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2017-2021 ARCHIVED CONTENT

You are viewing ARCHIVED CONTENT released online from January 20, 2017 to January 20, 2021.

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TURKMENISTAN: Tier 3

The Government of Turkmenistan does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so; therefore Turkmenistan remained on Tier 3. Despite the lack of significant efforts, the government took some steps to address trafficking, including approving the 2020-2022 national action plan, continuing to participate in anti-trafficking awareness campaigns, working with international organizations on combating trafficking in persons, providing training to its diplomatic corps on human trafficking, identifying potential trafficking victims at the international airport, and continuing to purchase machinery to mechanize cotton harvesting and planting. However, during the reporting period, there was a government policy or pattern of forced labor; the government continued to direct policies that perpetuated the continued mobilization of adult citizens for forced labor in the annual cotton harvest and in public works projects. No officials were held accountable for their role or direct complicity in trafficking crimes and state surveillance practices continued to dissuade any monitoring of the harvest during the reporting period. The government did not report any information on prosecutions and convictions, identified no victims, did not implement legal provisions on victim protection, and did not fund any victim assistance programs.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS:

Take further action to end government policies or actions that compel forced labor, to include eliminating the quota for cotton, which creates pressure for mobilization of labor.Grant independent observers full access to monitor cotton cultivation and cease harassment, detention, and abuse of individuals for documenting labor conditions.Eliminate the practice of requiring fees for replacement pickers or contributions from businesses and entrepreneurs to support the harvest.Adhere to the 2016 anti-trafficking law and provide victim care services directly or by otherwise funding organizations to do so.Adopt the national referral mechanism to identify and refer victims to protection services and train police, migration officers, and other relevant officials on such procedures.While respecting due process, investigate and prosecute suspected sex and labor trafficking offenses under Article 129/1 of the criminal code and convict and punish traffickers.Hold complicit officials criminally accountable for their involvement in trafficking crimes, including the mobilization of forced labor.Train police to recognize and investigate sex and labor trafficking crimes.Expand training for relevant government authorities on implementation of the provisions of the 2016 anti-trafficking law and article 129, as amended in 2016.Increase awareness of trafficking among the general public through government-run campaigns or financial and in-kind support for NGO-run campaigns.

PROSECUTION

The government maintained minimal anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Article 129/1 of the criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of four to 10 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving adult victims, and eight to 15 years’ for offenses involving child victims; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.

The government reported initiating one criminal investigation in Balkan province related to trafficking in persons. The government did not report the number of prosecutions, compared with one case in 2018, and three each in 2017, 2016, and 2015. For the second consecutive year, the government did not report the number of convictions, compared with the conviction of one trafficker in 2017, three in 2016, and nine in 2015. The government reported it trained law enforcement on trafficking prevention; however, it provided no information on the types or number of personnel trained. The government did not provide in-kind support to an international organization for law enforcement training, as it had in prior years. Despite continued reports of widespread corruption, the government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses, nor did it report any efforts to end officials’ mobilization of persons for forced labor in the cotton harvest and public works projects. Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. The government did not report any international investigations or extraditions of suspected traffickers. Independent media and civil society continued to report heightened state security surveillance throughout the 2019 cotton harvest. After serving his full three-year prison sentence, the government released Gaspar Matalaev, a reporter who had been convicted for fraud for his work contributing to an article documenting the use of forced labor in the cotton harvest; a UN working group stated the arrest and detention of Gaspar Matalaev was arbitrary.

PROTECTION

The government maintained negligible protection efforts. The government did not identify any victims in 2019, compared with eight victims in 2018, one victim in 2017, and 11 victims in 2016. An international organization that works closely with the government reported assisting 24 Turkmen victims, including 12 females and 12 males, but estimated the total number of victims was significantly higher, as evidenced by the 8,132 calls to the foreign-funded trafficking hotlines in Ashgabat and Turkmenabat, a 16 percent increase in volume compared with 2018. Despite international organizations utilizing thorough victim identification protocols accepted by the wider international community, the prosecutor general’s office believed most claims were fraudulent. The anti-trafficking law required the provision of a wide range of services from the government to trafficking victims; yet for the fourth consecutive year, the government did not provide comprehensive services to all trafficking victims, nor did it fund international organizations or NGOs to provide such services. An NGO operated one shelter for female and male trafficking victims in Turkmenistan with foreign-donor funding. The shelter provided comprehensive services to five female victims in 2019 (seven females in 2018), including local reintegration and job placement. In partnership with an international organization, the government drafted standard operating procedures for victim identification and referral in 2018. However, the government failed to adopt and implement them, leaving authorities without formal written procedures to identify victims or refer them to care providers. Officials also did not report referring any victims in an ad hoc manner to an international organization for assistance in 2019. Some law enforcement agencies only reported individuals as identified trafficking victims if their cases led to trafficking convictions. The prosecutor general’s office reported victims could apply for physical protection and assistance in obtaining free medical care; however, officials did not provide details of specific cases in which such assistance was provided during the year, and NGOs indicated previously that some victims were required to pay for their own medical treatment.

