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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination discusses anti-discrimination efforts in Kyrgyzstan, Peru and Saudi Arabia with civil society

Committee on the Elimination
  of Racial Discrimination 

24 April 2018

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning held an informal meeting with civil society representatives from Kyrgyzstan, Peru and Saudi Arabia, whose reports will be considered by the Committee this week.

In his opening remarks, Noureddine Amir, Committee Chairperson, welcomed non-governmental organizations from Kyrgyzstan, Peru and Saudi Arabia.  He reaffirmed the importance of dialogue with civil society and thanked those present in Geneva.

During the discussion, representatives of non-governmental organizations from Kyrgyzstan called for the adoption of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation in Kyrgyzstan, and noted that ethnicity was one of the most vexed issues in the country, following the inter-ethnic conflict in 2010.  The principle of national unity through the use of the Kyrgyz language was used as a tool to suppress the rights of minorities, leading to hate speech and hate crimes.  There were no opportunities for the use the native languages of minorities.

Civil society representatives from Peru drew attention to the racial discrimination of the Afro-Peruvians, which led to their poverty, as well as to the violence against Afro-Peruvian and indigenous women.  They also reminded of racial stereotypes propounded in the media in Peru, and called on the Committee to urge Peru to include in school education issues related to racial discrimination, and to provide training for public officials. 

As for Saudi Arabia, civil society representatives highlighted the structural discrimination of migrants through the kafala system, and discrimination of Saudis or Arabs of African descent, and of female migrant workers.  Finally, they noted that Saudi Arabia’s judicial system was structured in a manner that put migrants at a disadvantage, such as due process violations, long periods of detention without charge or trial, lack of legal assistance, and ineffective translation services.  

Speaking in the discussion on Kyrgyzstan were Equal Rights Trust, ADC Memorial and Bir Duino, Ms. Khadicha Askarova, and Interbilim.  

Speaking on Peru were Centre for Black Peruvian Women, Ms. Azucena Algendones, and Centro de Culturas Indígenas del Perú.

Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain spoke about Saudi Arabia.

The Committee will next meet in public today at 3 p.m. to consider the combined eighth to tenth periodic report of Kyrgyzstan (CERD/C/KGZ/8-10).

Opening Statement

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Committee Chairperson, welcomed non-governmental organizations from Kyrgyzstan, Peru and Saudi Arabia.  He reaffirmed the importance of dialogue with civil society and thanked those present in Geneva.  

Statements by Civil Society Representatives from Kyrgyzstan

Equal Rights Trust drew attention to the need to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation in Kyrgyzstan, as well as to discrimination and inequality on the grounds of race and ethnicity, which was one of the most vexed issues in the country.  The current legislation was inadequate to meet the country’s international obligations, and in the absence of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, Kyrgyzstan would be unable to address many dimensions of discrimination.  Following the constitutional reform of 2016, the status of international law was woefully unclear.  There was no definition of discrimination and no prohibition of discrimination and harassment.  Victims of discrimination were simply unable to vindicate their rights in front of the courts.  The Committee should, therefore, recommend to Kyrgyzstan to immediately adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation.  

ADC Memorial and Bir Duino stated that the consequences of the inter-ethnic conflict of 2010 were still present in Kyrgyzstan.  There was no anti-discrimination legislation and no programmes to provide for equal opportunities.  The principle of national unity through the use of the Kyrgyz language was used as a tool to suppress the rights of minorities, leading to hate speech and hate crimes.  There were no opportunities for the use the native languages of minorities.  The representatives of ethnic minorities did not see their future in the country, leading to their mass labour migration.  The situation of Uzbeks was of particular concern.  They represented 15 per cent of the overall population and 28 per cent of the population in southern Kyrgyzstan.  At the same time, they only represented 6 per cent of the police force and none occupied high-ranking positions.  Kyrgyzstan had not implemented its human rights commitments with respect to the inter-ethnic conflict of 2010, as exemplified by the case of the human rights defender (and ethnic Uzbek) Azimzhan Askarov.  There was a mass shift towards the use of Kyrgyz language in education and public life in areas populated by the Uzbeks.  The organization also drew attention to the situation of Central Asian Roma – the Mugat – namely massive lack of documentation, begging by women and children, and school dropout.  The organization called for the adoption of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, combatting of racism and xenophobia, guarantee for the language rights of minorities, implementation of the decisions of United Nations treaty bodies, release of human rights defenders, adoption of State programmes of comprehensive support for the Mugat, and overcoming of structural discrimination.

