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Title: Kyrgyz Republic Human Rights Practices, 1995 Author: U.S. Department of State Date: March 1996 KYRGYZ REPUBLIC The Kyrgyz Republic became independent 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 the first open, multicandidate presidential election in December. In February a new two-chamber Parliament was elected with a large number of candidates contesting each seat. The Constitution defines the role of Parliament, but in 1995 did not divide responsibility between the two houses. Both Parliament and the Constitutional Court, which began operating in June, are fairly weak in practice. Law enforcement responsibilities are divided between the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) for general crime, the State Committee on National Security (GKNB) for state-level crime, and the procurator's office for both types of crime. The MVD and GKNB both deal with corruption and organized crime. These organizations have inherited much of their personnel and infrastructure from their Soviet predecessors. Each appears to be under the full control of the Government and must conform their actions to the law. Kyrgyzstani borders are manned by Russian troops under an agreement with the Russian Federation. The Government has little authority over these troops, who often enforce their own rules rather than Kyrgyzstani law. The Kyrgyz Republic is a poor, mountainous country with a predominantly agricultural economy. Cotton, wool, tobacco, and meat are the main agricultural exports. Other exports include gold, mercury, uranium, and hydro-electricity. The Government has carried out progressive market reforms. Following a successful stabilization program, which lowered inflation and stabilized the currency, attention is turning toward stimulating growth. About half of the government's stock in enterprises has been sold. Production fell severely since the breakup of the Soviet Union but by mid-1995 began to level off as exports increased. There are signs that the economy may begin to resume growth. The level of hardship continues to be very high for pensioners, the unemployed, and government workers whose salary is in arrears. Foreign assistance plays a significant role in the country's budget. The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens. However, there were problems in some areas. Principal problems included restrictions on freedom of the press and the right of people freely to change their government. There were also occassional attempts by the Government to interfere with the press. The President successfully sued two journalists for slander under criminal rather than civil statutes. Open, multicandidate presidential elections were held in December. President Akayev was reelected with wide support over two opposing candidates. He used government resources and state-owned media to carry out his campaign. Three opposition candidates were deregistered shortly before the election, and two opposition campaign workers were imprisoned for allegedly passing out leaflets that libeled the President. Other human rights problems included executive branch domination of the judiciary (with concomitant lack of protection against arbitrary detention and assurance of fair trial). Prison conditions remained poor. Concerns about ethnic discrimination persisted, but in general the situation for minorities improved and emigration rates have fallen. 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, and there were no reports that officials employed them. Prison conditions are poor but not so bad as to constitute cruelty. Spouses and lawyers have been allowed to visit the two imprisoned campaign workers in Issyk Kul, but local human rights activists could not. GKNB detainess are kept in a GKNB detention facility; if convicted, they are sent to a regular prison. d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile The judicial system continues to operate under Soviet laws and procedures. The procurator's office determines who may be detained, arrested, and prosecuted. The Ministry of the Interior, the GKNB, and the General Procurator's office carry out investigations. Since 1990 anyone arrested or charged with a crime has the right to defense counsel. The procurator's office, which is 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 when the case comes to trial. The Criminal Code permits the procurator to detain a suspect for up to 72 hours before releasing him or charging him with a crime. The procurator must issue an arrest warrant before the person can be detained. If the procurator elects to charge a suspect, he must immediately so advise defense counsel. The accused usually remains in detention while the procurator investigates the case and prepares it for court. At the procurator's discretion, he may keep the accused in pretrial detention for up to 1 year, but there are provisions for conditional release before trial. After 1 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 Parliament extended a detention. The procurator, not the judge, is in charge of criminal proceedings. The courts are widely perceived as a rubber stamp for the procurator and not a protector of citizens' rights. In addition, abysmally low judges' salaries have led to the apparently well-grounded view among the population that decisions can be bought easily. Economic crimes such as tax evasion, or embezzlement or theft of government property, are common, and most managers of state-owned enterprises are believed to have committed them. Prosecution for these crimes, however, is relatively rare and sometimes appears to be directed at opponents of the Government. For example, a case brought and dropped this year against the head of the Kyrgyzstani stock exchange was believed to be politically motivated. On December 22, two days before the Presidential elections, the head of the campaign of opposition candidate Sherimkulov and another campaign worker were arrested in Issyk Kul Oblast while campaigning. They were charged with libeling the President by allegedly handing out leaflets defaming President Akayev. Their colleagues deny that they had any leaflets and claim the prosecutor has failed to produce any leaflets as evidence. By year's end, the men had not been released on bail and were, along with 30 supproters, carrying out a hunger strike. 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 dominates the judiciary. Cases are tried in local courts. Appeals courts are on a district or regional level, and the Supreme Court is the highest level. The Constitutional Court began operations in June. There are also arbitration courts that handle civil disputes and traditional courts that handle low level crime in rural areas. Once the procurator is ready, he brings a 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 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 (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 and may remain under detention. The Court of Appeal may review lower court decisions whether or not a party to the decision has appealed. Changes to the lower court's decision frequently result in the imposition of a more severe penalty, almost invariably so in criminal cases. The Government has recognized the need to reform the system. Western practices, including the presumption of innocence of the accused, have been introduced. However, a deteriorating economy and a system staffed largely by Soviet-trained officials 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 some cases. For most of the year, there were no political prisoners. However, in December two campaign workers for a candidate for the Presidency were arrested on charges of libeling the President and inciting ethnic tension. The charges relate to material contained in pamphlets allegedly distributed by the two. They remain in jail, with requests for release on bail denied. No trial date has been set (see Section 1.d.). 