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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Kyrgyzstan

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1998
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Kyrgyzstan, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa5024.html [accessed 22 December 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.

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.

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, dominates the government. Akayev was reelected in December 1995 in an open, multicandidate presidential election, which was marred, however, by deregistration of three rival candidates immediately prior to the vote. Also in 1995, a new, two-chamber Parliament was elected for a 5-year term. The Constitution was amended by referendum in February 1996 to strengthen substantially the presidency and define the role of Parliament. However, the referendum was marred by serious irregularities. In 1995 a Constitutional Court was sworn in, and a reform program was implemented to improve the quality of the judiciary in 1996. While Parliament has become increasingly active, the balance of power resides in the office of the President. The judiciary is dominated by the executive branch.

Law enforcement responsibilities are divided between 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 personnel and infrastructure from their Soviet predecessors. Both appear to be under the full control of the Government and usually conform their actions to the law. Kyrgyzstani borders are manned by Russian border troops under an agreement with the Russian Federation. The Government has little authority over these troops, who sometimes enforce their own rules rather than Kyrgyzstani law.

The Kyrgyz Republic is a poor, mountainous country with a predominantly agricultural economy. Cotton, wool, and meat are the main agricultural products and exports. Other exports include gold, mercury, antimony, uranium, and hydroelectricity. The Government has carried out progressive market reforms. The moderate growth apparent in most sectors has increased, and economic reform is now accepted by the general public. However, the level of hardship for pensioners, unemployed workers, and government workers with salary arrearages continues to be very high. Foreign assistance plays a significant role in the country's budget.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens in many areas, but there were problems with citizens' limited ability to change their government, freedom of speech and the press, due process for the accused, religious freedom, and ethnic discrimination. Prison conditions remained poor. As in the past, but with increasing frequency, journalists were tried, arrested, and convicted under criminal rather than civil statutes for libeling government officials or other prominent citizens. However, in a number of cases journalists received reduced sentences on appeal or by pardon. At year's end, a journalist who previously was serving a sentence under criminal libel had been amnestied, but eight other cases were announced by the President's press secretary as pending. In a number of cases, the accused were held for months without bail before their trials. The Constitution was amended illegally in a 1996 referendum marred by irregularities. In general executive domination of the judiciary made assurances of due process problematic. Local village elders' courts levied harsh sentences beyond their mandate, but abuses such as torture and death sentences by stoning apparently have abated. Although sanctioned by the Government, elders' courts are not part of the regular judicial structure, and the Government has made efforts to curtail their activities. The Government does not fully protect freedom of religion. Concerns about ethnic discrimination remain, but in general, the situation of minorities has improved and emigration rates have stabilized at a low level. Violence against women is a problem that authorities often ignore. There is a growing number of street children.

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.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The Constitution prohibits such practices. There were credible reports of police brutality but these could not be substantiated. There are credible reports of police violence against detained suspects, a holdover from the Soviet era.

Prison conditions (including food shortages and lack of heat and other necessities) are poor, but not so bad as to constitute cruelty. Those detained by the MNB, rather than the MVD are kept in an MNB facility; after conviction, they go to a regular prison.

Procedures for prison visits are not well established. In principle visitors are seldom permitted. However, some citizens, including local human rights activists, claim that they usually can obtain official permission for a visit through personal connections with the MVD. The Criminal Procedure Code of 1994 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.

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. The prosecutor's office determines who may be detained, arrested, and prosecuted. The Interior Ministry, the MNB, and the General Procurator carry out investigations. Since 1990 persons arrested or charged with crimes have the right to defense counsel. The prosecutor's office responsible for the investigation often nominates the defense counsel, who is required to visit the accused within the first 3 days of incarceration. However, sometimes the accused first sees defense counsel only at the trial.

The Criminal Code permits the procurator to detain suspects for 72 hours before releasing them or accusing them of 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 prosecutor investigates and prepares the case for presentation in court. The prosecutor 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.

Two days before the 1995 presidential elections, the campaign chairman of an opposition candidate, as well as a campaign worker, were arrested while campaigning. The two were charged with libeling the President by handing out leaflets saying that President Akayev was ethnically Kazakh. The accused and their colleagues denied having any leaflets. The two men were detained without bail (even though bail is usually available in cases of non-violent crimes) for 4 months and were allowed no visitors other than spouses or attorneys. In April 1996, they were convicted of libel and sentenced to 1-year suspended sentences. A third person was arrested in February 1996 on similar charges and held without bail until his conviction in July 1996, at which time he was also given a 1-year suspended sentence.

