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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Kyrgyzstan

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Kyrgyzstan, 30 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4e1a.html [accessed 16 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
KYRGYZ REPUBLIC

 

A former republic of the Soviet Union, the Kyrgyz Republic (Kyrgyzstan), became an independent nation on August 31, 1991. The Jogorku Kenesh (Parliament) by unanimous vote adopted a new Constitution on May 5, 1993, defining Kyrgyzstan as a unitary democratic republic founded on secular principles and providing substantial guarantees of the civil rights of its citizens. The Constitution provides for a government with three branches (legislative, executive, and judicial) presided over by a President who is the Head of State. Governmental institutions are in a transitional state as several constitutional provisions have not gone into effect, pending legislative elections scheduled for 1995 and presidential elections for 1996. In addition, Kyrgyzstan's legal and judicial systems remain essentially unchanged from the Soviet period, although at the end of 1993 the Government began a process of legal and judicial reform.

Although the Constitution changed the name of the legislature from Supreme Soviet to Jogorku Kenesh, members elected during the Soviet period continued to dominate this 350-member body. A reformer, Askar Akayev, was originally chosen as president by the Supreme Soviet of Kyrgyzstan in 1990. In October 1991, he was popularly reelected in a referendum-style election; he ran unopposed.

The Committee on National Security (KNB) has inherited much of its personnel and infrastructure from the old Soviet Committee for State Security, or KGB. The KNB chairman is a member of the Cabinet. Unlike during the Soviet era, the KNB's actions must conform to Kyrgyzstan's laws. The KNB appears to be under the full control of the Government.

The predominantly agricultural economy is highly dependent on trade with the rest of the former Soviet Union. The Government remains firmly committed to the development of a market economy, with favorable laws on privatization, joint ventures, and foreign trade and investment. With International Monetary Fund support, the Government introduced a new currency, the som, in May in order to stabilize the economy, avoid the inflation of the ruble, and attract foreign investment. Since then, the currency has proved fairly stable, and monthly inflation slowed from 40 percent to 10 percent. Foreign investment reached $400 million by midyear. However, industrial production continued to fall, and unemployment grew.

The Government continued to express strong support for human rights, including freedom of the press, democracy, and the rule of law, and in general respected them in practice. However, concerns continued to be raised about government policy toward non-Kyrgyz ethnic minorities. In 1993 increasing domination by ethnic Kyrgyz of government, education, and other institutions and a language policy that favored official use of the Kyrgyz language created insecurity among members of ethnic minorities, primarily Russian speakers, and caused their members to emigrate in large numbers. In addition, Kyrgyzstan's legal and judicial systems remain essentially unchanged from the Soviet period.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Extrajudicial Killing

No reports of such killings by government authorities or others are known to have occurred.

b. Disappearance

There were no incidents of disappearance or abduction attributable to government authorities or others.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment is not known to have occurred.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

For the most part, Kyrgyzstan's legal system continues to operate under the laws and procedures that prevailed during the Soviet period. The procurator determines who may be detained, arrested, and prosecuted and must approve all warrants. The Ministry of the Interior, the Committee on National Security, and the General Procurator's office carry out investigations. A person arrested or charged with a crime has the immediate right to defense counsel. However, in practice the accused often has access to defense counsel only after the case comes to trial.

The Criminal Code permits the procurator to detain a suspect for up to 72 hours before releasing him or informing him of the crime he is suspected of having committed. The accused remains in detention while the procurator investigates the case and prepares to present it to the court. Under Kyrgyz law, family members and lawyers involved in the case have access to the detainee. At the procurator's discretion, the accused may be kept in pretrial detention for up to 1 year. After the year has elapsed, the procurator must release the accused or ask the legislature to extend the period of detention. Since independence, there have been no known instances in which the legislature voted for such an extension. There is provision for bail, except for detainees under investigation for serious or violent crimes.

