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Rights Group Warns of Humanitarian Crisis in Turkmenistan - 2004-04-04


A human-rights watchdog says a humanitarian crisis is developing in Turkmenistan, where it claims a brutal dictatorship is allowing little political or religious freedom.

The claims are made by the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF), in a report called Turkmenistan: The Making of a Failed State. The report was prepared for the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, now meeting in Geneva.

The IHF's director, Aaron Rhodes, said political opposition in Turkmenistan is excluded from the political process and that power is concentrated in the hands of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, who nurtures a powerful personality cult.

"Because of the backward political and human rights situation in Turkmenistan, it does not work as a society where people can support themselves," said Mr. Rhodes. "There are massive social problems in Turkmenistan. For example, there is widespread drug addiction, there is a problem with child labor and there is a problem with debased educational standards."

Mr. Rhodes said education is used by the government to politically influence individuals and that there have been mass layoffs of non-Turkmen teachers. The IHF director also said the Turkmen government has total control of the mass media through censorship.

He described Turkmenistan as one of the world's most restrictive countries in terms of religious freedom, and said only the Sunni Muslim Board and the Russian Orthodox Church are registered. Mr. Rhodes says government officials in the country are not engaging in a constructive dialogue with the international community. Last year the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution on Turkmenistan deploring human-rights violations such as arbitrary arrests and the use of torture.

IHF director Rhodes says the Turkmen government has failed to address any of these concerns and he wants to see greater international pressure to stop such human rights abuses.

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