| 1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, February 25, 2000
The Kyrgyz Republic became an independent state in 1991. Although the 1993 Constitution defines the form of government as a democratic republic, President Askar Akayev dominates the Government. Akayev was reelected in 1995 in an open, multicandidate presidential election, which was marred, however, by the deregistration of three rival candidates immediately prior to the vote. Also in 1995, a two-chamber Parliament was elected for a 5-year term. The Constitution was amended by referendum in 1996 to strengthen substantially the presidency and define the role of Parliament. However, the 1996 referendum was marred by serious irregularities. In October 1998, the Government held a constitutional referendum that, among other things, reformed the structure of the Parliament and the national budget process. The referendum passed by over 90 percent, but again there were a number of serious irregularities. Elections were held in October 1999 for local governing councils. The process was flawed but represented an improvement over the 1998 referendum. Although Parliament has become increasingly active, and on occasion has blocked presidential initiatives, it still does not check the power of the President effectively. The judiciary is dominated by the executive branch.
Law enforcement responsibilities are divided among the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) for general crime, the Ministry of National Security (MNB) for state-level crime, and the procurator's office for both types of crime. Both the MVD and the MNB deal with corruption and organized crime. These ministries inherited their infrastructure from their Soviet predecessors. Both appear to be under the general control of the Government and generally conform their actions to the law. Border guards are under the full control of the Government. On January 1, the Government assumed responsibility for border control, ending an agreement with the Russian Federation, whose troops had manned the border with China. Final withdrawal of Russian border guards occurred in August, although approximately 160 Russian advisors remain in the country. Some members of the police committed human rights abuses.
The Kyrgyz Republic is a poor, mountainous country with a rough balance of agricultural and industrial production. Cotton, tobacco, and sugar are the primary agricultural exports. The country also exports hydroelectric power, antimony, mercury, and uranium. The Government has carried out progressive market reforms. The economy worsened steadily during the year, and inflation is estimated at over 40 percent. The U.N. estimates that 55 percent of the population are below the poverty line. The country faces an external debt of $1.5 billion. Industrial production remains significantly below preindependence levels. The level of hardship for pensioners, unemployed workers, and government workers with salary arrearages continues to be very high. The average annual salary is $100 (4,200 som). Foreign assistance plays a significant role in the country's budget.
The Government's human rights record was generally uneven and poor in some areas. The Government limits citizens' ability to change their government. There were credible reports of police abuse and brutality. Prison conditions are very poor, and there were cases of arbitrary arrest and detention. Executive domination of the judiciary limited citizens' right to due process, although the judiciary is undergoing reform. Government supervision of "village elders' courts" that it sanctions outside the regular judicial structure remains uneven, but abuses such as stoning abated. The Government at times infringes on freedom of speech and of the press. Authorities at times pressure journalists who criticize individual members of the Government. The Government did not use libel laws against the press; however, the Government uses bureaucratic means to harass and pressure the independent media and opposition. The Government at times inhibited freedom of assembly and association; there were serious problems with political parties' rights to free assembly. The Government deregistered the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights (KCHR) prior to the October 1998 referendum and prohibited subsequent attempts at reregistration. However, the Government finally reregistered the KHCR in August, and the group now operates freely. The Government at times infringed on freedom of religion. Societal discrimination against women persists. Violence against women is a problem that authorities often ignore, and trafficking in women and girls for the purpose of forced prostitution also is a persistent problem. Child abuse is a problem, and there is a growing number of street children. Discrimination against ethnic minorities and child labor persisted.
Armed insurgents in the country's southern areas along the Tajik-Kyrgyz border took both Kyrgyz and foreign citizens hostage in the fall.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.
There were no further developments in the January 1998 beating death by police of Muratbek Sulaimanov.
There were no further developments in the February 1998 beating and killing by burial alive of Sergei Skromnov by police in the Lenin region of Bishkek.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances due to action by the Government or domestic groups.
In August several hundred armed ethnic Uzbeks entered the southern Osh province from Tajikistan and took a number of hostages, including several government officials and four Japanese geologists. There were military engagements between the Government and the insurgents, who identified themselves as members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an organization opposed to the present Uzbekistan Government. At least one of the hostages died in captivity. The last of the hostages was released on October 25. Negotiations with the insurgents led to the eventual release of all remaining Kyrgyz and foreign hostages, the last of whom was released on October 25. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Constitution prohibits such practices; however, there were some credible reports that police used violence against detained suspects in order to obtain confessions while the suspects in criminal cases were in pretrial detention. In September police officers reportedly beat a farmer while trying to recover an unpaid debt; the farmer remained in jail at year's end.
Police patrols are supervised poorly, are not always paid promptly, and sometimes commit crimes. Supervision of conditions for pretrial detainees is poor, and abuses sometimes occur. Police sometimes used ill-defined charges to arrest persons (see Sections 1.d. and 2.d.).
In the past, local elders' courts have exceeded their authority by trying major crimes, using torture to extract confessions or even levying capital punishment. However, abuses such as stoning and death sentences have abated, and there were no reports of such action during the year (see Section 1.e.).