The anti-trafficking law provided that victims, including those who participate in criminal proceedings, were exempt from administrative or criminal liability for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit and were guaranteed employment. It also required law enforcement agencies to respect the confidentiality of victims. The amended legal code provided for free legal assistance to trafficking victims who applied for official victim status; as the previous year, the government did not report providing any legal assistance to victims. There were no reports of victims seeking or obtaining damages in civil suits. The government made no attempts to identify sex trafficking victims among women arrested for engaging in prostitution. Consequently, officials may have penalized sex trafficking victims for prostitution offenses. After some Turkmen citizens, including trafficking victims, were deported from other countries who had failed to screen them for trafficking indicators, the migration service reportedly blocked them from exiting Turkmenistan for a period of up to five years.

PREVENTION

The government maintained negligible efforts to prevent human trafficking. The government did not have an active national action plan (NAP) for 2019 but reported it collaborated with an international organization to implement its 2016-2018 NAP. In December 2019, the government, with assistance from an international organization, approved its 2020-2022 NAP; the government did not allocate financial resources to implement the plan but provided some in-kind contributions. The government did not take any steps to eliminate state policies that perpetuated government-compelled forced labor during the cotton harvest or in public works projects. The government reported it purchased cotton picking and planting machinery in an effort to mechanize the harvest to reduce dependency on human labor; however, the government did not report the implementation and effectiveness of the machinery and, due to a lack of independent observation, the impacts of mechanization were unknown. Despite the absence of formal observation by international organizations, informal observers have noted a visible decline in recent years of forced labor in cotton harvesting and sowing, likely due to mechanization, the availability of low-wage labor, and possibly other factors. Independent media and civil society continued to report local government officials in some areas required public sector workers pay for a replacement picker through an unregulated, informal system, creating a penalty for not participating in the forced labor system and a means of extortion for corrupt officials. Informal observation suggested forced child labor in the harvesting and sowing of cotton seemed to be minimal or non-existent.

The 2016 anti-trafficking law assigned responsibilities for anti-trafficking efforts among government agencies and charged the cabinet of ministers with planning, funding, and implementing anti-trafficking policy. It also called for the creation of an interagency anti-trafficking committee, comprising several cabinet-level agencies and under the authority of the cabinet of ministers, to coordinate, plan, monitor, and report on the government’s anti-trafficking efforts and analyze trends, improve victim protection measures, raise awareness, and monitor implementation of the NAP. The government established the interagency anti-trafficking committee in 2019; an international organization assisted convening the group. The law required the Ministry of Internal Affairs to record data on trafficking crimes; however, for the fourth year, the government did not report any systematic efforts to monitor its anti-trafficking efforts and did not make publicly available government data on the incidence of trafficking and trafficking-related prosecutions and convictions. The government cooperated with NGOs to conduct awareness campaigns in rural areas targeting vulnerable populations. The campaigns included trainings, information sessions, workshops, round tables, movie demonstrations, and school discussions. According to civil society, the government charged NGOs fees to place anti-trafficking awareness material in a government-owned public space. The government did not have procedures to regulate labor recruiters and did not report efforts to punish labor recruiters or brokers involved in the fraudulent recruitment of workers. The stateless population in Turkmenistan, mostly consisting of former Soviet citizens, was vulnerable to trafficking; in 2019, the government granted citizenship to 863 stateless persons permanently living in Turkmenistan, compared with 735 persons in 2018. State migration officials routinely prevented individuals from departing the country by stopping them at the Ashgabat airports; anecdotal evidence suggests thousands of people were prevented from exiting Turkmenistan in 2019. The government reported that it restricted the travel of young women in particular as a preventative measure against being exploited by traffickers abroad. The government, in partnership with an international organization, provided anti-trafficking trainings to its diplomatic personnel. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts by criminalizing the purchase of commercial sex.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic victims in Turkmenistan, and traffickers exploit victims from Turkmenistan abroad. State policies continued to perpetuate government-compelled forced labor; in 2016, an ILO Committee of Experts’ report noted “with deep concern the widespread use of forced labor in cotton production,” and in its 2020 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 penalty, such as dismissal, reduced work hours, or salary deductions. Reports of local officials coercing public sector workers to pay for replacement pickers through an unregulated, informal system remained. Authorities threatened farmers with loss of land if they did not meet government-imposed quotas. 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. Public servants and students have also been forced to serve in support roles during government-sponsored events, such as the 2018 World Weightlifting Championship, without receiving compensation. Workers in the construction sector are vulnerable to forced labor. Turkmen men and women are subjected to forced labor after migrating abroad for employment in the textile, agricultural, construction, and domestic service sectors. Sex traffickers exploit Turkmen women abroad. Turkey, Russia, and India are the most frequent destinations of Turkmen victims, followed by other countries in the Middle East, South and Central Asia, and Europe. The government routinely denies freedom of movement to citizens attempting to leave the country, which leaves Turkmen vulnerable to trafficking while attempting to leave Turkmenistan through unofficial channels. Residents of rural areas in Turkmenistan are most at risk of becoming trafficking victims, both within the country and abroad.

U.S. Department of State

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