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Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights considers the report of Turkmenistan

Committee on Economic, Social
  and Cultural Rights 

2 October 2018

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today concluded its review of the second periodic report of Turkmenistan on its efforts to implement the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the country.

Introducing the report, Vepa Hajiyev, Deputy Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan, noted that Turkmenistan had recently made significant progress in the achievement of economic, social and cultural rights, undertaking constitutional and legal reforms, and acceding to several international conventions.  The Ombudsman’s Office had become operational in March 2017, and the authorities had implemented several national action plans on human rights, gender equality and children’s rights.  Turkmenistan was one of the first countries in the world to begin consultations on the Sustainable Development Goals, and it had created a relevant national mechanism for that purpose, with the involvement of specialized ministries and agencies.  Social policies were the priority of the State and some 64 per cent of the budget was devoted to such policies.  An important task was ensuring the social protection of the population by increasing incomes, pensions, and State benefits.

In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts noted the progress and impetus in the country’s efforts to directly implement the provisions of the Covenant.  Experts noted the lack of updated statistical data, and asked about the President’s power to appoint and dismiss judges.  Experts further inquired about the funding and competences of the Ombudsman’s Office, the proportion of people living below the poverty line, the system of residence registration (propiska) and its role in allowing people to receive basic benefits, the representation of women in political and public life, gender equality and fighting gender stereotypes, the protection of persons on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity, the situation of children with disabilities, the employment of persons with disabilities, equal remuneration and the minimum wage, sexual harassment at the workplace, the list of prohibited professions for women, trade union rights, legislation on domestic violence, the provision of safe drinking water, the demolition of homes in the capital city, forced and child labour, corruption in the education and health sectors, access to the Internet, and the education of ethnic minorities.

In his concluding remarks, Mr. Hajiyev noted that all of the mentioned issues were necessary to discuss, adding that the Government would closely analyse the Committee’s views and recommendations.

Aslan Abashidze, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Turkmenistan, said that he had observed improvements since the country’s initial report.  He underlined the need for the State party to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Covenant.  The country already had technical assistance from international organizations and good cooperation with the International Labour Organization, but it could also better use the expertise of the Committee.  

Maria Virginia Bras Gomes, Committee Chairperson, noted that there was no better way to identify structural difficulties than through the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Covenant.  She noted that the Committee’s role was to signal potential problematic areas.

The delegation of Turkmenistan consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, the Ministry of Health and Medical Industry, the Ministry of Culture, and the Permanent Mission of Turkmenistan to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public today at 3 p.m. when it will consider the initial report of South Africa (E/C.12/ZAF/1).

Report

The second periodic report of Turkmenistan can be read here: E/C.12/TKM/2.

Presentation of the Report

VEPA HAJIYEV, Deputy Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan, noted that Turkmenistan had recently made significant progress in the achievement of economic, social and cultural rights.  The country had undertaken constitutional transformations, namely 11 new articles to the Constitution, including a whole new chapter on economics and the credit crisis.  The Government had also adopted a number of new legislative acts and amendments, and it had acceded to several international conventions.  The President had proposed the establishment of the Ombudsman’s Office, which had become operational in March 2017.  The authorities had implemented several national action plans on human rights, gender equality and children’s rights.   Currently, the Government was carrying out a programme with the United Nations Development Programme on providing assistance for the implementation of the National Human Rights Plan of Action 2016-2022.  Mr. Hajiyev stressed that Turkmenistan was one of the first countries in the world to begin consultation on the Sustainable Development Goals.  A national mechanism had been adopted, with the involvement of specialized ministries and agencies.   The country had announced its intention to submit itself to a voluntary national review on the Sustainable Development Goals.  In 2017, the President had adopted a plan for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.  The authorities continued cooperation with United Nations agencies in the areas of energy, education, health, environmental protection, management of water resources, statistics collection, and trade.  In order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, Turkmenistan welcomed initiatives of United Nations regional agencies.

