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Statements Special Procedures
17 December 2019
End of mission statement
From 6 to 17 December 2019, at the invitation of the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic, I conducted a mission to evaluate the current situation of minorities in the country. I met with members of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, numerous department officials, human rights defenders, international organisations, academics, civil society organisations, minority representatives and many others from different parts of the country. I would like to sincerely thank the Kyrgyz Government for the invitation to undertake this mission and for the support and valuable cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
May I start by pointing out that I am not an employee of the United Nations, and that the position I hold is honorary. As an independent expert, I exercise my professional and impartial expertise and report directly to the United Nations Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.
The objectives of my visit were to identify, in a spirit of cooperation and constructive dialogue, good practices in, and possible obstacles to, the promotion and protection of the human rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities in Kyrgyzstan in conformity with my mandate as Special Rapporteur on minority issues. More specifically, this mission’s purpose was to propose possible ways of addressing existing lacunae or gaps, and in particularly identifying ways of improving the effective implementation of Kyrgyzstan’s international obligations in relation to the human rights of minorities.
The overall aim of the visit was therefore to take a closer look at existing legislation, policies and practices for the protection and promotion of the rights of persons belonging to national, ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities. I wanted to explore aspects pertaining to minorities in areas of particular significance such as equality and non-discrimination, education, the use of minority languages including sign language, effective participation and representation in public life, the rights of religious minorities, and measures to address hate speech and incitement to inter-ethnic and religious hatred.
As I have often explained on previous country missions and in other activities of the mandate, minorities must be understood broadly as an objective, numerical category as to whether a linguistic, religious or ethnic group are less than half the population in the country. It has no negative connotation, does not depend on official recognition, is not affected by regional or other forms of autonomy arrangements, and does not involve any issue of domination, subservience or socio-economic status.
Today, I will only present my preliminary observations and recommendations on some of the main issues. These will be elaborated in more detail in the final report once I fully review the materials and documents that I have collected during the visit. I will present my final report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March 2021.
Kyrgyzstan is a beautiful mountainous country located in Central Asia. A secular, parliamentary democracy of over 6 million people, it has undergone profound demographic changes in its ethnic composition since independence in 1991, with the percentage of ethnic Kyrgyz increasing from around 50% in 1979 to 73.3% in 2018 and the percentage of ethnic groups, such as Russians, Ukrainians, Germans and Tatars dropped from 35% to less than 5%. The main ethnic groups in 2018 are the Uzbek at 14.6%, Russian at 5.6%. Other smaller groups include Dungan, Uighur, Mugat (also known as Lyuli) and other smaller minorities. Nearly all Uzbeks live in the south.
Kyrgyzstan is a party to almost all the core human rights treaties with the exception of the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The most recent ratification was the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on 17 May 2019. It generally has a positive record with regard to its engagement with international human rights institutions and mechanisms, including the special procedures’ mandate holders.
3. Human Rights Protection
The Constitution of Kyrgyzstan has a number of human rights provisions, including Article 16 of the Constitution which guarantees the right to equality and non-discrimination on many grounds, including sex, race, language, ethnicity, disability, age, belief, political and other convictions, education, proprietary and other status. Article 6 in the Constitution, before the amendments in 2016, provided that the “provisions of international treaties on human rights shall have direct action and be of priority in respect of provisions of other international treaties.” Changes in 2016 has meant the removal of this section, meaning essentially the elimination of the priority of international human rights obligations over other international treaties, and of their direct application in domestic law.
On a positive note, Kyrgyzstan developed a 2019-2021 Human Rights Action Plan based on some of the recommendations from international human rights mechanisms which includes a specific section on minority issues. While Kyrgyzstan must be applauded for this new development, it should be pointed out that it deals more with awareness-raising activities such as on combating racial discrimination and intolerance provided for in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and does not directly address issues such as education in minority languages or the under-representation of minorities in most areas of public life.
