TURKMENISTAN: Tier 3
Turkmenistan is a source country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Turkmen men and women are subjected to forced labor after migrating abroad for employment in the textile, agricultural, construction, and domestic service sectors. Turkmen women are also subjected to sex trafficking abroad. Residents of rural areas are the most at risk of becoming trafficking victims. Turkey and Russia are the most frequent destinations of Turkmen victims, followed by other countries in the Middle East, South and Central Asia, and Europe. Internal trafficking within the country is also a problem. Workers in the construction sector are vulnerable to forced labor. The ILO Committee of Experts’ report “notes with deep concern the widespread use of forced labour in cotton production.” To meet government-imposed quotas for the cotton harvest, local authorities require university students, 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. Government officials threatened public sector workers with dismissal, having work hours cut, or salary deductions. Authorities threatened farmers with loss of land if they did not meet government-imposed quotas. In addition, the government compulsorily mobilized teachers, doctors, and other civil servants for public works projects, such as planting trees.
The Government of Turkmenistan does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. Although Turkmenistan meets the criteria for Tier 2 Watch List, because it has been on Tier 2 Watch List for four years it is no longer eligible for that ranking and is therefore ranked Tier 3. During the reporting period, the government continued to mobilize forced labor and did not take action to end its use of forced labor in the cotton harvest during the reporting period. The government adopted a 2016-2018 national action plan on March 18, 2016, which was the top recommendation in the 2015 TIP Report. It identified 12 trafficking victims, prosecuted three cases of trafficking in persons, and convicted nine traffickers. The government did not fund international organizations or NGOs to provide victim services, although it approved foreign funding for these services through international organizations.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR TURKMENISTAN:
Take substantive action to end the use of forced adult labor during the annual cotton harvest, particularly by modifying the governmental policies that create pressure for mobilizations of labor; provide victim care services directly or by funding civil society; train police to recognize and investigate sex and labor trafficking crimes occurring within Turkmenistan; develop formal written procedures to identify and refer victims to protection services and train police, migration officers, and other relevant officials on such procedures; investigate and prosecute suspected trafficking offenses using article 129, respecting due process, and convict and punish trafficking offenders; continue to provide training for relevant government authorities on the proper application of article 129; and increase awareness of trafficking among the general public through government-run campaigns or financial support for NGO-run campaigns.
The government maintained anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The government prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons through article 129 of its criminal code. Prescribed penalties under this statute range from four to 25 years’ imprisonment. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 129, however, provides that, unless certain aggravating circumstances are present, a convicted trafficking offender would not be sentenced if he or she voluntarily freed the victim. The government initiated prosecution of three cases under article 129 in 2015, compared with six cases in 2014. The government reported convictions of nine persons in 2015, compared with nine in 2014. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking. The government reported it independently trained officials on trafficking-related issues.
The government made limited efforts to protect and assist victims. The government identified 12 victims in 2015; the government identified 19 victims in 2014 and 33 in 2013. An international organization reported assisting 40 victims. The government did not provide comprehensive services to all victims of trafficking, nor did it fund international organizations or NGOs to provide such services. An NGO operated one shelter for female trafficking victims in Turkmenistan with foreign donor funding. The shelter provided services to eight female victims in 2015. During the reporting period, the government did not have formal written procedures to identify victims or a formal process to refer victims to care providers, but the government agreed to create these procedures in March 2016. In the interim, migration officers would informally refer suspected trafficking victims to an international organization, which screened and later referred victims to the shelter. Government officials attended a workshop organized by an international organization in May 2015 on developing an identification and referral mechanism, and the government agreed to establish a national referral mechanism. 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 where such assistance was provided during the year, and NGOs indicated some victims were required to pay for their own treatment. Prosecutors recognized the right of victims to come forth voluntarily and reported they would not pressure victims into giving information in support of prosecution efforts. There were no reports of victims seeking or obtaining restitution in civil suits. The government made no attempts to identify sex trafficking victims among women arrested for engaging in prostitution and, consequently, officials might have penalized sex trafficking victims for prostitution offenses. Government officials asserted trafficking has never occurred on Turkmen territory; rather, it occurred only to Turkmen who were abroad. After some Turkmen, including victims of trafficking, returned home following their deportation from other countries, the migration service reportedly blocked them from exiting Turkmenistan for a period of up to five years, but the government reported that it stopped fining persons deported from foreign countries, including potential victims.
The government made increased efforts to prevent human trafficking, but it did not take steps to remove forced labor from the cotton harvest. The government approved its first-ever national action plan to combat trafficking in March 2016. The action plan was developed in conjunction with civil society experts, and its planned activities spanned from 2016 to 2018. The plan’s objectives included, among other goals, developing guidelines for the identification of victims, increasing victims’ access to rehabilitation services, and increasing the anti-trafficking capacity of law enforcement. The government’s approved 2016 budget included funding for the plan’s implementation. The government approved the requests of an international organization and NGOs to conduct public information events and campaigns, including through state-owned newspapers. The government reported an international organization provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. The stateless population in Turkmenistan, mostly consisting of former Soviet citizens, was vulnerable to trafficking, but in 2015 the migration service worked with UNHCR to grant Turkmen citizenship to 361 stateless persons. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.