The government of Turkmenistan Should Implement the Decision of the UN Human Rights Committee on the Case of Boris Shikhmuradov without Any Further Delay
Statement by the Prove They Are Alive! Campaign
9 November 2017
The campaign “Prove They Are Alive!” expresses its strong disappointment and regret at the protracted failure of the government of Turkmenistan to provide a substantive reply to the United Nations Human Rights Committee on its decision on the case of Boris Shikhmuradov. We urge the Turkmen government to provide a reply to the United Nations and Shikhmuradov’s family without any further delay and take immediate measures to remedy violation of the rights of Shikhmuradov and his family, which Turkmenistan is obligated to implement, according to the Committee’s decision.
On 17 October 2014, the U.N. Human Rights Committee issued a decision on an individual complaint filed by Tatiana Shikhmuradova, wife of the former Minister of Foreign Affairs Boris Shikhmuradov. The Committee determined that Boris Shikhmuradov is a victim of a series of grave violations of human rights. In particular, the Committee determined that Shikhmuradov is victim of an enforced disappearance and that the government of Turkmenistan failed to protect his life, violated his right to be free from torture, his right to a fair trial, and his right not to be subject to a retroactive penalty. The Committee also found that the government violated Tatiana Shikhmuradova’s right to be free from torture, in light of the suffering she has endured due to the long-term lack of information about her husband. The Committee said that the government of Turkmenistan is obligated to provide a remedy to Boris Shikhmuradov, including by immediately releasing him and granting him a just compensation, or, in the event that he has died, by giving Shikhmuradov’s remains to his family, and that the family should be compensated.
Regrettably, neither the Committee, nor Shikhmuradov’s family have received any response from the government of Turkmenistan for two years since the 9 November 2015 deadline.
On 29 December 2002, 4 days after his arrest, Boris Shikhmuradov, who had served as foreign minister and first vice-prime minister, was sentenced to 25 years for his alleged involvement in an attack on the then President of Turkmenistan Saparmurat Niyazov in November 2002. The trial was closed, lasted one day, and was full of procedural violations. On 30 December, the day after the court verdict, Shikhmuradov’s sentence was converted to life imprisonment by a decision of the People’s Council, a non-elected political body gathering almost 3,000 government officials and other public figures. The “decision” was taken literally by “standing ovation”, i.e. with the whole Council standing up and applauding a proposal by President Niyazov, after a long stream of government officials demanding death penalty.
Two months later, on 5 February 2003, the People’s Council adopted a resolution introducing life sentence for “high treason”. The penalty, which did not exist in the Criminal Code of Turkmenistan, was applied retroactively to Boris Shikhmuradov and other four participants to the alleged attempt of November 2002: former businessmen Guvanch Djumaev and Yklym Yklymov, former Security official Annadurdy Annasakhatov (who died in custody) and Begench Beknazarov.
The “Prove They Are Alive!” campaign strongly believes that the trial and conviction of Boris Shikhmuradov lacked the due process requirements and considers the conversion of his initial 25-year sentence to life imprisonment completely illegal from the points of view of the basic legal principle of non-retroactivity of criminal law, the international human rights treaties that Turkmenistan ratified, and its own national legislation. Not only the substance, but also the process through which this decision was taken is completely illegal, since the decision to introduce life imprisonment was taken by a political body without a judicial mandate, first through a standing ovation following a proposal to introduce life imprisonment by the Head of State and then by retroactively applying a law adopted two months after the alleged crimes. Finally, we are deeply concerned about the complete lack of any official information on Boris Shikhmuradov’s fate and whereabouts in custody for the past 15 years.
The “Prove They Are Alive!” campaign stresses that these same questions were raised in the 2003 report by the rapporteur on Turkmenistan for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Emmanuel Décaux, appointed under the organization’s Moscow Mechanism, which was launched to investigate widespread arrests and allegations of mass violations of human rights that followed the November 2002 events.
The government of Turkmenistan rejected the report and its recommendations and also failed to implement crucial aspects of two resolutions adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 2003 and 2004. These resolutions expressed grave concern about “serious and continuing” human rights violations in the wake of the November 2002 events and called on the government to, among other things, implement the recommendations of the OSCE report.
Boris Shikhmuradov’s case is but one of the 112 cases of individuals that forcibly disappeared in Turkmenistan’s prison system documented by the Prove They Are Alive! campaign. The problem of enforced disappearances has grown more acute lately because with each passing year there has not been a single instance in which the Turkmen authorities have addressed a case of enforced disappearance through official channels and procedures. The Turkmen authorities did not provide verifiable information about the disappeared to any international interlocutors including at the annual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue, periodic reviews by two UN treaty bodies, the UPR and the OSCE, and did not grant access or communication to relatives, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and foreign diplomats. All this while the number of cases documented by the Campaign “Prove They Are Alive!” continues to grow (from 66 in 2013 to 112 now) and that 23 people among these cases have been confirmed dead in custody. The number of deaths among the disappeared in the 2000s has grown in the last two years, and new people are subjected to incommunicado detention.
It is clear that the government of Turkmenistan does not wish to acknowledge the problem of enforced disappearances in the Turkmen prison system, let alone address it. Yet Turkmen legislation, including the Constitution, recognizes the primacy of international law and expressly states, in the Law on Permanent Neutrality and in the Declaration on International Obligations of Neutral Turkmenistan in the Area of Human Rights, both adopted in 1995, that “Turkmenistan recognizes decisions the primacy of the UN and its decisions.”
The government of Turkmenistan can and should solve the problem of forced disappearances. To do so, it should initiate constructive engagement with relevant international organisations, including the UN and the OSCE bodies, and implement their decisions and recommendations. It should fully fulfil its obligations under national legislation and international law that forbid enforced disappearances. These include obligations that derive from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – the treaty that the government, as noted in the decision of the U.N. Human Rights Committee, has violated in the case of Boris Shikhmuradov. The door for taking positive steps is still open but time is of essence as human lives are at stake.
We urge the government of Turkmenistan to:
- Provide, without any further delay, a substantive reply to the U.N. Human Rights Committee on its decision on the case of Boris Shikhmuradov, and immediately implement the Committee’s decision regarding provision of remedy to Shikhmuradov and his family.
- End the suffering of relatives who have for so many years have been deprived of all contact with and information about their loved ones in prison.
- End enforced disappearances, investigate each case, and make a concerted, public effort in the coming year to provide information to family members and the public about the fate and whereabouts of each disappeared person, and turn a page in this dark period of Turkmenistan’s contemporary history.
We urge President Berdymukhamedov to Prove They Are Alive.
The international human rights Prove They Are Alive! campaign has been working since 2013 to protect the rights of detainees serving long-term sentences in Turkmen prisons who, since their sentences, have been held incommunicado, and to halt the practice of enforced disappearances in Turkmenistan´s prisons. The campaign acts with the support of the international Civic Solidarity Platform and actively interacts with a broad range of human rights defenders, experts, and inter-governmental organisations, including the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the European Union.