A new briefing paper published by Brussels-based International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) highlights key trends in the protection of civil society in Kyrgyzstan. The briefing paper has been prepared as a contribution to this year’s EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue, which is scheduled to take place in Bishkek on 7 June 2016, and sets out issues that the EU should raise with the authorities of the Central Asian country.
In a welcome development, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament voted down a much criticized draft NGO law in mid-May 2016 after it had been under consideration for two years. The initial version of the draft law drew heavily on the notorious Russian “foreign agents” law, which has been used to stigmatize and stifle the work of independent NGOs in this country. The draft law was significantly revised before it came up for the final vote by the full parliament, but nevertheless remained problematic.
“The rejection of the ill-conceived ‘foreign agents’ bill is a victory for Kyrgyzstan’s civil society, which had campaigned against it since it was first introduced,” said Brigitte Dufour, IPHR Director. “This outcome also shows how important it is that the country’s lawmakers closely cooperate with NGOs on any initiatives that directly affect civil society,” she continued.
While the draft “foreign agents” law now has been scrapped, it is of serious concern that the discussion surrounding it has contributed to reinforcing negative and suspicious attitudes toward NGOs, with long-lasting implications. Public figures have also made new statements accusing foreign-funded NGOs of threatening national security. Only a few days after the rejection of the controversial NGO bill, President Almazbek Atambayev suggested that leading human rights defenders Aziza Abdirasulova and Tolekan Ismailova are part of a movement bent on toppling the government and are “working off their foreign grants” to this end. The two defenders denounced these unfounded and discrediting accusations and called on the president to retract them.
“We stand with our Kyrgyzstani colleagues, who are being publicly discredited, while deserving praise for their hard work to promote human rights in Kyrgyzstan,” said Brigitte Dufour, IPHR Director. She added: “Those in power should refrain from this type of rhetoric and support human rights defenders in their efforts to improve the lives of citizens.”
Civil society representatives have also reported a growing number of cases of undue interference into NGO activities. In a case dating back to March 2015, security service officials searched the Osh branch office of the Bir Duino Human Rights Movement and the homes of two of its lawyers, confiscating case material related to dozens of individual cases. These searches violated the principle of confidentiality of lawyer-client communication and appeared aimed at putting pressure on the organization and its lawyers. Later the searches were deemed unlawful by the Supreme Court. However, to date, no law enforcement officials have been held accountable for their actions in relation to the searches.
In a much anticipated decision, the UN Human Rights Committee issued its views on the case of human rights defender Azimjan Askarov in April 2016. The Committee concluded that Askarov, who is serving a life sentence for his alleged role in the June 2010 inter-ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan, was arbitrarily detained, tortured and denied fair trial rights. It called for immediately releasing him and quashing his conviction. Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court subsequently declared its readiness to reconsider Askarov’s case. However, currently Askarov remains behind bars, and the presidential administration has spoken out in favour of amending a constitutional provision that obliges national authorities to implement international human rights body decisions. Authorities have also recently taken steps to confiscate the house where Askarov’s wife lives, allegedly as part of the execution of the earlier court decision in his case.
“These attempts to question Kyrgyzstan’s international human rights obligations and put pressure on Askarov’s family are unacceptable,” said Brigitte Dufour, IPHR Director. “The authorities of the country should instead take prompt measures to comply with the Human Rights Committee decision and ensure that Askarov is finally granted justice,” she concluded.
For more details on the issues described above, as well as recommendations for steps that the EU should request the Kyrgyzstani authorities to take, download IPHR’s briefing paper.
Background: The annual Human Rights Dialogue is a core element of the EU’s political engagement with Kyrgyzstan in the framework of the mutual 1999 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. The dialogue is held behind closed doors, but civil society organizations are consulted prior to it and requested to provide information. In this context, IPHR has prepared and conveyed briefing information to the EU. For more information on EU-Kyrgyzstan relations, see fact-sheet prepared by the European External Action Service: http://eeas.europa.eu/factsheets/news/eu-kyrgyzstan_factsheet_en.htm