There are therefore a number of continuing gaps and omissions which raise serious concerns that have been expressed previously by other UN human rights mechanisms, including the absence of comprehensive human rights legislation – and specially an antidiscrimination law – to ensure the implementation of the constitutionally entrenched human rights, as well as the omission of the prohibition of discrimination on the ground of religion in Article 16 of the Constitution. The Human Rights Committee in 2014, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2015, and most recently, in 2018, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) have all called on the Government of Kyrgyzstan to adopt a comprehensive anti-discrimination framework that would address all grounds of discrimination, and would define also direct and indirect discrimination. While anti-discrimination provisions are included in the Criminal Code and the Labour Code, there are no such provisions in other key areas such as education and healthcare amongst others. These lacunae can be of particular significance for minorities who may find themselves subjected to discriminatory treatment or particularly vulnerable or marginalised.
The Office of the Ombudsperson of the Kyrgyz Republic (Akyikatchy) receives complaints on human rights violations, and has received complaints filed by members of minorities, in particular with regard to alleged police mistreatment, discrimination in the provision of public services, hate speech and hate crime, and also with regard to registration of religious organizations. Despite the important work of the Ombudsperson, his office faces challenges with regard to human and financial resources and his institutional position appears to be vulnerable due to specific provisions contained in the Law on the Ombudsperson of the Kyrgyz Republic, and in particular Article 7 of the law which provides for the “premature dismissal” of the Ombudsperson in the case of disapproval by the Parliament (Jogorku Kenesh) of his Office’s report on the human rights situation in the country.
I share also the concerns expressed by other UN mechanisms that the Office of the Ombudsperson is still not in compliance with the Paris Principles on the status of national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights, and the low number of complaints of discrimination on the grounds of religion, language or ethnicity submitted to the Office. I recommend the adoption of legislation to bring the Office of the Ombudsperson in compliance with the Paris Principles, and that the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic take effective measures to raise awareness about the work of the Office and complaint mechanism available to minorities for complaints of ethnic, religious or linguistic discrimination. The Office should also be ensured of the necessary resources to discharge its role.
I should also point out that UN monitoring mechanisms have identified a number of issues over the years that remain still of concern today, such as:
- a reduced level of minority participation and representation in public life, including in elected positions;
- increasingly low levels of employment in the civil service of the country, including in the police and judiciary, at times associated with dismissals of members of the Uzbek minority;
- largely inexistent use of minority languages in the media, other than Russian;
- decrease in the use of minority languages in education, including as medium of instruction;
- continuing allegations of torture and mistreatment of some minorities, most notably Uzbeks;
- forced evictions, business take-overs or destruction of property of minorities, particularly following the 2010 conflict (which is described later in this statement).
There are also other concerning developments that need to be mentioned, such as amendments to the Law on Citizenship enabling the revocation of Kyrgyz citizenship of citizens who travelled abroad for terrorist training or to become foreign fighters.
I should mention in particular that representatives of minorities in Kyrgyzstan have often shared with me their concerns about unequal treatment and discrimination, in particular with regard to access to education in mother tongue, employment and in particular relating to positions in the civil service and public sector, access to justice, as well as restrictions in freedom of expression, assembly and association which could be described as discriminatory.
4. Statelessness and Minorities in Kyrgyzstan
Worldwide, statelessness is mainly a minority issue since more than 75% of the world’s estimated 10 million stateless people are members of minority groups. Kyrgyzstan became in 2019 the first country to end statelessness in the country for all practical purposes. The concrete steps undertaken by the Government to eradicate statelessness include the State Registration Agency’s community outreach initiatives to try to ensure that everyone in the Kyrgyz Republic has access to civil registration and official documents, as well as a policy of granting automatic citizenship to children born in the country who would otherwise be stateless. In partnership with civil society, the State Registration Agency has implemented a country-wide campaign, which has led to the identification of 79,000 people who were provided with identification cards, and more specifically a campaign focussing on members of the Mugat minority who traditionally might not have any identity papers or even birth registrations. Civil society organisations were part of these efforts, most notably the Ferghana Valley Lawyers Without Borders and its director, Azizbek Ashurov, who won in October 2019 the Nansen Refugee Award for their contribution.
The Kyrgyz in this area is therefore a notable example of good practices to eliminate statelessness that are particularly important in light of the serious consequences of statelessness for millions of minorities in other regions.
In Kyrgyzstan, school education includes primary education (Grade 1 to 4), basic secondary (Grade 5 to 9) and upper secondary (Grades 10 and 11). The primary and basic secondary are compulsory, whereas there is also a one-year pre-school education.
