatory residence registration system. Did a foreigner have the right to move freely and choose a place of residence in Turkmenistan? Allegedly, the system prevented people from working, using health care, and other services outside their place of residence.  It was also difficult to change the place of registration. What was the sanction for failure to comply with that mandatory residence registration?
The Expert was concerned that a ban on dual citizenship, in place since 2008, had been applied retroactively for citizens who had obtained citizenship prior to the law having entered into force.  That was notably the case for thousands of Russian citizens who had obtained Russian citizenship prior to the law. Could the delegation comment?
The Expert further lamented that the Committee’s questions on freedom of expression had been mostly unanswered.  Allegedly, there was no independent media in the country. Civil society activists who challenged official policy were detained or harassed. The delegation was asked to comment and provide details.
Question was asked about rules on the organization and conduct of gatherings, meetings and other assemblies.  How could existing restrictions on the freedom of assembly be justified?  Public assembly was reportedly not frequent because there was no awareness of the rights of citizens on their rights in this respect.
Another Expert, on access to employment, said that a presidential decree would restrict access to employment in the capital by obliging employers to seek employees in the capital only, and by restricting work in the capital. That was not in line with international standards, as it would constitute a restriction on the freedom of movement on the territory of Turkmenistan, as well as discrimination.
The concern expressed over the continuing practices of forced labour in the cotton industry had also not been answered. The harassment of journalists and civil society who had tried to document practices of forced labour was also prevalent. The delegation was asked to address that issue.
Further clarification was requested on the number, nationality and origin of asylum seekers registered in Turkmenistan, since there were no statistics related to asylum or migration. What was the number of pending applications of asylum seekers, including those in detention?  Could the State party inform on persons who were refused entry at the borders, or referred to a third party, both of which could amount to breaking the principles of non-refoulement?  What happened to children born in the territory of Turkmenistan, but whose parents were still awaiting resolution of their statelessness status? Those children could be denied access to education and medical care.
On freedom of association, the Expert noted that the precise questions of the Committee had not been addressed.  Could the delegation give information on the practical implementation of the 2014 Act – number of associations registered since its entry into force, and how many of them dealt with human rights. Furthermore, information was needed on the condition of compulsory registration of associations, and provisions allowing authorities to monitor the financing of those associations. On what grounds could the registration been refused, and was there a possibility of recourse against that decision? How many such cases of refusal were there? How many international associations, in particular those working on human rights, were registered and operated in Turkmenistan?
On registration of political parties, comments were requested from the delegation on whether that legislation was overly restrictive in its requirements concerning the formation and activities of political parties and whether those were too general and over-encompassing. An example was restrictions for parties which were to the “detriment to the health or morals of people”. How did dissolution of political parties happen? 
On political participation, the delegation was asked to confirm that the legislation provisions were a blanket denial of the right to vote for prisoners. If so, the Expert reminded the delegation that that was against the provisions of the Covenant.
Another Expert was concerned that there was persistent subordination of the judiciary to the executive power, and there was no response regarding institutional and concrete mechanisms to guarantee the independence of judges. There was no legislative review of the President’s power to appoint or dismiss powers.  Could the delegation comment on that? What about the promotion or the power of judges? Was there a Superior Council for the Magistrates?  Judges were appointed for a renewable period of five years, which could have an impact on their impartiality due to their lack of security in terms of tenure. The issue of the independence and impartiality of judges had recently been addressed in the concluding observations of the Committee on Racial Discrimination, in February 2017.
Could the delegation provide statistics on the number of proceedings against judges charged with corruption, as well as the number of charges, acquittals and dismissals due to corruption?
The Expert was concerned about the non-respect for the presumption of innocence. Was there any law that established that principle in criminal proceedings and that obliged all stakeholders to that? How was the right to appeal implemented?
Fair trial and rights of the Russian speaking defendants was raised by an Expert, who stressed the right of an accused to be heard in a language understandable by him.
The Expert, referring to the outcome and review on the legislation on the prevention of illnesses caused by HIV/AIDS, inquired whether the new 2016 legislation was consistent with the Covenant.  Could the delegation provide details on how the existing legislation was not in contradiction with the provisions on non-discrimination in the Covenant? Attempting to control the spread of HIV via anti-immigration policies, which seemed to be the main direction of the legislation, was questionable. That, in turn, was related to requirements of visas for foreigners.  Allegedly, visas were issued only upon presentation of a medical certificate showing that persons were HIV/AIDS-free.  Was that true, and were persons with HIV/AIDS subject to deportation? Could the number of foreign nationals deported in the past five years for that reason be provided?
