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Trafficking in Persons Report 2015 Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan – Tier 2 Watch List

Turkmenistan is a source country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Men and women from Turkmenistan are subjected to forced labor after migrating abroad for employment in the textile, agricultural, construction, and domestic service sectors. Turkmen women and girls are also subjected to sex trafficking abroad. Residents of rural areas are most at risk of becoming trafficking victims. International organizations report that the proportion of male victims subjected to trafficking abroad increased to surpass female victims in 2014. Turkey and Russia are the destinations of most Turkmen victims, followed by other countries in the Middle East, South and Central Asia, and Europe. An international organization estimates between 10 and 15 trafficking victims return to Turkmenistan each month. Turkmen nationals are subjected to forced labor within the country in the informal construction industry. Participation in the cotton harvest is compulsory for some public sector employees, who face termination if they refuse to work or are unable to pay for a surrogate worker. State officials in the Lebap and Dashoguz regions reportedly required some business owners to send staff to pick cotton.

The Government of Turkmenistan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Despite these measures, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing anti-trafficking efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Turkmenistan is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for a fourth consecutive year. Turkmenistan was granted a waiver from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3 because its government has a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, and it has committed to devoting sufficient resources to implement that plan. The government continued to convict trafficking offenders under its anti-trafficking statute and actively partnered with an international organization to organize official trainings and draft a 2016-2018 national action plan to combat trafficking. The government, however, did not demonstrate adequate efforts to identify and protect victims; rather, officials penalized some trafficking victims for acts committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR TURKMENISTAN:  Finalize and adopt the 2016-2018 national action plan; develop systematic procedures to identify and refer potential victims to protection services; train border guards, police, and other relevant officials on such procedures; establish safeguards and train officials to ensure victims are not punished for unlawful acts, such as migration violations and prostitution, committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; ; continue to use Article 129 to investigate and prosecute suspected trafficking offenses, respecting due process, and convict and punish trafficking offenders; continue to provide training for relevant government authorities on the proper application of Article 129; improve implementation of the protection provisions in the 2007 anti-trafficking law; provide financial or in-kind assistance to anti-trafficking organizations providing assistance to victims; develop a formal process for encouraging victims to assist in investigating and prosecuting suspected traffickers; increase awareness efforts among the general public; and continue to develop formal relationships with civil society groups to coordinate national anti-trafficking efforts.

PROSECUTION

The government demonstrated some progress in 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. However, Article 129 provides that, unless certain aggravating circumstances are present, a convicted trafficking offender would not be sentenced if he or she voluntarily freed the victim. Turkmenistan’s 2007 anti-trafficking law sets forth the anti-trafficking responsibilities of government agencies and includes measures to protect trafficking victims as well as prevention strategies. In 2014, the government reported it initiated prosecution of six cases against an unknown number of defendants and convicted nine offenders under Article 129, compared with three convictions in 2013. All of these cases involved Turkmen citizens recruited by other Turkmen citizens and exploited in foreign countries. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking. In April 2014, 20 law enforcement officials, judges, and prosecutors attended training conducted by OSCE on trafficking prevention mechanisms, the role of law enforcement in prosecutions, and coordination with other countries. The prosecutor general’s office and the State Migration Service (SMS) reported they independently trained their officials on trafficking-related issues.

PROTECTION

The government made limited efforts to protect and assist victims. The government did not provide services to victims of trafficking, nor did it fund international organizations or NGOs to provide such services. The government identified 19 victims of trafficking in 2014, a decrease from 33 victims identified in 2013.  An international organization reported assisting 62 victims; however, the government did not provide funding in support of this provision of care. An NGO operated one shelter for female trafficking victims in Turkmenistan with foreign donor funding. The shelter provided services to eight female victims in 2014. Local NGOs assisted all 62 victims with medical counseling services, vocational training, and transportation. Government officials informally referred suspected trafficking victims to an international organization, which screened and later referred victims to the shelter. The prosecutor general’s office reported repatriated victims of trafficking could apply for free medical care; however, NGOs indicated victims were occasionally required to pay for their own treatment. The government had no formal process for encouraging victims to assist in investigating and prosecuting traffickers. Prosecutors recognized the right of victims to come forth voluntarily and reported they would not pressure victims into giving information. At times, authorities punished trafficking victims for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking. After Turkmen victims returned home following their deportation from other countries, the SMS reportedly blocked them from exiting Turkmenistan for a period of up to five years and fined them for overstaying their visas while abroad. The government made no attempts to identify sex trafficking victims among women arrested for engaging in prostitution and, consequently, officials may have penalized sex trafficking victims for prostitution offenses.

PREVENTION

The government made some efforts to prevent human trafficking. In partnership with an international organization, the government established a working group and held three meetings to draft a 2016-2018 national action plan to combat trafficking; however, at the end of the reporting period, the government had not yet finalized and adopted this plan. However, the government adopted an interim written plan. In 2014, the government remained without an anti-trafficking coordinating body. The government approved the requests of an international organization and NGOs to conduct public information events and campaigns, including through radio, newspaper, and other media outlets. The government provided in-kind contributions for training provided by international organizations. The government provided anti-trafficking training or guidance for its diplomatic personnel. The stateless population in Turkmenistan, mostly consisting of former Soviet citizens, was vulnerable to trafficking. In 2014, the SMS worked with UNHCR to grant Turkmen citizenship to 786 formerly stateless persons. While the government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts by prosecuting clients of those in prostitution, its failure to screen women in prostitution for trafficking victimization raised concerns about overall law enforcement efforts targeting the sex trade.