Response to Ambassador Sergei Belyaev, Head of OSCE Center in Ashgabat

As delivered by Chargé d’Affaires Gary Robbins
to the Permanent Council, Vienna
April 26, 2012

The United States extends a warm welcome back to the Permanent Council to Ambassador Sergei Belyaev, here for the final time in his capacity as Head of Mission at the OSCE Center in Ashgabat.

Mr. Ambassador, we thank you and the Center’s exceptionally dedicated international and national staff for your detailed and thorough report, highlighting some of the positive developments that have taken place in Turkmenistan over the past year, as well as some of the continuing challenges.  The work the Center has undertaken to advance human rights, enhance border security and promote economic reforms has been of vital importance to the people of Turkmenistan.

In the First Dimension, we applaud the Center’s continued support for implementing effective capacity building measures for secure storage, handling, disposal, and destruction of excess stockpiles of small arms and light weapons (SALW).  Likewise, we welcome the Center’s training programs on border security and management for customs officials.  We look forward to the follow-on border security program that aims at strengthening the surveillance and detection capacities of Afghan and Turkmen border guards that will be conducted at the Turkmen-Afghan border later this year.

In the Second Dimension, we welcome Turkmenistan’s continued willingness and desire to support energy security in the region.  We urge the Government of Turkmenistan to continue to work with its partner countries to come to an agreement which will contribute to the progress of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline (TAPI) project.

Turkmenistan held a presidential election earlier this year.  The United States believes the legislative changes adopted in 2011 and 2012 are an opportunity for Turkmenistan to modernize its electoral legislation in line with ODIHR recommendations and to add diversity to its one-party political system.  But as we said following the elections, until real political reforms are achieved, including respect for the fundamental freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, and expression, promises of new laws and assurances of a competitive, pluralistic political environment will remain illusory.

As we have said in previous years, my government sees work in the Third Dimension as among the most important the OSCE does in Turkmenistan.  Therefore, we are especially pleased that the Representative on Freedom of the Media visited Ashgabat in November and that Turkmenistan will host in July the 14th Central Asia Media Conference on the Development of Community and Social Media.  We welcome the willingness of Turkmenistan to host a conference on an issue of such vital importance across the entire OSCE space.

We are aware that a working group of national experts is developing a new “Law on Mass Media,” and we urge the Center in Ashgabat and the Government of Turkmenistan to work closely on this endeavor, taking advantage of the review process offered by the Representative on Freedom of the Media.  We urge the Government of Turkmenistan to use this opportunity to establish a framework for developing the limited media in Turkmenistan in line with international human rights commitments and obligations, as well as OSCE commitments.

We agree with your assessment, Ambassador Belyaev, that “civil society would certainly benefit from additional support, enhanced development, and strengthened activities” and we urge the Center to consider how its activities might help strengthen civil society.    We also appreciate your comments about the Government of Turkmenistan allowing an official delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit correctional facilities.  This is a positive signal that Turkmenistan is committing itself to detention reform in line with its OSCE commitments.

Finally, Ambassador Belyaev, on behalf of the United States Government, I wish to express our thanks for your service in Ashgabat and to the OSCE here in Vienna. Indeed, your long service to the OSCE has benefited this entire organization and we also thank the Government of Russia for making a diplomat of your caliber available to the OSCE.  We wish you every success in the future.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.