Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
There were no domestic NGOs that work exclusively on human rights, although some NGOs worked on related social issues, due to the government’s refusal to register such organizations and restrictions that made activity by unregistered organizations illegal. The government continued to monitor the activities of nonpolitical social and cultural organizations.
There were no international human rights NGOs with a permanent presence in the country, although the government permitted international organizations, such as the OSCE, to have a resident mission. Government restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, and association severely restricted international organizations’ ability to investigate, understand, and fully evaluate the government’s human rights policies and practices.
The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances requested an invitation to visit the country in 2016. The working group again requested an invitation in January 2019 but had not conducted a visit by year’s end.
Government Human Rights Bodies: In 2018 the government-run National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights changed its name to the Institute of State, Law, and Democracy. It is not an independent body, and its ability to obtain redress for citizens was limited. The institute, established in 1996, has a mandate to support democratization. The Interagency Commission on Enforcing Turkmenistan’s International Obligations on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law meets biannually to coordinate the implementation of a limited number of recommendations from international human rights bodies. The parliamentary Committee on the Protection of Human Rights and Liberties oversees human rights-related legislation, and during the year it worked with the UN Development Program to draft the country’s National Action Plan for Human Rights.
By law the ombudsman must be nominated by the president and confirmed by parliament. The law empowers the ombudsman to receive and review human rights violations reported by citizens and confirm or deny the violation and advise the complainant regarding legal redress. The ombudsman is obliged to submit an annual human rights report to the president and parliament, which shall be published and distributed via local media. The ombudsman’s report was completed and published for the first time in 2019 and again during the year. The ombudsman enjoys legal immunity and cannot be prosecuted, arrested, or detained for official acts while in office. In 2019 the Ombudsperson’s Office recorded a total of 740 appeals.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and penalties range from three to 10 years in prison. Rape of a victim younger than age 14 is punishable by 10 to 25 years in prison. A cultural bias against reporting or acknowledging rape made it difficult to determine the extent of the problem.
The law prohibits domestic violence, including spousal abuse, through provisions in the criminal code that address intentional infliction of injury. Penalties range from fines to 15 years in prison, based on the extent of the injury, although enforcement of the law varied. Anecdotal reports indicated domestic violence against women was common; most victims of domestic violence kept silent because they were unaware of their rights or feared increased violence from husbands and relatives.
Sexual Harassment: No law specifically prohibits sexual harassment, and reports suggested sexual harassment existed in the workplace.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and to manage their reproductive health, and they have access to the information to do so, free from discrimination or violence. The law states that women have the right to medical care including prenatal care and “safe and effective” contraception. Some married women opposed the use of contraception due to cultural attitudes. Some women in remote areas preferred to give birth at home rather than make a long or difficult journey to a hospital or clinic. Official statistics indicated that 76 percent of women of reproductive age satisfied their need for family planning with modern methods and that the adolescent birth rate was 28 percent. Working with the UN Population Fund, the government committed to providing health services including HIV prophylaxis, contraceptive medication, forensic checks, and psychological assistance, to survivors of sexual violence within 72 hours of a reported attack.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: By law women have full legal equality with men, including equal pay, access to loans, the ability to start and own a business, and access to government jobs. Nevertheless, women continued to experience discrimination due to cultural biases, and the government did not enforce the law effectively.
Birth Registration: By law a child derives citizenship from his or her parents. The new Law on Civil Status Acts provides universal birth registration to any child born within the country’s territory, and a child born to stateless persons possessing permanent resident status in the country is also a citizen.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The legal age of consent is 16. The law forbids the production of pornographic materials or objects for distribution, as well as the advertisement or trade in text, movies or videos, graphics, or other objects of a pornographic nature, including those involving children.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at .
There is no organized Jewish community in the country. In 2016 it was estimated that 200 to 250 Jews resided in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic activity.
Trafficking in Persons
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, and the provision of state services in other areas. But practical application, such as the accessibility of both public and private buildings, varied. Members of the disability rights community reported that persons with disabilities were generally unable to find satisfactory employment due to unofficial discrimination.
The government provided subsidies and pensions for persons with disabilities as well as housing, free health care, and tax-exempt status. In 2019 the government constructed or was constructing comprehensive educational and treatment facilities for children with disabilities in all five provinces of the country.
Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups
The law provides for equal rights and freedoms for all citizens.
The law designates Turkmen as the official language, although it also provides for the rights of speakers of minority languages. Russian remained prevalent in commerce and everyday life in the capital, even as the government continued its campaign to conduct official business solely in Turkmen.
