Trafficking in Persons Report 2018
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 drafting standard operating procedures (SOPs) for victim identification and referral in partnership with an international organization, and implementing a legal amendment that provided free legal assistance to individuals who apply for official status as trafficking victims. However, the government continued to use the forced labor of reportedly tens of thousands of its adult citizens in the annual cotton harvest and in preparation for the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games (AIMAG). No officials were held accountable for their role or direct complicity in trafficking crimes, and the continued imprisonment and abuse of an independent observer of the cotton harvest dissuaded monitoring of the harvest during the reporting period. The legal provisions on victim protection were not implemented, and the government did not fund any victim assistance programs.
Recommendations for Turkmenistan
Take action to end the use of forced adult labor, especially during the annual cotton harvest, particularly by modifying government policies that create pressure for mobilization of labor; hold complicit officials criminally accountable for their involvement in trafficking crimes; provide victim care services directly or by otherwise funding organizations to do so, as required under the 2016 anti-trafficking law; grant independent observers full access to monitor cotton cultivation and fully cease harassment, detention, and abuse of individuals for documenting labor conditions; train police to recognize and investigate sex and labor trafficking crimes; finalize and adopt formal written procedures 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; expand training for relevant government authorities on implementation of the provisions of the 2016 anti-trafficking law and article 129, as amended in 2016; and increase awareness of trafficking among the general public through government-run campaigns or financial support for NGO-run campaigns.
The government maintained negligible anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Article 129/1 of the criminal code prohibited all forms of trafficking in persons and prescribed penalties of four to 10 years imprisonment, which could be increased to 25 years imprisonment under aggravated circumstances; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Turkmenistan’s penalties for failure to prohibit forced labor, the disclosure of information that could harm a victim, or the failure to provide assistance to victims. Penalties ranged from 200 to 500 manat ($57 to $143) for private citizens, 500 to 1,000 manat ($143 to $286) for government officials, and fines from 1,000 to 2,000 manat ($286 to $573) or administrative suspension of up to three months for businesses. The government reported it initiated prosecution of three cases in 2017, the same number as in 2016 and 2015, and compared to six cases in 2014. The government reported the conviction of one trafficker in 2017, compared with three traffickers in 2016, nine in 2015, and nine in 2014. In partnership with an international organization, the government provided training for 160 officials on trafficking-related issues. 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. Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. In October 2016, the government arrested and charged Gaspar Matalaev, a reporter who contributed to an article documenting the use of forced labor in the annual cotton harvest, with fraud. Authorities allegedly tortured Matalaev and forced him to confess to taking and distributing photographs of the cotton harvest; Matalaev was sentenced to three years in a labor camp. He remained in prison at the end of the reporting period.
The government decreased protection efforts. The government identified one victim in 2017, compared to 11 victims in 2016, 12 in 2015, and 19 in 2014. An international organization reported assisting 20 victims, but estimated the total number of victims was significantly higher, as evidenced by the 3,041 calls to the foreign-funded Ashgabat trafficking hotline. A second trafficking hotline, based in Turkmenabad, suspended operations in 2017 due to lack of funding. Despite the anti-trafficking law requiring the provision of a wide range of services from the government to trafficking victims, 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 trafficking victims in Turkmenistan with foreign-donor funding. The shelter provided comprehensive services to five female victims in 2017, including local reintegration and job placement. In accordance with the national action plan, the government continued to partner with an international organization to draft SOPs for victim identification and referral, but did not finalize or adopt them. Authorities remained without formal written procedures to identify victims or refer them to care providers, but informally referred suspected trafficking victims to an international organization for services. 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 committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking, and were guaranteed employment. It also required law enforcement agencies to respect the confidentiality of victims. An additional amendment to the legal code, effective February 2017, provided for free legal assistance to trafficking victims who apply for official status as such. Prosecutors 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. Consequently, officials may have penalized sex trafficking victims for prostitution offenses. After some Turkmen, including trafficking victims, returned home from other countries, the migration service reportedly blocked them from exiting Turkmenistan for a period of up to five years.
The government made negligible efforts to prevent human trafficking. While the government reportedly collaborated with an international organization on the implementation of its national action plan, it did not take steps to end the use of forced labor during the cotton harvest and in preparation for the AIMAG. The 2016 anti-trafficking law called for the creation of an interagency anti-trafficking committee, comprised of 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 national action plan. The interagency anti-trafficking committee was not established in 2017, but an interagency working group was established. The 2016 law also assigned responsibilities for anti-trafficking efforts among government agencies and charges the cabinet of ministers with planning, funding, and implementing anti-trafficking policy. The law required the Ministry of Internal Affairs to record data on trafficking crimes; however, the government has not reported any systematic efforts to monitor its anti-trafficking efforts, and government data on the incidence of trafficking and trafficking-related prosecutions was not publicly available.
The government maintained an official website that provided information on the risks of becoming a trafficking victim and 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. The government 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 2017 the government granted citizenship to 1,690 stateless persons permanently living in Turkmenistan. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts by routinely arresting purchasers of commercial sex, but did not make efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor.
As reported over the past five years, Turkmenistan is a source country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Forced labor constitutes Turkmenistan’s largest trafficking problem; in 2016, an ILO Committee of Experts’ report noted “with deep concern the widespread use of forced labor in cotton production.” To meet government imposed quotas for the cotton harvest, local authorities required 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. In 2017, there were uncorroborated media reports that the government mobilized children for the first time in several years. Government officials threatened public sector workers with dismissal, reduced work hours, or salary deductions if they did not participate in the cotton harvest. 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. Students and teachers and other public sector employees were forced to fill support roles, such as entertainment in the AIMAG 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.
Turkmen women are also subjected to sex trafficking abroad. 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. Residents of rural areas in Turkmenistan are most at risk of becoming trafficking victims, both within the country and abroad.