Kyrgyzstan applies a mandatory learning of the Kyrgyz state language. School manuals and textbooks are also supposed to be published in four languages, namely Kyrgyz, Russian, Uzbek and Tajik.
According the information by the Ministry of Education and Science, there are 2,262 educational institutions for primary, basic secondary and high secondary education, with a total of 1,222,661 students. 462 of them are located in urban areas, whereas 1,796 in rural areas of the country. 2,148 of them are public and 114 private educational institutions.
Four languages (Kyrgyz, Russian, Uzbek, Tajik) are used as medium of instruction in 1,689 public schools, three of which are minority languages: Russian is language of instruction in 226 schools, Uzbek in 33 and Tajik in 3. Longitudinal data covering the school years from 2013/14 to 2017/18, show a dramatic decrease in the number of Uzbek schools (from 65 to 33), whereas the number of Russian schools has increased and the Tajik remains the same throughout the reported period. It is noteworthy that despite being the second largest community in the country, and more numerous than members of the Russian minority, the use of the Uzbek language in education is significantly underrepresented.
With regard to secondary vocational education, out of the total 91,877 students in 145 institutions for the school year 2017/18, 79,155 are ethnic Kyrgyz.
There are 1,390 pre-school institutions, with a total of 187,078 children, out of which 99,678 are taught in Kyrgyz language, 86,511 in Russian, 878 in Uzbek and 11 in other languages.
One of the key priority policy areas of the Government’s Educational Development Strategy 2012 – 2020 is the development of multicultural and multilingual education in which students are taught in more than two languages. According to the Government data, multilingual education is provided in more than 80 schools in the whole territory, as well as in 60 kindergartens and 5 higher education institutions. There are also pilot programmes for multilingual education, which are supported by international organizations such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Although the Constitution, in its Article 10, recognises that ethnic minorities form part of the population of Kyrgyzstan, and that they have the right to preserve their native language as well as creation of conditions for its learning and development, in practice minorities appear to face significant challenges in accessing quality education in their mother tongue. The state Kyrgyz and official Russian languages have progressively replaced minority languages in public education (there are no vocational or university education in a minority language other than in a few courses limited to the study of non-Russian minority languages). Before the violence in 2010, there had been two Kyrgyz universities which offered courses in Uzbek, namely the Kyrgyz-Uzbek University in Osh and the People’s Friendship University in Jalal-Abad.
The first offers courses only in Kyrgyz and Russian, whereas the second has shut down.
The number of minority language schools have significantly decreased, either due to the absence of funding and of qualified teaching staff in minority languages, or due to fact that some of these schools changed the language of instruction to the official Russian language or more often to the national Kyrgyz language. In addition, many minority parents opt to send their children to Kyrgyz and Russian-language schools to secure their continued education, since universities only teach in Kyrgyz or Russian, and to increase their chances for employment after graduation, either in Kyrgyzstan or abroad, especially in Russia.
Currently, there is no education in a number of minority languages, mainly due to the lack of Government support and the absence of trained teaching staff and of educational material and textbooks, which would seem to be inconsistent with the guarantees in Article 10 of the Constitution.
For example, Kurdish minority children do not have any school teaching in their language, whereas Uighurs have been given the permission by the Ministry of Education and Science to implement programmes for the teaching of Uighur language in 3 schools in Chui and Osh provinces. This has not yet been implemented because the Government has not provided any funding, and the Uighur minority community does not have the financial means to support them.
With regard to the Dungan minority, there are 10 schools in Chui province and 1 in Osh that teach their language for only 1 hour per week. However, according to information shared with the Special Rapporteur, every year, representatives of the Dungan minority are obliged to write letters to the Ministry of Education and Science and members of the Parliament in order to ensure that this 1 hour per week teaching in their language is respected and maintained. In terms of Dungan language textbooks, it has been reported that for the last 5 years there has been only 1 project of publication of 7,000 textbooks, following a grant that the Society of the Dungan minority received through competition by the Government.
Furthermore, after 2015, the option to use the Uzbek language in the national high school graduation examinations, which offer access to university education, has been revoked. Since then, exams can only be taken in Kyrgyz and in Russian. The abolition of university admission tests in the Uzbek language has already been described by the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Radial Discrimination as potentially discriminatory for children whose education was partially delivered in the Uzbek language.
