This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty here.
Thirteen media and human rights organizations have sent a joint letter to the President of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, calling for the release of freelance journalist Saparmamed Nepeskuliev. Nepeskuliev, who contributed to both RFE/RL's Turkmen Service and Alternative Turkmenistan News, has been kept in incommunicado detention since July 7, 2015, when he disappeared while visiting the Caspian Sea resort city of Avaza. Convicted in closed proceedings on fabricated charges of narcotics possession on August 31, 2015, nothing has been heard from or about Nepeskuliev since September 2015.
The text of that letter follows:
June 30, 2016
His Excellency Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow
President of the Republic of Turkmenistan
c/o H.E. Meret Orazov, Ambassador
Embassy of the Republic of Turkmenistan in the U.S.
2207 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20008
Dear President Berdimuhamedow:
July 7, 2016 marks one year since Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, a freelance journalist who contributed to RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service and Alternative Turkmenistan News, has been in custody. For much of that time he has been in incommunicado detention. We the undersigned, are writing to call for an end to his wrongful imprisonment and urge his prompt release.
Prior to his disappearance, Mr. Nepeskuliev reported on economic development, infrastructure, social services, and education in Turkmenistan’s western regions with the aim of informing citizens about challenges facing their communities and of helping them to improve their lives. He went missing in Avaza on July 7, 2015 and, after three weeks, on July 28, his family learned that he was being detained in a prison in Akdash. On August 31, 2015, in closed proceedings, Mr. Nepeskuliev was convicted on fabricated charges of narcotics possession and sentenced to three years in prison by a Turkmenbashi city court.
In light of concerns expressed by the UN Human Rights Committee about conditions in detention in Turkmenistan and the risk of ill-treatment including torture (See the Human Rights Committee, CCPR/C/TKM/CO/1, para. 9), we fear for Mr. Nepeskuliev’s health and safety. We have not been able to obtain any information about Mr. Nepeskuliev’s welfare since September 2015. Our concern for Mr. Nepeskuliev is intensified by our recollection of the fate of Ogulsapar Muradova, an RFE/RL contributor who died in a Turkmen prison under suspicious circumstances in September 2006.
Mr. Nepeskuliev’s case has been reviewed by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which in December 2015 designated his detention “arbitrary” because he “has been held incommunicado with no access to a legal representative; he was deprived of his right to legal assistance of his own choosing” and he “has been deprived of liberty for having peacefully exercised his right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” The Working Group called for his release and that he be compensated.
Numerous rights groups and NGOs have protested Mr. Nepeskuliev’s detention, and called on EU officials to raise his case during the recent EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue in May.
As representatives of our respective organizations and leaders of the international NGO community, Mr.President, we are committed to promoting and protecting the same international conventions and standards guaranteeing international law and human rights that Turkmenistan has pledged to uphold. Mr.Nepeskuliev’s conviction on trumped-up charges and his incommunicado detention are violations of his rights as guaranteed by Turkmenistan’s constitution and its commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Turkmenistan is a party. We call for his immediate release.
Thomas Burr, President, National Press Club
Ivar Dale, Senior Adviser, Norwegian Helsinki Committee
Matthew Fischer-Daly, Coordinator, Cotton Campaign
Judy Gearhart, Executive Director, International Labor Rights Forum
Delphine Halgand, U.S. Director, Reporters Without Borders
Robert Herman, PhD, Vice President for International Programs, Freedom House
Ryota Jonen, Director, World Movement for Democracy
Thomas Kent, President, RFE/RL, Inc.
Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director (Research), Europe and Central Asia Regional Office, Amnesty International
Ruslan Myatiev, Editor, Alternative Turkmenistan News
Nina Ognianova, Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator, Committee to Protect Journalists
Kate Watters, Executive Director, Crude Accountability
Hugh Williamson, Director, Europe and Central Asia Division, Human Rights Watch
This article originally appeared on Responsible Sourcing Network, here.
As the country with the smallest population in Central Asia, Turkmenistan has rarely been in the spotlight on the global stage. This changed today, when the U.S. State Department downgraded Turkmenistan for using forced labor in its cotton sector in the annual Trafficking in Persons report. (RSN has written extensively about forced labor in the cotton sector of Uzbekistan, and over the last two years has worked in an increasing capacity with the Cotton Campaign to end forced labor in Turkmenistan, as well. Our partner Alternative Turkmenistan News (ATN) has documented the Turkmen government’s use of systematic forced labor throughout its cotton sector since the 2013 harvest.
