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За демократию и права человека в Туркменистане  For Democracy and Human Rights in Turkmenistan

Who says A must say B

Boris Shikhmuradov Jr.

Starting from May 18th 2018 the import of cotton or products produced with it in whole or in part from Turkmenistan to the United States is halted. The corresponding Withhold Release Order has been published on the U.S.Customs and Border Protection website.

The decision to place such ban was made after the contemplation of the information regarding forced labor in cotton hand-picking in Turkmenistan, provided by Cotton Campaign — an international coalition of human rights and trade union organizations, as well as entrepreneurs and investors who advocate the eradication of child and forced labor in the production of cotton around the world.

“Forced labor in the cotton sector of Turkmenistan is particularly harmful given that it is managed and used by the Government,” Ruslan Myatiev, the head of the Alternative Turkmenistan News project, which is collaborating with Cotton Campaign, wrote. “Every year, Turkmenistan’s authorities force tens of thousands state employees, including teachers and doctors, to pick cotton, hire pickers at their own expense or pay off that obligation, on pain of dismissal.”

Activists and independent observers have gathered detailed information on the use of forced labor during the cotton harvesting in Turkmenistan. Some of them were subjected to arbitrary detention and inhuman treatment by the law enforcement bodies of Turkmenistan, after which, as a result of confessions under torture, they were sentenced to long term of imprisonment.

The ban on the import of Turkmen cotton by the US will also attract additional attention of the world community to the fate of people repressed in Turkmenistan for their human rights and journalistic activities.

Undoubtedly, from a humanitarian point of view, the decision of the US Government body to limit contacts with Turkmenistan due to human rights violations is a very significant event. On the other hand, it is necessary to consider its economical aspects.

According to the US Department of Commerce, over the past 10 years the United States has purchased cotton related goods from Turkmenistan for a total of USD184 million, which is only 0.2 percent of the structure of Turkmen exports over the same period.

Taking cotton and cotton products separately, however, Turkmenistan has sold it for USD5.3 billion in the past 10 years, only 3.5 percent of which fell to the United States. The largest importer of Turkmen cotton is Turkey (more than 80 percent), as well as Russia and Pakistan.

In other words, the US refusal to import Turkmen cotton will have no significant impact on the economy of Turkmenistan as a whole, or on its cotton industry in particular.

It is most likely, that the discontinuation of cotton trade will not affect the policy of the United States towards Turkmenistan as a whole either. The US Department of State has long and consistently criticized Turkmenistan for human trafficking, and especially for systematic use of forced labor..

Nevertheless, it has not yet gone further than mere declarations. The US Government does not wish to apply effective sanctions of any sort against Turkmenistan, even within its own legislation. The US Protection of Victims of Trafficking in Persons Act of 2000 provides opportunities for the use of a number of mechanisms to exert pressure on states that encourage the exploitation of forced labor and refuse to bring the established practice in line with international human rights standards.

One such mechanism is the use of US influence on international financial organizations, such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Asian Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and others, aiming for restricting the participation of these organizations in financing projects in Turkmenistan until its authorities eradicate any and all forms of slavery in the country.

Being unable to cope with the financial crisis that hit the country's economy on their own, Turkmenistan would have to make concessions in the humanitarian sphere. However, the political decision to increase pressure on the Turkmen regime with the aim of forcing it to respect human rights has still not yet been made.

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