The government does not employ forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, the court system remains largely unreformed, and the executive branch dominates 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 the case 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 prosecutor. They attend all proceedings, which are generally public, and are allowed to question witnesses and present evidence. In fact nearly anyone in the courtroom may be allowed to question witnesses. Witnesses do not always recapitulate their evidence in court; instead they affirm or deny their statements in the prosecutor's files. Defendants in criminal cases are sometimes 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. In May 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 the accused are returned to the procurator's custody, where they may remain under detention.

The procurator, not the judge, is in charge of criminal proceedings. Thus, the courts are widely perceived as a rubber stamp for the prosecutor and for high-ranking government officials, and not as 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.

In the past, local elders' courts have exceeded their authority by trying major crimes, using torture to extract confessions, or even levying capital punishment. While there were no reports of abuses this year, many of the elders' courts are located in remote regions, making monitoring and supervision by prosecutors' offices extremely difficult. It is unlikely that these courts receive proper oversight.

The Government has begun to reform the judicial system. 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. A new system of court administration is being instituted, and sitting judges are being tested on their knowledge of the law and new civil codes. If they fail these tests, they are removed from 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 dismissals, however, appear to have been subjective, but most lawyers and judges consider the system to be a fair measure of competence. In what may be an indication of growing judicial independence, the Constitutional Court ruled in November 1996 that the speaker of the legislative lower house had been unconstitutionally elected, since mandated parliamentary procedure had not been followed. The legislature accepted the Court's ruling and elected a new speaker.

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 some cases. There are also complaints, by Uzbeks and even by ethnic Kyrgyz, that the south is underrepresented in the judiciary.

Economic crimes such as tax evasion, embezzlement, or theft of government property are common. Prosecution for these crimes, however, is relatively rare, and sometimes appears to be directed at opponents of the Government. Legislators have used their parliamentary immunity to avoid being brought to court.

Many observers consider opposition activist Topchubek Turgunaliyev to be a political prisoner. On January 8, Turgunaliyev was convicted of embezzlement, fraud, and abuse of position, stemming from his service as a university rector in 1994. (Turgunaliyev was also convicted in April 1996 of defaming President Akayev and received a 1-year suspended sentence.) He was arrested in December 1996 after organizing a demonstration in Bishkek to protest high unemployment and nonpayment of pensions. The charges on which he was convicted had been brought previously, but dismissed for lack of evidence. The timing of the case, the lack of new evidence, and the disproportionately severe sentence (for alleged embezzlement of $10,000) suggested that the prosecution was politically motivated. Turgunaliyev was serving his4-year (reduced from 10-year) sentence in internal exile at a penal colony in a remote region of Jalalabad oblast, but was released in November and is now residing at his home in Bishkek on parole, required to report to government authorities once a month.

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 may first carry out a search and then get approval within 24 hours. If approval is not given, any evidence seized is inadmissible in court.

Personnel and organizations responsible for violations during the Soviet period have remained largely in place; however, no widespread or systematic violations of the privacy of citizens were reported. There were concerns by citizens active in politics or human rights issues that the privacy of their communications was violated, but evidence is not available.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

On December 6, President Akayev vetoed a new draft media law, which would have further restricted journalistic freedom. His action leaves in effect a 1992 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, such as the national seal, anthem, or flag; publication of pornography; and publication of false information. The law also states that the press should not violate the privacy, honor, 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. The Ministry has ruled that foreign entities are not entitled to register. An amendment to the Constitution makes the dignity of presidents or former presidents inviolable.

Criminal libel is not a private action. As a criminal charge, such an action must have, at the least, the consent of a prosecutor's office. At times other government agencies appear to have been involved in specific cases of criminal libel.

There are approximately 40 to 50 independent newspapers and magazines, including some with local, not national, standing. There are also a few hours daily of independent television broadcasting and some independent radio stations. However, state television and radio and government newspapers receive government subsidies, which permit the Government to influence media coverage. Additionally, the state printing house, Uchlan, is the only place to print newspapers. Thus, the Government could be in a position to control or pressure even the independent newspapers.

