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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Kyrgyzstan

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Kyrgyzstan, 30 January 1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3918.html [accessed 23 July 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

 

 

The Kyrgyz Republic became an independent state in 1991. Although the 1993 Constitution defines the form of government as a democratic republic with substantial civil rights for its citizens, the President, Askar Akayev, continues to dominate the Government. First elected President by the Kyrgyzstan Supreme Soviet in 1990, he was "reelected" in a 1991 referendum in which he was unopposed. His term of office was reaffirmed in a January 1994 referendum. Following a series of presidential decrees in September, an October 22 national referendum approved constitutional amendments allowing the Constitution to be amended by future referendums and calling for the formation of a new 105-member bicameral Parliament. Parliamentary elections scheduled for December 24 were postponed until February 1995.

The Committee on National Security (KNB) has inherited much of its personnel and infrastructure from the Soviet Committee for State Security, or KGB. The KNB Chairman is a member of the Cabinet. The KNB appears to be under the full control of the Government, and it must conform its actions to the law.

The Kyrgyz Republic is a poor, very mountainous country, with a predominantly agricultural economy highly dependent on trade with the other states of the former Soviet Union. The Government is committed to establish a market economy, encourage privatization, and attract foreign investment. In 1994 it made significant progress in controlling inflation and stabilizing the currency, but industrial production and the standard of living continued to fall.

The major human rights question raised in 1994 was whether the Government was manipulating the political system to ensure its retention of power. It closed two newspapers that had criticized its policies and engineered a parliamentary boycott, at least in part to prevent investigation of government corruption and to create a more malleable legislative body. Other human rights problems include executive branch domination of the judiciary (with concomitant lack of protection against arbitrary detention and assurance of fair trial), and ethnic discrimination.

In response to the exodus of the Russian-speaking people, the President issued two decrees acknowledging that discrimination was one of the factors in their decision to leave. In the same decrees, the President postponed the adoption of Kyrgyz as the official language until the year 2005, made Russian the official language for work in technical and scientific fields, and recommitted the Government to fighting discrimination. The more than 40 percent of the population that is non-Kyrgyz welcomed this approach. Nevertheless, discrimination by ethnic Kyrgyz government officials against non-Kyrgyz citizens remained a common complaint of the Russian-speaking and Uzbek population.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

a. Political and Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of such killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances or abductions attributable to government authorities or others.

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

Local independent newspapers have run numerous stories about police brutality. In most instances, it involved police physically abusing suspects taken into custody. In the fall of 1994, over the course of 1 month, the police detained and beat two journalists. When the press questioned a government minister, he said they had been beaten not as journalists but as citizens of Kyrgyzstan.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The judicial system continues to operate under the laws and procedures of the Soviet period. The procurator's office determines who may be detained, arrested, and prosecuted. The Ministry of the Interior, the KNB, and the General Procurator's office carry out investigations. Since 1990 everyone arrested or charged with a crime has the right to defense counsel. The procurator's office responsible for the investigation often nominates the defense counsel, who is required to visit the accused within the first 3 days of initial incarceration. The old procedure, however, in which the accused had access to defense counsel only after the case comes to trial, is often followed.

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. If the procurator elects to accuse a suspect, he must immediately advise defense counsel of that decision. The accused remains in detention while the procurator investigates the case and prepares to present it to the court. At the procurator's discretion, he may keep the accused in pretrial detention for up to 1 year. Upon expiration of the year, the procurator must release the accused or ask the Parliament to extend the period of detention. Since independence, there have been no known instances in which the Supreme Soviet voted for such an extension. The procurator, not the judge, is in charge of the criminal proceedings, and thus the courts continue to be widely perceived as a rubber stamp for the procurator and not a protector of citizens' rights. In addition, judges' salaries are abysmally low, which has led to the apparently well- grounded view among the population that judges' decisions can be easily bought.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The court system remains largely unreformed since 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 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. Witnesses do not recapitulate their testimony before the court; instead they affirm or deny their statements in the procurator's files. Defendants in criminal cases are treated in a demeaning manner by being kept in cages in the courtroom.

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 General 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 accused is returned to the procurator's custody where he or she may remain under detention. The Court of Appeal may review lower court decisions irrespective of whether a party to the decision has appealed. Changes to the lower court's decision frequently result in the imposition of a more severe penalty, and almost invariably so in criminal cases.

