Civil society organizations (CSOs) in Kyrgyzstan technically have the right to access resources and freely cooperate with local and international donors. This right is guaranteed in part by constitutional reforms of 2010 that were intended to prevent the reemergence of an authoritarian system of government in Kyrgyzstan, which had been rejected by citizens in 2005. However, there are concerns that President Almazbek Atambayev seeks to expand his political power by illuminating independent voices. For example, in 2016, constitutions reforms were passed to strengthen the power of the executive, weaken the parliament and judiciary, and weaken protections for minority groups.
In recent years, Kyrgyzstan has seen a number attempts to diminish freedom of association rights in particular. In 2013, a draft law on money laundering was introduced in parliament, which would have targeted unregistered CSOs that receive funding from domestic and foreign donors. The law was defeated in part due to the publication of legal analyses by CSOs that described the policies and procedures they follow to ensure transparency and accountability. In 2014, a draft law on “foreign agents”, inspired by similar legislation in Russia, was introduced at the behest of nationalist organizations to curb the influence of minority communities and stigmatize independent CSOs that receive foreign funding. This law was also defeated due in part to civil society’s ability to garner support from international partners who issued strong statements against the legislation. Despite these successes, however, the International Center for Not-for-profit Law (ICNL) notes that there are currently several efforts to place restrictions on foreign assistance.[i]
Civil society activists also report violations by Kyrgyzstan’s police of their right to assemble and demonstrate, including arrests of peaceful activists and interference in their activities. Intimidation by non-democratic, nationalist counter protesters has also become common.[ii] Recently, the government has even tried to stigmatize civil society by equating it with the LGBTI community.
CSOs in Kyrgyzstan recognize the importance of public support to their survival and take pains to improve public perception of the sector, which suffers from negative propaganda by the Russian and Kyrgyz governments. Among their outreach activities, civil society members:
- use traditional and social media to educate the public about the importance of respect for human rights in their communities and the role of civil society in protecting individuals from abuse;
- collaborate with universities to inform students about human rights and the vital importance of civic activism;
- facilitate joint events between local communities and regional governments to demonstrate the value of civic engagement and foster a positive perception of their work; and
- try to appeal to political parties and politicians who sometimes recognize that civil society’s contribution may benefit their respective constitutes.
When necessary, CSOs have formed partnerships to protect their right to access resources through litigation. CSOs train their colleagues to take legal action in court against regulations and practices that negatively affect their ability to serve their communities. This includes training on how to coordinate public discussions on the rights of civil society and how organizations should file lawsuits against state authorities that improperly restrict CSO rights.
Where possible, CSOs have developed relationships with Parliamentarians and the Ministry of Justice to improved legislation regulating the sector. CSOs have requested support through international mechanisms such as the United Nations Human Rights Council, United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, European Union, Organization for Security and Cooperating in Europe.
International treaties to which Kyrgyzstan is a party: