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Criminal Justice

The 1992 constitution declares that Turkmenistan is a state based on the rule of law, and that the constitution is the supreme law of the land. As one of the three branches of government, the judiciary is charged with upholding the constitution and the Supreme Law, as the national codex of civil and criminal law is called. The Ministry of Justice oversees the judicial system, while the Office of the Procurator General is responsible for ensuring that investigative agencies and court proceedings are in compliance with the constitution and the Supreme Law. The president appoints the republic's procurator general and the procurators in each province, and the procurator general appoints those for the smallest political jurisdictions, the districts and the cities.

The court system is divided into three levels. At the highest level, the Supreme Court consists of twenty-two members, including a president and associate judges, and is divided into civil, criminal, and military chambers. The Supreme Court hears only cases of national importance; it does not function as an appeals court. At the next level, appellate courts function as courts of appeal in the six provinces and the city of Ashgabat. Sixty-one trial courts operate in the districts and in some cities, with jurisdiction over civil, criminal, and administrative matters. In courts at this level, a panel of judges presides in civil and criminal suits, and typically one judge decides administrative cases. Outside this structure, military courts decide cases involving military discipline and crimes committed by and against military personnel. Also, the Supreme Economic Court performs the same function as the state arbitration court of the Soviet period, arbitrating disputes between enterprises and state agencies. The constitution stipulates that all judges at all levels are appointed by the president to terms of five years, and they may be reappointed indefinitely. Enjoying immunity from criminal and civil liability for their judicial actions, judges can be removed only for cause.

In 1996, thirteen crimes were punishable by death, but few executions were known to have been carried out. Prison riots in 1996 revealed that prison administration is corrupt and that conditions are overcrowded and squalid.

Observers of several trends in the administration of justice in this court system have concluded that rudimentary elements of legal culture are absent in the implementation of legal proceedings in Turkmenistan. First, the judiciary is subservient to the Ministry of Justice, and it is especially deferential to the wishes of the president. Second, because the Office of the Procurator General fills the roles of grand jury, criminal investigator, and public prosecutor, it dominates the judicial process, especially criminal proceedings. Third, disregard for due process occurs frequently when higher officials apply pressure to judges concerned about reappointment, a practice known as "telephone justice." Fourth, the legal system disregards the role of lawyers in civil and criminal proceedings, and the Ministry of Justice has not permitted an organized bar. Finally, the republic's citizenry remains largely ignorant of the procedures and issues involved in the nation's legal system.

The condition of the legal system and international doubts about human rights in Turkmenistan are indicators that this potentially prosperous former Soviet republic is far from Western-style democracy, despite the stability its government has achieved and the eagerness with which Western investors have approached it. Future years will determine whether this is a transitional stage of independent democracy, whether liberation from the Soviet empire has produced a permanently authoritarian nation, or whether the independent stance of the mid-1990s will yield to closer ties and more economic and military reliance on the Russian Federation.

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The social structure of the Turkmen people is studied in The Yomut Turkmen by William Irons. Traditional religious practices are described in an article by Vladimir Basilov, "Popular Islam in Central Asia and Kazakhstan," which appeared in the Journal of the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs in 1987. Murray Feshbach and Alfred Friendly, Jr. describe environmental and health conditions in Ecocide in the USSR . Detailed current information on the economy is provided in country studies by the International Monetary Fund (1994), the World Bank (1994), and the Economist Intelligence Unit. Summaries of postindependence political events are supplied by Bess Brown in a series of articles in 1992 and 1993 issues of RFE/RL Research Report . Concise accounts and statistics on Turkmenistan's current national security position are found in Jane's Sentinel Regional Security Assessment: Commonwealth of Independent States , and further statistics are available in annual issues of The Military Balance . (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of March 1996

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Turkmenistan Table of Contents