Prison conditions (including overcrowding, food shortages, and lack of heat and other necessities) are very poor, due to limited budget resources. Those detained by the MNB rather than the MVD are kept in an MNB facility; after conviction, they go to a regular prison. The 1994 Criminal Procedure Code is based on the Soviet-era Criminal Procedure Code and established the right for attorney-client visits of unlimited number and duration. In practice, however, an attorney must obtain official permission for every visit. Prison visits by family members are at the discretion of the investigator during the investigation phase. After conviction family members may visit regularly.
In principle nonfamily visitors seldom are permitted. However, some citizens, including local human rights activists, claim that they usually can obtain official permission for a visit through personal connections.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The judicial system continues to operate, in many cases, under Soviet laws and procedures, and authorities generally respect these provisions in practice; however, there were a few cases of arbitrary arrest and detention. The procurator's office determines who may be detained, arrested, and prosecuted. The MNB, the MVD, and the General Procurator carry out investigations. Since 1990 persons arrested or charged with crimes have the right to a defense counsel, who is required to visit the accused within the first 3 days of incarceration. However, sometimes the accused first sees the defense counsel only at the trial.
The Criminal Code permits the procurator to detain suspects for 72 hours before releasing them or charging them with a crime. The procurator must issue an arrest warrant before a person can be detained. If a suspect is charged, the procurator must advise defense counsel immediately. The accused usually remains in detention while the procurator investigates and prepares the case for trial. The procurator has discretion to keep the accused in pretrial detention for up to 1 year, but there are conditions for provisional release before trial. After 1 year, the procurator must release the accused or ask Parliament to extend the period of detention. Since independence, there have been no known instances in which Parliament has been asked to extend a detention.
The MNB monitored the Uighur community (a Turkic people native to western China) closely. In the past they arrested Uighurs on ill-defined charges, including false documents and concealed weapons charges (see Section 2.d.).
In the summer, police fined two parliamentary deputies who were discussing politics with citizens in a public place and charged them with holding an illegal gathering (see Sections 2.a., 2.b., and 3).
Three deputies in the National Assembly were arrested in June on charges ranging from embezzlement to assaulting a tax inspector. Many of the charges were at least 2 years old. Several parliamentarians made statements criticizing the arrests. While it was not clear that these charges were politically motivated, there have been other cases against deputies that were.
In September police systematically rounded up hundreds of ethnic Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Afghans in the cities of Jala-Abad and Bishkek on the pretext of passport checks, holding them in custody for up to 2 days.
The Government does not employ forced exile.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, despite extensive reforms in the court system and a large body of new law, court operations have not become independent of the executive branch, which continues to dominate the judiciary.
Cases originate in local courts; they may move to appeals courts on the district or regional level and finally to the Supreme Court. Separate courts of arbitration handle civil disputes, and traditional elders' courts handle low-level crime in rural areas.
The procurator brings cases to court and tries them before a judge and two people's assessors (pensioners or citizens chosen from labor collectives). The accused and the defense counsel have access to all evidence gathered by the procurator. They attend all proceedings, which are generally public, and are allowed to question witnesses and present evidence. All members of the court have equal rights. Anyone in the courtroom may question witnesses. Witnesses do not always recapitulate their evidence in court; instead they affirm or deny their statements in the procurator's files.
The court compares the facts as presented by the procurator and the defense, and in most cases makes its decision after receiving all available information in each case. The court may render one of three decisions: innocent; guilty; or indeterminate, that is, the case is returned to the procurator for further investigation. In 1996 the Constitutional Court ruled that only the defense has the right of appeal. The decision of a court to return a case to the procurator for further investigation may not be appealed, and accused persons are returned to the procurator's custody, where they may remain under detention.
The law allows only government attorneys to represent defendants in criminal cases, while private attorneys are prohibited in criminal court. Often, the attorneys are seen to skew cases toward the Government's interests, and there are complaints that detainees did not have the right to a fair trial.
The procurator, not the judge, is in charge of criminal proceedings. Thus the courts are widely perceived as a rubber stamp for the procurator and for high-ranking government officials and not as the protectors of citizens' rights. In addition very low judges' salaries have led to a well-grounded view among lawyers and citizens that all but a very few scrupulously honest judges are open to bribes.
Local elders' courts are found in almost every oblast and region. They exercise their authority by trying petty crimes, such as robbery, hooliganism, or theft. In the past, local elders' courts have exceeded their authority by trying major crimes, using torture to extract confessions or even levying capital punishment. However, abuses such as stoning and death sentences have abated, and there were no reports of such action during the year. Local elders' courts are under the supervision of the procurator's office, but they may not receive close oversight due to the fact that many such courts are located in remote regions, which makes monitoring difficult.
The Government has introduced several judicial reform measures, including a proposal to establish an independent judicial budget, creation of judicial judgment enforcement procedures, and independent judicial training. Generally accepted international practices, including the presumption of the innocence of the accused, have been introduced. Judges do not hold positions for life. As provided in the Constitution, terms for judges range from 15 years for Constitutional Court judges to 3 years for first-term local judges. In 1993 a new system of court administration was introduced, and sitting judges are being tested on their knowledge of the law and new civil codes. The first round of testing was completed in the fall of 1996; the next was carried out during the fall when new judicial appointments were made. If judges fail these tests, they may be disqualified from holding office. The process appears to have increased judicial professionalism, and a number of judges have been removed due to poor performance on the exams. Some removals appear to have been subjective, but most lawyers and judges consider the system to be a fair measure of competence.
