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Retreating Rights – Kyrgyzstan: Executive Summary

Article by Adam Hug

March 1, 2021

Retreating Rights – Kyrgyzstan: Executive Summary

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 publication 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.


Recommendations for the Government of Kyrgyzstan, international institutions and Western donors:

  • Ensure a rigorous focus on issues of corruption, hatred and impunity;
  • Undertake a systemic review of international donor funded projects in Kyrgyzstan including budget support, the use of consultancies and working with NGOs. It should look at both objectives and implementation, based on evidence and widespread engagement;
  • Find ways to empower fresh thinking and new voices, while giving partners the space and resources to adapt to local priorities;
  • Encourage the Japarov Government to develop a new National Human Rights Action Plan;
  • Increase human rights and governance conditionality in order to unlock stalled EU and UK partnership agreements, debt relief, further government related aid and new investment;
  • Deploy Magnitsky Sanctions and anti-corruption mechanisms more widely on Kyrgyzstan;
  • Expand Kyrgyz language moderation on social media and strengthen redress mechanisms;
  • Push for further amendments to the draft constitution to protect NGOs, trade unions, free speech and minority rights, and avoid increasing the power of the Prosecutor General; and
  • Explore new mechanisms for civic consultation, learning from local practices in Kyrgyzstan, consultative bodies in other developing countries and the use of Citizens Assemblies.


Image by Sludge G under (CC).

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