Khadicha Askarova spoke about her husband, Azimzhan Askarov, an Uzbek human rights defender, who had been imprisoned for eight years, following the ethnic conflict in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010 and under fabricated evidence.  In January 2017, the court condemned him to life imprisonment, despite the recommendation of the Human Rights Committee from April 2016 that he be released.  In addition, the Kyrgyz authorities had illegally confiscated the house of the Askarov family.  Hundreds of thousands of Kyrgyz citizens of Uzbek ethnicity had been forced to leave their homes in 2010 and had not been able to return for fear of arrest or torture.  Azimzhan was a symbol of the fight for the freedom of thought and opinion, protection and freedom of ethnic minorities in Kyrgyzstan.  He had recently written a book presenting his thoughts about human rights, justice, peace and coexistence between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek peoples.

Interbilim drew attention to the discrimination against ethnic minorities in Kyrgyzstan.  As of 2011, their houses had been confiscated.  The national legislation was not sufficient in that respect and the authorities had implemented compensation in a selective manner.  Ethnic minorities could not stand up to threats and eviction from houses.  Women, children and the elderly were particularly vulnerable.  Some 85 houses of ethnic minorities had been expropriated.  Non-governmental organizations also suffered from violence perpetrated by the authorities, particularly those civil society organizations defending the human rights of ethnic minorities.  The organization called on the Kyrgyz Government to work to provide just and fair compensation for confiscated houses.

Statements by Civil Society Organizations from Peru

Centre for Black Peruvian Women stated that the Afro-Peruvian people were not recognized by the national Constitution and that they suffered from structural racial discrimination, leading to extreme poverty.  Only 3.38 per cent of them finished school and 58 per cent people believed that racial discrimination was the cause of their poverty.  The organization recommended the constitutional recognition of the Afro-Peruvian people and that they be included in the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169.  It also recommended the establishment of institutions for racial equality, overcoming racial discrimination in the media, and the collection of statistical data to develop public policies to promote the wellbeing of the Afro-Peruvian people.  Political parties should include in their plans and platforms the concerns of the Afro-Peruvian people, and guarantee their political representation through quotas.  Public policies should address education, employment, and social aid for the Afro-Peruvian people.

Azucena Algendones stated that she had suffered from extreme racial discrimination in the company she had worked for.  Many lawyers had not wanted to take up her case.  Contrary to the State party’s report, there were certain limitations in the law and judiciary for defending the rights of the victims of racial discrimination.  She had been dismissed from her job.  Her complaint had been presented in June 2013 and she had won a favourable ruling in the first instance.  However, she had lost her case in the second instance, and five years later, her case was still pending in higher courts.  She had not able to recover her original post in her company.  The company had accused courts of corruption and had asked that Ms. Algendones pay a fine for it.  Peru should ensure that victims of racial discrimination could access justice.  The Committee should recommend to Peru to adopt a comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation.

Centro de Culturas Indígenas del Perú reminded that in 2014 it had presented a report on racial discrimination in the mass media in Peru, and that the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination had proposed that a code of conduct for media in Peru be adopted.  That recommendation had not been fully implemented, and there were still stereotypes about people of African descent in the media.  There was significant progress achieved in certain areas, but those were not related to a comprehensive policy taken by the State.  Stereotypes were structural and the Committee should urge Peru to include in school education issues related to racial discrimination, and to provide training for public officials.