Mr. Hajiyev explained that the country’s economic policy was carried out on the basis of the national economic and social development strategy.  The Government had carried out a massive reform, focusing on developing important exports, and on investing in people, education, science and health.  Over the past 10 years, investments had increased more than 12 times.  Not counting the gas and energy sector, one of the key investment areas was in social and living conditions, the financing of which amounted to some $ 10 billion.  The authorities had constructed 257 pre-schools, 231 elementary schools, 66 hospitals, and 137 health and recuperation centres.  Citizens could receive a wide range of medical services across the country, and they had at their disposal a large number of sports and cultural facilities.  To ensure safe drinking water, the Government had constructed water purification facilities and water pipelines.  Between 2008 and 2017 the State budget had increased about 2.4 per cent.  Social policies were the priority of the State and some 64 per cent of the budget was devoted to such policies.  An important task was ensuring the social protection of the population by increasing income, pensions, and State benefits.  The authorities charged minimal prices for gas, electricity, water and other communal services.  The charged prices were 3.5 per cent lower than the market prices.  In addition, Second World War veterans and pensioners received those communal services for free.  The State also provided comprehensive support to the population in acquiring housing through favourable loans.

Questions by the Committee Experts

ASLAN ABASHIDZE, Committee Member and Rapporteur for Turkmenistan, noted certain progress and impetus in Turkmenistan’s efforts to directly implement the provisions of the Covenant.  In 2016 a new Constitution had been drafted, with an expanded section on human rights.  There was a national plan for the implementation of human rights, as well as for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and gender equality.  Mr. Abashidze commended the timely submission of the State party’s periodic report.

The Rapporteur noted that many of the Committee’s questions remained unanswered due to the lack of updated statistical data.  The Committee had found it very hard to find the results of the 2012 census.  Mr. Abashidze inquired about the existence of effective measures for submitting appeals on the rights violated under the Covenant.  He further asked for more information about the funding and competences of the Ombudsman’s Office.

Were there any alternatives to the appointment and dismissal of judges by the President of the country?  What were the changes in the past 10 years on the proportion of people living below the poverty line?

What was the proportion of public revenues financed by taxes?  What was the amount of valued added tax on luxury items and the percentage of revenue from personal income taxes collected from the richest segment of the population?  What was the reason in the drop of funding for education?

Mr. Abashidze asked if the Council of Elders had asked the President to cancel benefits, namely exemption from the payment of gas and water?

The Rapporteur further inquired about the representation of ethnic minorities and statistics on unemployment with an ethnic breakdown.  Was there any discrimination in employment?  What was the representation of women at the Cabinet of Ministers and in academia?  What steps had the State party taken to confront stereotypes on women?  What concrete results had been achieved in the area of gender equality?

Replies by the Delegation

VEPA HAJIYEV, Deputy Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan, noted that in the past seven years, the authorities had noticeably improved data collection.  It was not the Council of Elders, but the People’s Council that had decided to suspend subsidies for the basic foodstuffs.  The President had decided to issue a report on their work since the independence of the country, explained Mr. Hajiyev.  Following independence, the population indeed needed additional social protection.  The entire population had received benefits with free provision of gas, electricity and water.  However, with the passage of time, the country had strengthened its economic and social situation, and it was building the grounds for a market economy.  But the cost of basic services remained below the market price.  The authorities wanted to draw more attention to environmental issues and avoid the negative habit of receiving free benefits and services, which were not in line with the market economy. Propiska or residence registration was used to limit the abuse of relatives employed in the State administration of the provision of basic benefits, the head of the delegation explained.  

The delegation explained that in the area of employment, the authorities provided for a free choice and social protection regardless of where citizens were registered.  Each region and city had so-called labour offices and if any citizen was registered in one region but wanted to work in a different part of the country, offices would communicate among each other.  The authorities also had to provide adequate housing in that region.

After the census in 2012, the Government had revamped the territorial division of the country.  In October 2017, the President had decided that the next census would take place in 2022.  Demographic statistics reflected changes in the administrative division of the country.

On the complaints mechanisms, the delegation clarified that the Ombudsman’s Office had received support in order to be able to carry out its duties.  The Office was made up of eight full-time staff and personnel.  The Office had also submitted its first report to Parliament.  Currently, work was being done to develop the Ombudsman’s own website.  The Ombudsman was working to develop a strategic plan of action to improve the Office’s functioning.  A number of information training seminars had been carried out.  

