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'Arbitary rule by whim' alive in #Turkmenistan

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Government officials finding themselves in post one day and indefinitely imprisoned the next is the sort of thing one imagines happening in the days of the Iron Curtain, or in a failed South American state. But capricious and arbitrary rule by whim is alive and well in the shadowy and underexposed Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan.

Last week Turkmen Trade Minister Amandurdy Ishanov was led off in handcuffs to one of the regime’s notoriously abusive prisons alongside numerous other condemned men after publicly “confessing” to a corruption charge launched by the country’s unpredictable ruler, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov. The dubious admission before a Turkmen court took place with all the theatrics of a show trial, with anonymous witnesses claiming that the authorities were motivated by the desire to look proactive in tackling corruption. Doubtless some personal scores within the regime were being settled, too.

Turkmenistan’s president, who took over from independence-era dictator Sapurmarat “Turkmenbashi” Niyazov in 2006, is known for his surreal public stunts. These performances would be amusing were they not the actions of a very real modern dictator, and include lifting a barbell before applauding ministers for broadcast on state media, starring in a video in which he fires rifles and throws knives while donning action-hero combats, and appearing with obviously-dubbed vocals in a musical Christmas holiday special. Given this is a man who also spends his impoverished citizens’ money on gilded equestrian statues of himself, one is not filled with confidence as to his propensity for judicial objectivity.

If Ishanov is in fact guilty, his crimes represent a drop in the ocean for this backward and corrupt state.  A recent report by the respected UK think tank The Foreign Policy Centre describes corruption as “an endemic feature of Turkmenistan’s economic life”, with Transparency International ranking it 161st out of 180 countries surveyed. Berdymukhammedov’s relatives reportedly benefit from the state’s coffers, with public funds being funnelled through state-affiliated companies run by the president’s family members as a matter of routine.

When the denounced Ishanov commences his time as a guest of the government he will face a bleak future. Not only has he been jailed for an indeterminate and undisclosed period, he will also likely face torture and unsanitary conditions. Turkmenistan has an appalling human rights record, with the Bertelsmann Transformation Index rating it 119th out of 129, and a ranking of 204th of 2010 in the Freedom House Freedom in the World Index. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office lists Turkmenistan as a Human Rights Priority Country, and the regime has been criticised by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe for lacking any of the prerequisites of a democratic process.

Critics of the government can find themselves imprisoned without proper trial for indefinite periods, with relatives kept entirely in the dark as to their loves ones’ fate. Some dissidents simply disappear altogether, in the manner in which anyone daring to criticize the Soviet regime could find themselves “unpersoned” in the 20th century. Inmates have no access to legal representation, external medical professionals or to contact with international monitoring organisations. The 'Prove They Are Alive Campaign' has also documented prison beatings and other inhumane practices within the system.

The sudden sacking of a trade minister feels like the action of a desperate regime. The government is clutching at straws to find some breakthrough for the flagging economy as it seeks foreign investment. Its systematic failure to do so, and Berdymukhammedov’s repeated failure to accept responsibility, combine to give the strong impression that Ishanov may have been an all too convenient scapegoat.

Without serious domestic reform it is unlikely that Turkmenistan’s image as an investment prospect is ever likely to improve. Its investment landscape is fraught with inherent risk, both financial and reputational. Procurement is conducted on the basis of personal and political connections with regime officials, and poor public finances and lack of currency have repeatedly led to non-payment of contracts. There is not only a lack of liquidity; there is outright government impecuniosity.

There is serial abuse of investor rights; the Cakiroglu Group suspended operations in Turkmenistan in 2018 after being owed several million dollars by the government and agricultural producers have seen their assets seized as soon as they become profitable. Russian-based telecoms company MTS witnessed its licence to use state telecoms infrastructure arbitrarily and suddenly terminated in an act that saw a monopoly restored to the state operator and losses to MTS running into the millions. Neither are Turkmen companies are not trusted abroad – the European Aviation Safety Agency banned Turkmenistan Airlines from flying within EU airspace for safety reasons.

Private sector businesses operating inside Turkmenistan risk exposure to supply chains that may include forced labour; especially during the cotton harvest thousands are forced from their homes and their regular jobs to pick cotton in Turkmenistan’s vast fields. Driven and unpaid labour includes the use of children.

While Turkmenistan’s need for economic restructuring goes unattended and its people languish in poverty, the persecution of political dissidents and the abuse of prisoners continues. Two weeks ago the deaths of two graduates in prison was documented; they had been jailed for their support of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, and another Gulen supporter, Alisher Mukametgulyev, is continually denied urgent medical assistance while he is detained in the Ovadan-Depe jail. The regime also practices the imprisonment of conscientious objectors.

As the economic crisis deepens, Berdymukhammedov is sure to look around for yet more officials to blame. In statist command economies such as Turkmenistan individuals seek officialdom for the protection and advantages it brings, but in this unreformed post-Soviet country it appears that no-one – except the president himself – is truly safe.

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Israel’s ambassador to Belgium lashes out at the Belgian government reaction, calls it ‘hypocrisy and cowardice’

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Israel’s ambassador to Belgium Emmanuel Nahshon (pictured) lashed out at the Belgian government reaction to the events in Israel and Gaza. “Friendly countries,  the US, Germany, the UK, all support Israel in an unconditional and clear way. We have the right to defend ourselves against these attacks. When it comes to the Belgian reaction, unfortunately what comes to mind is the word hypocrisy and the word cowardice,’ he said, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

Speaking in an interview with Belgian tv channel LN24, the ambassador was reacting to comments made by Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmès on the conflict. She spoke of a ‘’very difficult situation, an escalation where the civilian population is affected’’.

