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Homepage > Publication Type > Open Letters > EU: No Trade Agreement for Turkmenistan

EU: No Trade Agreement for Turkmenistan

Brussels  |   20 Mar 2006

Joint letter by Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group  

Brussels, 20 March 2006

[To Members of the European Parliament sitting on the Foreign Affairs Committee]

Dear Member of Parliament,

We are writing to express our profound concern regarding Monday’s vote in the Foreign Affairs Committee on the Draft Opinion on the proposal for a Council and Commission decision on theInterim Agreement between the EC and Turkmenistan on trade and trade-related matters. The EU has rightly abstained from concluding an interim agreement with Turkmenistan for seven years because of the government’s singularly abysmal human rights record, which the European Parliament decried in its 23 October 2003 Resolution on Turkmenistan. Because this record remains unchanged, now is not the time to endorse the conclusion of an Interim Agreement.  

We find that the justifications presented in the Draft Opinion of the Foreign Affairs Committee and in the INTA Draft Report are in no way sufficient to merit a vote in favour of the proposal. For example, the concern raised about isolating Turkmenistan is simply nonsensical: President Niyazov has gone to great lengths to create one of the most repressive and closed regimes in the world. The isolation of Turkmenistan is not a result of any action taken, or not taken, by the international community, but by the Turkmen leadership itself. The EU Interim Agreement is unlikely to persuade Niyazov to depart from this extreme path, nor will it result in making the government more democratic or respectful of basic human rights, as is hoped in the Draft Opinion. President Niyazov has amply demonstrated that he has no interest in such a course.  

We further contest your assessment that there have been steps in the right direction that would justify the consideration of trade links with the country.

The general amnesty is an annual occurrence that almost always excludes prisoners of conscience and political prisoners. Amnesties do not demonstrate the government’s intent to comply with its international human rights obligations, but rather appear to be an important tool for maintaining the loyalty of law enforcement officials, through graft. Desperate relatives pay bribes to ensure the early release of their loved ones. The annual prison releases therefore generate enormous revenues for prison and law-enforcement officials. Meanwhile, the government of Turkmenistan continues to hold political prisoners and denies access to them by the International Committee for the Red Cross. Torture is rampant in police custody and detention facilities.  

The law banning child labour is, of course, a welcome step, but, as was the case in the Soviet era, many Turkmen laws protect human rights, including the Constitution, but have almost no meaning in practice. And the visit by the OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities, whose work is confidential, does not begin to offset the government’s long-standing record of refusal to allow monitors from international organisations to visit the country and of overall non-cooperation with the international community.  

Any decision to conclude an Interim Agreement should be conditioned strictly on significant, measurable, and sustainable improvements in human rights conditions. While parts of the four « incipient signs of change» noted in the Draft Opinion are welcome, none of them--on their individual merits or in comparison with the government’s abysmal and deteriorating human rights record—could be considered adequate improvements. To accept them as such would not prod the government to change, but would instead squander EU influence and leverage. We would be pleased to engage with you in the coming weeks to share ideas on what steps would constitute such progress.  

Those who would benefit most from an Interim Agreement would be President Niyazov and his cronies in government running the energy monopoly in Turkmenistan, who will become ever richer, while the rest of the population suffers great economic hardship. In recent years this hardship has only worsened, as the government took regressive steps in social and economic development. President Niyazov’s recent statements suggesting that he is contemplating reducing or eliminating pensions for the elderly and their dependents may mean even greater privations.  

To vote in favour of the Interim Agreement would send entirely the wrong signal. It would indicate that the EU will bend its standards to overlook the most egregious human rights violations in the interests of securing future energy supplies. It would also fly in the face of, and risk seriously undermining, important efforts by others in the international community to convey a consistent and principled message to the Turkmen leadership on the need for tangible reform in exchange for engagement. In the years since the European Parliament first decided not to advance an Interim Agreement with Turkmenistan, the government has been censored for its human rights record by the United Nations, the OSCE, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The UN Commission on Human Rights and General Assembly adopted resolutions in 2003 and 2004 expressing strong concern about the serious human rights violations and lack of progress in key areas; the General Assembly’s Third Committee did the same in 2005. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development – an institution in which the EU is a majority shareholder – has suspended all public sector engagement with Turkmenistan over human rights concerns.  

In the interests of the EU’s credibility as a guarantor of human rights and democratic principles, as well as the interests of the people of Turkmenistan, we urge that the Committees on International Trade and Foreign Affairs refuse to endorse the conclusion of the Interim Agreement with Turkmenistan on trade and trade-related matters until such time as specific, measurable, and sustainable improvements designated by the Committee have been achieved.  

We therefore urge you to support Green MEP Cem Ozdemir’s amendment to the draft resolution recommending that the Committee on International Trade not give its approval to the conclusion of the Interim Agreement with Turkmenistan.  

We thank you for your attention to this important matter and trust that in making your decision you will ensure that the fundamental values of respect for human rights on which the European Union is founded are upheld.  

Sincerely,

Joanna Chellapermal, Central Asia Advocacy Officer, Christian Solidarity Worldwide  

Holly Cartner, Director, Europe and Central Asia Division, Human Rights Watch  

Nick Grono, Vice President for Advocacy, International Crisis Group

 
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