As for the representation of women, the delegation said that 28 per cent of parliamentary deputies were women.  They were also represented in the Cabinet of Ministers, at the local level and in academic institutions.

The National Plan of Action for Gender Equality contained 60 activities in 40 areas, some of which pertained to raising awareness on women’s issues, improving legislation, and strengthening the national mechanism for women’s rights.  One of the most important points of the plan was studying the question of developing a law on domestic violence, which was a sensitive issue.  On 17 July 2018 an inter-ministerial commission had approved membership for a working group that would coordinate a study on domestic violence.  The authorities had developed a relevant roadmap and they hoped to finalize the study in the beginning of 2019.  Parliament would also work on a bill to prevent domestic violence.  The authorities had also carried out an analysis of the Family Code of Turkmenistan, taking into account the recommendations by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and had penalized polygamy.  The general programme for improving the judicial system 2017-2022 provided for studying international experience on training for judges.

Candidates for judicial posts were selected by their colleagues, while the President only endorsed their choice.  Three deputies represented ethnic minorities, whereas 15 different nationalities were represented in various ministries.  Ethnic minorities were represented in all areas of life.  In higher educational institutions, many were represented, such as Uzbeks, Tatars, Russians, Iranians, Kazakhs, Azeris, Armenians, Germans, and Ukrainians.

The new Constitution of Turkmenistan recognized international standards in national legislation by replicating international treaties, which took precedence over national law.  The Government was constantly seeking to improve national legislation.  The President had underlined the importance of international experience in that sense.

Follow-up Questions by the Committee Experts
 
An Expert asked about the impact of the Committee’s recommendations on the State party’s initial report.  What cases had the Ombudsman’s Office dealt with that related to the provisions of the Covenant?

Was gender equality absolute or relative in Turkmenistan, and to what extent did religious interpretation impact discrimination of women in practice, especially in the context of marriage?  

An Expert noted that the delegation’s explanation regarding the lack of available data from the 2012 census was not satisfactory.  There was also a lack of information on how the State party fought against gender stereotypes.  A case in point was the virginity test which was imposed only on women.

What kind of cooperation did the Government have with civil society in Turkmenistan?  It was very difficult for non-governmental organizations to register.

What were the State party’s efforts to combat corruption?  How could the current constitutional provisions guarantee the independence of the judiciary?

It was not possible to evaluate the State party’s economic and social policies with contradicting information, for example in terms of infant mortality.  What happened with the money that the State had collected during periods of high economic growth?  How could the decrease in the State’s expenditure on public services be explained?

There was no legal provision to protect persons on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.  Moreover, the State party still kept in the books the law that criminalized consensual same-sex relations.

With regard to the delegation’s statement that international organizations had advised that free public services were not good, Committee Chairperson MARIA VIRGINIA BRAS GOMES stressed that equal access to goods and services was at the core of the Covenant.  When did the State party plan to ratify the Optional Protocol?

ASLAN ABASHIDZE, Committee Member and Rapporteur for Turkmenistan, said that the comparison of the State party’s two periodic reports indicated that the country was at a crossroads with the adoption of many laws in all the major spheres.  However, there was a need to further develop plans for the judiciary.  What did Turkmenistan prefer to do: stick with a departmental approach in dealing with discrimination, or adopt a comprehensive anti-discrimination law?  What was the statistical data on the situation of children with disabilities?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation stated that the Committee’s recommendations had been carefully studied for the purposes of developing national plans of action.  The Ombudsman’s Office had received oral and written complaints on a number of issues.

In terms of religion and gender equality, the delegation clarified that Turkmenistan was a secular country.  There was no such thing as a religious marriage in the country.  The legal age of marriage was 18, with some exceptions upon the approval of parents.  Overcoming gender stereotypes could not be achieved overnight and only by passing laws.  It required awareness raising and developing attitudes.  Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly recently, the President of Turkmenistan had noted that the Government would work to achieve full gender equality.  The delegation said that it was not aware of virginity checks being imposed on women in Turkmenistan.

