On Monday, November 6, the United Nations Human Rights Council will closely evaluate Turkmenistan’s rights record during the country’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR). This is a rare opportunity, as Turkmenistan’s extremely repressive government routinely punishes anyone inside the country or abroad who dares to scrutinize its actions.
The Human Rights Council should call Turkmenistan out for failing to make progress on commitments it made during its 2018 UPR, when the government agreed to ensure freedom of expression and access to information, allow civil society and human rights defenders to work freely, and to end torture, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary arrests and detention, and investigate all relevant allegations. The government also supported a recommendation to provide information to families of persons reported disappeared in custody.
Dozens of people have been victims of enforced disappearance in Turkmenistan. They have vanished, after their arrests and closed trials, in Turkmenistan’s prisons, where conditions are dire, and their families having no information about their whereabouts or fate. The government has failed to provide information even on those disappeared persons whose prison sentences expired in the past five years.
Turkmenistan has also failed to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and establish a National Preventive Mechanism, despite accepting recommendations to do so in 2018. Meanwhile, the government doesn’t acknowledge the existence of poverty in the country and has failed miserably to address critical shortages of affordable food.
Authorities have doubled down on intermittently blocking access to the internet. While they have freed some individuals sentenced on bogus politically motivated charges, they have imprisoned others for publicly expressing critical views and harassed and intimidated peaceful activists abroad as well as their relatives in Turkmenistan. The authorities have also continued to restrain people’s right to freedom of movement, and in recent years have denied access to passport renewal services via diplomatic missions for its citizens abroad.
UN member states should not miss this opportunity to reinforce their previous recommendations on fundamental freedoms, ending enforced disappearances, improving peoples’ quality of life, including by ensuring food security, and granting access to all UN experts.
Following Monday’s review, concerned governments should not wait until the next UPR session to urge Turkmenistan to respect human rights. Instead, they should find ways to regularly push back against the government’s abuses.