According to the State party’s legislation, discrimination against persons with disabilities was punishable by law. However, under the concept of legal capacity of the State, some persons with disabilities were not allowed to enter into marriage, vote, and adopt children. What kind of support was envisaged to inform persons about the right to vote? What kind of support was provided to them in case they placed a candidacy for national or local elections?
Another Expert lamented that the State party had simply reiterated the answers from the report.  Torture was still ongoing in 2016, for example. A State that was truly committed would investigate instances of torture and punish the perpetrators without delay, however that did not seem to be the case.
On forced evictions, the Expert cited the demolition of two neighbourhoods in the past years.  Was it right that the residents had had no prior information, and had been evicted without basic rights? Only part of them had received apartments as a compensation for their demolished property.  Could information on those incidences be provided?  How was that reconciled with the right to a private life under the Covenant?
Another Expert complained that he had not received answers on particular cases such as Boris Shikhmuradov’s. Was there a mechanism to implement or act upon the recommendations of the Committee?
Allegedly, conscientious objectors were forced to conduct service within the armed forces. What was the State doing to implement the Committee’s views on issues related to conscientious objectors and mandatory military service?
On freedom of religion, the Expert asked how the prohibition of activities and sanctions for non-registered religious groups was compatible under the Covenant.  In particular, the arrest of certain individuals, such as Bahram Hemdemov, a Jehova witness convicted to four years in prison for religious disorders, was of great concern.
Replies by the Delegation
Restrictions on movement were in place in order to protect public order, health, national security, and they were put in place  only in areas declared as border areas, at times of  a massive threat or disease, presence of toxicity, or an area where a state of emergency had been declared. Decisions on restriction of movement could be decided by the Government in those cases, but such decisions could be appealed in the courts. Forcible evictions could only be made with a prior decision by a court.
Registration for places of residence and work was applied for employment purposes and purchase of real estate. The absence of a residence paper could not serve as an impediment for movement of persons.
Regarding restrictions on citizens to travel to foreign countries, the delegation informed that a movement of citizens could only be restricted by law, under certain circumstances, and temporarily. That was regulated under Article 30 of the Law on Migration.  A person could be denied the right to leave the territory of Turkmenistan in cases when he held a State secret, was under an unfinished investigation, was convicted and the case was still not closed; was fulfilling an obligation handed down by a court; and/or undergoing a civil suit.  A person could also be restricted from leaving the territory if he was liable to become a victim of human trafficking or slavery, if his departure presented a threat to security, or if he had at an earlier time violated the laws of country, if his departure was in contradiction to the interests of national security of Turkmenistan, and if there was a threat to his life.  Those restrictions were compatible with the Covenant.  In most cases, however, the right to leave Turkmenistan and the right to return were provided for without any restriction.
In terms of freedom of movement of foreigners in the territory of Turkmenistan, the Constitution provided the same duties and rights to foreign citizens and stateless persons as to the citizens of Turkmenistan.
The delegation informed that the freedom to hold meetings and other mass events was provided for by the Constitution and other legislation. The organizers of such an event could be citizens of Turkmenistan, political parties, public associations, legal or physical persons, religious or other organizations. Those events could be organized using public transportation, for the purposes of free exchange and expression on various topics, and could be based on various political, cultural and economic needs or needs related to foreign policy. The organization of holding such events could be held by citizens themselves. Such events, however, were sometimes used, as seen in other countries, by radicals to organize disorder or clashes with the law-enforcement bodies of the country, as a result of which human sufferings and even casualties among civilians occurred. That was why the law had requirements, including respect of the rights and freedoms of citizens, and provision of rights and duties of organizers as well as all participants of those mass events. There were also requirements as to the place and time to the holding of such events.  They could be held in any place that was appropriate for the holding of such an event. Places where such events could not be held included transport areas, areas where there were gas pipelines, high power transmission lines, and other facilities where such events could obstruct the public transportation, infrastructure and the normal passage of civilians. 
On questions regarding freedom of association and right to life, the delegation said that in May 2015 a new Law on Public Associations had been adopted, stipulating that physical and legal persons could form part of those associations. Currently there were 118 public associations registered, including 48 sports and three international organizations.
Independence of the judiciary was mandatory, and any intervention in the independence of the judiciary was punishable by law. The independence of judges, the separation of the branches of power, non-interference in the judiciary, and the cooperation between the judiciary and business had all been discussed at a recent seminar with international experts from the Netherlands.
The freedom of religion and worship were guaranteed by the Constitution and the law, which established that any person was free to choose their religion.
Persons with disabilities enjoyed all rights and freedoms enshrined in the legislation of Turkmenistan. The Family Code of Turkmenistan did not contain any provisions that prevented marriage and families for persons with disabilities. Article 20 of that code had a list of circumstances that could be an obstacle to marriage. Marriage was not permitted between individuals where one was already registered as married, between relatives of half and full blooded brothers and sisters, adopted and adoptees, legally incompetent as a result of a mental disorder or psychological disability.
