24 July 2017
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhadmedov
Ashgabat, Turkmenistan 744000
Dear President Berdymukhamedov,
I am writing to request information about the process by which the government of Turkmenistan has compensated Ashgabat residents whose homes were expropriated and demolished for urban renewal and beautification projects in the lead up to the 5th Asian and Indoor Martial Arts Games, to be held in Ashgabat in September 2017.
The expropriations and demolitions have negatively affected thousands of Ashgabat residents, with some residents sustaining substantial loss of property without adequate compensation and, making them vulnerable to being rendered homeless.
We have received information that many residents did not receive adequate compensation for their expropriated properties. In the course of evaluating the worth of properties to be expropriated and demolished, Turkmen authorities either did not appear to take into consideration the full worth of the property, or calculate for the total number of residents living in a household at that address, or both.
In particular, when assessing the property to be demolished for the purposes of assigning compensation, the City Housing Fund Office (Горжилуправление) based their calculation on inadequate information, using only the square meters of the registered property, and only the number of family members that originally had residence permits (propiska) for that property rather than updated information of the actual family, home size and property impacted by the expropriations. Those evicted were also offered only a compensation apartment, without the option of direct financial compensation.
In numerous cases, authorities provided households consisting of as many as 10 to 15 people with two- or three-room apartments to compensate them for demolished homes. In these cases, the family home consisted of a house on a plot of land, and outbuildings or additional structures that the family built over time, as their children grew up and had families of their own. Household outbuildings varied: with some households, they included a summer kitchen and bathroom, for other households they consisted of small cottages, or extra bedrooms.
The City Housing Fund Office categorically refused to include the value or square meters of any of the outbuildings. This appears to be because none of the families had registered the outbuildings with the City Bureau of Technical Inventory (known in Russian by its acronym, GBTI). Article 22 (4) of the 2013 Turkmen Housing Code envisages such registration. However, residents said they did not attempt to register outbuildings with GBTI because that agency has a reputation of refusing to register outbuildings and so they felt it would be useless and possibly counterproductive. Since many of the outbuildings had stood on property for a decade or more, it seems unlikely that in the City Housing Fund Office or other local authorities had been totally unaware of the existence of the outbuildings. Moreover, it appears that the city authorities had no objections to the outbuildings in the years when homeowners were using them.
In nearly every case about which we have received information, expropriated homeowners understood that they had no legal grounds to challenge the City Housing Fund Office’s decision on compensation in court, because they lacked the formal registration of the outbuildings. They also reported that based on their experience with how the City Housing Fund Office treated them, they feared filing a complaint could risk worsening their outcome.
Yet these outbuildings are an integral part of the family home. We understand that the practice of expanding accommodations as a family expands--as children marry and start families of their own-- is a common feature of family life in Turkmenistan. In many of the cases about which we have received information, the outbuildings had been part of the family property for a generation or more.
Also, the City Housing Fund Office took account only of the number of family members who had residence permits for that address, rather than the total number of family members in fact living full time at that that address. In at least some of these cases, households included spouses and children of family members who had Ashgabat residence permits but who were themselves unable to obtain residence permits.
The consequences of these assessment practices for families have been severe. In many cases the compensation apartments were unsuitably small for the extended families, in violation of Article 70 point 3 of the Housing Code, which sets 12 square meters per person as the housing standard.
In some of these cases, families who were not given adequate housing for the total number of family members in their household could not afford to purchase or rent additional residence to accommodate their full household. The result was that those family members were rendered homeless. When made aware of situations like this, the City Housing Fund Office told families they should find relatives who would take in their family members.
In yet other cases about which we have received information, the only option the City Housing Fund Office gave to expropriated homeowners was to agree to move to a larger apartment owned by the state, allegedly of more square meters, and greater value, but on condition that homeowner had to pay extra money for it and would not be entitled to any deeds of ownership until all the money was paid. In some cases, could amount to as much as the equivalent of US$ 20,000 to $25,000, and homeowners did not have the means to pay this sum. The evicted homeowners were therefore forced to accept terms offered whereby they could pay off the sum off in installments, without receiving title ownership to the new apartment until the full sum of the loan was paid off. They effectively therefore had property taken from them and were given neither equivalent financial compensation nor equivalent property title in exchange.
In response to the concerns we raise above about the expropriations and demolitions that have taken place in Ashgabat in recent years, we kindly request your help providing us the following information:
- When dealing with expropriation/demolition cases what efforts if any did the City Housing Fund Office make to take into account the totality of property expropriated, including unregistered outbuildings which was part of the family’s home and property, and also the links among the family members who had residence permits to the other members of the household who did not have residence permits?
- Could you kindly provide any information about the standards which the City Housing Fund Office uses to measure ties to unregistered property, and any data about the number of families that benefitted from such a process and what the outcomes were? Does such a process exist in law or in practice?
- We would likewise be grateful if you could provide any information about the process by which the City Housing Fund Office may have sought to establish whether family members who do not have residence permits, but nonetheless had deep ties to, and were bonafide residents of, the expropriated home?
- Could you kindly provide information about the legal basis for compensation arrangements whereby the only offer made is for an apartment allegedly of higher value than the expropriated property, and in which homeowners are required to pay the difference? Cold you also provide information about the legal basis for withholding ownership title to a compensation apartment until the full difference in value is paid?
Finally, we would like to inquire about the status of any commissions dedicated to considering complaints from residents affected by expropriation and demolitions. In our October 25, 2011 letter to you, we welcomed your decision to create an inter-agency commission to consider complaints from citizens living in areas identified for construction projects. Could you please inform us whether this commission still exists, and if so, what is its scope and the solutions it found for homeowners’ and residents’ complaints involving expropriations, evictions, demolitions, and compensation?
Thank you for your attention to these concerns. We would be grateful for a reply by August 14, 2017.
Europe and Central Asia
Human Rights Watch
Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights
CC: Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al Sabah, President
Olympic Council of Asia
Thomas Bach, President
International Olympic Committee