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We write in advance of the upcoming E.U.-Kazakhstan and E.U.-Kyrgyzstan Cooperation Council meetings, to highlight some of Human Rights Watch’s principal human rights concerns in these countries, and to offer specific suggestions for reform steps we would urge you to advance in your dialogues with the respective governments.

Dear Ministers,

We write in advance of the upcoming E.U.-Kazakhstan and E.U.-Kyrgyzstan Cooperation Council meetings, to highlight some of Human Rights Watch’s principal human rights concerns in these countries, and to offer specific suggestions for reform steps we would urge you to advance in your dialogues with the respective governments.

Both governments’ human rights records continue to fall well below the criteria set out in the Partnership and Cooperation Agreements (PCA) with the E.U. Meanwhile, the conclusions issued following the past years’ Cooperation Council meetings with both governments have been disappointingly weak when it comes to references to human rights. While last year’s conclusions on Kazakhstan rightly emphasized the need for “increased efforts in the fields of rule of law, democracy and human rights, in particular as regards elections, freedom of the media, freedom for political groupings and NGOs to operate unhindered, and the independence of the judiciary,” they stopped short of articulating the specific reform steps that Kazakh government should undertake to address these concerns, and of setting a clear timeframe for their fulfillment. The conclusions on Kyrgyzstan noted with concern the closure of Moia Stolitsa newspaper, but otherwise made no reference at all to human rights.

We hope that this year the E.U. will use the Cooperation Council meetings with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan as an opportunity to make clear that the human rights criteria set out in the PCA are an essential element of its relationship with these governments. The conclusions convey an important public message about the E.U.’s commitment to human rights improvements as a condition for deepened engagement. They should be frank in identifying shortcomings in the Kazakh and Kyrgyz governments’ human rights records, and in calling for specific measures to address them.

Such an approach would be consistent with the welcome message Commissioner Patten conveyed in his keynote address during a visit to Almaty in March 2004: “[I]n signing Partnership and Co-operation Agreements with us, the countries of Central Asia have given their recognition to the overriding importance of a shared set of values. […] I want to signal clearly now that the E.U. will give greater, not less, priority to these issues in the future. […] And in the years ahead, the EU will be pressing for more concrete results and more measurable progress in the implementation of the provisions of our Agreement.”

Kazakhstan’s vast energy wealth has, in recent years, made it an important geostrategic partner for many countries. It has also raised the political stakes inside the country significantly. As a consequence, throughout the past several years the government has undermined freedoms to shield itself from public scrutiny and political rivals, and to protect its substantial control over the hydrocarbon sector. Left unaddressed, these conditions will make it unlikely that the country’s upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for September 2004, will meet international standards.

The September 2003 local council elections offered a telling example of what may be expected. According to the opposition, the government attempted to exclude rival candidates from the ballot through arbitrary misdemeanor and other criminal charges, and other means of harassment and intimidation.

While in the past two years the government steadily erected new legal barriers to the registration of political parties, in recent months it took several positive steps to expand access to the ballot for opposition political parties. In May it registered the central branch of the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK), one of Kazakhstan’s main opposition movements, and last month it adopted a new law on elections that expands the role of election observers. However, it remains to be seen whether local authorities will register provincial branches of DVK. Also, while these changes improve the structure of elections, there are grounds for concern about the fairness and transparency of the vote. Kazakh television is dominated either by government or progovernment media, raising concern about equal access to the media for opposition candidates. Electoral commissions, chosen by the local councils, do not include members from opposition parties. The government plans to introduce electronic voting in urban areas, which decreases the transparency of the vote.

In the past few years the government has harassed members and supporters of Kazakhstan’s opposition political parties and movements. In some cases, this harassment has taken the form of arbitrary criminal and misdemeanor charges and threats of job dismissal, often aimed at preventing the individual from running for public office. Galymzhan Zhakianov, one of DVK’s leaders, remains imprisoned following an unfair trial on charges that have been widely viewed as selective and politically motivated.

The Kazakh government is eager to stop exposure of corruption scandals involving oil contracts, and to avoid transparency of oil revenues. Two major corruption scandals have implicated high-level officials. Editors and journalists who tackle these and other controversial topics have been victims of attacks and beatings by unknown individuals. The government also targets them for criminal libel cases. One of them, Sergei Duvanov, is on parole, serving a three-year prison term on charges of statutory rape, following a deeply flawed trial. Duvanov had also been the target of an anonymous physical attack and subject of a criminal libel suit.

