EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue: Briefing paper documents civil society concerns

© Vincent Aguerre “Classic move”/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0/

The tenth round of the EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue will take in Brussels on 27 May 2019. A briefing paper prepared for the dialogue by International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), Legal Prosperity Foundation (LPF) and Kyrgyzstan’s Coalition against Torture highlights key concerns about freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, torture and ill-treatment, as well as the fight against discrimination in Kyrgyzstan. The briefing paper also provides key recommendations in these areas that IPHR, LPF and the Coalition against Torture urge the EU to raise with Kyrgyzstan’s government during the Human Rights Dialogue.

When coming to power in November 2017, President Jeenbekov pledged to guarantee freedom of expression and the media. He has also criticised the policies of former President Atambayev in this area. During the time in office of the ex-president, government critics were often attacked in pro-government media, discredited on social media and publicly condemned by officials, and independent media and journalists were ordered to pay onerous compensations for allegedly offending the president. However, despite certain improvements in the protection of freedom of expression and the media since Jeenbekov took office, concerns remain and there have been new incidents of state pressure against media representatives investigating official corruption. These developments show the importance of improving legal safeguards for freedom of expression and the media.

Recently individual members of parliament, as well as the deputy head of the State Committee on National Security have called for strengthening control over NGOs and reviving the controversial initiative to adopt a “Foreign Agents Law,” which parliament previously rejected in 2016. These calls run counter to President Jeenbekov’s promise to ensure a more constructive relationship with civil society, which he also made when taking office.

Human rights defender Azimjan Askarov continues to serve a life sentence, contrary to the 2016 decision issued by the UN Human Rights Committee, which found that he had been arbitrarily detained, tortured and denied fair trial rights and should be immediately released. When IPHR Director Brigitte Dufour visited Askarov in prison in November 2018, he expressed his frustration and deep feelings of injustice after almost nine years of imprisonment. His health has seriously deteriorated in prison.

Despite a number of legislative measures taken by the authorities to combat torture and ill-treatment in recent years, such practices continue and impunity is the norm. Official statistics show that in nine out of ten cases no criminal proceedings are opened into allegations of torture or ill-treatment. Research by the Coalition against Torture also indicates that many torture victims refrain from submitting complaints because they do not believe that their complaints will be promptly, impartially and effectively investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. The fear for reprisals also discourages torture victims from submitting complaints. 

Inter-ethnic relations remain tense in the aftermath of the 2010 ethnic clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan, as the authorities have failed to take effective measures to foster tolerance and reconciliation. In a welcome move, the government has now begun drawing up an action plan on the implementation of recommendations issued by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 2018. In another positive development, Kyrgyzstan ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in March 2019. This group is currently among the most vulnerable in Kyrgyzstan. Discussions on a draft law on anti-discrimination continue.  

The briefing paper prepared by IPHR, LPF and the Coalition against Torture discusses the issues outlined above in more detail. It can be downloaded here.