The appointment of ethnic Kyrgyz to key positions in the judicial system has led to charges by non-Kyrgyz that the system is arbitrary and unfair and that the courts treat Kyrgyz more leniently than members of other groups. Although systematic discrimination is not clearly evident, allegations that it exists are credible in some cases. There are also complaints by Uzbeks, and even by ethnic Kyrgyz, that the southern portion of the country is underrepresented in the judiciary.
Economic crimes such as tax evasion, embezzlement, and theft of government property, including that of electric power, are common. Prosecution for these crimes is relatively rare and sometimes appears to be directed at opponents of the Government. Legislators in the past have used their parliamentary immunity to avoid being brought to court. However, the October 1998 referendum included an amendment that limited immunity to official acts only. In June three Members of Parliament (M.P.'s) were arrested in or near the parliament building for misappropriation of state property, abuse of power, and tax evasion (see Section 1.d.). The three were awaiting trial at year's end.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Constitution prohibits unlawful entry into a home against the wishes of the occupant and states that a person's private life, privacy of correspondence, and telephonic and telegraphic communications are protected. The law and procedures require the General Procurator's approval for wiretaps, searches of homes, interception of mail, and similar acts. A change in the law in 1995 weakened these protections by allowing the procurator to give approval for searches over the telephone; thus no written proof exists to verify that the search was approved. Furthermore, in certain cases, law enforcement officers first may carry out a search and then get approval within 24 hours. If approval is not given, any evidence seized is inadmissible in court.
Organizational structures responsible for violations during the Soviet era have remained largely in place; however, there were no reports of violations of citizens' privacy. There were concerns by citizens active in politics or human rights issues that the privacy of their communications was violated, but evidence to that effect is not available.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The law provides for certain freedoms of speech and of the press; however, the Government at times infringed on these rights. In July police in Naryn oblast fined two parliamentary deputies for discussing politics informally with citizens in a public place; the deputies were charged with holding an illegal gathering (see Sections 1.d., 2.b., and 3).
The 1992 law on the mass media provides for freedom of speech and the mass media, and outlines registration procedures. It identifies prohibited material: Government and commercial secrets; material advocating war, violence, or intolerance toward ethnic or religious groups; desecration of national norms, ethics, and symbols, such as the national seal, flag, or anthem; pornography; and encroachment on the honor and dignity of a person. Two laws related to the media, On Guarantees and Free Access to Information and On the Protection of the Professional Activities of Journalists, were adopted in December 1997.
The Government did not close any newspapers or electronic media during the year, nor were any journalists arrested or imprisoned as a direct result of journalistic activities, although several faced civil "honor and dignity" charges in court cases brought by parliamentarians or other public figures.
All media must register with the Ministry of Justice and wait for ministry approval before beginning to operate. The media law states that the registration process requires 1 month. During the year, there were no reports concerning media organizations that could not register in a timely manner.
Libel is a criminal, not a civil, action. The Government attempted at the end of 1997 and the beginning of 1998 to amend the Criminal Code to remove libel; however, its efforts were defeated in Parliament by an overwhelming majority. As a result of the October 1998 referendum, the Constitution now includes language that precludes Parliament from passing laws that infringe on free speech. As of year's end, there had been no implementing legislation for this amendment.
There are approximately 40 to 50 independent newspapers and magazines, including some with local, not national, standing. There are also several hours daily of independent television and radio broadcasting. However, state television, radio, and government newspapers receive government subsidies, which permit the Government to influence media coverage. Additionally, the State's printing house, Uchkun, is the only newspaper publisher in the country.
During the first half of 1998, all television and radio stations were to be registered (licensed) with the newly established National Agency for Communications (NAC) or reregistered if they had a registration with the NAC's predecessor, the Committee on Frequencies, which was under the direction of the Prime Minister. The NAC requires extensive paperwork for registration, including copies of documents on education and training received by the staff and specifications of the equipment used.
Many independent television and radio stations have received licenses. Among them were Pyramid, Independent Bishkek Television (NBT), Vostochnaya Strana (VOSST), Asia Center, Open Channel, and Europa Plus. The registration fee ranges from approximately $100 to $150 (4,000 to 6,000 soms). Licenses issued are valid for 3 to 7 years (the duration of validity was determined by the NAC based on its evaluation of a company's viability). Other independent television and radio companies are in the process of reregistration, including Osh Television, Mezon Television, Radio Almaz stations in Bishkek and Osh, and several others successfully registered during the year.
There are two television stations in Osh that broadcast in Uzbek: Osh Television (some programs) and Mezon Television (all programs). The latter was founded by the Mezon Uzbek Ethnic Center to serve the needs of the large Uzbek population of Osh. Although Osh television has a license to broadcast, a dispute continues over which channel it can use; the NAC attempted to require the station to change its frequency by year's end. The Association of Journalists lobbied against this change, indicating that it was unfair as no other broadcaster had to change frequencies, was not justified technically, and was a financial hardship to Osh television. The Government granted a reprieve allowing the station to continue broadcasting on its current frequency until June 2000.
