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 completing draft standard operating procedures (SOPs) for victim identification and referral in partnership with an international organization. However, the government continued to engage in large-scale mobilizations of its 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 the continued imprisonment and abuse of an independent observer of the cotton harvest and state surveillance practices 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.
- Take action to end the use of forced 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, including the mobilization of forced labor.
- 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.
- Increase awareness of trafficking among the general public through government-run campaigns or financial support for NGO-run campaigns.
The government decreased 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 it initiated prosecution of one case in in 2018, compared with three each in 2017, 2016, and 2015. The government did not report the number of convictions in 2018, compared with the conviction of one trafficker in 2017, three in 2016, and nine in 2015. An international organization provided training for 300 law enforcement officials on trafficking-related issues; the government provided in-kind support for these trainings. 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. Independent monitors reported heighted state security surveillance throughout the 2018 harvest.
The government maintained negligible protection efforts. The government identified eight victims in 2018, compared with one victim in 2017, 11 victims in 2016, and 12 in 2015. An international organization reported assisting 25 victims, including 12 females and 13 males, but estimated the total number of victims was significantly higher, as evidenced by the 6,998 calls to the foreign-funded trafficking hotlines in Ashgabat and Turkmenabat. This was more than twice the number of calls received in 2017, but the vast majority related to safe migration, while only seven calls were related to human trafficking. The trafficking hotline in Turkmenabat was reopened in 2018, after operations were suspended 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, for the third 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 trafficking victims in Turkmenistan with foreign-donor funding. The shelter provided comprehensive services to seven female victims in 2018, including local reintegration and job placement. There was no specialized care center for male victims, although NGOs provided some support. In accordance with the 2016-2018 national action plan, the government continued to partner with an international organization to draft SOPs for victim identification and referral; although the group completed the SOPs, the government failed to adopt them. Authorities remained without formal written procedures to identify victims or refer them to care providers, but they 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 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 also provided for free legal assistance to trafficking victims who apply for official status; the government did not report providing any legal assistance to victims. 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 maintained negligible efforts to prevent human trafficking. While the government reportedly collaborated with an international organization on the implementation of its 2016-2018 national action plan, it did not take steps to end the use of forced labor during the cotton harvest or in public works projects. 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 national action plan. The government did not establish the interagency anti-trafficking committee in 2018, but an international organization continued to convene an interagency working group.
The law required the Ministry of Internal Affairs to record data on trafficking crimes; however, for the third 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. There was no state-run labor inspectorate. 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. 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 2018, the government granted citizenship to 735 stateless persons permanently living in Turkmenistan. 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 2018. The government provided anti-trafficking trainings to its diplomatic personnel. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. It did not make efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic victims in Turkmenistan, and traffickers exploit victims from Turkmenistan abroad. 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, government officials required university students, 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. Authorities threatened farmers with loss of land if they did not meet government-imposed quotas. Unlike 2017, there were no reports that the government systemically mobilized children to participate in the harvest. 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 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, 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, 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.