ATN’s reporting, conducted with a network of informants throughout Turkmenistan, details the state-orchestrated, forced mobilization of farmers and public and private sector workers. The mobilization is a remnant of the former Soviet Republic’s centralized command economy. Since the collapse of the USSR, the authoritarian Turkmen government has exacerbated the issue, orchestrating a system in which citizens are exploited to meet yearly cotton quotas. In ATN’s report, public-sector workers detailed being threatened by their superiors with dismissal, docked pay, or forced to pay a fee if they refused to participate in the harvest. This state system of forced labor violates the fundamental human and labor rights of tens of thousands of Turkmen citizens each year.
After placing Turkmenistan on the Tier 2 Watch List for the fourth consecutive year in 2015, the State Department was forced to either upgrade or downgrade the country’s ranking in 2016. To our satisfaction, the State Department downgraded Turkmenistan from the Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 3. This downgrade allows the country to be sanctioned under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act for Tier 3 countries, which provides more incentive for the Turkmen government to take definitive action to end its use of forced labor in the cotton sector.
Independently determined but aligned with the State Department’s position, earlier this month the ILO’s Committee on the Application of Standards urged the government of Turkmenistan to“take effective measures in law and in practice to ensure that no one, including farmers and public and private sector workers, is forced to work for the state sponsored cotton harvest.”The committee also stated that the Turkmen government should prosecute officials who participate in the forced mobilization of workers; seek the ILO’s assistance in applying international labor standards; and allow workers, employers, and civil society organizations to monitor the harvests without fear of repercussion.
We were also pleased to see that the State Department downgraded Turkmenistan’s neighbor Uzbekistan from the Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 3 as well. In Tier 3, similar to Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan can now be subject to sanctions, which places more international pressure on the government to combat forced labor in its cotton sector. The decision is also in line with the ILO’s recommendations to the Uzbek government, to take measures that ensure the complete elimination of the use of forced labor and achieve concrete results.
The State Department’s downgrade, in combination with the ILO’s recommendations, sends a strong message to global apparel and home goods brands that they should have rigorous processes to identify and eliminate Turkmen and Uzbek cotton from their value chains. Only by aligning trade practices with company commitments to fundamental labor conventions will we be able to end forced labor in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan’s cotton sectors. If the international community builds on the pressure of the downgrades to Tier 3, the citizens of these Central Asian countries may have reason to hope for light at the end of the tunnel.
This article originally appeared on Open Democracy, June 3, 2016, here.
Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, both vital nodes in the textile industry's supply chain, compel citizens to pick cotton, prevent worker organisation, and suppress critics. Could the ILC 2016 change that?
Cotton: we all wear it. Its trade has contributed to the evolution of the global economy, and abusive, exploitative, and unfree labour have plagued its production from the outset. This continues today in the cotton sectors of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. This is why we’re urging the governmental, employer, and worker members of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to discuss Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan during the 2016 International Labour Conference (ILC) session on decent work in global supply chains.
While international businesses must be accountable to the workers in their supply chains, decent work also requires governments to apply core labour standards. These include freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining, along with the elimination of forced labour or discrimination at work. As the UN Principles on Business and Human Rights have highlighted, governments have a duty to protect their citizens from human rights violations, including violations of their labour rights. Yet for the 30 million citizens of Uzbekistan and the five million people of Turkmenistan, that remains a long way off.
The governments of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan routinely use state-orchestrated systems of forced labour to produce cotton for global supply chains. Annually, the two governments force more than one million citizens and farmers to pick cotton and deliver production quotas, all under the threat of punishment. This practice violates national and international law, while the income it generates benefits only a small cadre of elite government officials in each country.
During the 2015 harvest, for example, the Turkmen president publicly pressured officials to forcibly mobilise ever greater numbers in order to make up for the low yield. In Uzbekistan, under orders from the prime minister, officials confiscated the property of farmers who fell short of fulfilling their quotas. In both countries, people with the means to do so avoided harvest work only by hiring others to pick ‘their’ cotton quotas for them or by bribing their supervisors.
Keeping workers isolated
Neither the Turkmen nor Uzbek governments permit freedom of association, and both regularly threaten, detain, and imprison citizens who attempt to report on abuses. The Uzbek government has not ratified ILO Convention No. 87 concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, and it appoints the leadership of the national union federation itself. Unsurprisingly, that union consistently stands by the government, which has imprisoned and tortured a number of independent union organisers since 2014. In 2015, officials arrested, attacked, and detained independent labour monitors including Dmitry Tikhonov, Elena Urlaeva, and Uktam Pardaev.