Civil society took a direct part in both preparing reports and in participating in the Government’s work.  They ran shelters in which they provided assistance to vulnerable parts of society.  The National Plan of Action on Human Rights provided for cooperation between the Government and civil society.  The authorities were working to simplify the registration of non-governmental organizations.  The development of civil society was linked with shaping citizens’ civic responsibilities.    
 
The national health system had actively cooperated with the World Health Organization since 2006.  The information on infant mortality was different from that of the World Health Organization because the country had moved on to use different statistical categories.

VEPA HAJIYEV, Deputy Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan, said the Government studied in depth all recommendations and discussed them with relevant stakeholders.  The authorities were determined to carry the progress forward.  Sunni Islam in Turkmenistan was a very tolerant stream of Islam.  Women and girls never had to wear the veil, and they participated in every aspect of public life.
 
As for corruption, Mr. Hajiyev reminded that the State Anti-Corruption Service had been created, opening dozens of criminal cases.  Endorsement from the President in the appointment of judges did not limit their independence.  Consensual same-sex relations were not criminalized, but rather the violent assault of one man against another.        

Turning to gas reserves, in 2012 the Government had adopted a decision on launching a company which would allow the country to receive income from gas and derivatives of natural gas.  Mr. Hajiyev reiterated that the State revenue from the periods of heightened economic growth had been spent on the construction of schools and hospitals.  The head of the delegation also reiterated that the socially vulnerable population paid a symbolic price for the basic services.

The new draft of the Constitution contained the basic provisions of the Covenant, as well as article 8 which set up the primacy of law, the delegation explained.  The approach of the Government was not to have a separate anti-discrimination law, but to keep the sectoral approach.  

Second Round of Questions by the Committee Experts

An Expert noted that the Committee could assess the State party’s progress on implementing the right to work only if it received relevant statistical data.  The requirement to be recorded in the system of residence registration (propiska) blocked people’s right to employment.

What was the timeline for lifting the prohibition on women working night shifts?  Were there any difficulties for women with children enjoying their right to work?

Experts further inquired about equal remuneration and the minimum wage.  Was the minimum wage adjusted annually, and did it apply to the informal sector?  How was equal pay for the work of equal value determined?  What were working conditions like and how were they monitored?  There was no law on sexual harassment at the workplace.

All trade unions were de facto under State control.  There were reports that employees at State institution were often forced to participate in State celebrations, sometime leading to deaths by exhaustion.  There was no right to strike.
     
What was the amount of child allowance, disability benefits, unemployment benefits, and old-age pensions?  What was the retirement age for women and men?  

Replies by the Delegation

Before 2013, there was a ban on women with children under the age of 3 to work night shifts, on holidays, and overtime, the delegation explained.  Since changes to the Labour Code, there had been a decrease in the pay gap between women and men.  Women retained the right to work at night or not.  The authorities had come to a conclusion that there should not be a specific list of professions in which women could work.  The gender pay gap varied across sectors.

The Ministry of Labour dealt with monitoring of labour conditions, and it was working to develop attestations for each post.  Each region and city had a labour office to perform monitoring.  As for accidents at work, the delegation regretted that such cases had occurred.  The minimum wage was set in line with the minimum level of subsistence in the country, and it was strictly monitored.

On the amount of State benefits, Turkmenistan had established a baseline figure for each category of persons.  Women retired at the age of 57 and men at 62.  But women could take earlier retirement, depending on how many children they had had.  The Government was not considering making the retirement age universal.

There was no law on the right to strike, but about the right to participate in demonstrations.  Some 99 per cent of labour disputes were individual.  There were no examples of massive collective disputes.  There was no law on sexual harassment at the workplace, but Parliament was currently studying that option.

VEPA HAJIYEV, Deputy Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan, clarified that State employees had a choice on whether or not to participate in mass events.  They received medical supervision when taking part in them.  

Third Round of Questions by the Committee Experts

Was the National Action Plan on Children’s Rights finalized?  Why was it necessary to do a study on the feasibility of introducing a law on preventing domestic violence?

What was the number of people living in extreme poverty?  Was there a failure to monitor trends in poverty reduction?

