Ashgabat, 23 March 2012 (nCa) — Turkmenistan appeared before the UN Human Rights Committee in New York, 15-16 March 2012. The purpose was to review the country’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which it acceded in 1997.
Looking at the questions and their answers, it was obviously an exercise in mutual frustration.
Three aspects beg to be noticed:
- ‘Human Rights’ mean different things to committee members and to Turkmenistan.
- The questions by some eminent members of the committee suggest that they are sadly disconnected from what is here and now.
- The biggest lecturer on human rights – the United States of America – is also the biggest violator of this covenant but the human rights commission and other such caricature bodies spend their time and energy in browbeating smaller countries that need to be intimidated for entirely unrelated reasons.
While Turkmenistan asserted, through its answers, that the right to life, right to education, right to essential healthcare, right to pursue economic activities of one’s choice, and the right to live in peace were basic human rights, the commission (at least some of its members) seemed to suggest that homosexuality, right to foster chaos through street demonstrations, and the right to proselytize should assume top priority.
The Turkmen side was represented by Vepa Hajiyev, the first deputy minister of foreign affairs, Ms. Yazdursan Gurbannazarova, Director, National Institute of Democracy and Human Rights, and Ms. Aksoltan Atayeva, Ambassador of Turkmenistan to the United Nations.
Ms. Zonke Zanele Majodina from South Africa was the Committee Chairperson. Experts from 18 countries are members of the committee.
The observations against Turkmenistan were mostly based on information received from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Open Society Institute (Soros), and some Turkmens living abroad.
As a result, what was intended to be a public grilling for Turkmenistan, turned out to be a source of embarrassment for the committee. ——- One member contended that trafficking in humans was a problem confined only to girls from minorities. Had the eminent member bothered to read what is reported by the general media instead of confining to non-neutral sources, this question would have been rephrased to put the stress on trafficking and not on minorities.
Another member expressed concern that children in rural areas were not benefiting fully from the vaccination programme. It is a question that can best be answered by UNICEF that has attained near universal vaccination in Turkmenistan.
Throughout the non-productive session, the Turkmen side kept saying that specific questions should be raised to get specific answers. The committee bravely stuck to the readymade material received from non-neutral, hostile contributors. Just a handful of specific questions came up in hours and hours of tedious conversation and most of them were answered adequately.
Detailed reports on the commission proceedings can be found on these URLs:
First day (15 March): http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2012/hrct742.doc.htm
Second day (16 March): http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2012/hrct743.doc.htm
Here is the summary of information provided by Turkmenistan:
- On the question of child labour, Turkmenistan reported that no children were involved in cotton picking.
- On the question of information Turkmenistan said that it had plenty of means to disseminate information to the population and the world community. Moreover, some 32 foreign journalists were accredited in Turkmenistan.
- Since 2008, there were no restrictions on the citizens to work in any part of the country.
- Purchase of private housing was hassle free but public housing posed some restrictions such as registered place of residence.
- Forced relocation in consequence of a court sentence has not taken place since 2007.
- The government was working with UNICEF to improve the juvenile justice system.
- The persons charged under the terrorism law were entitled to legal defence.
- A commission was set up by Turkmenistan in March 2010 to deal with complaints about the prison system. In that year the commission received 431 complaints and in 2011 it received 391 complaints. More than 11000 citizens had been released from the detention facilities since the establishment of the commission.
- In the first half of 2010, the Red Cross (ICRC) will send a fact finding mission to Turkmenistan.
- In May 2012, an ICRC visit will take place to a juvenile correctional facility in a region. In May 2012, the ministry of internal affairs will meet with ICRC to discuss next steps.
- ICRC will be consulted in construction of a new women’s prison.
- An MoU had been signed with ICRC in January 2012 to train specialists, lawyers and diplomats.
- There was no data available on domestic violence but the government was paying attention to it.
- The current legislation does not provide a clear cut definition of torture.
- Homosexuality was a punishable crime under the current legislation and Turkmenistan was not a signatory to any treaty or agreement to legalize homosexuality.
- There are no secret prisons in Turkmenistan.
- With UNICEF assistance, 60000 persons had participated in national teacher training conferences in 2010 alone.
- Currently there were 22 women in the parliament, including the chair and vice chair. Women also hold key positions in regional, municipal and district administrations.
- Vaccination was free and mandatory throughout Turkmenistan.
- Turkmenistan remains engaged with Doctors without Borders through its office in Tashkent. Their pullout from Turkmenistan was attributable to ‘personal interests’ of some in Doctors without Borders.
- There was an exit control list that includes debtors, persons under investigation etc. but it was much smaller than 37000, a number quoted from somewhere by a commission member.
- The question of dual nationality had been resolved in 2003 through an agreement with the Russian government.
- A foreigner intending to live for more than three months in Turkmenistan must provide proof of being free from HIV. This does not apply to tourists.
- By law, the minimum age for marriage is 18. This can be reduced by one year in special circumstances.
- Improvement in social and economic conditions in the country had led to decline in trafficking in persons.
- Contrary to assertion of the commission, no Jewish or Armenian religious organizations had sought registration.
- The conditions for registration of religious organizations had been eased.
- Koran and Bible were openly allowed to be imported and distributed.
- The beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses were opposed to the views and values of Turkmenistan.
- Turkmenistan admitted that the system of dissemination of material through mass media was in need of improvement, and the government was working on this.
- There were Iranian and Russian culture centres in Turkmenistan. Some foreign embassies were operating their own schools or language classes.
- The work of Radio Free Liberty in Turkmenistan is not journalism. It is just a means of living for some, getting $ 20 for each piece of information.
- The state satellite TV service offers access to 1500 channels.
- Dozens of special interest groups and NGOs had been registered during the past couple of years.