Non-Turkmen speakers in government noted that some avenues for promotion and job advancement were not available to them, and only a handful of non-Turkmen occupied high-level jobs in government. In some cases applicants for government jobs had to provide information about their ethnicity going back three generations.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Sexual contact between men is illegal, with punishment of up to two years in prison and the possible imposition of an additional two- to five-year term in a labor camp. The law also stipulates sentences of up to 20 years for repeated acts of pederasty, same-sex acts with juveniles, or the spread of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections through same-sex contact. The law does not mention same-sex sexual contact between women. Enforcement of the law was selective. Antidiscrimination laws do not apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons. Society did not accept transgender individuals, and the government provided no legal protection or recognition of their gender identity.
On May 23, Turkmen.news reported the famous Turkmen master of ceremonies with initials G.S. was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for sodomy (sexual relations of a man with a man) imprisoned with several others who signed confessions. Turkmen.news claimed he was the son of a well known diplomat. G.S. was arrested in March.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions and to bargain collectively with their employers. The law prohibits workers from striking. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination against union members and organizers. There are no mechanisms for resolving complaints of discrimination, nor does the law provide for reinstatement of workers fired for antiunion activity.
The government did not respect freedom of association or collective bargaining and did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination, because no penalties exist to deter violations. All trade and professional unions were government controlled, and none had an independent voice in its activities. The government did not permit private citizens to form independent unions. There were no labor NGOs in the country.
Each government agency has a trade union that can receive complaints related to labor issues, as can the country’s human rights ombudsperson, but reporting was deterred by the required inclusion of names, addresses, and signatures in complaints.
Authorities retaliated violently to labor organizers. Gaspar Matalaev, a labor and human rights activist, was imprisoned for three years for reporting on the systematic use of forced and child labor in the cotton harvest in 2016. The prominent NGO Cotton Campaign reported that he was tortured while in prison for his reporting. In September 2019 Matalaev was released from prison, having served a three-year sentence in full.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law allows for compulsory labor as a punishment for criminal offenses, requiring that convicted persons work in the place and job specified by the administration of the penal institution, potentially including private enterprises. Compulsory labor may also be applied as a punishment for libel and for violation of the established procedure for the organization of assemblies, meetings, or demonstrations.
The law provides for the investigation, prosecution, and punishment of suspected forced-labor and other trafficking offenses. The government did not report the number of convictions during the year under its criminal code, identified no victims, and did not implement legal provisions on victim protection. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Information on the sufficiency and consistency of penalties for violations was unavailable, so penalties could not be determined whether they were considered commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
The government frequently forced students and public-sector workers to work in unpaid support roles during government-sponsored events such as parades, sporting events, or holiday celebrations. In addition the government compulsorily mobilized students, teachers, doctors, and other civil servants for public works projects, such as planting trees and cleaning streets and public spaces in advance of presidential visits (see Section 7.c.), Forced child labor was reported in the country (see section 7.c.). In June, Eurasianet reported that government officials were forced to use their own money to buy bicycles to take to mass events such as World Bicycle Day.
The government released a National Action Plan to address human trafficking as well as a National Victim Referral Mechanism. The government, however, did not report any information on prosecutions or convictions, nor did the government identify any victims, fund victim assistance programs, or implement legal provisions on victim protection.
The law permits employers to require workers to undertake work not associated with their employment. During the year the International Labor Organization’s Committee of Experts’ report expressed “concern at the continued practice of forced labor in the cotton sector.” To meet government-imposed quotas for the cotton harvest, government officials required some employees at private-sector institutions, soldiers, and public-sector workers (including teachers, doctors, nurses, and others) to pick cotton without payment and under the threat of administrative penalties, such as dismissal, reduced work hours, or salary deductions, for refusal to comply. There are also reports that public-sector workers who declined to participate in the cotton harvest were assessed financial penalties to pay for their employers to hire “replacement” pickers through an unregulated, informal system. Those forced to work were compelled to sign declarations that their work was “voluntary,” but the subbotnik, or civic project, loses its voluntary character due to the association of penalties with nonparticipation. The government also threatened farmers with land seizure if they failed to meet harvest quotas, and individuals were brought to farms far from their homes, lodged in a temporary, unsanitary base facility for 10 or more days, and forced to work long hours with little rest.
Radio Azatlyk reported in September that individuals in Mary Province unable to pay 60 manat ($17) fines for failing to wear masks were sent by police to pick cotton. Each violator was required to gather 44 pounds of cotton daily.