Experts further inquired about the provision of safe drinking water, and the number of medical doctors per 1,000 in urban and rural areas.    

There were reports of widespread corruption in the medical sector and that bribes were demanded in order to gain access to treatment and medicines.  How many such cases had been registered and how many convictions had been handed down?

Were there any restrictions on the use of pesticides in the agricultural sector, given that they caused cancer?  Were there any public awareness campaigns on the consumption of genetically modified food?

An Expert referred to the demolition of houses in the capital city and people being placed in substandard accommodation.  What were the laws governing evictions?  Given the enormous investment in huge housing projects, where did housing policies come from?  How could the Government guarantee the right to adequate housing in the overcrowded prisons?

What was the statistical data on all forms of forced and child labour?  How many persons with disabilities were employed?

How did the authorities assess the impact of climate change on water resources and agriculture?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that the National Plan of Action on the Rights of the Child was adopted in January 2018.  The authorities had held briefings with media representatives and representatives of international organizations, with the participation of children themselves.  They were developing a roadmap for the implementation of the plan with UNICEF.  In addition, the Government had also adopted a programme on juvenile justice and a national action plan on combatting trafficking in persons.  A new law had been passed on trafficking in persons, in line with international standards.  There had been no registered cases of trafficking of children.

As to why Turkmenistan had not yet adopted a law on domestic violence, the delegation explained that the results of the ongoing study needed to be finalized.  Each State interpreted domestic violence according to the basic criteria.  Turkmenistan would study legal and law enforcement practices in other countries.  The adoption of a law without proper enforcement would not yield concrete results.

The poverty line had not been defined in Turkmenistan; the authorities took internationally defined standards as the baseline ($ 5 per person per day).  Together with the World Bank, the Statistical Office would conduct a study into the standard of living of households in Turkmenistan.  Once the results came out, the authorities would have a better idea on what was going on.  

VEPA HAJIYEV, Deputy Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan, clarified that home demolitions were taking place in the capital city.  The construction policy that had taken place in previous years, particularly during the Soviet era and after independence, was of a rather spontaneous nature, violating the laws.  Accordingly, the Government wanted to remedy the situation.  The Housing Code stipulated a procedure for the demolition of a house or building for the construction of social accommodation.  When a private home was demolished, household members or residents were given a parcel of land to build new accommodation and they were compensated for the value of the demolished home.  The authorities also provided temporary housing for a period of no more than three years.  More than 1,750 homes had been demolished in 2017, whereas 2,025 temporary accommodation units had been provided.  In 2018, 135 demolitions had taken place, while 170 housing units had been provided.  An inquiry was carried out in each demolition.  There was an exaggeration of the Government’s actions.  It was not true that people lived on the streets because of demolitions.  The housing policy was one of the priorities of Turkmenistan’s social policy.  The Government wanted to improve the conditions in which people lived.

Mr. Hajiyev disagreed with the information provided to the Committee that there was an abandoned neighbourhood near the capital city.  Some 3,404 families had received their homes in that neighbourhood, including relevant infrastructure.  Perhaps there were some problems with the provision of electricity and water, but it was not true that citizens were completely cut off from basic services.  Unfortunately, some media suffered from fake news.

Turning to Experts’ questions about guaranteeing the right to adequate housing in overcrowded prisons, the head of the delegation explained that the authorities were modernizing and upgrading penitentiary facilities, investing more than $ 17 million.  A new prison had been constructed in the Balkanska Oblast.  The Government had invested $ 6.3 million to refurbish several buildings and improve sanitary services.  Hygiene products and medicines were provided on a regular basis, whereas the authorities had also purchased modern medical technology.  Pregnant women received special health care, and inmates with disabilities also received improved dietary provisions.  More than 1,700 prisoners had received pardons.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection carried out regular inspections to uncover possible cases of forced labour.  Some 70 per cent of the land where cotton and wheat were planted was in private ownership, Mr. Hajiyev explained.  Just after independence, Turkmenistan’s textile production had been run by third parties.  Nowadays, Turkmenistan was producing textiles on its own.  

