New leaders should build democracy and rule of law
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee commends Kyrgyzstan on having gone through with the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council, in spite of the difficult situation currently facing the Interim Government at home.
The NHC noted with appreciation that on 5 May 2010, many of the recommendations made to Kyrgyzstan during the review were accepted by the government. The review presented the current government with an opportunity to outline its commitment to human rights and democratic principles. Many of the concerns raised by international and local human rights groups following the dramatic April events in Kyrgyzstan seem to have been taken into consideration. We hope Kyrgyzstan will choose a path forward that is in keeping with its international obligations in the sphere of human rights and democracy.
President Kurmanbek Bakiev came to power promising to fight corruption and to install democracy. However, five years after the events of 2005 the situation with regards to human rights and democracy in Kyrgyzstan had become even more serious than what the people had originally risen against. The Interim Government under Roza Otunbayeva’s leadership now faces an enormous challenge: to install belief among the people that this time, these promises of are meant seriously.
Local human rights groups in Kyrgyzstan are among the most knowledgeable and experienced in the republics of the former Soviet Union. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee encourages the Interim Government to consider all their recommendations, to include them in consultations and to take their input seriously as it proceeds to re-establish rule of law in the country. Indeed, should Kyrgyzstan succeed in creating a model of government that guarantees human rights and democratic principles, the country could become a positive example to other countries in the region struggling to fulfill their international obligations in the sphere of human rights. In this respect too, the responsibility weighing on this Interim Government is extraordinary.
We underline the importance of human rights and democratic principles as a foundation for the process leading up to the forthcoming elections. It is essential that the elections are held in a free and fair manner.
We would also highlight a few concerns related to the current situation in Kyrgyzstan.
* Many of the individuals currently holding important positions in the Interim Government have themselves been victims of political oppression. The Interim Government should ensure that the rights of those currently held in custody are respected. In particular, they should ensure access to professional legal aid and adequate health care for these persons. Furthermore, any process against former government officials should be carried out in full openness. The Interim Government should make public information on any charges, and the timeframe for when a court hearing in each case will be held. Court hearings should be open to the public and to international observers. A legal process should have reconciliation and the healthy development of Kyrgyzstan as its ultimate aim, not revenge.
* The Interim Government should strive to make Kyrgyzstan an example to be followed by other Central Asian republics in the sphere of freedom of speech. In particular, laws and practice related to so-called slander (kleveta) should be reconsidered. In the past, journalists have sometimes exercised self-censorship in the fear that they may face legal sanctions when investigating government policies. Some have faced criminal charges for questioning decisions made by high-ranking officials. There should be clear-cut divisions between what qualifies as slander and what is merely healthy political debate. Indeed, a high-ranking official should always tolerate more public criticism than what could be expected of a regular citizen.
* Vacancies in the public sector should be announced broadly, with a view to presenting clear criteria to the person needed for the position. Kyrgyzstan should break with the practice of granting positions to family and friends and replace it by a system of employment on the basis of open competition and objective criteria of competence. In a future perspective, this will also have a positive impact on corruption practices in schools and universities. All applicants should be equally considered in this process, regardless of nationality, gender, belief or any other grounds.
* Numerous instances of forced returns of persons with refugee status to Uzbekistan have been a cause of great concern to the international community, and the Interim Government should take measures to ensure that such serious breaches of international obligations of Kyrgyzstan do not reoccur. We welcome information presented at the UPR that the rights of refugees will be respected by the new government.
* Over the years, the security services in Kyrgyzstan became increasingly involved in the lives of ordinary Kyrgyzstani citizens. To prevent a repeated development in this direction, we recommend that serious measures are taken to reform these services. Staff should be trained in ethical conduct, and legal provisions should be taken to impose checks on their activities. For instance, the law on Electronic and Postal Communications, which was adopted by Zhogorku Kenesh on 25 March 2010 granted the security services the right to carry out phone taps and intercept and read emails and SMS of the country’s citizens without any approval of the courts. The NHC welcomes recent signals in the media that the new Constitution will introduce significant limitations on the security services.
* The government should work towards a break with oppressive practices of the past. Persons who were under surveillance for political reasons, including representatives of non-governmental organizations, should be given access to their files. These files should be destroyed in order to ensure that such information, gathered during the previous regime, is not used against members of the opposition and civil actors in a future context. Only an honest break with the past can rebuild trust in the authorities among the people of Kyrgyzstan.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is eager to increase its activities in the country and continue efforts to contribute to building democracy and rule of law, and see it as a strong signal of goodwill that the previous regime’s ban on foreign human rights activists has been lifted by the new leadership.
However, the real tests for the new leader’s democratic intentions lie in the future - the people of Kyrgyzstan deserves better this time.
Norwegian Helsinki Committee