Workers in construction and rural residents were particularly vulnerable to forced labor and trafficking. Isolated reports suggested that during the year officials might have also coerced farmers to cultivate silkworms under threat of land seizure or assessment of a financial penalty.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor. According to the labor code, the minimum age at which a person can enter into a labor agreement or contract is 18. A 15-year-old child, however, may work four to six hours per day, up to 24 hours per week, with parental and trade union permission. The law prohibits children younger than 16 from working more than 24 hours per week and prohibits children between the ages of 16 and 18 from working more than six hours per day or 36 hours per week. The law also prohibits children from working overtime or between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. and protects children from exploitation in the workplace. A 2005 presidential decree bans child labor in all sectors and states specifically that children may not participate in the cotton harvest. Children work informally in markets and bazaars as porters, transporting carts that can weigh as much as 220 pounds.
The Ministry of Justice and the Prosecutor General’s Office are responsible for enforcing the prohibition on child labor and can impose penalties for violations, including fines of up to 2,000 manat ($570) or suspension of an employer’s operations for up to three months, sanctions that were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. There were no official figures available or independent reporting on the number of violations to assess whether the Ministry of Justice and the Prosecutor General’s Office effectively enforced the 2005 presidential decree prohibiting child labor.
The law prohibits students ages 14-30 from working during the educational process but permits students to work in voluntary collective production practices in their free time. Some schools had two shifts of school attendance during the school day, which may facilitate children’s engagement in child labor in the cotton harvest by accommodating this work within the school schedule.
In June, Radio Azatlyk reported that children whose parents paid the school administration for 20-day summer educational camps in Lebap Province and Darganatinsky District were engaged in forced labor in cotton and potato fields. Children were forced to work for several days and reportedly were not provided food or water. Children complained to their parents about the labor, but parents did not take action because they feared the school would retaliate and give their children poor grades. Schools told the parents the children would be forced to work until the potatoes were fully harvested in July. Authorities and state-run media denied the abusive treatment of children and instead reported “a happy life for children.”
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination based on nationality, race, gender, origin, language, religion, disability, HIV-status or other communicable diseases, political beliefs, and social status. The government did not always effectively enforce the law, which does not specify penalties for discrimination on these grounds, with the exception of disability; discrimination against persons with disabilities is punishable by fines that were commensurate to other laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on age, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
Discrimination in employment and occupation based on gender, language, and disability (see section 6) was widespread across all sectors of the economy and government, to include legal discrimination against women from working in the same jobs as men. Certain government positions required language exams, and all government positions required a family background check going back three generations. Civil society members reported the country retained a strong cultural bias against women in positions of power and leadership, making it difficult for some women to secure managerial positions based on their gender. Although the law defines social protection policies for persons with disabilities and establishes quotas and workplaces for persons with disabilities, it was not broadly enforced. Members of the disability rights community reported that persons with disabilities were generally unable to find satisfactory employment due to unofficial discrimination. There was no information on discrimination against internal migrant workers.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum monthly wage in all sectors was above the poverty line. The standard legal workweek is 40 hours with weekends off.
The law states overtime or holiday pay should be double the regular wage. The law prohibits pregnant women, women with children up to age three, women with disabled children younger than age 16, and single parents with two or more children from working overtime. Laws governing overtime and holiday pay were not effectively enforced. The government, as well as many private-sector employers, required workers to work 10 hours a day or a sixth day without compensation. Reports indicated many public-sector employees worked at least a half day on Saturdays. Penalties for violations of minimum wage and overtime laws were not clearly defined and there was no state agency designated for enforcement, so they were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. In September, RFE/RL reported due to the COVID-19 pandemic, medical personnel complained they were being forced against their will to work in quarantine zones for two-week stints while having to pay from their own pockets for personal protection equipment. In some cases experienced nurses said they were barred from leaving quarantine zones for more than two months.
The government did not set comprehensive standards for occupational health and safety. There is no state labor inspectorate. State trade unions, however, employed 14 labor inspectors, who have the right to issue improvement notices to government industries. According to the law, trade union inspectors may not levy fines, and there are no mechanisms for enforcement of improvement notices. Penalties for violations of occupational safety and health laws were not commensurate with those for crimes like negligence.
Employers did not provide construction workers and industrial workers in older factories proper protective equipment and often made these workers labor in unsafe environments. Some agricultural workers faced environmental health hazards related to the application of defoliants in preparing cotton fields for mechanical harvesting. Workers did not have the right to remove themselves from work situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their continued employment, and authorities did not protect employees in these situations. Statistics regarding work-related injuries and fatalities were not available. Radio Azatlyk reported the Ministry of Health demanded that high-level managers at medical facilities ensure that there is no discussion among their staff regarding the coronavirus or economic or political problems in the country. According to the service, the ministry demanded the managers identify staff members who violated this informal ban, suppress any dissent, and put pressure on outspoken employees through their family members.
According to the International Labor Organization, there was “gross underreporting” of occupational accidents in the country and the surrounding region. In September, Turkmen.news reported the deaths of 14 soldiers in a crash on their way to harvest pistachios in Serhetabad Province.