- Ethnic minorities were working in ministries and public sector organizations. There were ethnic Russian, Ukrainian and Uzbek employees in the foreign office. The ministry of security and other ministries also had workers from ethnic groups.
- The concept of ‘three generations test’ – registering the names of parents and grandparents of a candidate – was meant to avoid the concentration of a clan or extended family in an organization.
- There were 1522 ethnic minority students in high schools and 136 in universities.
- There were Russian and Uzbek members in the parliament.
- About 20% of the winners of the annual Altyn Asyr culture competition were from ethnic minorities.
- There were nine organizations working for the disabled persons.
- Reverse migration is taking place. Over the past six years a large number of persons who had moved out of Turkmenistan are applying for residence permits to get back in. People from CIS countries such as Ukraine and Belarus are coming to Turkmenistan for employment.
- The government of Turkmenistan was studying the matter of visit by the special rapporteurs on health and education.
- The judges were appointed by the president but they were free in their work.
The curious thing was that most of the members of the commission didn’t seem interested in what Turkmenistan was saying – many tongues, no ears. They were only eager to say what was on their own minds, a symptom of clinical narcissism.
There was an elephant in the room but the poor eyesight of the commission couldn’t see it. The elephant was none other than our good old Uncle Sam.
One can say that the commission was deliberating on Turkmenistan and the USA has nothing to do with that. Fair enough, but the inconvenient fact is that we have to have some kind of yardstick to measure the compliance or lack thereof by each country. What better yardstick than the loudest ‘defender’ of human rights?
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 16 December 1966, and is in force since 23 March 1976.
The United States ratified it only in 1992, after a gap of 16 years. If the prime ‘defender’ of human rights doesn’t even ratify ICCPR for 16 years, no one has the right to chide Turkmenistan for submitting the first report after 15 years of ascension. By the yardstick permitted to the USA, Turkmenistan should actually have ascended ICCPR in 2013; the first report would have come due in 2014.
The USA did ratify ICCPR, reluctantly, but the shape of its ratification has been described by Prof. Jordan Paust as “blatant fraud upon the international community.” [Jordan J. Paust, International Law As Law Of the United States 375 (2d ed. 2003)]
The US ratification of ICCPR comes with five reservations, five understandings, and four declarations. No single law in the US has been amended to bring it in line with the obligations of ICCPR.
The net effect of all the reservations, understandings and declarations is that ICCPR has been rendered ineffective in letter and spirit. The US has not accepted any international rights and obligations. Individual complaints to the commission are also not permissible. It is ‘American Exceptionalism’ at its ugliest.
More information on US reservations, declarations and understandings to ICCPR can be found here: http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/usdocs/civilres.html
The complete text of the The United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights can be found here: http://www.hrweb.org/legal/cpr.html
No matter how we try to define human rights, the first and foremost right is the right to life.
However, the US interprets it differently. Diametrically opposite approaches are followed to deal with the loss of an American life and a ‘Barbarian’ life – the Barbarian here alludes to the Roman Empire’s concept of Rome vs. Barbarians, a concept at the core of Neocon-driven US foreign policy.
It is for this reason that the US doesn’t accept applicability of ICCPR on its citizens abroad and also in times war.
As a matter of fact, the recent case of Panjwai massacre in Afghanistan by Sergeant Robert Bales underscores the American duplicity. As we write these lines (20 Mar), the Pentagon and the US corporate media are trying their best to soften the public opinion about Bales. Two examples can be found at the links below:
Afghan Suspect’s Life Marked by Honors, Personal Setbacks
Afghan killing suspect dogged by money, job strife
While the blood of Panjwai massacre victims, nine of them children, was being defiled by Pentagon and US media, another drama started unfolding, revealing extreme violation of human rights in the USA.
Trayvon Martin was just 16. Last month he went out of his house just to buy a can of iced and a pack of Skittles for his kid brother. Martin was born guilty; he was black. At least this is the stand taken by his murderer George Zimmerman, who has still not been apprehended by the police. In fact, the police still insist that Zimmerman acted in self defence, presumably because a burly, armed white supremacist can easily be killed by a slender boy with iced tea and Skittles.
A story on this, one of thousands, can be found here: The Murder Of Trayvon Martin Is Not A ‘Black Problem’
The case has attracted global attention and still the police are trying to justifying the way they handled it. And, how many human rights jokers such as Human Rights Watch have raised this issue so far?
Had it not been for the social media, Martin’s blood would have gone in vain.
The right to life automatically implies that there should be no death penalty in a legal system. Sadly, death penalty is being exercised with frequency in the US prisons, especially in Texas.
On the other hand, Turkmenistan abolished death penalty long ago. Moreover, thousands of convicts are set free every year under the traditional amnesty programme.
However, the commission preferred to ignore these facts. Not even one member brought it up or acknowledged.
The run-of-the-mill comments on Turkmenistan’s encounter can be seen here:
Turkmenistan: Orwell Doesn’t Play Well Outside of Ashgabat
Turkmenistan Reads Out the Constitution at UN Human Rights Committee — And is Peppered with Questions
The question everyone must confront at some stage is: What is the purpose of such commissions and rapporteurs?
If the idea was to improve the human rights situation in Turkmenistan, it is hard to see how it will happen.
This whole model of naming and shaming smaller nations on the strength of material from hostile sources has lost its value, if it ever had any. The only purpose it has ever served is to justify invasion of countries with abundance of natural wealth and bringing economic ruin to its citizens, as we have seen in the cases of Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen.
As long as there is no mechanism to remove the parallax, to make the United States behave like a responsible member of the world community, such exercises would only be a malicious waste of public funds.
Featured image credit: First Libya then Syria and finally Iran