Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

Although the constitution declares Turkmenistan a democracy and presidential republic, the country is an authoritarian state dominated by a powerful president. Although the February 2007 election that brought current President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov to power and the December 2008 parliamentary elections improved technically over previous elections, both fell short of international standards. In 2008 the government adopted a new constitution and continued a broad effort to revise a variety of national laws to bring them into conformity with relevant international conventions. The government also engaged selectively with the international community and indicated an increased responsiveness to international opinion. However, despite modest improvements in some areas, such as fewer restrictions on some religious groups, the government continues to commit serious abuses and to restrict severely political and civil liberties. Continuing human rights problems include citizens' inability to change their government; torture and mistreatment of detainees; arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention; denial of due process and a fair trial; restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement; and violence against women.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

The U.S. Government's democracy and human rights efforts focus on persuading the government to honor its international human rights commitments and strengthening the rule of law. The United States seeks to assist the government in establishing a more transparent system of administration and to identify legislative areas in need of reform. The United States also emphasizes the critical importance of internal and external freedom of movement and respect for freedoms of the press, speech, assembly, and religion. The U.S. Government seeks to open a dialogue directed towards identifying potential areas for bilateral cooperation, including providing training to build government and private sector capacity, strengthening civil society and access to information, and promoting transparency and accountability in the law-enforcement community and judicial system. The United States regularly advocates on behalf of individual human rights cases and coordinates its activities closely with NGOs, other diplomatic missions, and international organizations. U.S. efforts to reengage with the country following the death of the former president have led to productive engagement in some areas, especially regarding legislative reforms.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

The United States stresses the importance of freedom of information, media, and speech through public statements, Internet development projects, and visiting speakers. In 2008 the U.S. Government sponsored four speaking events to a range of audiences, addressing U.S. elections and campaigns, HIV/AIDS prevention, environmental protection, and journalism. The U.S. embassy sends local professionals, government officials, and students to the United States for short- and long-term study or training that exposes them to an open, democratic society, American institutions, and a free-market economy. Participants study subjects including the organization and administration of scientific programs, U.S. foreign policy, human rights, broadcast journalism, mass media development, civil disaster response, and the rule of law. In 2008, 156 individuals participated in such programs.

The U.S. Government funds projects proposed and implemented by local civil society organizations to promote civil society and democratic development. Projects include conducting youth civic education and leadership camps and seminars; integrating women into society by providing education in marketable skills; establishing information resource centers with free access to the Internet and American media; fostering market-economy relations through training in market economic relations, legal consultation services, and promotion of networking among farmers; and educating persons with disabilities in new skills such as computer literacy, job search skills, and entrepreneurship. The United States funds a gender advocacy program that raises awareness of domestic violence and trains a cadre of social advocates around the country to advise and assist women on issues related to domestic violence and to press for reform. The U.S. Government continues to provide strong financial support to civil society capacity-building programs; U.S. implementing partners consult with and provide other support to newly created local NGOs in areas such as strategic planning, reporting, financial management, and legal consultations.

The U.S. Government supports greater access to information to create a network of well-informed citizens with access to local, regional, and international resources. A U.S.-funded information resource center provides citizens with access to the Internet and computer training. In 2008 the United States funded a project to provide free Internet access for the general public at the national library. The U.S. Government maintains five centers throughout the country providing Internet, computer, and web design services to 16,000 users including NGOs, youth groups, students, teachers, researchers, and others.

The ambassador and other U.S. officials engage government counterparts on a variety of issues related to human rights and democracy promotion. The United States continues to offer to assist the government to meet a wide range of international human rights commitments, including by revising its laws on religion and mass media and reforming its criminal code. U.S. officials maintain regular contact with representatives of various citizens' groups and local NGOs, victims of alleged human rights violations and their family members, and the few independent journalists. The United States advocates on behalf of individuals and groups, pressing for the release of prisoners of concern and encouraging the legal registration of NGOs and minority religious groups and accreditation for independent journalists. The United States also continues to promote religious freedom in the country by meeting with representatives of religious groups and encouraging the government to ease pressure and harassment of minority religious groups.