Electoral rights of persons with disabilities were regulated under Article 3 of the Electoral Law, which stated that citizens who had reached age 18 had the right to vote and participate in referendums.  Legally incompetent people were not allowed to vote. Turkmenistan was party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and was implementing the 2015 recommendations of the Committee in that regard. Braille had been used in the past elections.  In the 2014 parliamentary elections, a person with disabilities had been elected as the Member of Parliament. 
Dual citizenship affected a high number of citizens of Turkmenistan and the Russian Federation, and an agreement with the Russian Federation had been signed to that effect, resolving the issue with minimum harm to all interested parties. Recently, biometric passports had started to be issued to Turkmen citizens who also held passports of the Russian Federation. Negotiations between the two parties were ongoing to resolve the remaining issues related to that question.
On granting asylum, the delegation had provided information that covered all questions and additional questions raised by the Committee. Addressing the issue of statelessness was a priority in Turkmenistan. Any person born in Turkmenistan, or of parents with Turkmen citizenship, was considered to be Turkmen.  If one of the parents were stateless or a missing person, or a foreign national, then the child born in Turkmenistan automatically became a citizen. In the fourth case, if one parent lived permanently in Turkmenistan, the child automatically became Turkmen.  If both parents were permanently residing abroad and the child was born outside of Turkmenistan, the child could become a citizen upon a request filed by both persons. If no such request was filed, the child could become a citizen if both persons were stateless. A child born in Turkmenistan to foreign nationals, whose citizenship was not given to the child, would also become a Turkmen citizen.
Over 50 permits had been granted for reconstruction, which had included schools, kindergartens, parking and recreational facilities. Development projects in the capital covered over 800 buildings, of which a number were residential houses. Over the next two years the capital was expected to undergo major changes. The size of the population had increased significantly in the past ten years, and the project would partly respond to that and to the doubling of the area of the capital, which now had 70,000 hectares. Improvement of the living standards of the population was the final aim of those projects. The demolition of houses was in line with that goal, as the living conditions of those inhabitants had been in disrepair and deplorable. Transfer of individuals living in those areas was undertaken according to plan.
The delegation stressed that Turkmenistan attached great importance to improving effective cooperation to international media. A number of comprehensive measures had been launched to that effect. The legal regulation of the Internet and the provision of Internet services was regulated by a new law. Foreign media was accredited and allowed to work.  Major agencies such as Reuters, France-Presse, Associated Press, Anatolian News Agency and others, had been accredited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Journalists and TV reporters from Russia, China, Turkey, Pakistan, and other nationals had also been accredited, and that number would increase. 
With respect of establishment of political parties along religious lines, it was explained that Turkmenistan took into consideration the secular state, according to which religion could not be used as a tool for achieving political purposes, or for the purposes of gaining political power. The law did not allow for the establishment of political parties along religious lines.  Religious associations were separate from the State and were not allowed to interfere with the ruling of the State.
The delegation assured the Committee that each of the recommendations of the Treaty Bodies was given importance and that the Government had mechanisms to incorporate them, including Working Groups.  At the same time, recommendations which were not in keeping with the unitary and secular nature of the State could not be adopted. 
The presumption of innocence principle was regulated under Article 34 of the Constitution, said a delegate.
Regarding the case of Mr. Nepeskuliev, it was explained that he was serving his sentence in a correctional facility in a region where he had been born and had lived until he began serving his sentence. Three meetings had been organized for him and his relatives, in March 2016, October 2016, and January 2017.
Mr. Komarovski had not been exposed to any torture or ill-treatment, and had repeatedly met with the Vice-Counsel of the United States, while in custody. He had not complained about alleged torture or ill-treatment. He had been released upon request of the United States and handed over to the representative of the United States, after which he had left the country.
Concluding Remarks
ATAGELDI HALJANOV, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Turkmenistan to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the Committee for the constructive dialogue, stating that the report reflected how the rights under the Covenant continued to be implemented by Turkmenistan.  He assured the Committee that the Government of Turkmenistan was proud of its history and record in human rights, and saw the dialogue with the United Nations Treaty Bodies as a part of a valuable process to push all nations, including Turkmenistan, to do better.  The meeting of the past two days had been not only an opportunity to present progress made by Turkmenistan, but an opportunity to learn from the Committee.
MARGOT WATERVAL, Committee Member, thanked the delegation for engaging in the constructive dialogue, reminding that it had 48 hours to reply to the questions raised in written form, and underlining that some concerns still remained.


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