FPC Spotlight on Turkmenistan: In an Economic & Human Rights Crisis

A new Foreign Policy Center publication shines a spotlight on Turkmenistan, a country “in the middle of a sustained economic crisis that has seen hyper-inflation in the lives of ordinary people and widespread food shortages, all despite its vast gas reserves.” This economic crisis has, it says, “led to the regime’s repression of its people becoming ever tighter and its personality cult becoming ever more grandiose.”

The research argues Turkmenistan has a ‘Potemkin economy’, with marble facades, respectable official GDP figures and tightly regulated state shops, which mask huge structural challenges and a chaotic black economy. Potential investor risks examined include: the whims of the President, leading to arbitrary behavior by a sclerotic bureaucracy; a high risk of non-payment for goods or services; endemic corruption; insecurity of legal title or contracts; the lack of rule of law and independent judiciary; and reputational risks from being associated with severe human rights abuses.

This research documents Turkmenistan’s massive human rights abuses that have seen it ranked as the worst in the world by ‘Reporters without Borders’ and many other global freedom rankings. The report draws attention to the massive use of forced labor, ‘disappeared’ activists in the prison system and restrictions on independent journalists and human rights activists. It argues that “the current economic turmoil creates new opportunities for leverage on human rights.”

The research suggests that the UK should reconsider the position of Prime Ministerial Trade Envoy to Turkmenistan and challenges whether it is appropriate to be promoting trade ties through the Turkmenistan-UK Trade & Industry Council (TUKTIC). It also argues that the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) should not expand its lending in Turkmenistan, avoiding any expansion to the public sector or state enterprises. It makes the case that “pressure should be placed on Turkmenistan to abide by its UN and international investment treaties, and to allow greater access to UN Special Rapporteurs and international NGOs.”

As put forward by the Foreign Policy Center Director and project editor, Adam Hug:

“Turkmenistan is a country facing a sustained economic and human rights crisis as its citizens struggle to find food, face being forced to work in the cotton fields and have one of the world’s most repressive regimes intensifying its crackdown on their basic freedoms. International investors need to consider if they want to be associated with these abuses or risk their money in a country where the government is failing to pay its debts and prices are spiraling. International organizations should be more cautious in their engagement with Turkmenistan and the UK Government needs to rethink its trade promotion efforts in the face of this crisis.”

Key Recommendations to the Government of Turkmenistan:

• Notify all families about the condition of their imprisoned loved ones and allow visitor access;

• Free political prisoners and jailed journalists;

• Improve prison conditions and end the use of torture in the detention system;

• End forced labor in the cotton harvest;

• Allow visa access by representatives of international NGOs;

• Enhance judicial independence in the criminal and commercial sector.

Key Recommendations to the international community

• Ensure the European Union (EU) adopts and applies the European Parliament human rights benchmarks for Turkmenistan;

• Require the EBRD’s lending to Turkmenistan to reflect the need to improve human rights and avoids expansion to the public sector in the absence of genuine reforms;

• Push for the presence of the ILO with a strong mandate to tackle forced labor;

• Reconsider international trade promotion efforts to Turkmenistan, such as the UK’s TUKTIC.

The Foreign Policy Center (FPC) is an outward-looking, non-partisan international affairs think tank based in the UK. Its mission is to provide an open and accessible space for the ideas, knowledge and experience of experts, academics and activists from across the world, so that their voices can be heard by a global audience of citizens and decision makers in order to find solutions to today’s international challenges.

The FPC has a global perspective and a focus on Europe, the former Soviet Union, the Middle East and Asia. It also seeks to examine what a progressive, pragmatic and internationalist foreign policy for the United Kingdom could be. A “commitment to democracy, human rights, good governance and conflict resolution” is “at the heart” of its work.

15 July 2019 18:09