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. The law requires the General Procurators's approval for wiretaps, searches of homes, interception of mail, and similar procedures. However, a change in the law weakened these protections by allowing the procurator to give approval for searches over the telephone. In such cases there is then no written proof that a search was approved. Furthermore, in certain cases law enforcement officers may conduct a search and then get approval within 24 hours afterwards. If approval is not given, any evidence seized is inadmissible in court, but the search still may be made. Personnel and organizations responsible for violations of these privacy rights during the Soviet period have remained largely in place; however, no widespread and systematic violations of the privacy of citizens were reported. Some citizens active in politics or interested in human rights believe that the privacy of their communications was violated. Credible evidence is not available. Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: a. Freedom of Speech and Press A 1992 law 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 has 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. Fully independent newspapers and magazines exist in the capital, as well as a few hours of independent television broadcasting and some independent radio stations. Almost all electronic media and a significant portion of print media are still government supported. The Government continues to influence media coverage. The only overt antipress actions this year have been presidential lawsuits for slander against newspaper editors and reporters. The President successfully sued two editors of the independent newspaper Res Publica after the newspaper published an editorial claiming that President Akayev had foreign property and bank accounts. The allegations were not proved, and the two editors were found guilty of publishing false information which libeled the President. They were sentenced to 18 months in prison and barred from practicing journalism for that period. The prison sentences were suspended at the request of the President. The editors have appealed the conviction. The first Appeal Court upheld the conviction, and it is now being appealed to the Supreme Court. In November upon returning from Moscow, a medical doctor who is a human rights activist was arrested and charged with libel for writing an article published in Res Publica in June. He was released on bail and is awaiting trial. While living in Moscow he claimed to be in exile since he faced arrest on returning home. The presidentially created Council on the Activities of the Mass Media continued to dampen journalistic freedoms. At least two journalists received warnings from the Council to cease writing certain types of articles. Nonetheless, newspapers like Res Publica continued to publish articles critical of the President, the Government, and government policy. There were a number of complaints that law enforcement officers harassed journalists. This was especially the case during the Turkish summit and the Manas celebration when both foreign and domestic journalists were sometimes physically restrained from taking pictures or approaching restricted areas even when they had permission to do so. b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association Under the Constitution, citizens have the right to assemble and associate freely and do so without government interference. Permits are required for public marches and gatherings but are routinely available. There were a number of peaceful protests most notably during the parliamentary debate on the proposed referendum to extend the President's term of office. The demonstrations were carried out without interference, and the demands of the protesters were reported in the press. Later, however, several groups were unable to get permits for assemblies on public squares. On October 27, the anniversary of Akayev's election, large numbers of militia patrolled the squares to discourage anyone trying to assemble without permits. Groups staged small rallies at markets and stores instead. 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 delay some organizations experience in registering. Ultimately all organizations have been able to register. The sole exception was a Uighur organization with the stated goal of the creation of an independent Uighur state in northwest China. c. Freedom of Religion The Constitution provides for the freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. Some religious leaders have called for the Government to protect "traditional" religions (Islam and Russian Orthodoxy) by regulating the activities of religious groups, but the Government has shown no interest in doing so. This year the Government issued a decree that prohibited the teaching of religion in public schools. The teaching of atheism was also prohibited. d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation Government policy supports freedom of travel within and outside Kyrgyzstan. However, certain policies imposed during the Soviet period remain in effect and continue to complicate internal migration, resettlement, and travel abroad. Under the Soviet-era law still in force, citizens need a propiska (official government permission) 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. This law is seldom enforced, and has become irrelevant as people move within the country, freely selling their homes and businesses. However, in August before and during the Manas celebration, militia members were reportedly demanding to see propiskas in Bishkek, the capital, forcing those who lacked them to temporarily leave the city or hide. On the other hand, during parliamentary elections there was no requirement to show propiskas to register to vote in Bishkek. There is no law on emigration. Administrative procedures permit movement of people; however, citizens who apply for passports for foreign travel must present a letter of invitation from the country they intend to visit or to which they intend to emigrate. 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." In 1995 there was one case of a person being refused an exit visa for emigration on these grounds until the 2 years remaining in the 5-year period expire. Emigrants were not prevented from returning to Kyrgyzstan, and there is reportedly a small but steady flow of returnees. The Government cooperates with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. There were no reports of forced expulsion of those having a valid claim to refugee status. In October UNHCR opened an office in Kyrgyzstan. 