The delegation further stated that the ratification of the International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 189 would allow the national labour monitoring mechanism to be fully brought in line with international standards.  As for forced labour, in 2017 a delegation of the International Labour Organization had visited Turkmenistan and had discussed future steps to improve the current legislation.  As a result of the implementation of the International Labour Organization’s recommendations, Turkmenistan had been taken off the list of the International Labour Organization committee on forced labour.  The Government had made a great deal of effort to prevent forced labour, particularly child labour in cotton farms.  Turkmenistan had ratified eight of the International Labour Organization’s main conventions.  The Government and the International Labour Organization had already begun a dialogue to develop a national plan of action for implementing the concept of decent work.  

On the employment of persons with disabilities, the President had issued a decree for a plan of their employment until 2022.  The Government was preparing a draft law on Government purchases of goods produced by associations of persons with disabilities.  There were consultations with local authorities on social support for particularly vulnerable groups of the population, and 15 per cent of posts had been set aside for persons with disabilities.  Those posts had to match the physical conditions of the person with disabilities sent by the Employment Office.  The National Plan of Action for Human Rights 2016-2022 provided for the creation of a registry (an electronic map) of persons with disabilities.  

The Government had in place a programme to ensure the quality of drinking water.  Water quality provided to the population was monitored in line with international standards.   As for the use of pesticides and the consumption of genetically modified food, Turkmenistan strictly regulated the sanitation and environmental protection code.   There was a ban on the import and production of genetically modified food.  The Government had proposed developing a special United Nations programme for the rational use of water resources and the protection of the Aral Sea, Mr. Hajiyev said.  The authorities had also planted 19 million trees as part of the Green Belt project.

No cases of corruption at medical schools had been registered.  Special commissions at every clinic strictly monitored cases of corruption.  In 2011, the Government had adopted a programme for the development of the pharmaceutical industry of Turkmenistan.  More than 40 per cent of medicines were produced domestically.  Even the most remote areas of the country had access to medicines.

Follow-up Questions by the Committee Experts

An Expert said that she had received information about a protest in front of the United Nations in New York, which called for an end to teachers and school children being forced to pick cotton in Turkmenistan.  Was the Government committed to also ending the recruitment of people to participate in mass events?

On the list of prohibited jobs for women, the same Expert noted that the reasoning provided by the delegation was not satisfactory because women had various physical characteristics and could thus perform various jobs.  She expressed hope that the Government would pass a law on the prevention of domestic violence and that it would find good enforcement mechanisms.

What caused trafficking of children and women?  Was there any regional approach to that problem?  Had cases of family violence been brought to court?

Did the country have any kind of control over the use of pesticides for the production of fruit and vegetables?  Were there awareness raising campaigns about contaminated food?

Experts reminded that the information provided from civil society did not mention anything about monetary compensation for demolished homes.  How was that compensation calculated?  How much notice was provided prior to demolition and how much opportunity was given to challenge the demolition in front of courts?

An Expert clarified that the source of his information about prison overcrowding in Turkmenistan was the World Prison Brief of the Birkbeck University of London.

MARIA VIRGINIA BRAS GOMES, Committee Chairperson, assured the delegation that the Committee did not indulge the use of fake news.  There was scarce information about Turkmenistan.  The Committee used researched and validated alternative sources of information.  The Chairperson further inquired about persons who lived in luxury apartments.  She also suggested that Turkmenistan ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation clarified that the Labour Code and the list of forbidden professions for women had entered into force in 2009.  The list was the only document from the labour legislation that still had not been reformed.  The authorities were working on it.

The delegation reiterated that there were strict regulations for the use of pesticides and insecticides in the agricultural sector, as well as on genetically modified food.  The Ministry of Health issued relevant certificates on the safety of food products.  In 2015, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations had given Turkmenistan a certificate for having achieved food security.  In addition, the country had a national programme on healthy food.  In 2017, together with the World Health Organization, the authorities had conducted a study on citizens’ fitness.   A television programme “Healthy Nation” provided a lot of information about a healthy way of life and healthy diet.

The delegation said that the Government was studying all international documents on domestic violence, while taking into account local mentalities and attitudes towards domestic violence.  Turkmenistan had a general system of monitoring for all types of crimes.  It was currently considering establishing a specialized unit for domestic violence.  The definition of domestic violence was placed in a general context.  