According to official government accounts, approximately 1-2 percent of the prison population are pretrial detainees. However, nongovernmental sources believe that a more accurate number is 10-15 percent. In addition, these same sources claim that it is common practice for the police to hold people for a short period while making initial inquiries into the case before either officially charging the suspects or releasing them.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The court system remains largely unreformed from the Soviet period. Once the procurator is ready, he brings the case of the accused to court and tries it before a judge and two people's assessors (pensioners or citizens chosen from labor collectives). The accused and defense counsel have the right of 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. The court may render one of three decisions: innocent, guilty, or indeterminate (i.e., the case is returned to the procurator for further investigation). Both the defendant and the procurator may appeal the verdict to the next higher court or to the procurator's office. However, the decision of a court to return a case to the procurator for further investigation may not be appealed, and the court returns the accused to the procurator's custody where he or she may remain under detention.

The Government has recognized the need to reform the legal and judicial systems it inherited from the Soviet period. The reform of the judicial system is still evolving. The Constitution establishes the judiciary as a separate branch of the Government. During the interim period, however, the courts remain under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice. The General Procurator's office has introduced the principle of the presumption of innocence of the accused. However, a deteriorating economy and a system staffed largely by officials trained during the Soviet period continued to impede reforms.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The new Constitution prohibits unlawful entry into a home and states that a person's private life, privacy of correspondence, and telephonic and telegraphic communications are protected by law. Current law and procedures require that the police, the KNB, and the Procurator's Investigation Bureau obtain the General Procurator's approval for wiretaps, searches of homes, interception of mail, and similar procedures.

Those personnel and organizations responsible for violations of the right to privacy during the Soviet period have remained largely in place; however, no widespread and systematic violations were reported in 1993. Some citizens active in politics or interested in human rights believe that the privacy of their communications was violated in 1993. Credible evidence to this effect is not available.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Supreme Soviet in 1992 passed a law on the press and mass media which establishes freedom of the press but also provides guidelines proscribing publication of certain information. The law supports the right of journalists to work, obtain information, and publish without prior restraint. It also guarantees a journalist's right to protect his or her sources. The law prohibits publication of material that advocates war, violence, or intolerance toward ethnic or religious groups. The law prohibits material advocating the overthrow of the constitutional order. Desecration of national symbols like the national seal, anthem, or flag is prohibited. Publication of pornography is prohibited, as is propagation of false information.

The law states that the press should not violate the privacy or dignity of individuals. President Akayev opposed a law that would have prohibited insulting the dignity of the President, and the Supreme Soviet did not pass it. The law requires all media to register with the Ministry of Justice and to await the Ministry's approval before beginning to operate. Since the law was passed, there have been no reports that the Ministry refused to register a publication or used the law in any prosecutions.

During 1993 the press was free to publish material without prior government approval or restraint and was frequently critical of the President and the Government. In August the Ministry of Justice attempted to initiate a process whereby press material would have to be screened for classified information prior to its publication. The press harshly criticized these efforts as a return to censorship. The Vice President, acting in the President's absence, quickly issued a government decree reversing the initial steps taken by the Ministry of Justice and reaffirming the freedom of the press. Similarly, no prior restriction or censorship existed for the electronic media or cinemas.

However, the Government owns all but one of the radio and television facilities, and Kyrgyz television remained tightly controlled. While a few fully independent newspapers and magazines existed, the Government continued to exert varying degrees of influence over most other publications. Independent publishers said they were disadvantaged because they paid higher prices for materials and did not have some of the resources available to the government-owned media, such as office space. Government involvement in and ownership of much of the media raised concerns among journalists about pressure to self-censor. It is likely that in some cases writers for government-supported newspapers engage in self-censorship.

In September a government press service statement accused a local ethnic Russian journalist working for the Russian television network Ostankino of negative reporting about Kyrgyzstan and concluded that it was unacceptable that "a foreign journalist insult the dignity of the people of the country of his temporary habitation." The journalist, however, was born in the capital, Bishkek, has lived in Kyrgyzstan for the past 30 years, and is a Kyrgyz citizen. He appeared before the procurator on September 15 but was not charged. The local Russian-language press sharply criticized the Government statement for attempting to portray the journalist as a foreigner. In addition, the press pointed out that it was the journalist's highlighting of the negative side of life in Kyrgyzstan that government officials resented and tried to suppress. President Akayev made a public defense of the journalist and criticized those officials for their handling of the case. The government press service defended its position but also assured the media that the criticism of the journalist had no implications for the media as a whole.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Under the new Constitution, citizens have the right to assemble and associate freely, and they did so in 1993 without government interference. Permits were required for public marches and gatherings, but there were no reports that they were denied arbitrarily.

