In its part devoted to the human rights situation in Turkmenistan in 2019, the EU Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World 2019 highlights the following:
1. Overview of the human rights and democracy situation: In 2019, the human rights situation in Turkmenistan remained worrying. Fundamental rights and freedoms were not respected despite being formally guaranteed by the Constitution and other laws. Serious concerns remain regarding restrictions to freedom of expression and opinion, freedom of association and peaceful assembly, torture prevention and enforced disappearances in detention facilities, and freedom of movement. There is lack of enabling space for human rights defenders, independent journalists, lawyers and NGOs in the country. The Ombudsman’s office established in 2017 continued its activities and in June 2019 presented its yearly activity report. However, concerns regarding its independence and ability to address cases of violations of political and human rights freedoms have not been addressed. The evaluation of the progress in the implementation of the 2016 Human Rights Action Plan remained challenging due to lack of an adequate monitoring mechanism. Crucial recommendations accepted by Turkmenistan during its third Universal Periodic Review in May 2018 have neither been reflected in the Action Plan, nor implemented. A positive step has been the approval by the President of a National Strategy for Early Child Development for 2020-2025 and a National Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings for 2020-2022. Further, a second round table dedicated to the freedom of religion or belief was held by the Institute of State, Law and Democracy in December 2019.
2. EU action - key focus areas: The EU continued to support capacity building of Turkmen public administration to enforce human rights laws and conventions, in line with the priorities of the country's National Human Rights Action Plan. Regular consultations about providing assistance to Turkmenistan's state bodies was carried out with other partners active in the area of human rights, notably with the UNDP, UNICEF, the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy based in Ashgabat, OSCE and US. The EU continued encouraging Turkmenistan to seek advice of specialised international bodies and to study best practices in the process of drafting or amending legislation and implementing the human rights instruments.
The EU continued to advocate for reforms of the judicial and prison systems. Following reports about cases of torture and enforced disappearances, the EU continued to encourage Turkmenistan to establish a National Preventive Mechanism for the monitoring of places of detention, and to facilitate access to prisons for independent international monitoring bodies. Despite EU’s requests for the continuation of foreign diplomat's visits to local penitentiaries, no such visits could be organised in 2019.
Despite the absence of an EIDHR Country Based Support Scheme, the EU continued its support to Turkmen CSOs to reinforce their role in the society, including by facilitating their representatives' participation in the regional and Brussels-based workshops and capacity building events.
3. EU bilateral political engagement: The EU continued to discuss human rights and democracy related concerns with Turkmenistan in various settings. In March 2019, the 11th EU-Turkmenistan human rights dialogue took place in Ashgabat. Human rights concerns were also raised with the Turkmen authorities by the European Parliament, the EU Special Representative for Central Asia, as well as within the OSCE and UN frameworks.
The EU voiced its concerns about a number of human rights related individual cases through Verbal Notes, OSCE statements and quiet diplomacy interventions. The EU delegation to Turkmenistan, established in July 2019, coordinated actions in the field of human rights with EU Member States’ embassies and like-minded partners and hosted consultations with civil society. Turkmen authorities showed timid openness to discuss concrete human rights related issues with the EU. As a result of the EU’s intervention, the whereabouts of a number of people considered as disappeared could be established, and a travel ban was lifted in case of one independent journalist.
4. EU financial engagement: The EU continued to implement the project ‘Support to Capacity Building in Public Administration’, funded under DCI and launched in 2016 with a budget EUR 4.5 million. The project aims at strengthening the capacity of public administration through increasing the qualifications of civil servants, including on human rights related issues. The project involves different beneficiaries, such as the State Academy of Civil Servants and the Institute of State, Law and Democracy. Furthermore, Turkmenistan was invited to participate in the new phase of the EU-Central Asia Rule of Law Programme, designed to promote the creation of a regional common legal space between Europe and Central Asia; to enhance business integrity and compliance in the private sector; to enhance the effectiveness of anti-corruption, anti-money laundering and asset recovery systems; and to enable national counterparts to reform the national legal systems, state institutions and the judiciary. Finally, the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) supported the capacity building of civil society.
5. Multilateral context: A Turkmen delegation attended the official part of the OSCE Annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) in September 2019. The Minister of Labour and Social Protection attended the 108th ILO Session on 10 June 2019 in Geneva. An ICRC delegation visited the country in June and December 2019 to discuss possible future cooperation plans. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for Central Asia visited Ashgabat on 3-4 April and on 11 December 2019 to discuss the preparation of a roadmap for the implementation of the recommendations accepted by Turkmenistan at the third Universal Periodic Review in the UN Human Rights Council. On 7 May 2019, Turkmenistan was elected to the three ECOSOC subsidiary bodies: Executive Board of the WFP (2020-2022), UN Commission on Population and Development (2020-2024) and UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (2020-2023). In July 2019, Turkmenistan presented a voluntary review of the implementation of the SDGs at the High-Level Political Forum in the UN Headquarters. Since 2009, UN Special Procedures have not visited the country. In that respect, the EU has insisted on several occasions that Turkmenistan issue standing invitations to all UN Special Procedures.