The language of education is however not the only issue of concern for minorities. A different barrier occurred in relation to members of one Mugat community within the area of Osh municipality who told me that only one school was accessible for around more than 800 students. Initially built in the 1970s for some 180 students, about 600 students from the community handled today around 800 – which meant four rotations of some 200 students would only receive three or four formal teaching lessons of 45 minutes duration a day. Others had to travel a significant distance to be able to receive any education and all. Despite multiple request, including most recently in 2017 and 2018 to the Ministry of Education, local officials and the state authorities for Osh Region, no clear responses were received, with the result that it would appear Mugat children are dealt with in a discriminatory manner in terms of access to education compared to other children. The result is of course low levels of educational achievement, poverty, inability to qualify for employment in most areas, and situations where these children become vulnerable and excluded from being able to participate equally in many aspects of society.
My mandate produced in 2017 a document entitled ‘Language Rights of Linguistic Minorities: A Practical Guide’ which considers among other things the impact of international human rights such as non-discrimination. This means in the area of public education and the use of a minority language, that where “there is a sufficiently high numerical demand, public education services must be provided in a minority language to the appropriate degree, broadly following a proportional approach. This includes all levels of public education from kindergarten to university. If demand, the concentration of speakers or other factors make this not feasible, state authorities should as far as practicable at least ensure availability of minority language teaching. In addition, all children must have an opportunity to learn the official language(s).”
In conformity with the guidance provided by this guide, Kyrgyzstan should ensure that its policy on language use in education does not discriminate, directly or indirectly. In particular this means that it should increase the number of schools which use Uzbek language as the langue of instruction, and ensure appropriate and proportional budgetary resources for the provision of quality mother tongue education, while providing effective teaching of Kyrgyz as a second language, and re-establish university admission tests in the Uzbek language.
6. Deaf Community and the Use of Sign Languages
Individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as members of their family and others who use sign languages to communicate, are using a full-fledged language. Since they form less than half of the population of the country, they are therefore members of a linguistic minority falling within my mandate as UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues.
In Kyrgyzstan, there 2 schools for deaf people and one for hearing-impaired, with a total of 759 students for the school year 2017/18. Unfortunately, sign language is not consistently used as a medium of instruction or generally taught in these schools. Instead, students tend to be trained in lip-reading and articulation.
It appears that most public services where sign language may be used is through the public association “Kyrgyz Society of the Blind and Deaf” which provides for the Government sign language interpreters, including for court proceedings. While I have received positive comments about its work, there remains a shortage of trained teaching staff for sign language, and the Kyrgyz Society of the Blind and Deaf has on its roster only four sign language interpreters, all based in Bishkek.
Also on the positive side, sign language is recognized and protected by law in the Kyrgyz Republic. Article 3, the 2008 Law on the Rights and Guarantees of Persons with Disabilities obliges the Government to provide sign language interpretation in areas of education and healthcare, in court proceedings, in the provision of state and municipal services and in all other areas with the purpose of protecting and promoting the rights of persons with disabilities (article 3). The law also obliges the Government to provide training to sign language interpreters, teachers and speech therapists and to ensure the inclusion of sign language in the media.
However, there is no Government programme in place for the provision of sign language interpretation in hospitals and other medical centres, and deaf people are obliged to be accompanied either by their own interpreter or by a relative who would facilitate communication with the medical personnel. It is my understanding that this is the case in most public services with the exception of education and court proceedings. There is therefore a need for stronger Government support, through adequate public funding, and involvement in the provision of sign language interpretation and the development and implementation of training programmes for sign language interpreters through establishment of dedicated university departments.
Currently, what little sign language information provided in the media has been sporadic when supported by international donors, whereas Government financial support is still pending for the development of a mobile phone application and the operation of a call centre for remote assistance. Finally, the Government of Kyrgyzstan needs to provide additional support to deaf people in the area of employment, through job creation and the award of tenders.
7. The Human Rights of Religious Minorities
Generally speaking, religious minorities broadly enjoy human rights guarantees of freedom of religion and non-discrimination on the grounds of religion in the country, though there are a few areas of concern.
