Letter to Missions of OSCE Participating States on Day of Disappeared

On 30 August, the International Day of the Disappeared, the campaign has sent letters to missions of more than 20 OSCE participating states, including Swiss OSCE Chairmanship and the incoming Serbian OSCE Chairmanship. Below is the text of the letters.


August 30, 2014

We are writing you on behalf of the international human rights campaign Prove They Are Alive!,[1] which seeks to end forced disappearances in Turkmenistan and acts under the umbrella of the OSCE-wide NGO coalition, the Civic Solidarity Platform. Today, the campaign issued the attached press-release on the occasion of the International Day of The Disappeared. We are asking that you call on your government and

OSCE institutions to ensure that the OSCE takes effective action to address the problem of enforced disappearances in Turkmenistan and throughout the OSCE region.

As you know, the United Nations designated August 30 as International Day of the Disappeared to raise awareness about enforced disappearances around the world.

Turkmenistan is one of the OSCE countries where the problem of enforced disappearances is most acute. Dozens of people have been forcibly disappeared in Turkmenistan, some for more than a decade. Most of the disappeared were sentenced to lengthy prison terms in several massive waves of arrests and unfair trials on trumped-up charges that took place at the end of the 1990s and early 2000s. Families of the disappeared have had no official information about the fate, whereabouts, or health of their loved ones since their arrest and trial. The complete lack of information for more than 10 years about the fate of their family members amounts to torture for the relatives. The authorities have allowed neither correspondence nor visits. Many of the disappeared are former officials who fell out of favor with the previous government, including two former ministers of foreign affairs and an Ambassador to the OSCE. In several cases, in a form of collective punishment, the authorities arrested the relatives of the prisoners, had them fired from their jobs, confiscated their property, or denied them permission to travel abroad.

Enforced disappearances are prohibited under international law and are a grave crime subject to universal jurisdiction for the purposes of prosecuting those responsible. They constitute flagrant and serious violations of rights enshrined under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture, to which Turkmenistan is a state party. These include great threats to the right to life; the right to freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment; the right to liberty and security; the right to recognition as a person before the law; and the right of all detained people to be treated with humanity. OSCE documents enshrine these same rights and freedoms, to which participating states have made a commitment to respect.

The politically motivated and unfair trials of the dozens of people who disappeared in Turkmenistan’s prisons over a decade ago, and allegations of torture of many of them, were the subject of OSCE scrutiny in the Moscow Mechanism report presented to the OSCE Permanent Council in June 2003. The UN General Assembly adopted two resolutions, in 2003 and 2004, about these flagrant human rights violations.

However, the government of Turkmenistan has not implemented any of the recommendations from either the Moscow Mechanism report or the UNGA resolutions. Moreover, there has been no follow-up by the OSCE to the 2003 Moscow Mechanism report, despite availability of this procedure under the 1991 Moscow Document and the 1993 Rome Document, which describe the procedures of the Moscow Mechanism. We believe the OSCE’s lack of consistent and sustained attention has not helped alleviate the problem of enforced disappearances in Turkmenistan and has possibly contributed to it by giving the government reason to believe that it will face no diplomatic or other international scrutiny for continuing the practice.

Therefore, we urge the governments of OSCE participating states and OSCE institutions to press the Turkmen government to allow full and ongoing access to the imprisoned people by their families, lawyers, and representatives of appropriate independent bodies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, relevant OSCE representatives and United Nations experts.

On the International Day of the Disappeared, we would also like to reiterate broader recommendations made in May of this year by the Civic Solidarity Platform in its appeal to OSCE participating States and political bodies.[2] We issued that appeal to draw attention to the lack of focused attention within the OSCE on the problem of enforced disappearances, despite the fact that enforced disappearances have been a serious problem in a number of OSCE participating states, including Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Turkmenistan and others.

The lack of OSCE commitment to prevent and combat the crime of enforced disappearances and the absence of this important subject on the agenda of the OSCE’s human dimension activities is a serious gap that should be addressed without delay. To this end,

  • All OSCE participating States should take all necessary practical steps to combat enforced disappearances, effectively investigate allegations of enforced disappearance, bring perpetrators to justice and provide proper compensation to the victims and their families;
  • OSCE participating States should assist other participating States in combating the crime of enforced disappearances by applying the mechanism of universal jurisdiction to apprehend individuals from other countries suspected in or responsible for committing the crime of enforced disappearance, effectively investigate allegations brought against them, and bring perpetrators to justice;
  • OSCE political bodies, institutions and participating States should start working without delay on drafting an explicit OSCE commitment on enforced disappearances with the aim of adopting such a commitment in the nearest future. The OSCE Chairmanship should take a lead in this process;
  • Meanwhile, OSCE political bodies, institutions and participating States should immediately review and update existing OSCE commitments related to torture, and in the process recognize enforced disappearance as a crime and a form of torture. The OSCE Chairmanship should organize the process of preparing updated OSCE commitments on torture that would include enforced disappearance as a form of torture;
  • Continued application of the OSCE Moscow Mechanism regarding a human dimension situation in a participating State should not be considered finished until the state under review has made substantial progress toward in the implementation of recommendations contained in the Moscow Mechanism report. This progress should be documented in subsequent reports by a working group or a rapporteur established by the OSCE Chairmanship or the Human Dimension Committee Chair or a group of concerned participating States (with a more informal status). An absolute minimum requirement for continued application of the Moscow Mechanism should be the continuation of such gross violations of human dimension commitments as continued abductions and enforced disappearances, lack of effective investigation of the past cases of abductions and enforced disappearances, continued incarceration of political prisoners, repeated and widespread use of force against participants of peaceful assemblies, and systematic use of torture against political prisoners, victims of abductions and participants of peaceful assemblies.Each incoming OSCE Chairmanship should look into such “open Moscow Mechanism cases,” examine the current situation in a country in question and organize a follow-up process if needed.


We look forward to your response and to working together to end the crime of enforced disappearances in Turkmenistan and across the entire OSCE region.


Sincerely yours, on behalf of the Prove They Are Alive! campaign,

– Yuri Dzhibladze, Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, Russia

– Olga Zakharova, Freedom Files, Russia

– Kate Watters, Crude Accountability, USA

– Ivar Dale, Norwegian Helsinki Committee

– Rachel Denber, Human Rights Watch

– Vitaly Ponomarev, Human Rights Centre “Memorial”, Russia

– Members of the campaign from Turkmenistan


[1] For more information on the Prove They Are Alive! campaign please see our web site at http://provetheyarealive.org/.


[2] Please see the text of the appeal at http://civicsolidarity.org/article/968/osce-should-address-problem-enforced-disappearances-now.