VEPA HAJIYEV, Deputy Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan, said that it was the right of people protesting in front of the United Nations building in New York to express their view.  The Government of Turkmenistan also had the right to express its own view.  Non-governmental organizations had double standards and working with them was quite complex.  As for compulsory participation in mass events, people could choose other ways of civic participation.  The mentioned death of a student during a mass event in Turkmenistan had never been confirmed.  The Committee needed also to hear information from the Government.

Turkmenistan had rich regional cooperation with various countries, including on trafficking in persons.  Going back to the demolition of homes, Mr. Hajiyev noted that residents were pressuring the authorities to grant them larger living space than they used to occupy.  

Fourth Round of Questions by the Committee Experts

ASLAN ABASHIDZE, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Turkmenistan, asked about the education of ethnic minorities and about the ban on students from Turkmenistan studying abroad.  Was there any budget earmarked for the funding of cultural events of minorities?

Did the entire country have access to the Internet, considering that Turkmenistan had its own satellite?  Were there laws on combatting extremism online?  What was the criteria for registering religious organizations?

What benefits did persons with disabilities who were unable to work receive?  Was there a specific timeframe for completely equating the salaries of women and men?  Was there any record of persons living with HIV/AIDS, as well as mechanisms for preventing their discrimination at work?

The State perhaps needed to show more sensitivity and legalize some of the illegally constructed homes, Mr. Abashidze suggested.

An Expert inquired about statistics on the prevalence of child labour and measures to confront it.  Had any studies been carried out on the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals?  Did “improved” drinking water correspond to safe drinking water?
 
Replies by the Delegation

VEPA HAJIYEV, Deputy Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan, noted that the State’s attitude towards religious organizations was fairly tolerant.  Such organizations included Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The authorities had not refused the registration of any religious organization.  There were corresponding laws on the blocking of Internet sites, which propagated terrorism and extremist ideologies.  Turkmenistan was currently considering launching a second satellite.

As for corruption in education, Mr. Hajiyev said that 21 cases of corruption had been opened, encompassing all categories of education.  The certification of studying in foreign universities allowed students to delay their military service.  There was no ban on studying abroad; there was a national procedure for the recognition of degrees obtained abroad.  

Various ethnic minorities lived in Turkmenistan, and inter-ethnic communication was carried out in Russian.  There were various cultural centres (Iranian, Russian, French), Mr. Hajiyev explained.

The delegation clarified that many students from Turkmenistan received higher education in Russia and Turkey.  More than 69,000 of them studied abroad.  The Government actively cooperated with other countries to celebrate various cultural traditions.  Higher education establishments mainly taught in the Turkmen language.  Parents themselves preferred that their children study either in Russian or Turkmen, or foreign languages.  

In accordance with international standards, Turkmenistan had made changes to its legislation and it had set the minimum age of work at 18.  There were exceptions for children who finished their education earlier.  The number of children working had dropped almost to zero.

As for the provision of safe drinking water, the delegation noted that 98 per cent of the country’s population received safe drinking water that was filtrated and was constantly monitored through laboratory controls.  There were no registered cases of people living with HIV/AIDS.  There were bodies that carried out awareness raising campaign to counter the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Concluding Remarks

VEPA HAJIYEV, Deputy Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan, thanked the Committee Experts for a very detailed dialogue.  All of the mentioned issues were necessary to discuss, and the Government would closely analyse the Committee’s views and recommendations.  Mr. Hajiyev assured the Committee that all of the subjects would be studied by the authorities.

ASLAN ABASHIDZE, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Turkmenistan, said that he had observed improvement since the country’s initial report.  Everything that the country was doing should continue.  Mr. Abashidze underlined the need for the State party to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Covenant.  The country already had technical assistance from international organizations and good cooperation with the International Labour Organization, but it could also better use the expertise of the Committee.  

MARIA VIRGNIA BRAS GOMES, Committee Chairperson, noted that there was no better way to identify structural difficulties than through the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Covenant.  She noted that the Committee’s role was to signal potential problematic areas.
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For use of the information media; not an official record
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