Forced labor in cotton harvest in Turkmenistan worry the Human Right Committee

Published on 17 Mar 2023, 01:01 PM

The Human Rights Committee considered the third periodic report of Turkmenistan during its 137th session

Turkmenistan delegation during the dialogue with Human Rights Committee in Geneva

On March 1 and 2, the Human Rights Committee reviewed the third periodic report of Turkmenistan with the State delegation. The delegation was headed by Hajiyev Vepa, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs.

During the dialogue, most of the replies painted an overly optimistic picture of the country, one of the closest in the world, and the delegation highlighted several legislations that, according to civil society, are not implemented in practice.

Civic society organizations and Ombudsman

During the dialogue, the Committee asked the delegation about the complete lack of civic space in the country, given that there are no independent NGOs able to work openly in the country and access to the Ombudsperson is hampered for victims of human rights violations, with written communications reportedly not replied to.

To this, the delegation claimed that the Ombudsman was improving its capacity through global alliances and that there was no accessibility issue. Also, they claim to regularly work with international organizations on human rights awareness raising campaigns.

Forced labor in cotton harvest

Another salient issue was forced labor, particularly in cotton harvest, with women and children being the main victims. According to the Prove They Are Alive Campaing, the workers are often underpaid, and tens of thousands of citizens are forced to work under threats of being dismissed or fired if their quotas are not met. Recently, the International Labor organization conducted a visit to the country, but they did so when the harvest season was already over. 

The State delegation responded by denying any policy to force anyone into mandatory labor. They also stated that cutting edge technology was used to harvest cotton, and mechanized harvesting was largely implemented in the country. Nevertheless, according to civil society, such technology cannot be used to harvest the smallest parts of the cotton flowers, where the cotton is actually found.

Detainees and enforced disappearances in prisons

Lastly, the treatment of detainees and enforced disappearances was considered. The Prove They Are Alive Campaign on the fate of hundreds of disappeared in prisons and conditions in the Odawan-depe prison were raised by the Committee. Moreover, according to the Committee, in 2017 Turkmenistan rejected a visit by the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances.

The delegation replied that the Ombudsperson had not visited the Odawan-depe prison, which  would only be possible following the review of an agreement with the International Committee of the Red Cross. They added that they had online meetings with the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances in July 2020, but the visit had to be postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watch again the dialogue with the Committee here (part one) and here (part two).

Recommendations of the Human Rights Committee

Concluding Observations on Turkmenistan third periodic report were released on March 24, 2023. The State party is requested to provide, by 24 March 2026, information on the implementation of the following recommendations:

National human rights institution

The State party should continue its efforts to ensure that the Office of the Ombudsperson fully complies with the principles relating to the status of national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights (the Paris Principles) and:

  • (a) Provide the Office of the Ombudsperson with sufficient human and financial resources to carry out its mandate effectively and independently;
  • (b) Consider revising national legislation to ensure the availability of legally prescribed means for the reparation of human rights violations;
  • (c) Consider revising the national legislation to allow staff of the Office of the Ombudsperson to participate in monitoring visits to places of detention;
  • (d) Ensure broad cooperation of the Office of the Ombudsperson with civil society and international organizations and its engagement in reporting to UN Human Rights Mechanisms.

Counter-terrorism measures

The State party should:

  • (a) Clarify and narrow the broad definitions contained in national counterterrorism legislation, including by adding a requirement of violence to the definition of terrorism and extremism, and ensuring their conformity with the principles of legal certainty, predictability and proportionality;
  • (b) Provide effective safeguards, including judicial oversight, for any limitations on human rights imposed for the purpose of national security and ensure that such limitations serve legitimate aims, are necessary and proportionate in line with the Covenant;
  • (c) Refrain from imposing travel bans on persons holding opposition views, and on their families, and guarantee full respect for their freedom of expression and right to leave the country.

Secret detention and enforced disappearances

In line with the Committee’s previous recommendations,8 the State party should:

  • (a) End the practice of secret detention and enforced disappearances;
  • (b) Revise the legal framework to ensure that all forms of enforced disappearance are clearly prohibited in criminal law;
  • (c) Step up efforts to ensure the timely, thorough and independent investigation of all reported cases of enforced disappearances and ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted and, if convicted, punished with commensurate sanctions. and that victims of enforced disappearances are provided with effective remedies.

Here you can find all the recommendations given by the Committee in the Concluding Observations.

The follow-up report of Turkmenistan on the implementation of the recommendations is due in 2026. The next list of issues will be adopted in 2029, and the next periodic report is due in 2030.

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