Statements by Civil Society Organizations on Saudi Arabia

Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain highlighted the structural discrimination of racial and ethnic minorities, specifically migrants.  The kafala system of labour sponsorship gave employers vast control over migrant workers.  Under that system workers could not change jobs, quit their jobs, or leave the country without express permission from their sponsor.  The sponsor had the power to cancel migrant workers’ residence visas if workers acted without permission.  Among those racial and ethnic minorities that faced particular discrimination were Saudis or Arabs of African descent.  They were considered inferior and they faced systemic racism and had fewer employment, education and community leadership opportunities.  They lived in segregated housing areas and occupied marginalized positions in society.  Female migrant workers faced a unique set of challenges, discrimination against them being gendered and sexualized.  Many were recruited as domestic workers, but were instead forced into sex work.  The kafala system made it difficult for them to leave dangerous situations.  Finally, Saudi Arabia’s judicial system was structured in a manner that put migrants at a disadvantage, such as due process violations, long periods of detention without charge or trial, lack of legal assistance, and ineffective translation services.  Migrants were disproportionately targeted for non-violent crimes.  At least 23 per cent of those put to death for drug offences were Pakistani nationals.  

Questions by Experts

GAY MCDOUGALL, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Kyrgyzstan, expressed solidarity with the wife of the imprisoned journalist Askarov.  Did the Kyrgyz law provide for any provision for his release or pardon?  What was the level of hate speech by State officials and how did it affect communities?  

Turning to Peru, Ms. McDougall asked whether there had been efforts to ensure that the Afro-Peruvians were adequately accounted for in the 2017 census.  As for Saudi Arabia, could the new head of State be pressed on the issues of racial discrimination in ways that his predecessor had not been?  

PASTOR ELIAS MURILLO MARTINEZ, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Peru, inquired about the perception of civil society about Kyrgyzstan’s efforts to prevent inter-ethnic conflicts.

As for Peru, had there been any progress achieved to include ethnic groups in the Constitution?  What was the view of civil society about the serious situation of women, particularly the recent murder of an activist indigenous woman?  Had Azucena Algendones received any support throughout the legal process?

FATIMATA-BINTA DAH, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Saudi Arabia, inquired about the legislation that governed the employment of foreign nationals in Saudi Arabia.  What was the weight of the Sharia law in the judgments leading to the imprisonment and death penalty for foreign nationals?  

Was there any information about ethnic and religious minorities in the country, and about the prospects for them to be accepted and integrated in society?  Was the kafala system indeed abolished?  Could women indeed drive without the permission of their guardians, Ms. Dah asked.

Other Experts inquired about the reactions of civil society in Peru to repeated broadcasting of programmes that negatively portrayed the Afro-Peruvians, and about land tenure rights for the Afro-Peruvians and indigenous peoples.  Were the decisions in the second-instance courts made on the basis of the first-instance courts?  What was the effect of the new law on foreign nationals accessing education and healthcare?  How did forced labour affect different ethnic groups in Peru?

Racial discrimination faced by people of African descent and by indigenous peoples in Latin America was a historical issue, which many Governments had refused to acknowledge, one Expert noted.  To what extent did Peru show awareness and political will in the adoption of affirmative measures as an effective mechanism to promote the rights of Afro-Peruvians and indigenous peoples?

Was there a real prohibition of the kafala system in Saudi Arabia?  Turning to convicted foreign nationals in Saudi Arabia facing the death penalty, Experts wondered about the reasons for their conviction.  What was the situation of citizens of Qatar and Myanmar in Saudi Arabia?  Had migrant workers who were mistreated by their employers in Saudi Arabia used the judiciary and had the judiciary applied the Sharia law?  How accessible was justice to vulnerable migrant workers and did they fear retaliation if they accessed justice?

Was the persecution of human rights defenders in Kyrgyzstan due to racial discrimination or discrimination in general?  Experts also inquired about the amendment to the Constitution which gave to the Prime Minister the possibility to deprive citizens of their citizenship, and the discrimination of ethnic minorities by the Kyrgyz police.  What was the situation of migrant workers in Kyrgyzstan?  Could the civil society provide more information about prioritizing religious education over secular education in Kyrgyzstan?  

