“Impassioned speech of the USSR Komsomol leader”. Turkmenistan’s Ombudsperson presents her 2021 performance report

Photo by: osce.org

by Kira Kramer

The Office of Turkmenistan’s Ombudsperson intends to be accredited to the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) in 2023.The special UN team, scheduled to visit Turkmenistan in the autumn, will assess the agency’s potential.

In the meantime, at the April session of the Mejlis of the Milli Gengesh (Turkmenistan’s National Parliament) the Commissioner for Human Rights Yazdursun Gurbannazarova presented her annual report for 2021 and was then re-elected. “Chronicles of Turkmenistan” reviewed the 92-page report, which for the most part has nothing to do with human rights.

However, it has some noteworthy details as viewed by human rights experts.

Dozens of report pages present standard Turkmen-style propaganda in the same manner as the state information agency TDH.For example, the report mentions the 30th anniversary of Turkmenistan’s independence celebrated in 2021 and the elections to the two-chamber Parliament (during which the Office of the Ombudsperson did not identify any violations).

The report also documented Turkmenistan’s response to COVID-19 and vaccinations, the number of those pardoned and those granted Turkmen citizenship as well as the commissioning of 73 construction projects worth 13 billion manats instead of 30 (we will need this data later).

The establishing of the website of the Office of the Ombudsperson in 2021 was mentioned four times (!).

In 2021 the Office of the Ombudsperson registered 355 appeals, including 244 in a written form and 111 verbal. Ashgabat accounted for the majority of them (98 and 40,2% respectively) because the Office of the Ombudsperson is located there and residents can personally submit a complaint.

It is emphasized that compared to previous years, the number of appeals has dropped (in 2020 the Office of the Ombudsperson received 305 written and 266 verbal complaints). “This fact can be explained by the efficiency of public awareness initiatives in the area of in human rights, which are held in the framework of the annual Ombudsperson’s plan”, the authors of the report claim.

However, this might suggest residents’ disappointment of in the institute of the Ombudsperson.

As in previous years, the majority of written appeals relate to housing issues (70 or 29,7% of the total number); followed by appeals related to labour issues (23 or 9,8%); complaints expressing discontent with actions by law enforcement agencies represent 33 or 14%; appeals on disagreements with courts’ verdicts make up 14 or 5,9% and 12 appeals or 5,1% are complaints associated with migration issues and criminal cases.

A breakdown of verbal appeals is quite similar.

Penitentiary institutions

The chapter “Civil and political rights” documents, inter alia, the prevention measures of COVID-19 in penitentiary institutions, pre-trial detention facilities and special-purpose rehabilitation centers.

For instance, according to the authors of the report, penitentiary institutions are fully supplied with pharmaceuticals. “Many institutions, specifically 17 facilities, are equipped with temperature measuring equipment. Cells and offices, canteens and other premises were disinfected, with temperatures taken on a daily basis”, – the authors of the report say.

It is reported that “every ten days the nutritional value of meals and microbiological content of the drinking water was analyzed to identify E coli bacteria”.Inmates received flu shots and an antiviral medication “Rimantadin” was given to them.

Starting from July 2021 COVID-19 swab tests were taken of the prison population and “Biowak” vaccines were administered.

The Chairperson of the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR) Farid Tukhbatullin doubts that the large-scale measures were actually held as documented by the authors of the report but that, according to him, certain COVID-19 prevention measures were undertaken.

In particular, inmates who had recently been admitted to female colonies, had to quarantine for some time. Visitation was banned in almost all penitentiary facilities. “Rimantadin” was available to residents free of charge and it is quite likely that it was also distributed to inmates, – the expert says.

A representative of the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights Annadurdy Khadzhiyev for his part referred to the report as “a classic example of a vague formal reply” and gave the following description of the prevention measures: “After familiarizing myself with the “writing” one gets the impression that the authorities decided to offer health resort treatment in penitentiary facilities at a time when ordinary residents were suffering from lack of high quality healthcare, medications and even experiencing an acute shortage of some basic groceries.

This is contradictory”.

The report also mentions the inspection of closed penitentiary facilities by the controlling authorities authorized to carry out these inspections without a special permit. For instance, in 2021 the public prosecutor’s office carried out 419 inspections and also 13 supervisory commissions paid visits to the institutions.

Khadzhiyev assumes that taking into account the global COVID-19 situation (the presence of COVID-19 in Turkmenistan is denied by the Turkmen authorities) some measures mentioned above had been partially carried out but this can be confirmed only by independent NGOs, which are non-existent in the country.

Moreover, the report does not specify the penitentiary institutions where these measures had been undertaken.Commenting on the nutritional value of meals, Khadzhiyev emphasizes that the report must indicate the established сalorie standards for inmates and actual daily figures rather than “analyzing nutritional value of meals”.

There is no data regarding the full provisioning of penitentiary institutions with medications.What does the full provisioning imply?The statistics suggest accuracy of figures rather than expression of opinions.