The 2009 Law on Freedom of Religion and Religious Organizations includes a few restrictive provisions which may limit the activity of religious organizations in the country. According to this law, religious organizations are required to have at least 200 signing members in order to register with the state authorities. A registration application needs to be submitted to the State Committee on Religious Affairs, which decides on whether the organization will operate as a religious organization. For this latter application to the State Commission on Religious Affairs, a long list of documents is required, including assessments from the relevant local self-government authorities (as per the 2011 Law on Local Self-Government), the local prosecutor’s office and the local national security office. If the religious organization wishes to acquire also a legal identity, then its members need to submit also an application to the Ministry of Justice.
Obstructions to the registration of religious organizations representing smaller religious minorities in Kyrgyzstan, such as the Baha’í, Protestants, Ahmadiyya Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Tengrism and Zoroastrianism have been reported, as well as in some cases the use by the local self-government authorities of the provisions of the 2005 Law on Countering Extremist Activity in their assessment of these organizations, which is submitted for review and final decision to the State Committee on Religious Affairs.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have been registered in Kyrgyzstan since 1998. However, since the adoption of the Law on Freedom of Religion and Religious Organizations in 2009, they have not succeeded in registering any new branches in cities and villages. There are still pending registrations in Naryn, Osh, Jalal-Abad and Batken regions. In 2019, the UN Human Rights Committee issued a decision (CCPR/C/125/D/2312/2013) finding that the failure to grant registration in Batken is discriminatory and violates the right to freedom of religion and freedom of association. It also stated that the requirement of 200 signing members is a violation of the Covenant and of the Constitution, and that it imposes an unnecessary and arbitrary bureaucratic and financial burden on the applicants, whereas it is allegedly designed to prevent small religious organizations from obtaining registration.
Currently, a total of 3,320 religious organization are registered with the State Commission on Religious Affairs, out of which 2,902 Islamic organizations, 404 Christian, 12 Baha’í, 1 Jewish and 1 Buddhist. Of them, 392 are legal entities and registered with the Ministry of Justice.
I received information that the Office of the Ombudsperson is currently reviewing the case of the registration of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ organization in Batken region.
In addition, the 2009 Law on Freedom of Religion and Religious Organizations is vague with regard to the definition of “proselytism”, qualifying it as “insistent actions directed at turning believers of one faith to another”, and it stipulates that any distribution of literature, printed, audio and video materials of a religious character in public places or in private flats, children institutions, schools and higher educational establishments is banned.
Recently, the State Commission on Religious Affairs proposed amendments to the Law on Freedom of Religion and Religious Associations, by further restricting house to house dissemination of religious convictions and by requiring that all 200 signatory members should be residents of the region (oblast) where the organization is based.
Information about intimidation and attacks against members of religious minorities, and particularly against members of Protestant Baptists and Jehovah’s Witnesses have been shared with me, but in general these phenomena appear to be only isolated cases.
During the visit, I was made also aware of difficulties that minorities face with regard to the burial of their relatives in their respective regions. The concerns focused on the scarcity of cemeteries, the absence of clear framework for the demarcation within the cemeteries and the negative popular sentiments against religious minorities, and especially against those who have been converted to other religions. There are reported cases according to which persons from the same ethnicity but converted to a different religion were not accepted by local communities to be buried in the same cemetery, and the person’s family members were obliged to travel hundreds of kilometres to find a burial place for their relative. In other cases, the bodies of the defunct relatives were exhumed, under pressure by local communities, and sent to another cemetery.
8. Minority political participation and representation in public life
The participation of minorities in public life in Kyrgyzstan is extremely limited compared to the proportion of these minorities to the total population of the country. In the Parliament (Jogorku Kenesh), 90% of members are ethnic Kyrgyz and 5% Russians. Dungans have 2 members of parliament, whereas Kazakhs, Tatars and Uighur have each 1 member. While Uzbeks represent more than 14% of the population, only 3 members of parliament are members of the Uzbek minority.
On the positive side, since the October 2015 elections, the Electoral law prescribes a 15% quota for minority representation on political party lists. Legal reforms aimed at enhancing parliamentary representation have so far been timid and largely ineffective. While the above mentioned quota at least symbolically ensured a degree of visibility for a handful of the 100 or so minority groups in the country, in practice I was informed this does not go very far however in terms in ensuring a proportional presence reflective of the countries diversity, or of being an effective form of political participation of most minorities. After registration with CEC, these minority candidates can be reshuffled in the party lists with candidates coming from minorities being disadvantaged, or even if elected they will be replaced by an ethnic Kyrgyz at a later stage if they step down.