The Turkmen government also refuses to permit independent trade unions or civil society organisations. Prior to the 2015 cotton harvest, it intimidated many human rights monitors into silence through acts such as the arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, a journalist for Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and Alternative Turkmenistan News. He has reported on state corruption and human rights abuses, including in the cotton sector. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UN WGAD) concluded that his detention was arbitrary and in retaliation for exercising his right to freedom of expression.
Important suppliers to global systems
As members of the ILO, the governments of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have committed to applying core labour standards, yet not only are they failing to fulfil their duties but they are actively violating the fundamental rights that the ILO exists to defend. This is especially relevant to the 2016 ILC, since the cotton that the two countries produce is traded through global supply chains. Eighty percent of Turkmenistan’s cotton exports go to Turkey, the second largest source of apparel for the European Union, while 66% of Uzbekistan’s cotton exports go to China and Bangladesh, two of the major supplier countries for the world’s apparel industry.
Ending the use of labour abuses by the Turkmen and Uzbek governments is a fundamental step along the path to decent work in global supply chains. The governments, employers, and worker members of the ILO have a significant opportunity to influence these two governments during their discussion of supply chains at this year’s ILC. We want to see them look at effective enforcement and just prosecution of labour law violators, complaint systems that protect complainants and provide remediation, and respect for independent organising of trade unions and collective bargaining. The ILO member states, employers organisations, and trade unions should use their respective leverage to lead the Turkmen and Uzbek governments to practice these foundations of decent work. This would be a major step towards decent work in global supply chains.
Принудительный труд в Туркменистане: Мировые бренды, инвесторы и правозащитники выразили Бердымухамедову свою озабоченность
Мировые торговые марки, среди которых известные бренды “Adidas”, “Esprit”, “H&M” и другие, а также ряд инвесторов, бизнес сообществ, профсоюзов и правозащитных организаций обратились с письмом к президенту Туркменистана Гурбангулы Бердымухамедову, в котором выразили свою озабоченность по поводу сообщений об использовании принудительного труда в хлопковом секторе страны.
Авторы письма призывают главу Туркменистана обратить внимание на данную проблему.
«Репутация торговой марки является неотъемлемой частью успеха в конкурентной текстильной и швейной промышленности, — говорится в письме президенту. – Это подразумевает не только качество продукции, ее стиль и ценность, но также включает в себя социальные и экологические составляющие производства. Компании заинтересованы в том, чтобы продаваемая ими продукция была произведена в законных и гуманных условиях на протяжении всей цепочки поставок: от заготовки сырья до торговых прилавков».
В письме говорится, что многие компании имеют регулятивные требования к отчетности, в которых компании обязаны сообщать о своей деятельности, во избежание материалов или продукции, произведенных с использованием принудительного труда, рабства или торговли людьми.
«Компании просто не могут использовать материалы или продукцию, произведенные таким способом», — говорится в письме.
Авторы письма ссылаются на многочисленные сообщения о том, что для выращивания и уборки хлопка власти Туркменистана насильно мобилизуют десятки тысяч госслужащих и дехкан. Они напоминают, что использование принудительного труда противоречит конвенциям №29 и №105 Международной Организации Труда (МОТ) об упразднении принудительного труда.
В нынешнем году МОТ выразила «глубокую озабоченность» масштабностью использования принудительного труда, что негативно сказывается на дехканах, предпринимателях, работниках государственной и частной сфер, включая врачей и учителей. Все это делается под угрозой увольнения, урезания зарплаты, потери земли или внезапных проверок.
Авторы письма главе Туркменистана также выражают глубокую обеспокоенность сообщениями о репрессиях в отношении людей, пытающихся задокументировать и сообщить случаи нарушения прав человека. В качестве примера они называют Сапармамеда Непескулиева – нештатного корреспондента проекта «Альтернативные новости Туркменистана» (АНТ) и Радио Свободы, арест и тюремное заключение которого признано ООН произвольным в качестве мести за реализацию Непескулиевым своего права на свободу самовыражения.
С учетом всего этого, подписавшиеся под письмом 60 компаний и организаций, включая АНТ, призвали Г. Бердымухамедова принять безотлагательные меры, чтобы положить конец принудительному труду в хлопковом секторе Туркменистана. Авторы письма, в частности, предлагают следующие шаги: