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Human rights Turkmen leader's visit causes a stir

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, in 2011

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, in 2011

(Keystone)

The state visit of the president of Turkmenistan in Bern on Monday has attracted the attention of human rights organisations. Since 2006, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has served as the president of the Central Asian country, which many have accused of violating human rights.

Monday’s talks focused on bilateral relations, multilateral cooperation and various regional topics, with some discussion of the current political and economic situations in both countries. According to a media statement from the Foreign Ministry, a part of the talks was devoted to human rights policies. This was the first official visit to Switzerland by a Turkmen president.

Prior to Monday’s talks, Swiss human rights workers called on the Swiss authorities to broach the subject of human rights with Berdymukhamedov. The United Nations as well as other non-government organisations have had very little access to Turkmenistan since the late 1990s.

Some urgent issues are the unlawful detention of dissidents, the strict travel restrictions that block access for human rights organisations, as well as freedom of expression and the media, according to Veronika Szente Goldston of Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Reports of torture and mistreatment in Turkmenistan prisons are also a priority, as Goldston, the HRW’s advocacy director for Europe and Central Asia, told the Swiss News Agency.

Image work

Goldston said that Berdymukhamedov’s trip to Switzerland could be seen as an effort by the former Soviet republic to present itself as a respectable partner to western nations. The president of Turkmenistan has also travelled around France, Germany, Austria and Japan.

The fact that the human rights situation in Turkmenistan has not improved also reflects on that nations that do business with the country.

“Up until now they have failed to issue concrete demands and build up pressure regarding human rights,” Goldston said.

In a letter to Swiss President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, Manon Schick, the managing director of the Swiss section of Amnesty International, demanded that the issue of human rights not be swept under the rug. Schick cited the reports of torture in Turkmen prisons: “Dissident voices are silenced”.

In agreement

Following Monday’s talks, four agreements were signed: a double taxation accord as well as memorandums of understanding between the two foreign ministries, between the Geneva Centre for Security Policy and the Institute of International Relations of the Foreign Ministry of Turkmenistan and between the Chamber of Commerce Switzerland -- Russia/CIS and the Turkmenistan chamber of industry.

Turkmenistan has sizeable gas and oil reserves and is a member of the Swiss-led Helvetistan group at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

swissinfo.ch and agencies


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