HRW: EU trade agreement with Turkmenistan should be halted until human rights benchmarks are met
HRW: EU trade agreement with Turkmenistan should be halted until human rights benchmarks are met

[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Monday argued [HRW report] that a proposed Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and Turkmenistan should be halted until Turkmenistan meets human rights benchmarks. The European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing [committee website; draft agenda] on Monday to debate the conclusion of a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Turkmenistan. The agreement is a framework agreement for trade and legal relations. Since 1999, the agreement between the EU and Turkmenistan has been halted because of the nation’s failure to meet human rights benchmarks; including the unconditional release of all political prisoners, the removal of obstacles to free travel, free access to the independent red cross and other independent monitors, and improvements in civil liberties. According to HRW, Turkmenistan remains closed to human rights scrutiny and it has not honored requests from UN human rights experts to visit the country. HRW refereed to Turkmenistan as one of the world’s most repressive countries [HRW backgrounder], with a disastrous human rights record.

Under the rule of Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov [BBC backgrounder], Turkmenistan has transitioned from its authoritarian past as part of the Soviet Union towards a more democratic society. Yet, concerns over the nation’s human rights record persist. In 2011 Turkmenistan adopted a new law for regulating presidential electoral candidates [JURIST report]. To qualify as a presidential candidate, an individual must be either backed by a political party or collect at least 50,000 signatures. The previous law required that a potential candidate receive approval from an advisory board established by former president Saparmurat Niyazov. The Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (DPT), which was previously called the Communist Party of the Turkmen SSR, is the country’s ruling and only legal political party. In 2010, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Turkmenistan to place a stronger emphasis on human rights [JURIST report]. At a joint press conference with Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, Ban said that he, “called on the government to fulfill all obligations under international human rights law and the many treaties to which it is a signatory.” The country adopted a new constitution [JURIST report] in 2008, which envisioned a new multi-party political process and provided for limits on presidential power. Political reforms in Turkmenistan come after President-for-Life Saparmurat Niyazov, who remained in office for 21 years, died in 2006 [BBC obituary]. Turkmenistan gained its independence upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. The country has been cited by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights for widespread interference in judicial affairs, using torture, and suppressing political opposition, media, and civil society.