The Government has recognized the need to reform the system. Certain Western practices, including the presumption of innocence of the accused, have been introduced. However, a deteriorating economy and a system staffed largely by officials trained during the Soviet period continued to impede reforms.

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, it is credible in individual cases.

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

The 1993 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 by law. Current law and procedures require the General Procurators's approval for wiretaps, searches of homes, interception of mail, and similar procedures.

Personnel and organizations responsible for violations during the Soviet period have remained largely in place; however, no widespread and systematic violations of the privacy of citizens were reported in 1994, but the local press often cited harassment of individuals by police on the street as a problem. Some citizens active in politics or interested in human rights believe that the privacy of their communications was violated in 1994. Credible evidence is not available.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

In 1994 the Government restricted these rights. In 1992 the Supreme Soviet passed a law which calls for freedom of the press and mass media but also provides guidelines proscribing publication of certain information. The law supports the right of journalists to obtain information, to publish without prior restraint, and to protect sources. However, it also contains provisions that the Government used to restrict press freedom. For example, the law prohibits publication of material that advocates war, violence, or intolerance toward ethnic or religious groups; desecration of national norms, ethics, and symbols like the national seal, anthem, or flag; publication of pornography; and propagation of "false information." The law also states that the press should not violate the privacy or dignity of individuals. It requires all media to register with the Ministry of Justice and to await the Ministry's approval before beginning to operate.

While a few fully independent newspapers and magazines exist in the capital, the Government continues to control the press in various ways. For example, President Akayev in July sharply criticized the press for alleged irresponsibility and proposed legal action to shut down the parliamentary newspaper Svobodniye Gory. A Bishkek court in August ordered the closing of Svobodniye Gory, which had been outspokenly critical of the President. The newspaper's August 19 edition was impounded at the government printing house. The procurator brought a suit against Svobodniye Gory for allegedly publishing "deliberately distorted information aimed at discrediting the President, circulating material which violates ethical norms, and deliberately insulting the leaders of foreign states and their symbols, thus significantly damaging the interests and integrity of the State and threatening its stability."On August 19, the President issued a decree establishing a council on the activities of the mass media. According to the government newspaper Slovo Kyrgyzstan, "the council will help journalists in their work and prevent the use of the media from causing political instability and upsetting interethnic accord and civic peace." On August 23, the Ministry of Justice ordered the state-owned printing house to stop printing the weekly newspaper Politika, which had been a frequent critic of the President and the Government. The Ministry of Justice claimed that Politika was not registered as a newspaper, although it was a supplement to the legally registered newspaper Delo, whose name appeared above Politika's masthead. Other newspapers, including government ones, print weekly supplements without having them registered separately.

The Government owns all radio and television facilities, with the exception of a television station in the capital, which runs mostly videos copied in violation of international copyright laws, and two radio stations that play music and report news. No prior restriction or censorship existed for the electronic media during the first half of 1994, but Kyrgyz television remained government controlled.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Under the 1993 Constitution, citizens have the right to assemble and associate freely and did so without government interference. Permits are required for public marches and gatherings but reportedly are routinely available. The 1991 Law on Public Organizations, which includes labor unions, political parties, and cultural associations, requires them to register with the Ministry of Justice. A bureaucratic mentality, carried over from the Soviet period, is at least partly responsible for the difficulties some organizations find in registering, although ultimately all organizations have been able to register.

c. Freedom of Religion

There are no governmental impediments to the revival and practice of all religions.

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

Government policy supports free travel within and outside Kyrgyzstan. However, certain policies imposed during the Soviet period remain in effect and continue, to varying degrees, to restrict internal migration and resettlement and impede citizens' ability to travel abroad. Under the Soviet-era law, citizens need official government permission ("propiska") to work and settle in a particular area of the country. Home and apartment owners are legally restricted to selling their property to buyers with such permission. However, this law has increasingly become irrelevant as people for economic reasons relocate within the country, freely selling their homes and businesses. There is no law on emigration. Administrative procedures permit movement of people; however, 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. This policy was instituted during the Soviet period and impedes 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.

To ease the difficulties for the members of the Russian- speaking minority to emigrate and to handle in a more systematic manner the arrival of Tajik refugees, the Government began in 1993 to negotiate agreements with both Russia and Tajikistan on management of the resettlement process and protection of migrants' rights. Issues blocking the signing of a bilateral agreement with Russia are the legal status of their respective nationalities in each other's countries, and the procedure for allowing individuals to regain their citizenship if they wish to return to Kyrgyzstan once they have emigrated to Russia.