Representation in local councils however is more significant, particularly in the areas of higher concentration of minorities, but still subject to vast under-representation. Statistical data from 2016 show that in all government bodies, 93% were ethnic Kyrgyz, whereas only 6.2% were minorities. In that year at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 95.3% were ethnic Kyrgyz and only 4.7% were from minorities. In local self-government the minority representation was higher, with 10.6%.
According to the State Personnel Agency of the Kyrgyz Republic, as of January 2019, minorities represented only 5% of the total number of state civil servants, and 10.7% of employees at the municipal level. Among them, ethnic Russian represent 2.1% of the state civil servants and 2.5% of the municipal employees, whereas ethnic Uzbeks 1.2% of the state civil service and 5.6% at the municipal administration.
This disproportionate presence of minorities, or more accurately the near exclusion of minorities, has been linked in part to a language barrier as one of the main reasons explaining the low representation of minorities in public life. In 2015, amendments to the law on civil service introduced requirements for Kyrgyz language competence for all civil servants, and tens of thousands of them had to pass Kyrgyz language proficiency exams. In addition, according to the 2004 Law on the state language of Kyrgyz Republic, the state Kyrgyz and, “if necessary”, the official Russian, are the languages of the official documents issued by state and local government agencies.
Representation of minorities in law enforcement is also very weak, with only 5.5% of the total police force of 15,684 officers in 2018, with Russians 2%, Uzbeks 1.6%, Kazakhs 0.7%. All other minorities only represent 1.2% of the police force. Furthermore, there are no official figures about the minority representation in prosecutors’ offices and the court system. Finally, minorities represent only 3% of the total number of military officers in the country. It has been claimed that one of the reasons for this low representation of minorities is the fear of harassment and intimidation by ethnic Kyrgyz soldiers and commanders.
At least in relation to the claimed language barrier, it should be pointed out that the absence of the recognition of the use of minority languages as languages for public services to be used by local officials in areas where minorities are a significant proportion of the population, could be considered to be discriminatory, since it not only affects the quality of and access to public services such as health and others, but also limits employment opportunities for those who are more fluent in minority languages. The 2017 ‘Language Rights of Linguistic Minorities: A Practical Guide’ also indicates that it could be a breach of the prohibition of discrimination not to offer public services in a minority language, and the associated employment opportunities for those fluent in these languages, in such contexts where it is reasonable and justified a minority language such as Uzbek or other concentrated minorities, in addition to Russian and Kyrgyz.
9. Inter-ethnic Relations and Conflict Prevention
Inter-ethnic relations in Kyrgyzstan, and particularly the relations between the majority ethnic Kyrgyz and the Uzbek minority following the 2010 events in Osh, remain fragile. There are several identified factors that could bring the level of inter-ethnic tension to a breaking point, such as the underrepresentation of minorities, the issue of minority languages in education and public service provision, cases of claimed unfair treatment by law enforcement and in the provision of public services, and issues relating to resource management, including water and land.
The 2010 conflict claimed the lives of more than 400 people, with more than two thirds of them being ethnic Uzbeks, and led to the destruction of thousands of houses, properties and businesses. Yet, there are concerns over the Government’s response to this conflict, and in particular with regard to the investigations and the administration of justice for the serious violations committed at that time. Reports indicate that a significant number of criminal cases for murder as well as for destruction of property and robbery or theft remained suspended, and that the Government has not implemented programmes for the rehabilitation of victims and their families, including children who have been exposed to violence and destruction.
Following the events of 2010, the Government adopted in 2013 the Concept on Strengthening National Unity and Interethnic Relations which underlines the commitment of all relevant stakeholders in the country to ensure everyone’s equal rights and opportunities regardless of ethnicity.
The body responsible to implement this Concept and to develop strategies for conflict prevention is the State Agency for Local Self-Government and Inter-ethnic Relations (GAMSUMO), which was created also in 2013. In its mandate and programmes with regard to the monitoring of inter-ethnic relations and conflict prevention, GAMSUMO is in close coordination with the local self-government institutions in the various regions of the country.
