WikiLeaks: UK Policy on Turkmenistan Involves Softer Approach
The latest WikiLeaks revelation on Turkmenistan is a cable passed to the British Telegraph and alleged to have been written from the U.S. Embassy in London, describing a July 2008 visit to the United Kingdom by Shirin Ahmedova, head of Turkmenistan's National Institute of Democracy and Human Rights. The visit was part of the UK's "long-term strategy to gradually increase engagement with Turkmenistan as it opens up to reform," according to Niall Cullens, a Foreign Office official who leads the Central Asia Team.
Cullens is quoted as describing meetings at the Foreign and Home Offices and visits to various prisons. The British government's objective was "not to prescribe how the Turkmen judicial system should operate," but "to give the delegation an opportunity to learn from the UK's experiences." A Foreign Office officer has visited Turkmenistan to explore possibilities for judicial training in Turkmenistan.
Cullens was also quoted as saying that the Turkmen visit reflected British priorities for Central Asia: "promotion of human rights and democracy, energy sector security, counter-narcotics cooperation, and regional stability through counter-terrorism," and that the UK was "particularly pleased that it had successfully influenced the EU's creation of a strategy for Central Asia" adopted during the German president of the EU in 2007.
The cable illustrates how the UK has come to develop a strategy to refrain from human rights "lecturing", much like the Obama Administration. The softer "training" approach is one adopted by EU countries with Central Asian and other dictatorships around the world where condemnation of human rights violations either doesn't seem to be working or threatens other aspects of policy dictated by geopolitical needs.
The problem is that for years now, the few officials of the state-controlled Presidential National Institute of Democracy and Human Rights have been trained and retrained by various countries and international institutions that don't necessarily compare notes -- and with little result. There's an essential fiction involved in this approach that assumes that the rule of law and democracy are merely matters of developmental capacity, and that education and setting an example will work to change abusive institutions in target countries. The reality is that until the authoritarian governments are really ready to reform and share or relinquish power, not much beyond superficial information exchange takes place.
If the theory is that Western-trained officials will eventually be able to make use of the knowledge transferred when circumstances improve, the reality is that when countries really change, it's seldom state officials from the discredited regime who are the ones who will then be transforming the judiciary or the prisons.
Even so, Western nations have persisted with the "technical assistance" approach because it's the only hook they have for any sort of programs to raise human rights concerns and establish some kind of dialogue with country like Turkmenistan.
For reasons that remain a mystery, Ahmedova, who had served in her position for three years, was replaced in February 2010 by President Berdymukhamedov, eternally unhappy with his subordinates, and Yazdursun Gurbannazarova, a lawyer and former member of parliament, replaced her, News Briefing Central Asia reported.