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. On December 24, Kyrgyzstan held the first ever open, multicandidate presidential election in Central Asia. Prior to setting an election date, the Parliament turned back a petition campaign calling for the president's term to be extended by referendum and passed a resolution stating that referenda to extend presidential terms in office were unconstitutional. According to the Constitution, presidential elections are to be held every 5 years. There is a limit of two terms. Although only isolated instances of fraud were reported on election day, opposition candidates for the presidency had difficulty getting on the ballot. Three of six candidates registered by the Election Commission were deregistered 2 weeks prior to the election after local government officials successfully challenged in court the oblast proportion of the signatures required to nominate the candidates. Voter interest and turnout for the election was high. President Akayev won a convincing majority. Opposition candidates protested the President's use of government resources for his campaign, particularly his domination of the state-run media despite strict rules calling for equal access by all candidates. Two opposition candidate campaign workers were arrested just prior to the election and remained in detention at year's end. Election observers reported that minor procedural violations were widespread during the election. In February citizens elected a new Parliament and changed the form and composition of that body. Constitutional amendments defining the new Parliament had not been put into place prior to the election, however. During the parliamentary elections, there were reports of widespread vote buying, ballot stuffing, and other election fraud. There did not appear to be an overall attempt to subvert the election results by any one party or group. The President and his advisors dominate the Government. Parliament and the judiciary tend to be subordinate to the executive branch. Most local government officials are appointed by the President. Nevertheless, a strong desire for consensus gives many different interests a role in decision making. Women and ethnic groups are underrepresented in government and politics. 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 generally responsive and sensitive to their views. 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 strong commitment to protecting the rights of members of all ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups as well as those of women. 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, Kazaks, and others. Women The dramatic drop in family incomes associated with the transition from a Communist to a free market economy has put tremendous pressures on traditional family structure. Alcohol and drug abuse, unemployment, malnutrition, and the breakdown of social support systems have resulted in a rise in abuse of women by their spouses. The Government has been unable to respond adequately to these new needs due to extreme budgetary limitations. Nongovernmental organizations, which might be active in a more developed economy, are only in the formative stages and are not able to provide effective support to abused women. Crime, including rape and assault, has increased markedly since independence. The press sometimes reports violence against women. While no overall statistics are available, one Bishkek hospital reported that in the first 9 months of 1995, 123 women were admitted with injuries sustained in domestic disputes. Normal law enforcement procedures are used in cases of domestic violence. The Government has not established programs to address these issues. The law gives equal status to women, and they are well represented in the work force, professions, and institutions of higher learning. Women probably have been more affected by unemployment during the economic transition than men. In addition, the Government's failure to pay pensions has disproportionately affected women, since they make up the majority of pensioners. In rural areas, women are still often seen only in the role of homemaker, mother, and wife. Children The Government continues to rely on former Soviet law in this sphere. There is no monitoring of children's rights. Children in rural areas are commonly used to pick crops. Decreased social spending on schools and medical care and the closure of kindergartens have had a negative impact on child welfare. 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. 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. Russian speakers (those who do not speak Kyrgyz) 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. The 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. In 1994 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 stated that the exodus of Russians was caused by social and political factors-- ethnic hostility and job discrimination--and hurt the national economy. The decree gave the Russian language 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. 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. 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 leadership is changing, and some of its properties are being sold off. The Federation has been critical of government policies, especially privatization, and their impact on working class living standards. 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. 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 several small strikes of short duration. One strike at the State Antimony Plant was ended by government order after 2 months. The strikers were protesting the firing of the company director after he was charged with tax evasion. There were no retaliatory actions against strikers. Nor were there instances of human rights abuses directed at unions or individual workers. The Labor Law calls for practices consistent with international standards. The law permits unions to form and join federations and to affiliate with international trade union bodies. Since independent unions are still in their infancy, no meaningful affiliation with international trade union bodies has taken place. b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively The law recognizes the right of unions to negotiate for better wages and conditions. Overall union structure and practice are slowly changing from that of the Soviet era, and 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 levels. The law protects union members from antiunion discrimination, and there were no recorded instances of discrimination against anyone because of union activities. The Federation cited one example in which the 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 November 1, the minimum wage was about $7.00 (75 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 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 again the rapidly deteriorating economic situation in the country has made the compliance record of businesses spotty. (###)
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