With the support of the United Nations and others, GAMSUMO has created 23 community-based reception centres, each one having a dedicated inter-ethnic advisory council, which monitor the developments at the local level, implement GAMSUMO’s programmatic activities, receive complaints and cases brought to them by the local communities and report regularly to the central monitoring body of GAMSUMO in order for the organization to formulate recommendations for the Government. At the national level, GAMSUMO has established also central inter-ethnic public council with 33 members from different regions, which however, due to financial constraints could not meet for 2 years.
In 2019, the GAMSUMO’s local reception centres received 200 complaints and took action on 56 of these complaints to ensure that they do not transform themselves into local inter-ethnic tension and conflict. It is reported that in 2019, a total of 1011 events and activities to promote inter-ethnic harmony have been organized and supervised by GAMSUMO, including training programmes and initiatives of local inter-ethnic diplomacy. In these activities, GAMSUMO collaborates also with the advisory council representing minorities in the Kyrgyz Republic, the People’s Assembly.
However, there has been some criticism about the efficiency of GAMSUMO and of its local reception centres, as local populations are not well informed about the activities of the organization and the possibility to submit a complaint. In addition, concerns have been raised with regard to the financial sustainability of this institution, which appears to operate mainly thanks to international donors’ contributions.
Other concerns have highlighted the fact that 20 out of the 23 public reception centers operate in local government buildings which renders them less accessible to the public and that GAMSUMO’s close coordination with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Muslim religious authorities, and the State Committee on National Security creates a sentiment of distrust among minority communities who prefer to refer their cases to human rights civil society organizations and to seek legal assistance from them.
In the area of conflict prevention and resolution, and following recent cases of inter-ethnic tensions in March-April 2019, the Office of the Ombudsman has designed and implemented an initiative of community-based outreach, involving minority representatives from different regions of the country, who operate as the Ombudsman’s advisors and are responsible to disseminate information about the Ombudsman’s activities and recommendations. They contribute to the strengthening of the local presence of the Office of the Ombudsman, along with its existing regional offices in the 7 regions (oblasts) of the country, they monitor inter-ethnic relations and provide valuable information for any intervention to mitigate local inter-ethnic tensions.
10. Hate Speech, national identity, and inter-ethnic tensions
On numerous occasions, particularly when I visited locations in the south of the country, I was informed that the voices of minorities and dissent were muffled because of an environment of “unfinished business” and vulnerability after the 2010 violent events in Osh and surrounding areas. Despite numerous positive and worthwhile initiatives, including with GAMSUMO, the Policy Framework on Strengthening National Unity and Inter-Ethnic Relations in the Kyrgyz Republic, and other measures, a number of UN mechanisms have recently expressed similar concerns to mine.
CERD for example referred to what seemed like a growing stereotyping and stigmatisation of ethnic minorities, including Uzbeks, Turks, Uighurs and Mugat, and the use of hate speech against them in the media and by public and political figures. The Committee was also concerned at the ethnic profiling by law enforcement officers of these communities, in particular of Uzbeks.
The Policy Framework focused on creating a national identity that is not explicitly inclusive of all ethnicities and may tend to reignite past conflicts. It reminded that the national identity must be built on recognition of all communities in the nation.
One prominent issue with a minority dimension which have gained much attention is the case of journalist Ulugbek Babakulov who criticized nationalist attacks against Uzbeks during the 2010 events and the general situation of Uzbeks. He was charged with incitement to hatred under the former Article 299 of the Criminal Code (Article 313 of the amended Criminal Code as of 2019), and sentenced to 4 years imprisonment, and fled the country.
There were also other cases where dissident voices and comments and criticism against law enforcement abuses, expressed by members of minorities, were or may be prosecuted under this provision. In this regard I remind the Government of Kyrgyzstan of its obligation to fulfill the 2016 UN Human Rights Committee’s observations on the need to release the imprisoned human rights defender, Azimjon Askarov, a member of the Uzbek minority who investigated and wrote on police brutality during the 2010 events and received a life sentence for inciting ethnic violence. In May 2018 CERD reiterated the views expressed by the Human Rights Committee when it “expressed concern about the State party’s continuing failure to restore the rights of Azimjan Askarov.”