Two print journalists were barred from practicing their profession in 1995 libel convictions. One has returned to journalism (although the conviction for criminal libel has not been overturned), but the other has not. The conviction of two campaign workers and one journalist for criminal defamation of the President during the election campaign of 1995 emphasized the limits to freedom of speech. These persons were given 1-year suspended sentences in 1996, then released (see Section l.d.). On September 29, the journalist Yrysbek Omurzakov was sentenced to 30 months in a penal colony for criminal libel against a prominent industrialist. At year's end, this case remained under appeal. Also on September 29, the President's press secretary announced eight new cases of criminal libel against an opposition newspaper Asaba. An Osh newspaper was also threatened with court action in late September for insulting the honor and dignity of the police in alleged cases of drug corruption.

A vaguely worded new Criminal Code was passed by Parliament and signed by President Akayev in June. It will take effect on January 1, 1998 and could potentially be used to prosecute journalists for criticizing government officials. The existing code was used this year to convict journalists of criminal libel. In November President Akayev publicly requested his legal department to draft an amendment to the Criminal Code transferring libel and slander to the Civil Code.

The editor of an opposition newspaper has arranged on five separate occasions to rent space in Bishkek to reestablish his newspaper, which had been suspended by government action. On each occasion, the deal fell through after potential landlords received warnings by telephone from government officials.

Officials from the MNB (the KGB successor organization) have repeatedly contacted editors to discourage unacceptable types of coverage. Although the Government's treatment of journalists occasionally has been heavyhanded, journalistic standards and ethics remain uneven. For example it is not uncommon for newspaper articles to be inaccurate or to contain potentially libelous language. However, the number of criminal libel cases increased this year.

In January and February, one newspaper, Kattama, was closed for allegedly publishing pornography. Although regulations on pornography are not clear, this case does not appear to have been politically motivated. Another newspaper, Kriminal, was closed after one edition for alleged violations of the mass media law. The edition had been extremely critical of the President and his wife, the Prime Minister, and other government officials. In May the journalists Zamira Sydykova and A. Alyanchikov were sentenced to 18 months in prison for criminal libel against a prominent industrialist. In August Sydykova was released after her appeal reduced the sentence to the time she had already served. She is continuing her journalist activities. Two other journalists were fined and forbidden to practice journalism; they were subsequently acquitted on appeal.

Academic freedom is respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Under the Constitution, citizens have the right to assemble freely and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

The Constitution provides for the right of association, and the Government generally respects this right, although it does hinder registration to some extent.

Permits are required for public marches and gatherings but are routinely available. In 1996 some peaceful protests took place outside the President's office, mostly consisting of pensioners protesting late pension payments and market vendors protesting tax enforcement.

There were a number of marches and demonstrations this year concerning economic issues, almost invariably involving picketing of the White House in Bishkek. For example, the Yntymak movement picketed the White House on housing and internal migration issues on April 15. Workers from the Bishkek-Nun bread factory picketed on May 13 and October 8 on privatization and other social issues.

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, dilatory work habits, and inertia, factors carried over from the Soviet period, probably are responsible for the delay some organizations experience in registering. Excessive caution by some officials is a contributing element. Ultimately all organizations have been able to register, with the exception of a Uighur organization with the stated goal of creating an independent Uighur state in northwest China.

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 does not fully protect these rights. The Government does not support any religion and expressly forbids the teaching of religion (or atheism) in public schools.

In March 1996, the Government created a new State Commission on Religious Affairs, officially in order to promote religious tolerance, protect freedom of conscience, and oversee laws on religion. In its early months, the Commission was not active, and the Government appeared to resist calls by some Orthodox and Muslim leaders to limit the activities of sects and nontraditional religions. By the fall of 1996, however, the Commission became more active. The President signed a decree requiring all religious organizations to register with the commission, and a draft law on religion was presented to Parliament but was not passed in 1997. 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 this year of the Commission thwarting attempts by religious groups to register.

During the process of reregistration, the Church of Jesus Christ, once officially registered, encountered difficulties with the Commission. A number of press articles have characterized such groups as fanning interconfessional hatred and interethnic tensions. The Commission claimed that it has a small staff which must process 2,000 individual entities from 30 religious organizations. It suggested that the application of the Church of Jesus Christ might be processed in February 1998.