Licensing has been complicated for nongovernment broadcasters. In August 1998, the NAC notified licensees of a new government regulation providing that those holding licenses pay for all expenses connected with carrying out supervisory functions under the license agreements. Additionally, since mid-August 1998, the nongovernment electronic media began receiving standard notices from the NAC, signed by its director Orozaly Kaiykov, stating that the obligation to broadcast in the state language was not being fulfilled and that broadcasters were relying mainly on foreign music and programming. Despite an extended series of meetings in 1998 between the NAC and media officials, these issues, which the media view as a form of censorship, were not resolved. The NAC did not press the point beyond the Kaiykov declaration throughout the year.
In August the popular independent daily newspaper Vecherny Bishkek faced closure stemming from allegations that the newspaper's owner, Aleksander Kim, was guilty of tax evasion. Kim stated that the multiple inspections began after the newspaper carried interviews with several opposition politicians, including potential candidates in the 2000 presidential elections. Although the Government clearly used the tax issue to pressure Kim, the matter was complicated by an dispute within the newspaper for control. The militia and the tax authorities harassed Kim and his staff, but at year's end the newspaper continued to publish. The efforts of the Government to investigate the newspaper on charges of tax evasion and to probe the legitimacy of the purchase of the newspaper's building are continuing.
On the night of April 24, state security officers raided the new offices of the independent Kyrgyz language newspaper Asaba and erased all of its computer files. After an investigation, MNB claimed that the erased files were due to a compute virus, not a break-in. In August 1998, Asaba was evicted from its offices after renting space there for 32 years, and the MVD took over the building.
In March the newspaper Utro Bishkeka lost a defamation of character lawsuit to three deputies of the Parliament, and was forced to pay a total of approximately $1,700 (60,000 soms). In April the newspaper Res Publica was found guilty of defamation of character in a private suit brought by the president of the State Television and Radio Corporation and fined approximately $6,500 (230,000 soms).
The Morals Commission, a presidentially appointed body of newspaper editors, university rectors, religious leaders, and public figures, was tasked in 1998 with reviewing the print and broadcast media as well as videos and other activity to determine whether their content was pornographic or violent in nature. Upon finding that an item was pornographic, the Commission was charged with requesting legal action be taken against organizations and individuals violating its "decency precepts." In September 1998, the Morals Commission suspended three newspapers, Kartama-Digest, Limon, and Pajshamba. There were indications that the suspensions were motivated politically. Since the suspensions, only Limon has continued to publish, under an agreement that it will eliminate its pornographic content; however, this action has reduced drastically its circulation and economic viability. Although the Morals Commission was closed by presidential decree in January, a criminal case against Limon still is pending.
In December 1998, Parliament passed a law on advertising that limits the amount of advertising to 20 percent in print media and to 25 percent in broadcast media. This legislation may affect the revenue of the independent media.
Academic freedom is respected.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides citizens with the right to assemble freely; however, while the Government generally respects this right, officials, including those at local levels, sometimes use regulations that require registration of rallies and demonstrations to inhibit the exercise of this right. The law requires official written permission for holding assemblies, rallies, and demonstrations.
Permits are required for public marches and gatherings but are routinely available. Rallies and demonstrations are held regularly in front of the Government Building and in other places. Throughout the year, several peaceful protests were held outside the President's office. Those demonstrating included pensioners, political and human rights activists, and ethnic groups living in the country such as Uighurs and Kurds.
The Constitution provides for the right of association; however, while the Government generally respects this right, at times local authorities have inhibited it in practice. In June and July, local authorities in both Issyk Kul and Naryn oblasts disallowed several public meetings for representatives of the People's Party of Kyrgyzstan (see Section 3). Naryn oblast police arrested and fined parliamentary deputies who were discussing politics informally with citizens in a public place. They were charged with holding an illegal gathering (also see Sections 1.d., 2.a., and 3.).
The 1991 Law on Public Organizations, which includes labor unions, political parties, and cultural associations, requires registration of these organizations with the Ministry of Justice. Excessive caution by some officials is a contributing element for the delay some organizations experience in registering. Ultimately, all organizations have been able to register, with the exception of an Uighur organization with the stated goal of creating an independent Uighur state in northwest China. The organization did not renew its attempt to register during the year.
In June Parliament passed a new law on nongovernmental organizations. This law separates NGO's from political parties, labor unions, and religious organizations, and lowers the required number of members for registration. It also provides a tax exemption for grant recipients. The President signed this law into effect as of year's end.
In October 1998, the Ministry of Justice revoked the registration of the KHRC on the grounds that its registration application contained falsified documents. The revocation came while the chairman of the KHRC was lobbying against the October referendum to change the Constitution to privatize land and limit parliamentarians immunity in criminal cases. Subsequently, the KHRC was invited to reregister, but its chairman declined to do so at that time. In February the KHRC attempted to reregister but was denied due to alleged irregularities in its application. A few days later, another organization with the same name and headed by Sardarbek Botaliyev, an adversary of the KHRC's leader, Ramazan Dyryldayev, was registered by the Ministry of Justice. On June 11, a court administrator and a militia captain demanded that all KHCR office equipment and furniture be transferred to the new organization. However, in August the Government reregistered the original KHRC, and the group now operates freely.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution and the law provide for freedom of religion and the right of all citizens to choose and practice their own religion; however, the Government at times infringes on these rights. The Government does not support any one religion and expressly forbids the teaching of religion (or atheism) in public schools.