The 1991 law requires all public organizations, including labor unions, political parties, and cultural associations, to register with the Ministry of Justice. In attempting to register, some organizations have encountered bureaucratic obstacles of the kind prevalent during the Soviet period, but ultimately all organizations have been able to register. However, charges that interpretation of the law on public organizations was not evenhanded were credible. An organization of Cossacks applied three times before it was registered as a cultural and economic organization. According to the Cossacks, the Kyrgyz bureaucracy resisted registering them on the grounds that they had no historical ties or connections to Kyrgyzstan. The Cossacks also claim that they are still periodically called into the Ministry of Justice to defend their status as a legitimate social organization. The Ministry of Justice, on the other hand, claims that the initial version of the Cossack's charter contained a number of clauses referring to it as a paramilitary institution.

c. Freedom of Religion

There are no governmental impediments to the practice and revival of all faiths in Kyrgyzstan. Missionaries and evangelists are not restricted. All have access to facilities and are free to proselytize. For the first time, a Roman Catholic church opened in Bishkek. Members of the Jewish community have complete freedom to teach Hebrew and practice their faith. Construction of mosques has accelerated.

The President and his ministers profess commitment to a secular government, with no official ties to any religion. However, the preamble of the draft constitution which the President supported referred to Kyrgyzstan's commitment to the "moral principles, national traditions, and spiritual values of Islam." Government spokesmen explained that this phrase was intended only to awaken moral and spiritual values long suppressed under Soviet rule. Nevertheless, this language raised concerns among members of other faiths and among those committed to a complete separation of religion from the State. At the end of 1992, the Supreme Soviet voted to include a modified reference to "Islam and other religions" in the preamble and adopted the new Constitution in 1993 with this change.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Government stated its support for freedom of travel within and outside Kyrgyzstan. However, certain policies imposed during the Soviet period continue to restrict internal migration and resettlement and impede citizens' ability to travel abroad.

The Parliament passed a law in 1993 on citizenship removing registration requirements for residence. However, in practice citizens of Kyrgyzstan need official government permission ("propiska" or residence permit) to work and settle in Bishkek. Continued use of this law restricts freedom of internal movement. Home and apartment owners are legally restricted to selling their property to buyers with such permission. In addition, members of minority nationalities accused the Government of partiality toward ethnic Kyrgyz while continuing to restrict the internal movement of those belonging to other ethnic groups. They cite the case of ethnic Kyrgyz squatters who continue to live in Bishkek without official permission and received government help to construct housing.

Kyrgyzstan does not have a law on emigration. The administrative procedures used in 1993 permitted freedom of emigration without any evidence of discrimination. Citizens who apply for international passports must present a letter of invitation from the country they intend to visit or to which they intend to emigrate. Instituted during the Soviet period, this policy impedes free and unrestricted foreign travel. There were no reports, however, that citizens, after presenting such a letter, were denied a passport or an exit visa. Emigrants reportedly were not prevented from returning to Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan has drafted an agreement with Russia to ease emigration for the members of the Russian-speaking minority. The draft presumes that resettlement is voluntary and provides for the establishment of migration services in Kyrgyzstan and Russia in order to facilitate a more orderly transition for the migrants. The agreement is expected to be signed in the first half of 1994. In 1993 approximately 24,000 people immigrated to Kyrgyzstan, and 135,000 emigrated from it.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The ability of citizens to effect a peaceful, democratic change of government remains untested. Most of the 350 members of Parliament were elected in 1990 when the first multiple- candidate elections were held. However, the Communist Party, with its monopoly on power still intact, manipulated the elections to ensure the victory of candidates it favored. New elections for the Parliament are scheduled for 1995. Askar Akayev was elected President by the Supreme Soviet in 1990 and, running unopposed, was reelected by popular ballot in 1991. As President, he may issue decrees that are binding unless abrogated by a vote of at least two-thirds of Parliament. New presidential elections are scheduled for 1996.