For her, “the first thing we don’t do is point the finger at those responsible for the current situation. Hamas? The Israeli government? ”

She added, ‘’It’s a classic question, we always try to say who is responsible for what. When you want to be an ‘honest broker’ in the resolution of a conflict”, you have to avoid pointing the finger of blame.’’

“There are things happening (on the ground) that are difficult to accept on both sides. We are convinced that launching hundreds and hundreds of rockets (at Israel) is not likely to calm the situation,’’ she said, calling on the parties to show ‘’restraint.’’

She expressed the hope for a European initiative: ‘We have to use diplomacy, but with 27 countries, with the EU, it is always difficult to have a single position. So we need a coherent approach to the discussion’, she said.

Within the Belgian government, the Greens and Socialists are pushing for a firm stance on the escalating violence between Israel and the Palestinians, even calling for sanctions against Israel.

“I hear people asking for sanctions. But we are not the first to do that, we must first initiate dialogue, first force a ceasefire,’’ the Belgian Foreign Minister said.

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EU

'Time to open up to citizens': Conference on the Future of Europe launched

EU Reporter Correspondent

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The Conference on the Future of Europe was officially launched on 9 May with a ceremony at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

The Conference aims to allow Europeans to share their ideas of Europe and formulate proposals for future EU policies.

The inaugural event was the focal point of Europe Day celebrations and followed the launch of the multilingual digital platform of the Conference in April that will collect all contributions and facilitate debate.

French President Emmanuel Macron, European Parliament President David Sassoli, Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke at the ceremony in the presence of Erasmus+ students and members of the Conference's executive board.

More than 500 citizens attended remotely appearing on large screens in the chamber. Ministers, MEPs, members of national parliaments and other guests also joined the event remotely.

All Europeans invited to contribute

Speakers at the ceremony said that the start of the Conference presented an opportunity for people to get involved and shape the EU’s future.

“We are at a time when citizens want to take responsibility, they want to have a say in the policies that affect their daily life, their future, the future of the planet,” said European Parliament president David Sassoli. “It is time to open up to involve citizens more in public life, and that is the purpose of this Conference.”

“Our Union needs a breath of new democratic life and that’s the aim of the Conference on the Future of Europe that we are launching together today,” said French president Emmanuel Macron, opening the ceremony. “I hope that this Conference will see the return of great projects, great ambitions, great dreams.”

Speaking on behalf of the Council presidency, Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa said: “This official launch of the Conference on the Future of Europe is a message of confidence in the future that we want to convey to all citizens of Europe.” He addressed all Europeans following the event saying: “This conference is open. It's open, so that all of you can participate.”

“We must listen to all voices - whether critical or complimentary - and ensure that we properly follow up on whatever is agreed. But I do believe that this Conference is a real opportunity to bring Europeans together and to rally around a common ambition for our future, just as previous generations did,” said Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

The co-chairs of the executive board of the Conference, Guy Verhofstadt (Parliament), Ana Paula Zacarias (Council) and Dubravka Šuica (Commission) answered recorded questions.

There were live performances by French violinist Renaud Capuçon and the Karski Quartet - a string quartet of Polish and French musicians based in Brussels.

Do you have proposals for what the EU should do? Share them on the Conference’s digital platform and get involved.

Launch of the Conference 

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Disabilities

A new ambitious EU Disability Strategy for 2021-2030

EU Reporter Correspondent

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Following Parliament’s recommendations, the European Commission adopted an ambitious post-2020 disability strategy. Discover its priorities. Society 

The European Parliament called for an inclusive society in which the rights of people living with disabilities are protected and where there is no discrimination.

In June 2020, Parliament set out its priorities for a new post-2020 EU Disability Strategy, building upon the European Disability Strategy for 2010-2020.

In March 2021, the Commission adopted the Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030 encompassing Parliament’s main recommendations:

  • The mainstreaming of the rights of all people living with disabilities into all policies and areas.
  • Recovery and mitigation measures to avoid people with disabilities getting disproportionally affected by health crises such as COVID-19.
  • Equal access for people with disabilities to health care, employment, public transport, housing.
  • The implementation and further development of the EU disability card pilot project, which allows for the mutual recognition of disabilities in some EU countries.
  • People with disabilities, their families and organisations were part of the dialogue and will be part of the process of implementation.

People living with disabilities in Europe: facts and figures  

  • There are an estimated 87 million people with disabilities in the EU.
  • The employment rate of people with disabilities (aged 20-64) stands at 50.8%, compared to 75% for people without disabilities. 
  • 28.4% of people with disabilities in the EU are at risk of poverty or social exclusion, compared to 17.8% of the general population.  
A differently-abled man working in an amputee shop for production of prosthetic extremity parts.©Hedgehog94/AdobeStock
A man working in an amputee shop on the production of a prosthetic extremity parts.©Hedgehog94/AdobeStock  

EU disability measures so far

The European Disability Strategy was put in place to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 

  • An international legally binding human rights treaty setting minimum standards to protect the rights of people with disabilities 
  • The EU and all member states have ratified it 
  • Both EU and member states are obliged to implement the obligations, according to their competences 

Among the concrete initiatives launched thanks to the European Disability Strategy is the European Accessibility Act, which ensures that more products and services like smartphones, tablets, ATMs or e-books are accessible to people with disabilities.

The directive on web accessibility means people with disabilities have easier access to online data and services online because websites and apps operated by public sector institutions, such as hospitals, courts or universities, are required to be accessible.

The Erasmus+ student exchange programme promotes the mobility of participants with disabilities.

EU rules also ensure improved access to transport and better passenger rights for people living with disabilities.

Find out more on EU policies for a more social Europe.

Find out more 

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