I have also heard allegations, on more than one occasion, that the Government does not prosecute cases under what is now Article 313, when the victims are members of minorities and the perpetrators members of the Kyrgyz majority.
Overall, I have received claims of an increasing number of incidents of what has been described as harassment, or at least a hostile and threatening environment of civil society organisations, human rights defenders and journalists, including those monitoring and reporting on the situation of minorities. In this regard, I also agree with my colleagues on the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination that Kyrgyzstan must “take effective measures to ensure that civil society organizations, human rights defenders and journalists, including those working on the rights of ethnic minorities, are able to carry out their work effectively and without fear of reprisals”.
These and other factors appear to mean that minority journalists and others who may write on minority and other related matters, are very attentive with regard to the use of social media and are passive rather than active in order to avoid any risk of being arrested and intimidated.
On a related topic in the context of events is Osh in 2010, the Law on Countering Extremist Activity lists 13 types of acts being considered as extremist activities, but it does not clearly define the term “extremism” which allows for a subjective interpretation.
Article 299 of the previous Criminal Code (currently Article 313 of the new Criminal Code) lays offences on “inciting national, racial, religious or inter-regional hostility” and it has been used by the state authorities in 57 criminal cases involving individuals in 2018, and 80 cases against organizations or groups of people. Concerns have once again been raised concerning the use of this provision of Criminal Code by state authorities to suppress dissident minority voices and criticism against Government policies.
It is not possible to simply discount these concerns and fears. 2016 data from the Supreme Court shows that approximately 60% of the extremism-related convictions concern members of minorities, with ethnic Uzbek representing 54%.
11. A new approach to citizenship
A number of concerns were expressed in relation to a new concept of citizenship which is being put forward by the Government of Kyrgyzstan which would appear to promote centred around Kyrgyz ethnicity rather than a national citizenship of all Kyrgyzstanis. The new approach contained in Concept for the Construction of a Civil Nation – Kyrgyz Zharan (‘Kyrgyz Citizen’) in the Kyrgyz Republic significantly refers to, amongst others, ‘a civil nation is achieved by creating equal conditions and opportunities for participation of Kyrgyz Zharana in socio-economic and socio-political life, preserving diversity and increasing tolerance in society’, it then subsequently seems to discard any significant reflection of the country’s ethnic composition by emphasising Kyrgyz language and culture and significantly setting aside those of its minorities. For example, while the document’s strategic objectives are described as involving opportunities to stimulate and motivate citizens to learn the state language, to improve the quality its teaching, it does not mention teaching in minority languages, referring only to ‘multilingual education’ and the objective of developing ‘opportunities’ for knowledge of official, native and foreign languages.
This would suggest that education in and of minority languages may be demoted, but significantly reduced or even perhaps eliminated, which would be inconsistent with the country’s human rights obligations.
12. Final mission remarks
During my twelve-day visit I attempted to meet with the widest spectrum of stakeholders at the governmental level, both national and regional as well as international organisations, NGOs, institutions working on various aspects affecting minorities and importantly minority communities themselves and their representatives, especially in different parts of the country. I have met with high-level representatives of a number of ministries and other governmental entities including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Education and Science, the Ministry of the Interior, the National Statistical Committee, the State Registration Service, the State Agency for Local Self-Government and Inter-Ethnic Relations, the State Commission on Religious Affairs, the State Personnel Agency, the Office of the Ombudsman, the Ministry of Labour and Social Development, the Supreme Court, the Ministry of Justice, the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Ministry of Health, and the National Human Rights Coordination Council. I did not want to limit my visit to the capital, which is why I have also visited the regions of Osh, Jalal-Abad and Batken and was able to meet with local authorities and representatives from civil society organizations and minority communities.
To everyone who met with me, I want to express my gratitude for their readiness to engage in an open dialogue to better understand and assess the human rights situation of minorities in the country.
In addition to the Government's cooperation before and during the mission, I would also like to thank the Office of the UN Country Team and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Regional Office for Central Asia for their valuable support.
This statement contains only my preliminary observations. I will submit my final report to the March 2021 session of the United Nations Human Rights Council and accept submissions from all interested persons and organisations until September 2020.
17 December 2019