Muslim leaders complain that the Commission makes decisions about religious events without consulting them. The main Baptist organization reported in 1996 that a congregation of Baptists in Naryn oblast was denied registration both by the Commission for Religious Affairs and the Ministry of Justice. The church filed lawsuits and appeals, but the courts upheld the denial of registration in 1996. The Baptists in Naryn also reported that in October 1996, police broke into their services and threatened worshipers. The Chairman of the Commission acknowledged that he was aware of the problems of the Naryn Baptists. In October the Commission informed the Baptists that the group had been registered as a religious organization. At year's end, the group was registered as a legal entity with the Justice and with local officials.

Religious leaders note with concern that the Commission frequently uses the term national security in its statements. They also worry that references to preserving interconfessional accord could be used by traditional religious groups to prevent smaller churches from registering. Both Christians and Muslims have expressed concern about the State's apparent intention to take 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 its elderly. This group has experienced no particular difficulties stemming from adverse government policies or lack of societal acceptance.

The Seventh Day Adventist Church operate six churches in Bishkek, as well as several elsewhere in the country, without apparent hindrance. A Roman Catholic church in Bishkek also functions unhindered.

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 can legally sell their property only to buyers with such permission. However, in practice, many employers have traditionally refused to provide employment to any applicant residing illegally. This law, however, has not been enforced recently. People now move within the country, purchase homes, and sell businesses without hindrance.

There is no law on emigration. Administrative procedures permit movement of people; 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 emigrate. They also need an exit visa. There were no reports, however, that citizens, after presenting such a letter, were denied a passport or an exit visa. 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 in 1997.

Emigrants are not prevented from returning to Kyrgyzstan, and there is reportedly a small but steady flow of returnees. The Government cooperates with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. During the summer, the International Organization for Migration also opened a regional headquarters in Bishkek, in part because of the cooperative attitude of government officials. The issue of first asylum did not arise in 1997.

There were no reports of forced return of persons to countries where they feared persecution, or expulsion of those having a valid claim to refugee status, except in the case of Uighur nationalists who had fled from China. One hundred or more Uighurs were detained and returned to China (or remanded to the Chinese embassy) for alleged visa or passport irregularities, without being processed as refugees. Clearly, at least some of these Uighurs considered themselves to be refugees, as they applied for refugee status. However, few of the Uighur refugee applications were considered by the authorities and all were refused on technicalities. The UNHCR has studied the case, but has taken no public position.

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

Citizens have the constitutional right to change their government peacefully, but have limited ability to do so in practice.

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 are also held every

5 years. In 1995 citizens elected a new Parliament in elections marred by irregularities. In February 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, and an approval margin of 95 percent. Ballot stuffing was rampant.

The amendments approved in the 1996 referendum further strengthened the formal power of the President and his advisors, 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 by overriding presidential vetoes. In comparison with 1996 when the Parliament passed 66 laws, this year it passed 158 laws (of which the President signed only 143). In April the Parliament overrode a presidential veto on a bill allowing a no-confidence vote on any government minister (and not just the prime minister). In December the Parliament held up passage of the 1998 budget until reaching a compromise with the executive branch. The overwhelming majority of local government officials are not elected, but appointed by the President.

Political parties remain weak. There were 17 registered political parties; some, such as Ata Meken, Asaba, and the Communist Party were inactive. None of the winners of four parliamentary seats in by-elections this year has a party affiliation. Likewise, parties nominated very few candidates. In Parliament less than half of the members (46 of 105) claims party affiliation. There are 10 parties represented in Parliament, but voting seldom proceeds along strict party lines.

Women and most ethnic minorities are underrepresented in government and politics. Only 3 of 105 parliamentary deputies are women. The Deputy Prime Minister for Social Issues, as well as the Ministers for Labor and Justice, are women. The Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court is also a woman. A women'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.

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

A number of human rights groups operate without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials are sometimes responsive to their views. However, activists sometimes allege that harassment originates within government circles. The fact that such harassment is sometimes featured prominently in the government press, or announced by the President's press secretary, lends credence to such claims.

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.

Women

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, with authorities often ignoring such attacks. Official statistics show little change in the number of crimes against women, but medical records present a different story, with increased hospital admissions of women who have been injured by a family member. Many of these incidents are alcohol related. Such crimes are treated by the normal criminal process if women press charges, but statistics indicate that most such crimes go unreported. There are no shelters for battered women. The Government has not devised a program to deal with this problem.

The law gives equal status to women, and they are well represented in the work force, in 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 to lose their jobs. It is estimated that 70 percent of the unemployed are women. Women make up the majority of pensioners, who are also in much worse condition than previously as inflation has eroded pensions, which are often paid late. Women's groups express general concern about the situation of rural women. 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.