In 1993 women occupied several high-level government positions, including those of Chairman of the Constitutional Court, Ambassador to the United States, and Minister of Education.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The Government does not restrict the activities of local human rights monitors or the delegations and representatives of international and nongovernmental human rights groups that visit Kyrgyzstan. For example, the Human Rights Movement of Kyrgyzstan was registered by the Ministry of Justice in 1991. It focuses on the activities of law enforcement and security agencies as well as alleged cases of discrimination in the workplace based on ethnicity. The Kyrgyz-American Bureau on Human Rights and Law Protection registered with the Ministry of Justice in December. The Bureau states that its goal is to bring to the world's attention the human rights situation in Kyrgyzstan.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Government expresses strong commitment to protecting the rights of members of all ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups as well as those of women. In a total population of 4 1/2 million, some 52 percent are Kyrgyz, 22 percent Russians, 13 percent Uzbeks, and the remainder include Ukrainians, Tajiks, Kazakhs, and others.

Women

The law gives equal status to women in Kyrgyzstan, and women are well represented in the work force, professions, and institutions of higher learning. In rural areas, women still seem limited to the roles of homemaker, mother, and wife. The press often reports abuse and violence against women which is frequently associated with abuse of alcohol. Normal law enforcement procedures are used in cases of domestic violence. The Government has not initiated special programs to address these issues but is discussing possible measures. In Bishkek, there is a Women's Congress, which is headed by the current head of the Constitutional Court, a woman. The Congress meets periodically ro consider women's issues.

Children

The Government adopted in 1993 two laws, the Law on Education and the Conception of the Youth, which address children's rights. On the basis of these two laws, the Government is in the process of working out a comprehensive legislative packet on the rights and welfare of youth in the Kyrgyz Republic.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Complaints of discrimination center on the treatment of citizens who are not ethnic Kyrgyz. This group, which makes up over 40 percent of the population of Kyrgyzstan, is often called the Russian-speaking minority, although Russian-speaking Uzbeks comprise about 13 percent of the total population. Members of this group alleged discrimination in hiring, promotion, and housing. They complained that government officials at all levels favored ethnic Kyrgyz.

Russian speakers pointed to ethnic Kyrgyz squatters in Bishkek who occupied land and were later given government aid to build houses. They cited this as an example of a policy that favored ethnic Kyrgyz at the expense of other groups, in that the authorities provided direct financial assistance and allowed the squatters to bypass the "propiska" system. Russian speakers also alleged that a "ceiling" existed in government employment that precluded their promotion beyond a certain level. The percentage of ethnic Kyrgyz at high and intermediate levels of government is much greater than the percentage of ethnic Kyrgyz in the general population. Ethnic Kyrgyz have replaced Russian speakers in many positions in government, industry, and education, and this development gives credence to perceptions that career opportunities are limited for those who are not ethnic Kyrgyz.

The appointment of ethnic Kyrgyz to key positions in the judicial system has led to charges by non-Kyrgyz citizens that the system is arbitrary and unfair and that the courts treat Kyrgyz more leniently than members of other groups. Although there is no evidence of systematic discrimination, it may have occurred in individual cases.

The 1993 Constitution designated Kyrgyz as the official language and stated that Russian and other languages used in the country were guaranteed preservation and equal and free development. However, many Russian speakers, particularly ethnic Russians and Ukrainians, still feel disadvantaged because they cannot speak Kyrgyz. They have called on the Government to adopt a policy of bilingualism. The Government has not established a universally available program of Kyrgyz instruction for adult non-Kyrgyz speakers, although some instruction is available. In general, adults who did not speak the language did not demand Kyrgyz-language instruction. Currently, both Russian and Kyrgyz are used in industry, education, and the courts. Most ethnic Russians favor giving Russian equal status with Kyrgyz as national languages in the Constitution.

