Turkmenistan: protecting human rights is a prerequisite for closer ties with the EU
Turkmenistan's human rights record is "abysmal", and the EU should engage with it only if it makes concrete progress in protecting them, said Foreign Affairs Committee MEPs on Wednesday, ahead of an EP delegation visit there next week to ascertain whether Parliament should give its consent, in June, to an EU Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA).
Farid Tukhbatullin, who leads the Vienna-based Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR) and Vyacheslav Mamedov, leader of the Netherlands-based Turkmen Civil Democratic Union, called for the release of all political prisoners in Turkmenistan and for 15,000 people to be taken off the blacklist which prevents thousands of people from entering or leaving the country.
Alluding to so-called "political stability" in Turkmenistan, Mr Tukhbatullin said that if the government "is hoping to preserve the current situation, indignation will boil over and explode as it recently has in other countries".
Veronika Szente Goldston, from Human Rights Watch, said that Parliament should request a detailed report from the European External Action Service on the impact of the Interim Trade Agreement (ITA) on the human rights situation in Turkmenistan, and on the steps taken to follow up on the promise, given to Parliament in spring 2009 by the Commission and the Council, to press for meaningful human rights improvements in Turkmenistan in the run-up to the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA).
Engagement versus isolation
Asked by the rapporteur for the PCA with Turkmenistan, Norica Nicolai (ALDE, RO), whether a boycott against Turkmenistan could lead it to meet its obligations, Mr Mamedov replied that any expansion of EU co-operation with Turkmenistan "must be based on preconditions." He added that "only afterwards can we decide if Turkmenistan is prepared to take the democratic path", adding that "it is a dead-end policy to try to arrive at democracy via trade and economic engagement."
Freedom of religion
Baastian Belder (EFD, NL), voiced concern about affronts to freedom of religion, saying that "citizens of non-registered religions are falling victims to the Turkmen Criminal Code". Mr Tukhbatullin confirmed that religious organisations are being banned and even the registered ones are being harrassed.
Parliament's scrutiny over international agreements
Human Rights Sub-committee chair Heidi Hautala (Greens/EFA, FI), referred to the Foreign Affairs Committee resolution on the conclusion of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (passed on 26 January 2011), in which Parliament called for a mechanism to be established to monitor Turkmenistan's human rights record. Disappointed by the External Action Service's reply that it would not implement such a mechanism because it would supposedly "distort the balance of the EU institutions", Ms Hautala stressed that the proposed agreement with Turkmenistan "is a test-case of how the European Parliament can give a serious scrutiny" to an international agreement, adding that "it creates a precedent for how Parliament will monitor future Partnership and Cooperation Agreements".
Note to editors
On the basis of the Lisbon Treaty the Parliament is to give its consent to the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Turkmenistan in June. The date of plenary vote was postponed until after the EP delegation visit to Ashgabat, scheduled for 28 to 30 April 2011, to enable the delegation to follow up on Parliament's concerns and assess whether the EU has done enough to promote progress on human rights as part of its engagement with Turkmenistan.
In the chair: Gabriele ALBERTINI (EPP, IT)