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Retreating Rights: Examining the pressure on human rights in Kyrgyzstan

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Kyrgyzstan has just experienced another period of rapid and chaotic change, the third time the country has overthrown an incumbent President in the last 15 years. This new publication Retreating Rights: Examining the pressure on human rights in Kyrgyzstan shows how the roots of the problem run deep. It explores how a culture of corruption and impunity have been at the heart of Kyrgyzstan’s institutional failings, problems that have sometimes been overlooked or downplayed because of the comparison to challenges elsewhere in Central Asia, but that were ruthlessly exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The publication tries to explain the recent emergence of the new President Sadyr Japarov in the unrest of October 2020 and what it might mean for the future of Kyrgyzstan. An instinctive anti-elite populist with a powerful personal narrative and a past reputation for economic nationalism Japarov is undertaking a rapid consolidation of power, including through controversial constitutional reform.

Liberal minded civil society has been under increasing pressure throughout the last decade. They have faced successive governments increasingly seeking to regulate and pressure them, and a rising tide of nationalism that has seen hatred against civil society activists expressed on the streets and online, particularly due to the weaponisation of work on women’s and LGBTQ rights. The publication proposes a root and branch rethink of donor initiatives in Kyrgyzstan to take stock of the situation and come again with new ways to help, including the need for greater flexibility to respond to local issues, opportunities for new ideas and organisations to be supported, and a renewed focus on governance, transparency and accountability.

Magnitsky sanctions and global anti-corruption measures can be used to respond to the ways corrupt elites have stashed their earnings abroad and they can also be used to seek redress where justice is unlikely to be served in Kyrgyzstan, such as in the tragic case of Azimjan Askarov. There is scope to better condition potential trade, aid and investment incentives to human rights benchmarks. The publication suggests areas for further amendment in the drafting of Kyrgyzstan’s new constitution and calls for more action from social media companies to protect activists and journalists who are subject to harassment.

The international community should be under no illusions about the scale of the challenges Kyrgyzstan faces. It should take swift action to prevent further backsliding on rights and freedoms, while finding new ways to help resolve Kyrgyzstan’s systemic problems.

To see the full list of recommendations please download the publication.

Edited by Adam Hug (Foreign Policy Centre) the publication contains essay contributions from: Dr. Asel Doolotkeldieva (OSCE Academy); Dr. Aijan Sharshenova (OSCE Academy); Gulzat Baialieva and Dr. Joldon Kutmanaliev (University of Tubingen); Professor Eric McGlinchey (George Mason University); Sardorbek Abdukhalilov (Spravedlivost); Dr. Aksana Ismailbekova (Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient); Ryskeldi Satke (Third Pole); Shirin Aitmatova (UMUT 2020); Ernest Zhanaev (Human Rights writer and consultant); Dr. Elira Turdubaeva (University of Central Asia); Begaim Usenova (Media Policy Institute) and ARTICLE 19; and Jasmine Cameron (Human Rights lawyer).

This report was launched with a webinar on Monday 1st March, with the following speakers: Dr. Aijan Sharshenova (Postdoctoral Research Fellow at OSCE Academy); Begaim Usenova (Director of Media Policy Institute); Shirin Aitmatova (Founder of UMUT 2020); and Dr. Aksana Ismailbekova (Postdoctoral Researcher at Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient). The event was chaired by Adam Hug (Director of the FPC). You can catch up with the audio from the event here and the video here.

You can read the Kyrgyz translation of the publication here.

Image by Sludge G under (CC).

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