People with Disabilities

Handicapped persons are not openly discriminated against, but the current harsh economic conditions limit the Government's ability to provide equal opportunity for individuals with handicaps. Parliament in April 1991 adopted the Law on Social Protection of the Disabled, which provides for accessibility for the handicapped, but lack of funds makes implementation of this law a low priority.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The law adopted in February 1992 includes provisions protecting the rights of all workers to form and belong to trade unions. The law requires a minimum of five workers to form a union. There is no evidence that government policy tried to obstruct the formation of independent unions. However, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Kyrgyzstan (FITUK), successor to the former official union, remains the sole trade union umbrella organization, has the same leadership, continues to manage the State's social fund, and retains possession of its previously held properties. The employer automatically deducts dues from employees' paychecks, which are then transferred to the trade union's account. It professes to be transforming itself from a passive recipient of orders from Moscow during the Soviet period into a genuine defender of working people. In 1993 FITUK was very critical of government policies and their impact on the workers' standard of living. Nevertheless, FITUK regards itself still as in a process of transition in which it is working out its relations with the Government, with the unions in other former republics of the Soviet Union, and with unions abroad. It remains affiliated with the Moscow-based General Confederation of Trade Unions, which succeeded the Soviet-era All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions.

Nineteen of Kyrgyzstan's 20 union organizations are affiliated with FITUK with a claimed membership of 1.5 million. The exception is the growing Union of Entrepreneurs and Cooperative Members which as of October 1993 claimed a membership of 50,000. FITUK does not coordinate with the Union of Entrepreneurs and Cooperative Members.

While the right to strike is not codified, strikes are not prohibited. In 1993 there were no strikes by workers' unions. However, the threat of strikes by teachers, miners, and medical workers was sufficient to induce the Government to address these labor groups' respective concerns by raising salaries. There were no retaliatory actions against these groups, nor were there instances of human rights abuses directed at unions or individual workers.

Unions are legally permitted to form and join federations and to affiliate with international trade union bodies. The new labor law called for practices consistent with international standards. Since independent unions were still in their infancy, no meaningful affiliation with international trade union bodies took place.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

A law passed in April 1992 recognizes the right of unions to negotiate for better wages and conditions. Although overall union structure and practice remain consistent with the Soviet experience, there is growing evidence of active union participation in state-owned and privatized enterprises. In the second half of 1993, leaders of the official trade unions actively criticized the President and the Government for the economic crisis and the resulting drop in the standard of living for workers. In most sectors of the economy, the Government continued to set wage levels by decree, although many factories have begun systems of bonuses and other incentives in keeping with the Government's commitment to develop a market economy. The Government has no influence in setting wages in the private sector, where wages offered by employers are considerably higher than those paid in the public sector.

Union members are protected by law from antiunion discrimination, and there were no recorded instances of discrimination against anyone because of union activities in 1993. However, because the old management/labor leadership continues to dominate the labor movement, those who wished to form an independent union faced formidable obstacles. This situation, along with a deteriorating economy, may have discouraged independent union activity.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Forced or compulsory labor is forbidden by law and does not occur.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age for employment is 18. 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 16). The police are responsible for enforcing the law; the Ministry of Education monitors enforcement. Restrictions on the use of child labor were largely observed. However, the law is violated on occasion by small family businesses and more frequently by family farms.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Government sets a national, legally mandated minimum wage at a level that theoretically provides for minimal subsistence. The minimum wage at present is $3.50, or 32 soms per month. After January 1, 1994, it will be $5, or 45 soms per month. In practice, even the higher median wage is considered insufficient to assure a decent standard of living for a worker and a family. The FITUK is responsible for enforcing all labor laws, including the law on the minimum wage. As the Government provided the overwhelming proportion of employment, minimum wage regulations were largely observed. However, enforcement of labor laws was nonexistent in the growing underground economy. Nevertheless, market forces helped wages in the unofficial sector keep pace with official wage scales.

The standard workweek is 41 hours, usually within a 5-day week. For state industries, there is a mandatory 24-hour rest period within the workweek. Small private and family businesses set their own hours.

The April 1992 law established occupational health and safety standards as well as enforcement procedures. Safety and health conditions in factories are far behind international standards. The deteriorating economy hindered enforcement of existing regulations and prevented investment to improve health and safety standards. Besides government inspection teams, trade unions are assigned active roles in assuring compliance with these measures.

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