This report is similar to an impassioned speech of a Komsomol leader of the USSR era, – says a representative of the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights.

It should be emphasized that the report does not mention shortcomings or what measures have been undertaken to remedy the situation.The entire report presents descriptive generalizations and vague wordings.

For example, it says that “reports have been drawn to remedy the shortcomings” and “some work has been done in certain penitentiary facilities on implementing the action plan”.The same applies to recommendations given at the end of each chapter.

Yazdursun Gurbannazarova


The chapter “Economic, social and cultural rights” raises the question of unemployment, which is pressing in Turkmenistan. It is reported that in 2021 the labour and social security departments registered 31.180 job applicants, 15.196 (48%) of whom were successfully employed.

It is also highlighted that “during the reporting period significant efforts were undertaken regarding the constitutional right to work.Despite this, some complaints regarding labour issues were submitted to the Office of the Ombudsperson.

It was not specified, however, how these problems were addressed.The authors of the document again used vague wording stating “the appeals were reviewed pursuant to the current legislation and counseling was provided”.

Some employment statistics were given but do not reveal the problem of unemployment on a national scale.The text is deliberately written so as not to disclose the actual situation.

Where is the unemployment data?This figure needs to be used as an indicator in order to trumpet the accomplishments or to acknowledge the problem, – Annadurdy Khadzhiyev explains.

The TIHR Chairperson says that the problem of unemployment is typically solved not by creating new jobs but by dismissing public sector employees of retirement age who are replaced with new staff.

In rural areas the unemployment statistics are distorted by categorizing families of land tenants as field workers.Those pardoned and released from prisons, who the President instructs to be employed, are also included in this group.

The representative of the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights comments that unemployment is the main factor of large-scale migration of potential workers.Citizens are generally urged to solve their own problems, often as a result of migration.

Are there any statistics pertaining to the number of labour migrants who left Turkmenistan?Is there any comparison with those who have found employment on their own in addition to those who are dependent on family members because they are unable to find employment owing to a shortage of jobs in Turkmenistan?

These need to be included in order to make it easier to address the issue, – Khadzhiyev believes.

According to the report, people sometimes refused job offers.

One example is the complaint by an unemployed mother of two children, a resident of Balkan velayat TG.When the complaint was reviewed, the woman was offered a position of a controller at the checkpoint in the manufacturing facility “Turkmenkhimia” (Turkmen Chemistry) or a cleaner in the repair and construction department.

However, she turned down the offer and said she was looking for a job of junior service staff in a kindergarten in the village of Akdash.After the second complaint she was offered the job of a shop assistant or and an employee of “Senagat plastic”.

But she again asked them to find her a job in the kindergarten.After that she was advised to contact the department of labour and make enquiries herself about the availability of vacancies in the kindergarten.

The rights of children

The report mentions the problem of child labour. It says that in order not to mobilize children in cotton harvesting or other agricultural works, recommendations were sent to the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Interior Ministry, the Ministry of Education and velayat khyakimlik’s offices “to tighten control to prevent the illegal use of child labour”.

The experts believe that the Ombudsperson acknowledges the problem of child labour by using vague wordings.

The fact that “recommendations have been sent” implies that the problem is recognized, – the TIHR Chairperson emphasizes. Independent media outlets have many photos and videos proving that child labour is used. For the same reason international organizations are exercising pressure on the Turkmen authorities.

The expert also recalled that the use of schoolchildren in growing silkworm cocoons has been banned this year in Lebap velayat.

This practice will possibly be used might across the entire country. There is a formal ban on the use of child labour during cotton harvesting but children are often keen to earn some money and go to cotton fields instead of their parents”, – Farid Tukhbatullin explains.

Child labour, especially in rural areas, has become the scourge of Turkmen society, – Annadurdy Khadzhiyev confirms. During the cotton harvest teachers are urged to collect cotton while children are neglected.

Older children work in the cotton fields, earning some cash for the family’s budget.Adults encourage this whereas the authorities turn a blind eye to the situation so the Ombudsperson acknowledges the problem but does not specify what measures are being undertaken to eradicate this phenomenon but simply shifts the responsibility to ministries and agencies, the human right activist believes and adds that the authorities do not want to acknowledge that the standard of living, unemployment and child labour are interrelated.

If the family is on the poverty line and parents are unable to find jobs, they encourage children to find odd jobs.The authorities also accept this because this is how social discontent is suppressed.

Just imagine that if child labour is strongly forbidden in practice rather than on paper, then social unrest would be inevitable, -Khadzhiyev believes.

There were no other specific examples of children’s rights in the report. However, the report refers to the Charity Foundation named after Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov which provides ambulances (UAZ vehicles) to hospitals and performs pediatric surgeries. As for the right to education, the report mentions laptops which are presented to all first graders.