Answers by Civil Society from Kyrgyzstan

Interbilim said that even though Kyrgyzstan had a national strategy to prevent inter-ethnic conflicts, it did not dispose of sufficient resources to implement it.  The Ombudsman did not help ethnic minorities.  Ethnic minorities used Russian as the language of inter-communal communication, whereas the Government did not treat Russian well.  The Government did not take any measures to respond to the appeals of ethnic minorities.  There were many examples of hate speech by State officials and the Government had not taken any positive measures to prevent it.  Civil society had prepared an appeal to prevent the adoption of the draft Law on Citizenship.  If adopted, the law could be used to deprive persons accused of terrorism of their citizenship.  Terrorism was very broadly defined.  The overall situation in Kyrgyzstan did not bring people together, but it led to discrimination of ethnic minorities.  

ADC Memorial and Bir Duino confirmed that Azimzhan Askarov was an ethnic Uzbek who documented very serious crimes committed against the Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010.  The State had the possibility to review the case of Mr. Askarov.  As for police violence against ethnic and gender minorities, there was no anti-discrimination legislation and no prohibition of discrimination on the basis of gender identity.  The organization, thus, again stressed the importance of adopting comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation.   There were not many migrant workers in Kyrgyzstan, but there were some Uighurs from China who were harassed by the police.  There was a trend among communities from the Caucasus region to close themselves off from the rest of the society and to emphasize religious education over secular education.  The national strategy for the prevention of inter-ethnic conflicts and strengthening the unity of people stated that the Kyrgyz nation should be created.  However, it led to the violation of language rights of ethnic minorities.  The end result was the focus on the rights of the ethnic majority, namely the Kyrgyz.

Equal Rights Trust explained that the Government’s efforts to address the root causes of the 2010 inter-ethnic conflict centred around a concept on strengthening national unity and inter-ethnic relations.  However, in terms of language, the concept had set out Kyrgyz as the national language, instead of Russian and Uzbek, which were more widely spoken by ethnic minorities.  Another problem was the underrepresentation of ethnic minorities.  For example, in the south of the country, where the Uzbeks made up almost 40 per cent of the population, there was only one ethnic Uzbek judge.  The problem of ethnic minorities required legal reform.

Answers by Civil Society from Peru

Centre for Black Peruvian Women explained that it had worked to improve self-esteem and self-identity among the Afro-Peruvians through public awareness campaigns.  Only 3 per cent of the Afro-Peruvians in 2007 had identified as such, and in 2017 that number rose to 7 per cent.  Afro-Peruvian and indigenous women faced even more discrimination due to the groups to which they belonged.  It was necessary to have in place institutions that would implement affirmative measures to address the issues of the Afro-Peruvians and indigenous peoples.  Violence faced by Afro-Peruvian and indigenous women was a very serious problem.  The mass media perpetuated old stereotypes about the Afro-Peruvians.  Racism created barriers and impeded progress.  The State had a responsibility to adopt specific and targeted policies combatting poverty among the Afro-Peruvians.  

Azucena Algendones noted that institutions in Peru had certain limits, which was why she had suffered from harassment and racism.  Limits were in the law.  There was only one article in the Criminal Code and it covered all forms of discrimination.  There was no specific provision that would make it possible for Government institutions to end discriminatory acts.  The judiciary waited for years before taking a decision.

Centro de Culturas Indígenas del Perú stated that civil society organizations had stressed the importance of self-identification in the census.  The week before the census had been carried out in 2017, many journalists had campaigned against certain questions in the census.  They were against the inclusion of many questions about ethnicity, race, language and customs, whereas the Government had not countered their doubts.  It was very difficult for people to self-identify as indigenous or Afro-Peruvians due to the very negative stereotypes about them.  The majority of the Peruvian population was indigenous.  Racism and discrimination were structural problems in the country, which was why the Committee should urge Peru to deal with it concretely.  

Answers by Civil Society on Saudi Arabia

Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain explained that although the King had indicated his intention to open up the society, that would not apply to foreign workers.  The Saudi labour system was structured upon a system to use foreign labour without adequate compensation.  The organization noted that the 2015 amendment of the Labour Law did not apply to foreign workers.  Employers were able to identify ethnic and religious minorities and to discriminate against them.  The Saudi legal system was a complex legal system, affording the judge much leeway in how to apply the Sharia law.
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