Women's groups have been involved in drafting a family law intended to include sections on the treatment of women and children within the family. However, no significant action was taken on this draft legislation during the year.

Children

The current socio-economic situation does not effectively guarantee decent living conditions for children. Basic needs for shelter, food, and clothing often are not met. After independence vaccine-preventable diseases such as diphtheria, polio, and measles reemerged. A range of serious nutrition-related problems affect a large number of children, especially in rural areas. Traditional social safety measures are now inadequate to cope with the social pressures affecting families, and in a number of major cities, children are regularly 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 nine years and the country has a 97 percent literacy rate. The education system, however, has suffered material and financial hardships, and conditions continue to deteriorate due to an acute shortage of material resources.

The Government continues to rely on former Soviet law in this sphere, but is finding it increasingly ineffective in dealing with adoption issues, custody disputes, and similar matters. A 1994 law on adoption is still weakly implemented, and in cases of international adoption, is often ignored. Implementing regulations, to the extent that they are stated at all, are contradictory and confusing.

Human rights groups and the Kyrgyz Children's Fund monitor the condition of children. Human rights groups note that children who are arrested are usually denied lawyers. Police often do not notify parents of the arrest and neither parents nor lawyers are generally present during questioning, despite laws to the contrary. Children are often intimidated into signing confessions and sometimes are placed in cells with adult criminals to frighten them.

In practice children have restricted rights to travel abroad until age 16. Before that age, they are not entitled to their own passports and usually travel only when accompanying a parent, in whose passport the child's data are recorded.

The Kyrgyz Children's Fund (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 through Bishkek led to a count of 700 children of school age working during school hours and similar conditions occur in other urban centers, as well as in the countryside. The KCF has opened two shelters, one in Bishkek (for approximately 30 children) which also helps train social workers and one in Osh, to provide food, clothing, and schooling to such children.

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 are commonly called upon to pick crops as needed by their family farms.

People With Disabilities

There is no special law to protect disabled individuals, nor any law mandating accessibility to buildings and workplaces. Former Soviet law remains the basis for any resolution of complaints.

Social facilities for the mentally disabled are severely strained, 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.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Reported complaints of discrimination center on the treatment of citizens who are not ethnic Kyrgyz. In an estimated population of 4.5 million, some 58.1 percent are Kyrgyz, 18 percent are ethnic Russians, 13.9 percent are ethnic Uzbeks, and the rest are Ukrainians, Tajiks, Tatars, Germans, and others. The latter, non-Kyrgyz, 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 favor ethnic Kyrgyz. The predominance of ethnic Kyrgyz in government lends weight to this claim.

Russian speakers (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 high and intermediate levels of government is disproportionately high. This fact gives credence to perceptions that career opportunities are limited for those who are not ethnic Kyrgyz.

The Constitution designates Kyrgyz as the state language, but provides for preservation and equal and free development of Russian and other languages used in the country. In 1996 Russian was also declared, by presidential decree, an official language for some purposes. However, lawyers and others noted that no legislation referred to official languages, so the status of Russian was no clearer than previously. In 1997 a draft law declaring Russian an official language was declared constitutional by the Constitutional Court. To date, however, 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 significantly declined, with some ethnic Russians returning.

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 Federation), 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, the Cabinet, the other. Each year the two parties sign an agreement on cooperation. The Federation leadership is changing, however, and some properties are being sold. There is one small independent union, the Union of Entrepreneurs and Small Business Workers, whose membership numbers in the tens of thousands.

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 former Soviet Union, and with other foreign unions. A growing number of smaller unions are not affiliated with the umbrella organization.

While the right to strike is not codified, strikes are not prohibited. There were small strikes of short duration. There were no retaliatory actions against strikers, nor were there instances of human rights abuse directed at unions or individual workers.

The law permits unions to form and join federations and to affiliate with international trade union bodies. It 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 are only changing 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) 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 it is not known to occur.

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 age 16); the Ministry of Education monitors enforcement. However, families frequently call upon their children to work to help support the family (see Section 5). Forced and bonded labor by children is not believed to occur (see Section 6.c.).

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 minimum wage is about $5.00 (90 soms) per month. In practice even the higher median wage is considered insufficient to ensure 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. 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 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 spotty. Workers have the legal right to remove themselves from unsafe working conditions.

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