The Ombudsperson also reported that she visited educational establishments to highlight prevention of the illegal use of child labour. The report subsequently documents violations identified in school № 50 and the auxiliary school of Ashgabat, which in fact have nothing to do with child labour.

For example, there are no school regulations in school №50 and the doctor’s office does not have any first aid medications, a blood pressure monitor or even a thermometer. Moreover, fire safety regulations are not observed.

Students of the auxiliary school are not provided with textbooks or equipment; the number of students in each class exceeds the maximum; there is no gym for PE classes and the school does not have a psychologist or a speech therapist.

The chapter ends with the wording: “with a view of eliminating the shortcomings recommendations have been sent to the Ministry of Education and relevant replies have been received”.

Housing issues

The Ombudsperson’s report acknowledges that “despite the increasing number of community facilities which are currently being built across the country, the majority of appeals sent to the Office of the Ombudsperson deal with housing issues – 70 complaints or 29,7% of all written appeals and 51 or 46% of all verbal appeals.

Annadurdy Khadzhiyev recalls that the 2019-2025 Social and Economic Development Program envisages increasing the share of living space per person to 25.6 square meters per person. However, in reality there is large-scale demolition of residential property in some districts of the capital and the provinces.

Based on official statistics, which claim that the population of the country is six million, it is quite surprising that only 70 appeals regarding housing issues were received the office in the course of 12 months, – the representative of the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights adds.

The expert again refers to the shortage of data: when the Ombudsperson mentioned the housing issues, she should have indicated the number of families whose housing conditions need to be improved.

Statistics pertaining to dilapidated residential property are also missing and the number of apartment blocks which need to be built in order to address the problem.Then, for comparison, she should also have included last year’s figures

Primarily elite housing or cottages, which the majority of residents cannot afford, are being built. Affordable housing is not being constructed. No programs for the provision of accommodation for low income households are available, Farid Tukhbatullin says.


The report describes some appeals which demonstrate the Ombudsperson’s performance.

The appeal submitted by a female resident of Ashgabat P.S. who was assisted by the Office of the Ombudsperson exemplifies how the right to housing is exercised. The child in her custody was entitled to property of his late father pursuant to the court verdict.

“Despite this, unauthorized persons reside in the house and no lawful actions have been undertaken by the competent authorities. As a result, the appeal was sustained and the khyakim of Berkakarkyk etrap made a decision to provide M.A. with alternative accommodation and the issuance of a housing allocation order is being reviewed”, the report states.

Another interesting example pertains to the rights of people with disabilities.A native of Dashoguz velayat Ý.P submitted an appeal to the local authorities with a request to install a telephone line because his child holds I group disability.

The Ombudsperson forwarded the appeal to the regional khyakimlik’s office.It was reported in the response that the appeal had been reviewed and a telephone line had been installed in the applicant’s apartment block with the telephone number assigned to him.

Another example is the appeal submitted by residents of private houses on Mollanepes street of Kenar etrap in the city of Turkmenbashi complaining about the inadequate supply of drinking water in the summer, but they were misinformed that the water supply was allegedly supplied at a certain time in the morning and in the evening.

The appeal was forwarded from the Office of the Ombudsperson to the velayat khyakimlik’s office, which replied that the works had been completed and residents were supplied with drinking water.

S.A., a resident of Lebap velayat, submitted an appeal requesting assistance with obtaining an international payment card in the name of his daughter. The request was forwarded to the Central Bank which replied that the bank card was issued to S.A.’s daughter.

The inspection of the complaint by a resident of Balkan velayat V.K.on violation of her consumer rights identified the violation of trade regulations.The shop assistant S.Kh.

was held administratively liable but “the facts that shop assistants refused to sell some groceries in a rude manner and sold other groceries in a package deal were not confirmed”.

It has been repeatedly reported that when selling groceries in short supply in state-run stores shop assistants coerce customers to buy slow-moving goods in a set.

“The report gives a detailed coverage of large-scale activities to ensure civil, political and other human rights in Turkmenistan.The Ombudsperson’s work in this direction is confirmed by specific examples.

The facts allow familiarizing with the results of inspections and confirm restoration of rights of citizens”, the authors of the report emphasize in conclusion.

In his turn Annadurdy Khadzhiyev concludes that “the purpose of this report is to kill two birds with one stone: it is a formal reply for the international community while for the Turkmen society it is the extolling of the regime and the doping of residents.

The post “Impassioned speech of the USSR Komsomol leader”. Turkmenistan’s Ombudsperson presents her 2021 performance report first appeared on Chronicles of Turkmenistan.

More related articles

The TIHR address to the Ombudsperson pertaining to prosecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses
The TIHR address to the Ombudsperson pertaining to Turkmen nationals stuck abroad
The books authored by the Turkmen President are freely available online
OSCE consulting Turkmenistan on human rights activities
EU and Turkmen officials hold human rights dialogue
Yazdursun Gurbannazarova re-elected Turkmenistan’s Ombudsperson