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

Citizens have the constitutional right to effect a peaceful change of government but do not have the ability to do so. The Government has maintained its hold on power by means of two one-sided referendums, the closure of two newspapers, the manipulation of the Parliament's closure, and a series of presidential decrees.

In January President Akayev asked that the people confirm through a referendum their desire that he should complete his term of office. Few people took at face value the Government's claim that 95.94 percent of the electorate had voted and that 96.43 percent of these had cast ballots in favor of the President. Most observers attribute these percentages to overzealousness on the part of the President's circle of advisers and local officials, most of whom employed Soviet-style methods to get out the vote and to make sure it was overwhelmingly positive.

In August the President asserted that Communists had caused a political crisis by preventing the legislature from fulfilling its role. Many observers suggested, however, that the Government was motivated by a desire to squelch corruption investigations and create a more malleable Parliament. A majority of deputies boycotted the last scheduled parliamentary session and prevented a quorum, thus making it impossible for Parliament to conduct any legislative business before its term expires on February 15, 1995. Deputies made public claims of being instructed to sign a "boycott" statement. The September 7 edition of Vecherniy Bishkek quoted a number of purported "boycotters" who said that they had never signed the document attributed to them in the government press.

On September 20, the President issued a decree calling for a referendum to amend the Constitution and announcing the formation of an election commission composed of 15 people. However, Article 58 of the Constitution provides that only Parliament may create a central election commission. The commission appointed by the President consisted of 3 representatives of political parties, of whom 2 were members of parties established by the Government, and 12 persons from organizations funded or otherwise controlled by the Government.

On September 22, the President set forth by decree an outline of the structure and functions of local government organs. However, Article 93 of the Constitution provides that only laws, not decrees, can regulate the principles of the organization and activity of local government, thus placing it under the jurisdiction of the Parliament and not the President. In addition, the President proposed that local government administrative officials be eligible for election to the regional house of his newly proposed bicameral Parliament, despite the Constitution's ban on parliamentary membership for such officials. The decree also called for elections to local government organs to take place on October 22, although the election districts had not yet been announced or the candidates nominated.

On September 23, a presidential decree set October 22 as the date for a national referendum, proposing two amendments to the Constitution. One amendment stipulated that the Constitution could be changed by means of a referendum (the Constitution at that time did not allow this). The other amendment provided for a bicameral parliament, in which one house would have 35 permanently sitting members, the "lawmaking" house, while the other would have 70 members convened periodically to approve the budget and confirm presidential appointees. The decree provided that, based on the results of the referendum, the future parliament would make "the appropriate changes and additions" to five sections of the Constitution. The referendum contravened the procedures set forth in Article 96 of the Constitution, which provide clear guidelines for amending the Constitution. Both referendum questions were approved by over 80 percent of the votes cast. The election commission reported an 86-percent voter turnout.

Russian speakers also allege that a "ceiling" exists in government employment which precludes their promotion beyond a certain level. The representation of ethnic Kyrgyz at high and intermediate levels of government is proportionally much greater than the percentage of ethnic Kyrgyz in the general population. Russian speakers have been replaced in many positions in government, industry, and education by ethnic Kyrgyz. This gives credence to perceptions that career opportunities are limited for those who are not ethnic Kyrgyz.

There are no laws that restrict women or minorities from participating in politics or government, and recently a women's party was registered in Kyrgyzstan. However, out of the 22 ministries and state committees, ethnic Kyrgyz men head all but 3; only 1 is headed by a woman.

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. There are two human rights groups, the Kyrgyz-American Human Rights Bureau and the Human Rights Organization. The former has publicly criticized the Government's violation of the Constitution. In addition, in connection with the independent newspaper, Delo No, it has publicly taken up the causes of those who appear to have suffered injustices at the hands of the police.

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. Articles 15 to 20 of the Constitution protect the rights and freedom of individuals and prohibit discrimination, including on the basis of language. In an estimated population of 4.46 million, some 56.5 percent are Kyrgyz, 18.8 percent Russians, 13.5 percent Uzbeks, and the rest 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 are still seen only in the role of homemaker, mother, and wife. The press often reports abuse and violence against women, which is usually associated with abuse of alcohol. Normal law enforcement procedures are used in cases of domestic violence. The Government has not established programs to address these issues.

