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 in search of employment, including in textile sweatshops, construction sites, and domestic service. Turkmen women and girls are also subjected to sex trafficking abroad. Residents of rural areas and women are the groups most at risk of becoming victims of trafficking, although international organizations report that the proportion of male victims is increasing. Experts estimate that a significant number of Turkmen become victims of trafficking abroad annually, a majority of whom are victims of labor exploitation. Turkey remains the most frequent destination for identified Turkmen victims, followed by Russia and the United Arab Emirates, and, to a lesser extent, Iran, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Cyprus, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and the United States. An international organization estimates that 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 still compulsory for some public sector employees, who face termination if they refuse or are unable to pay for a surrogate worker. Some business owners in the Lebap and Dashoguz regions were reportedly required 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 efforts, 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 third consecutive year. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act provides that a country may remain on Tier 2 Watch List for only two consecutive years, unless that restriction is waived because the government has a written plan to bring itself into compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. 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 meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is devoting sufficient resources to implement that plan. The denial of an internal trafficking problem by some government officials, corruption, and a lack of institutional capacity to combat trafficking in persons continued to impair the government’s response to trafficking. However, the government took several welcome steps during the reporting period. It reported detailed anti-trafficking law enforcement data for the first time, including referrals of trafficking cases from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to law enforcement agencies, provided in-kind support to trafficking training of government officials, and actively cooperated with international organizations on trainings to combat trafficking.
Recommendations for Turkmenistan:
Continue to develop a long-term national action plan through the IOM-facilitated working group to improve the practical implementation of the national law on Combating Human Trafficking and Article 129 of the criminal code, as well as increase cooperation among government agencies; develop a system for referring potential victims for assistance; provide funding for the trafficking victims shelter in Ashgabat; develop standard operating procedures to identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable populations; develop a formal process for encouraging victims to assist in investigating and prosecuting suspected traffickers; train border guards and other relevant officials to identify victims and refer them to protection services; establish safeguards and training procedures to ensure victims are not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, such as migration violations and prostitution; 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 Law on Combating Trafficking in Persons; continue providing financial or in-kind assistance to anti-trafficking organizations providing assistance to victims; increase trafficking awareness campaign efforts to inform the general public about the dangers of trafficking; and develop formal relationships with civil society groups to coordinate national anti-trafficking efforts.
The Government of Turkmenistan demonstrated some progress in anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The criminal code prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons through Article 129. It prescribes penalties ranging from four to 25 years’ imprisonment. These penalties are generally sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those proscribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. However, unless certain aggravating circumstances are present, a trafficking defendant who is convicted would not be sentenced if he or she voluntarily frees the victim. Turkmenistan’s 2007 anti-trafficking law sets forth the anti-trafficking responsibilities of government agencies and includes measures to protect trafficking victims, and prevention strategies. The Government of Turkmenistan reported that it conducted 26 investigations related to trafficking in persons in 2013, initiated eight prosecutions, and achieved three convictions in trafficking cases under Article 129(1). The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported referring two trafficking cases to law enforcement agencies for further investigation; this marked an improvement in law enforcement efforts, as the government had not previously reported any referrals of trafficking cases.
Law enforcement agencies improved their ability to detect and prosecute trafficking in persons cases during the reporting period by hosting training seminars. In April 2013, representatives from 10 countries traveled to Turkmenistan to share their expertise in combating trafficking in persons with members of 13 Turkmen government agencies; the Government of Turkmenistan made in-kind contributions. The Government of Turkmenistan did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking.
The Government of Turkmenistan demonstrated limited efforts to protect or 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 reported that 33 victims of trafficking received assistance from non-government sources in 2013; an international organization, which did not receive government funding for victim assistance, reported assisting 61 victims. In comparison, 232 victims were assisted in 2012. There is one shelter for victims of trafficking in Turkmenistan, operated by a local NGO with funding from foreign governments; the government did not provide in-kind or direct financial support to this shelter, which provided services to four female victims in 2013. Government officials informally referred suspected trafficking victims to an international organization, which referred victims to the shelter after screening. The government provided access to medical services for nationals repatriated as victims of trafficking, although reports indicate that victims were occasionally required to pay for their own treatment. The Prosecutor General’s Office, however, reported that victims of trafficking can apply for free medical care. 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 stated that they would not pressure victims into giving information. There were no reports of victims seeking or obtaining restitution in civil suits. There were instances where authorities punished trafficking victims in Turkmenistan for crimes committed as a result of being trafficked; Turkmen victims deported from other countries are reportedly blocked by the State Migration Service from exiting Turkmenistan for a period of up to five years. There were also reports that, upon return, victims were fined a nominal amount for overstaying their visas in another country. The government made no attempts to identify sex trafficking victims among women arrested for engaging in prostitution, and consequently sex trafficking victims may have been penalized for prostitution offenses.
The Government of Turkmenistan demonstrated increased efforts to prevent human trafficking. The Prosecutor General’s Office and State Migration Service reported in December 2013 that they conducted public outreach activities to raise awareness of the dangers of human trafficking. The Deputy Foreign Minister also stated that the government partnered with NGOs to conduct 290 public awareness events on anti-trafficking in 2013. There continued to be no governmental coordinating body for anti-trafficking efforts. The stateless population in Turkmenistan, mostly comprised of former Soviet citizens, is vulnerable to trafficking. The State Migration Service worked with UNHCR to grant Turkmen citizenship to 609 formerly stateless persons. The government’s efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, such as prosecuting clients of prostitution, were mitigated by the government’s punishing of women in prostitution without ensuring that they were not victims of trafficking. Media have reported police raids of restaurants and cafes to crack down on prostitution.