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 the continued implementation of its national action plan for trafficking in persons, adoption of a new anti-trafficking law in October 2016, and amending its criminal code to criminalize trafficking in persons. The government also allows for free legal assistance to those applying for recognition as trafficking victims. However, the new criminal code provision defines the crime of trafficking in a manner not fully consistent with international law and has not yet been implemented. Further, the government continued to use the forced labor of reportedly tens of thousands of its adult citizens in the harvest during the reporting period. It actively dissuaded monitoring of the harvest by independent observers through harassment, detention, penalization, and, in some cases, physical abuse. The government did not fund any victim assistance programs, despite being required to do so under domestic law.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR TURKMENISTAN
Take action to end the use of forced adult labor during the annual cotton harvest, particularly by modifying government policies that create pressure for mobilizations of labor; provide victim care services directly or by funding civil society to do so, as required under the 2016 anti-trafficking law; 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 using article 129/1 of the criminal code and convict and punish traffickers, including officials complicit in trafficking; 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 minimal anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Article 129/1 of the criminal code, as amended in November 2016, defines trafficking in persons as acts done by force, fraud, or coercion, but it does not appear to include in its definition the purpose of the crime, which is exploitation. It also exempts trafficking victims from criminal responsibility for acts committed as a result of being trafficked. Article 129/1 prescribes penalties of four to 25 years imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. In 2016, the government amended its administrative code to include punitive fines and 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 range 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 independently trained officials on trafficking-related issues. It initiated prosecution of three cases in 2016, the same number as in 2015, and compared to six cases in 2014. The government reported convictions of three traffickers in 2016, compared with nine in 2015, and nine in 2014. Despite continued reports of widespread corruption, it did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking, nor did it report any efforts to end officials’ mobilization of persons for forced labor. In October 2016, the government arrested and charged with fraud Gaspar Matalaev, a reporter who published an article documenting the use of forced labor in the annual cotton harvest. 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 and remains imprisoned.
The government maintained minimal protection efforts. The government identified 11 victims in 2016, compared to 12 in 2015, 19 in 2014, and 33 in 2013. An international organization reported assisting 25 victims, but estimated the total number of victims was significantly higher, as evidenced by the 7,200 calls to the country’s two foreign-funded trafficking hotlines. 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 comprehensive services to 11 female victims in 2016, including reintegration in society and locating legal employment. In accordance with the national action plan, the government worked with an international organization to develop formal identification and referral mechanisms. 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 identify individuals as trafficking victims if their cases lead 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 treatment. The 2016 anti-trafficking law provides that victims, including those who participate in criminal proceedings, are exempt from administrative or criminal liability for conducting unlawful acts as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking, and are guaranteed employment. It also requires law enforcement agencies to respect the confidentiality of victims. An additional amendment to the legal code, effective February 2017, provides free legal assistance to trafficking victims who apply for official status as such. The 2016 law provides that victims are eligible for a wide range of services from the government; however, all services available during the reporting period were provided by foreign-funded NGOs and international organizations. 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 following their deportation from other countries, the migration service reportedly blocked them from exiting Turkmenistan for a period of up to five years; the government reported that it stopped fining its citizens deported to Turkmenistan from abroad, including potential victims.
The government increased efforts to prevent human trafficking, primarily through the establishment of a legal and institutional framework for the implementation of its national action plan; however, it did not take steps to end the use of forced labor during the cotton harvest. The 2016 anti-trafficking law calls for the creation of an interagency anti-trafficking committee, comprised 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 2016 law also assigns responsibilities for anti-trafficking efforts among government agencies and charges the cabinet of ministers with planning, funding, and implementing anti-trafficking policy. The government made efforts to implement its national action plan, adopted in March 2016, by requesting assistance from the ILO and working with another international organization to draft standard operating procedures for victim identification and referral. Government officials also attended seminars and workshops on implementation of the national action plan, conducted by an international organization, with some funding by the government.
The law requires 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 newspaper advertisements for two foreign-funded telephone hotlines, which provided information to potential migrants and offered legal assistance and psychological counseling to trafficking victims. In July 2016, the government-funded a public awareness event, organized in cooperation with international organizations, to mark the World Day against Trafficking in Persons. 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 2016 the migration service worked with UNHCR to grant Turkmen citizenship to 1,381 stateless persons. The government reported an international organization provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. 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.
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 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, reduced work hours, 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. 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. Residents of rural areas in Turkmenistan are most at risk of becoming trafficking victims, both within the country and abroad.