In 1996 the Government created a State Commission on Religious Affairs, officially in order to promote religious tolerance, protect freedom of conscience, and oversee laws on religion. The Commission quickly became active and has overseen the registration of over 300 religious institutions, of which 210 are Christian denominations. In 1997 the President signed a decree that required all religious organizations to register with the Commission. Under the new regulations, each congregation must register separately. As previously, if a group wishes to own property, open bank accounts, and otherwise engage in contractual activities, it must become a legal entity by registering with the Ministry of Justice. In practice the Ministry has never registered a religious organization without prior registration by the Commission. There were no known instances during the year of the Commission refusing attempts by religious groups to register, although registration has been slow on occasion.
In June law enforcement officials broke up a Baptist service in Kyzyl Kiya, in the south. Several of the participants had crossed the border illegally from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and subsequently were returned to their countries. The religious commission stated that the religious group had not been registered, although it had been invited to do so several times, and that it was not associated with other Baptist churches, all of which have been registered.
Religious leaders note with concern that the Commission frequently uses the term "national security" in its statements. For example the Commission has expressed some concern about the destabilizing presence of Reverend Moon's Unification Church. The Unification Church currently is not active in the country, but it has a presence through the charity organization of Reverend Moon's wife. Religious leaders also worry that traditional religious groups could use references to "preserving interconfessional accord" to prevent smaller churches from registering. Both Christians and Muslims have expressed concern about the State's apparent intention to play a more intrusive role in religion. Ethnic Kyrgyz Christian congregations appear to face special barriers, as do some Muslim congregations with foreign support. A small Jewish congregation meets in Bishkek without a rabbi. The group also organizes informal cultural studies and humanitarian services, chiefly food assistance for the community's elderly.
A Roman Catholic Church in Bishkek functions unhindered. The Seventh-Day Adventist Church operates six churches in Bishkek, as well as several elsewhere in the country, without apparent hindrance.
Muslim leaders complain that the Commission on Religious Affairs makes decisions about religious events without consulting them. The Government considers radical Islam, whose followers it labels "Wahhabis," a threat to the country's stability. In late 1997 and throughout 1998, the Government intensified its campaign against orthodox Islamic believers. Anti-Wahhabi activities apparently abated during the year.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
In general government policy allows free travel within and outside the country; however, certain Soviet-era policies continue to complicate internal migration, resettlement, and travel abroad. Under the Soviet-era law still in force, citizens need official government permission (a "propiska") to work and settle in a particular area of the country. Strictly speaking, the propiska affords the right to reside in a given city or region. In addition home and apartment owners legally can sell their property only to buyers with such permission. In practice many employers traditionally have refused to provide employment to any applicant residing illegally. However, this law has not been enforced recently. Persons now move within the country, purchase homes, and sell businesses without hindrance.
There is no law on emigration. Administrative procedures permit movement of persons; however, citizens who apply for passports must present a letter of invitation from the country they intend to visit or to which they intend to immigrate. In August a presidential decree stated that exit visa requirements would be abolished by October 1 and the law was implemented fully by year's end. Citizens can now travel abroad without an exit visa; however, some travelers may still be required to present a letter of invitation to validate their passport for international travel for their first trip abroad. After validation of the passport, travel is unrestricted. A Soviet-era law prohibits emigration within 5 years of working with "state secrets." No one is believed to have been barred from emigration under this statute during the year.
Emigrants are not prevented from returning to the country, and there is reportedly a small but steady flow of returnees.
The armed militants who crossed the border into southern Kyrgyzstan from Tajikistan, caused an estimated 5,000 Kyrgyz citizens to flee from their homes and left them internally displaced. All returned to their homes after the fighting ended.
The Government cooperates with the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees.
The issue of first asylum did not arise during the year.
As of June, there were 13,240 refugees in the country. Of these 693 were from Afghanistan, and the remainder were from Tajikistan. Of the latter, about 80 percent were ethnic Kyrgyz, mostly from the Tajik cities of Murgab and Jirgital.
There were no reports of the forced return of persons to countries where they feared persecution or expulsion of those having valid claim to refugee status. During the year, there were no forced repatriation of Uighurs. The UNHCR assisted approximately 2,500 Tajik refugees to return to Tajikistan during the year.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, but in practice citizens' ability to do so is limited.
The Constitution mandates presidential elections every 5 years. There is a two-term limit. The President was reelected to a second term in 1995 in a multicandidate election marred by irregularities. Parliamentary elections also are held every 5 years. In 1995 citizens elected a new Parliament in elections marred by irregularities. In 1996 a referendum was held that amended the Constitution to redistribute power within the Government. The referendum violated the Constitution in force at the time and the Law on Referendums. Voter apathy was high and turnout was low. The results were reminiscent of the Soviet era, with a reported turnout of 98 percent. Ballot stuffing was rampant, and family voting apparently was widespread.
