Reverse travel ban on HRW researcher
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is deeply disappointed to learn of the decision by Kyrgyzstan to declare Mihra Rittmann, researcher for Human Rights Watch in Central Asia, persona non grata in the country. Rittmann was deported from Kyrgyzstan upon her arrival to Manas International Airport in Bishkek on 2 December, after living and working for several years in the country.
"The decision to ban HRW’s Mihra Rittmann is most unfortunate", said Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. "Human Rights Watch is among the most respected rights organizations globally, and their work in Central Asia, including in Kyrgyzstan, has always been of the highest quality. We hope that the Kyrgyz government will act quickly to reverse this decision."
The NHC faced similar challenges in Kyrgyzstan in 2008, when the Bakiev regime embarked on a campaign to declare international human rights activists unwanted in the country. Ivar Dale, then NHC Regional Representative in Central Asia, was deported in October 2008 and declared persona non grata in Kyrgyzstan for a period of 10 years. Similar cases followed, with deportations also of Vitaliy Ponomarev from Human Rights Center Memorial, Nigina Bakhrieva from the Dushanbe-based NGO NotaBene, and several others in 2009. These cases were raised repeatedly with the government of Kyrgyzstan by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation for Human Rights Defenders, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), as well as by the diplomatic missions of several European states and the US Department of State.
Immediately following the 7 April 2010 revolution, in which President Kurmanbek Bakiev was forced out, leaving almost 90 protesters dead in the capital Bishkek, a new government led by Interim President Roza Otunbaeyeva made it a priority to restore Kyrgyzstan's good relations with the international community. In a Presidential Decree on 10 April 2010 she formally cancelled the persona non grata-status of several foreign human rights activists previously banned by the State Committee on National Security (GKNB).
"That decision made five years ago, to allow international human rights defenders back to Kyrgyzstan, was principled and positive", said Ivar Dale, currently NHC's Representative in Geneva, Switzerland. "It restored faith in the intentions of the Kyrgyz government with regards to civil society and human rights. The decision to ban Rittmann from Kyrgyzstan can't be seen as anything but a serious step backwards on the part of the Kyrgyz government and its security services. Rittmann has lived and worked in Kyrgyzstan on and off over the last nine years, and as the representative of Human Rights Watch she has brought nothing but positive contributions to civil society and developments in the country. HRW poses no threat to Kyrgyzstan, quite the contrary", Dale said.
"The government of Kyrgyzstan should immediately cancel Rittmann's non grata status, and seek to cooperate with rather than to hinder the work of an organization as important as Human Rights Watch in the region", said Bjørn Engesland. "It is crucial today that Kyrgyzstan moves forward, and does not fall back into old patterns such as these", he added.
The decision to ban Mihra Rittmann from entry to Kyrgyzstan is likely to be raised widely by all friends of Human Rights Watch, through the relevant international bodies.