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EU Rejects Trade With Turkmenistan On Rights Abuse

EU Rejects Trade Pact With Turkmenistan Over Rights Abuses

(Brussels) – The European Parliament yesterday took a principled stand against grossly abusive governments by voting against a trade agreement with Turkmenistan, Human Rights Watch said.

The parliament’s International Trade Committee voted to stop further consideration of an interim trade agreement with Turkmenistan until its government significantly improved its human rights record.

“This is a landmark decision against tyranny,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Today’s vote signals that the EU will not allow grossly abusive governments to profit from EU engagement.”

The committee resolution stated that the European Union will approve an interim trade agreement with Turkmenistan only if “clear, tangible, and sustained progress on the human rights situation is achieved.” It called on the Turkmen government to release all political prisoners, allow the registration and free functioning of nongovernmental organizations, permit the International Committee of the Red Cross to work freely in the country, and to grant United Nations human rights monitors “timely” access to Turkmenistan to monitor the situation.

In March the parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee voted to advance a proposal for an interim trade agreement. Since then, the human rights situation in Turkmenistan deteriorated. In June, just days before a European Parliament delegation was scheduled to arrive in Turkmenistan for a fact-finding mission, the government arrested three local human rights defenders and their relatives. The relatives were subsequently released. But in late August, in a closed trial that lasted two hours, two of the defenders, Amandurdy Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khajiev, were sentenced to seven years in prison. The third, Olgusapar Muradova, was sentenced to six years in prison.

In mid-September Muradova died in custody under highly suspicious circumstances. Her relatives, who viewed the body prior to burial, said they noted a wound to her head.

Debates in the European Union about the trade agreement focused on whether an interim trade agreement and a deepening of engagement with the Turkmen government on their own would prod the government to soften its brutal rule.
“The EU doesn’t need an interim trade agreement to engage the Turkmen government on human rights,” said Cartner. “Today’s vote shows that the EU will not reward dialogue for its own sake. This decision gives some teeth to EU statements about conditions for engagement with Central Asia. Now it’s up to the Turkmen government to meet its international human rights obligations and stop isolating itself.”

Background

Turkmenistan, ruled by president-for-life Saparmurat Niazov, remains one of the most repressive and closed countries in the world. The government tolerates no dissent, allows no media or political freedoms, and has driven into exile or imprisoned political opposition, human rights defenders and independent journalists. Dissidents are treated as criminals and are subject to internal exile, forced eviction from their homes and confiscation of their personal property. Several have been forcibly detained in psychiatric hospitals.

The government has banned opera, ballet, the circus, the philharmonic orchestra and non-Turkmen cultural associations. Religious believers, particularly followers of faiths other than Sunni Islam and Russian Orthodoxy, have faced criminal prosecution, police beatings, deportation and, in some cases, demolition of their houses of worship.

Turkmenistan is a country whose leadership is sending it backwards in social and economic development. The country is rich in natural gas, but most of the population lives in grinding poverty. In 2004, President Niazov was reported to have ordered the dismissal of an estimated 15,000 healthcare workers and replaced them with military conscripts. In 2003, the government limited compulsory education to nine years, and it has cut back drastically on state-funded healthcare.

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