The October 1998 constitutional referendum on land privatization, the structure of the Parliament, and the budget process also was marred by serious irregularities. The Government's claim that 96 percent of voters participated in the referendum was not in accord with participation rates witnessed by local and international observers. Observers also noted the persistent problem of family voting. The Government designed the ballot so that voters had to vote either in favor of all five amendments or against all five. This procedure created a dilemma for voters who were opposed to the provision for the privatization of land, which was very unpopular, but favored the other four, less controversial amendments. The referendum further enhanced the power of the executive at the expense of the legislature.
The amendments approved in the 1996 referendum strengthened the formal power of the President and his advisers, who dominate the Government. The Parliament and the judiciary tend to be subordinate to the executive branch but show increasing signs of independence, such as the overriding of presidential vetoes by Parliament. In comparison with 1996, when the Parliament passed 66 laws, it passed 158 laws in 1997 (of which the President signed only 143), and 159 laws in 1998, all of which the President signed. In 1999 Parliament adopted 184 laws, of which the President signed 160. Parliament overrode a presidential veto when the President refused to sign an amendment to the election code which did not shorten the minimum registration period of time that political parties must be registered in order to participate in elections from 1 year to 6 months. In December 1997, Parliament delayed passage of the 1998 budget bill until reaching a compromise with the executive branch. The Parliament also delayed approval of the 1999 budget until reaching a compromise with the Government. The overwhelming majority of local government officials are still appointed by the President, but the first elections for local legislative bodies were held on October 17. The elections were flawed but were an improvement over the l998 referendum.
In January 1998, President Akayev named two M.P.'s to executive positions. Both members continued to serve as deputies after they had assumed their new positions, which is a violation of the Constitution. However, one of them eventually left his executive position, and the other resigned from Parliament.
Political parties remain weak. There are 27 registered political parties. None of the winners of parliamentary by-elections in 1997 or 1998 had a party affiliation, and parties nominated very few candidates. Of the M.P.'s, fewer than half (46 of 105) claim party affiliation. There are 12 parties represented in Parliament, but voting seldom proceeds along strict party lines.
In June and July, local authorities in both Issyk Kul and Naryn oblasts disallowed several public meetings for representatives of the People's Party of Kyrgyzstan, one of the largest opposition parties. The officials set up roadblocks at the entrance to Karakol and did not permit the party representatives access to the city. Later, government authorities cited a law that requires 10 days' notice for public meetings. At year's end, the People's Party was considering an appeal. In Naryn oblast, two parliamentary deputies discussing politics informally with citizens in a public place were brought to court and charged with holding an illegal gathering; subsequently, they were fined (also see Sections 1.d., 2.a., and 2.b.). In the summer, President Akayev pressed to reduce the minimum registration period to allow political parties to participate in elections from 1 year to 6 months. Parliament declined to adopt his proposal. Parliament also passed a bill in October allowing all parties that have undergone the minimum registration period to participate in the February 2000 parliamentary elections.
Women and most ethnic minorities are underrepresented in government and politics. Only 3 of 105 parliamentary deputies are women. The only senior female executive branch official is the Minister of Justice. The Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court also is a woman. A woman's group has been formed to recruit, advise, and campaign for female candidates in the next parliamentary elections. Russians and Uzbeks are underrepresented in government positions, although Boris Silayev, an ethnic Russian, is currently the First Deputy Prime Minister.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A number of human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases, and government officials sometimes were responsive to their views. However, the Government deregistered the KHRC (an active organization that began protest activity during the campaign prior to the October 1998 referendum), immediately before the referendum (see Section 2.b.). After international protests, the KHRC was reregistered on August 19. Activists sometimes allege that harassment originates within government circles.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) opened an office in Bishkek in January, and the Government generally supports its activities. Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution provides for the rights and freedom of individuals and prohibits discrimination, including on the basis of language. The Government expresses a strong commitment to protecting the rights of members of all ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups, as well as those of women, but in practice has a mixed record.
Research conducted in 1996 on violence against women showed a noticeable increase in such incidents since independence. Activists note that rape is becoming more common. It is not clear if the incidence of rape or just the reporting of such attacks is becoming more common, but authorities often ignore such attacks. Government statistics indicate that annually there are 400 to 450 crimes against women, but many crimes never are reported due to psychological pressures, cultural restrictions, and apathy by law enforcement officials. The Government has not devised a program to deal with this problem, and the number of shelters for battered women is not increasing to meet the need. One shelter of relatively long standing in Tokmok still is searching for appropriate funding or a sponsor. The Umut (Hope) Center opened in January 1997 to provide basic protection as well as psychological, legal, and medical counseling for battered women and girls. For example during the 3 years of its activity, the Umut Center has organized biweekly discussions and training for women to advise and counsel them about their rights. It provides 10 days of emergency shelter, clothing, and meals for battered women as well as employment counseling and legal services. In 1998 the director attributed the rise in the number of women visiting the shelter to the country's severe economic crisis, which had led to increased violence against women; 62 percent of women visiting the shelter are unemployed. Among those in the shelter, 92 percent are unemployed. Umut has received grants from the Soros Foundation and other foreign sources during the year.