Children

In April Parliament ratified the U.N. Convention on Children. Since Parliament did not convene in the fall, it did not adopt local laws to bring Kyrgyzstan into compliance with the U.N. Convention. Authorities continue to rely on former Soviet law in this sphere. There is no monitoring of children's rights in Kyrgyzstan. Children in rural areas are commonly used to pick crops.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Reported complaints of discrimination center on the treatment of citizens who are not ethnic Kyrgyz. These groups, which make up over 40 percent of the population, are often called the Russian-speaking minority. Members of this minority allege discrimination in hiring, promotion, and housing. They complain that government officials at all levels favored ethnic Kyrgyz.

The 1993 Constitution designates Kyrgyz as the official language but provides for the preservation and equal and free development of Russian and other languages used in the country. 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 limited instruction is available. In general, adults who do not speak the language do not demand Kyrgyz-language instruction. On June 14, President Akayev issued a decree designed to protect the rights of the Russian- speaking minority and thereby reduce the outflow of Russian speakers. The decree states that the exodus of Russians from the country is caused by social and political reasons--ethnic hostility and job discrimination--and is hurting the national economy. The decree stipulates that the Russian language will have official status alongside Kyrgyz in regions and at enterprises where Russian speakers constitute a majority, as well as in sectors, such as health services and technical sciences, where use of Russian is particularly appropriate. It also provides for the fair representation of the Russian-speaking population in the national Government, local state administration, and on the boards of state organs and enterprises.

People with Disabilities

There is no special law to protect disabled individuals, nor any law mandating accessibility. Former Soviet law continues to remain the basis for any resolution of complaints. Government officials are inattentive to the issue, partly due to the difficult economic situation and the state of the budget.

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 tried to obstruct the formation of independent unions. However, the Federation of Trade Unions of the Kyrgyz Republic, successor to the former official union, remains the sole trade union umbrella organization in the country. The same leaders are in charge, managing the State's social fund and retaining the possession of its previously held properties, as well as some of the resorts and sanatoriums financed by the official Soviet trade union council.

In 1994 the Federation continued to be critical of government policies, especially its policy of privatization, and their impact on working class living standards. Nevertheless, the Federation still regards itself as in a process of transition in which it is adjusting its relations with the Government, with other unions in the former Soviet Union, and with unions abroad. The Federation remains affiliated to 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 the Federation and claim a total membership of 1.4 million. The exception is the growing Union of Entrepreneurs and Cooperative Members, which as of October claimed a membership of 100,000.

While the right to strike is not codified, strikes are not prohibited. In 1994 there were no strikes. The threat of a strike by miners in the south was sufficient to induce the Government to address the group's concerns. There were no retaliatory actions against this group, nor were there instances of human rights abuses directed at unions or individual workers.

The law permits unions to form and join federations and to affiliate with international trade union bodies. The Labor Law calls for practices consistent with international standards. 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 remain relatively unchanged since the Soviet era, there is growing evidence of active union participation in state-owned and privatized enterprises. However, the Government sets wage levels by decree in most sectors of the economy, although many state-owned factories have introduced systems of bonuses and other incentives in keeping with the Government's commitment to develop a market economy. In the private sector, employers set their own wage levels.

The law protects union members from antiunion discrimination, and there were no recorded instances of discrimination against anyone because of union activities in 1994. However, because the old management and labor leadership continues to dominate the labor movement, anyone who wishes to form an independent union faces formidable obstacles. This, along with a deteriorating economy, may discourage independent union activity. According to Federation officials, in the course of the privatization process the workers of some enterprises, possibly under pressure from management, dissolved their primary trade union organizations. The Federation also cited one example in which the organization charter of a newly privatized entity precluded its workers from engaging in union activities. There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law forbids forced or compulsory labor, and it is not known to occur.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

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 age 16); the Ministry of Education monitors enforcement. However, families frequently call upon their children to work to help support the family.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Government sets a national, legally mandated minimum wage at a level theoretically sufficient to provide minimal subsistence. As of December 15, the minimum wage was about $6.00 (68 soms) per month. In practice, even the higher median wage is considered insufficient to assure a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The Federation is responsible for enforcing all labor laws, including the Law on Minimum Wages. As the Government provides the overwhelming proportion of employment, minimum wage regulations are largely 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 mandatory 24-hour rest period in the workweek.

Safety and health conditions in factories are poor. The deteriorating economy hindered enforcement of existing regulations and prevented investment to improve health and safety standards. The April 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 once again the rapidly deteriorating economic situation in the country has made the compliance record of businesses spotty.

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