In June 1997, the NGO Tendesh opened a crisis center in Naryn with a hot line to support women affected by violence. It provides psychological, legal, and medical assistance. Another center (Sezim) opened in April 1998 in Bishkek with a staff of lawyers, psychologists, and doctors, and operates a crisis hot line for the public. Staff members conduct training, debates, and seminars on women's rights and family planning.
Trafficking in women and girls for the purpose of forced prostitution is a growing problem. (see Sections 6.c. and 6.f.).
The law gives equal status to women, and they are well represented in the work force, in the professions, and in institutions of higher learning. Women are prominent in law, medicine, accounting, and banking. They also play an active role in the rapidly growing nongovernment sector. Nonetheless, recently deteriorating economic conditions have had a severe effect on women, who are more likely than men to lose their jobs. It is estimated that women account for 60 percent of the unemployed. Women with children under the age of 16 account for 67 percent of unemployed women. Women make up the majority of pensioners, who have felt the negative effects of the country's economic downturn as inflation has eroded pensions, which often are paid late. Women's groups express general concern about the situation of rural women. There are approximately 100 women's advocacy NGOs operating in the country with 20 located in rural areas. With the end of communism, traditional attitudes toward women are reasserting themselves strongly in the countryside, where women are relegated to the role of wife and mother, and educational opportunities are curtailed. Data indicate that women are becoming less healthy, more abused, less represented in government, less able to work outside the home, and less able to dispose of their earnings independently.
Family law prohibits divorce during pregnancy and while a child is younger than 1 year. A special expert counsel under the State Commission on Family, Women, and Youth Issues reviewed all legislation for a gender perspective and submitted its recommendations to Parliament. The findings demonstrate that while women's rights are supported by legislation, the principle of women's equality is not always observed.
The women's advocacy NGO community is becoming increasingly organized. As a result of conferences held in 1999 an appeal was sent to the Government, Parliament, journalists, NGO's, and international organizations in support of women's rights.
The socioeconomic situation does not effectively ensure decent living conditions for all children. Basic needs for shelter, food, and clothing seldom are met. After independence vaccine-preventable diseases such as diphtheria, polio, and measles reemerged. A range of serious nutrition-related problems affects a large number of children, especially in rural areas. Traditional social safety measures are now inadequate to cope with the social pressures that affect families, and in major cities, children regularly are observed begging or selling cigarettes. There are increasing reports of abandonment due to parents' lack of resources to care for children.
Education is compulsory for the first 9 years, and the country has a 97 percent literacy rate. However, the educational system has suffered material and financial hardships, and conditions continue to deteriorate due to an acute shortage of budgetary and material resources.
Human rights groups and the Kyrgyz Children's Fund (KCF) monitor the condition of children. Human rights groups note that children who are arrested usually are denied lawyers. Police often do not notify parents of the arrest, and neither parents nor lawyers generally are present during questioning, despite laws to the contrary. Children often are intimidated into signing confessions, and sometimes are placed in cells with adult criminals to frighten them.
The KCF is concerned about the growing number of street children, many of whom have left home because of abusive or alcoholic parents. Although numbers are hard to estimate, a 1-day sweep in 1997 through Bishkek led to a count of 700 children of school age working during school hours. Such sweeps are conducted two to three times each year and about 30 to 70 children are found to be working. Similar conditions also exist in other urban centers, as well as in the countryside. The KCF has opened two shelters, one in Bishkek (for approximately 30 children) and one in Osh, to provide food, clothing, and schooling to such children. The Ak Zhol (Bon Voyage) center founded by a Dutch organization and UNICEF in 1996 was closed in August 1998, due to a lack of funds.
The forced marriage of underage girls has become more common, and the authorities often ignore this practice. Cultural traditions and social structures discourage victims from going to the authorities.
Children in rural areas commonly are called upon to pick crops as needed on their family farms.
People with Disabilities
The Government passed the Law on Social Protection of Invalids in 1991 and adopted amendments in October 1998. The amendments provide for convenient access to public transportation and parking for the disabled; subsidies for mass media sources that make their services available to the hearing or visually impaired; and free plots of land to construct a home.
Social facilities for the mentally disabled are strained severely, as budgets have fallen and workloads remain heavy. In one program facilitated by foreign volunteers, local high school students have begun to visit special institutions, such as those for the mentally disabled.
There are reported complaints of discrimination in the treatment of citizens who are not ethnic Kyrgyz. The most recent statistical data reflect the following ethnic percentages: 61.2 percent are Kyrgyz; 14.9 percent are Russians; 14.4 percent are Uzbeks; 1.1 percent are Tatars; 0.3 percent are Germans; and others are 8.1 percent. Members of the minorities allege discrimination in hiring, promotion, and housing. They complain that government officials at all levels favor ethnic Kyrgyz.
Russian-speaking Kyrgyz citizens (those who do not speak Kyrgyz) also allege that a ceiling exists in government employment that precludes their promotion beyond a certain level. The representation of ethnic Kyrgyz at senior and intermediate levels of government is disproportionately high, giving credence to perceptions that career opportunities in government are limited for those who are not ethnic Kyrgyz. There also were complaints about discrimination against non-Kyrgyz in the judicial system (see Section 1.e.).
The Constitution designates Kyrgyz as the state language, but it provides for preservation and equal and free development of Russian and other languages used in the country. In 1996 Russian also was declared, by presidential decree, an "official" language for some purposes. However, lawyers and other officials noted that no legislation referred to official languages, so the status of Russian was no clearer than previously. However, increasingly Kyrgyz is replacing Russian, and the Government has announced that by 2002 all government documents are to be in Kyrgyz. In 1997 a draft law declaring Russian an official language was declared constitutional by the Constitutional Court. However, to date, the law has been stymied in Parliament. Nevertheless, as a result of these efforts to improve the status of Russian, as well as difficult economic conditions in Russia, Russian emigration has declined significantly, with some ethnic Russians returning. University education is carried out largely in Russian (although Kyrgyz instruction is available in some departments in some universities, where textbooks are available), so that Russian-language capability remains an important skill for those who wish to pursue higher learning.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The 1992 Labor Law provides for the right of all workers to form and belong to trade unions, and there is no evidence that the Government has tried to obstruct the formation of independent unions. The Federation of Trade unions of the Kyrgyz Republic, the successor to the former official union, remains the only trade union umbrella organization in the country, although unions are not required to belong to it. The Federation forms one part of a bilateral commission, along with the Cabinet. Each year the two parties sign an agreement on "cooperation." There is one small independent union, the Union of Entrepreneurs and Small Business Workers, whose membership reached approximately 80,000. Precise numbers for the Federation's membership are not available, but it is significantly larger than other unions.
The Federation has been critical of government policies, especially privatization, and their effect on working class living standards. The Federation still regards itself as being in a process of transition, during which it is adjusting its relations with the Government, with other unions in the countries of the former Soviet Union, and with other foreign unions. Growing numbers of smaller unions are not affiliated with the umbrella organization.
The law calls for practices consistent with international standards.
While the right to strike is not codified, strikes are not prohibited. There were no retaliatory actions against strikers, nor were there instances of abuse generally directed at unions or individual workers. There were small strikes of short duration by teachers and bus drivers.
The law permits unions to form and join federations and to affiliate with international trade union bodies. Since independent unions are still in their infancy, no meaningful affiliation with international trade union bodies has taken place.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law recognizes the right of unions to negotiate for better wages and conditions. Although overall union structure and practice are changing only slowly from those of the Soviet era, there is growing evidence of active union participation in state-owned and privatized enterprises. The Government sets the minimum wage, and then each employer sets its own wage level.
The law protects union members from antiunion discrimination, and there were no recorded instances of discrimination against anyone because of union activities.
There are Free Economic Zones (FEZ's) that can be used as export processing zones. The minimum wage law does not apply to the approximately 3,000 workers in ordinary FEZ's.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory labor
The law forbids forced or compulsory labor, as well as forced or bonded labor by children, and generally it does not occur; however, women and girls are trafficked for the purpose of forced prostitution (see Section 6.f.).
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
The minimum age for employment is 18 years. Students are allowed to work up to 6 hours per day in summer or in part-time jobs from the age of 16. The law prohibits the use of child labor (under the age of 16); the Ministry of Education monitors enforcement. However, families frequently call upon their children to work to help support the family, and many children work as beggars and street vendors (see Section 5). Forced and bonded labor by children is prohibited and generally does not occur; however, girls are trafficked for the purpose of forced prostitution (see Sections 6.c. and 6.f.).
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Government mandates a national minimum wage at a level theoretically sufficient to assure a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The legal minimum wage is about $2.50 (100 soms) per month. In practice this wage is considered insufficient to ensure a decent standard of living for a worker and family, and therefore industries and employers set the actual minimum wage as a multiple of the national minimum wage. The Federation is responsible for enforcing all labor laws, including the law on minimum wages. Minimum wage regulations largely are observed. However, enforcement of labor laws is nonexistent in the growing underground economy. Market forces help wages in the unofficial sector to keep pace with official wage scales.
The standard workweek is 41 hours, usually within a 5-day week. For state-owned industries, there is a mandated 24-hour rest period in the workweek.
Safety and health conditions in factories are poor. Despite the recent improvement in economic growth, the previous deterioration in enforcement of existing regulations continued to hamper investment to improve health and safety standards. A 1992 law established occupational health and safety standards, as well as enforcement procedures. Besides government inspection teams, trade unions are assigned active roles in assuring compliance with these measures, but the previous economic deterioration in the country has made the compliance record of businesses uneven. Workers have the legal right to remove themselves from unsafe working conditions, and workers who choose not to work in an unsafe environment may find employment elsewhere. In practice refusal to work in situations with relatively high accident rates or associated chronic health problems could result in loss of employment, but only if informal methods of resolution failed.
Trafficking in Persons
Trafficking in women and girls, mostly to Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, for the purpose of forced prostitution is a growing problem. Several media articles have raised public awareness. The Ministry of Tourism and Sports monitors all reported cases of trafficking in women. However, there are reports that officials may receive bribes in exchange for forged travel documents for the women. Russian border guards operating on the Tajik border also allegedly were complicit in trafficking.
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