The government continues to control the work of non-governmental organizations that work on sensitive issues. It harasses NGOs through intimidating visits by security and law enforcement agencies and arbitrary investigations by the tax police and surveillance by law enforcement and security agents.

Kazakhstan is also home to one of the fastest-growing AIDS epidemics in the world, threatening the country’s economic and social development. Severe human rights abuses, including systematic police brutality against drug users, sex workers, street children and others most vulnerable to the infection are fueling the spread of the disease.

In a welcome move in November 2003, President Nazarbaev authorized Kazakhstan’s signing of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). As of this writing, however, the parliament has yet to ratify the treaties. The government likewise extended an invitation to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, who visited the country last month. It is important to remember, however, that the real test of the government’s commitment to cooperation with the international community and domestic reform will be the extent to which it implements the Special Rapporteur’s resulting recommendations.

Following are measures that the Kazakh government should be required to undertake to address these concerns:

  • Release political opposition leader Galymzhan Zhakianov and independent journalist and human rights defender Sergei Duvanov, both of whom serve sentences on charges that appear to be politically motivated; allow the OSCE to immediately undertake an independent, expert review of Zhakianov’s case and heed the recommendations of the OSCE-commissioned expert review of Duvanov’s case, conducted last year, which concluded that the criminal investigation had been deeply flawed.
  • Allow for an independent and impartial review of all criminal cases brought against members of the political opposition.
  • Register all opposition political parties and movements, and nongovernmental organizations that have submitted documentation in accordance with the law.
  • Ensure equal access to the media, particularly the broadcast media, for all electoral candidates.
  • Desist from harassment of, and threats against, opposition candidates during election campaigns.
  • To ensure transparency in the vote count, desist from the use of electronic voting.
  • Reform electoral commissions so as to ensure that they include opposition party representation.
  • Ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and issue standing invitations to all U.N. special mechanisms to visit Kazakhstan.
  • Review government legislation regarding HIV/AIDS, in order to bring it into compliance with international standards on HIV/AIDS and human rights. Expand prevention and treatment services for all persons affected by HIV/AIDS.
  • Reform police practices regarding treatment of drug users, particularly harassment of drug users seeking to use or having used needle exchange services for HIV prevention.
  • Kyrgyzstan
    The Kyrgyz government’s human rights record has continued to steadily deteriorate during the past year, particularly in the areas of political participation, freedom of assembly, and freedom of expression. Local rights groups in particular have exposed serious violations of fundamental rights, including in those areas essential to the development of civil society.

    Human rights defenders in Kyrgyzstan report that they are routinely harassed and subjected to intimidating and intrusive surveillance by law enforcement authorities. In September 2003, the Ministry of Justice stripped the leadership of a prominent human rights group, the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights (KCHR), of its registration, recognizing an alternate executive body instead. Authorities also on three occasions during 2003 refused to re-register the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, a Kyrgyz nongovernmental organization that engages in election monitoring and civil society education. Following an international outcry, the government eventually re-registered the group in October 2003.

    In August 2003, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of President Akaev’s major political rival, former vice-president of Kyrgyzstan and head of the Ar-Namys (Dignity) party, Feliks Kulov. Kulov has been imprisoned since 2000, serving a ten-year sentence on trumped-up charges of abuse of office while serving in government.

    Ar-Namys party members have found themselves continually persecuted and harassed. Some have been compelled by security agents to quit the party or face loosing their jobs. Party leaders report that they are under constant and intimidating surveillance.

    Criminal libel laws remain in force and the aggressive use of politically motivated lawsuits brought by government officials has caused the closure of some of the country’s leading news outlets. As a result, independent news outlets that remain open are forced to engage in self-censorship. Critical journalists and editors and their relatives have also been the targets of violent attack by unknown assailants. Most recently, on April 24 , a group of men physically attacked Chingiz Sydykov, the 21-year-old son of Zamira Sydykova, the editor-in-chief of one of Kyrgyzstan’s leading and most outspoken independent newspapers, Respublica.

    Kyrgyz law enforcement authorities routinely violate the right to freedom of assembly. Amendments made to the constitution in February 2003 mandate that prior notification must precede all public meetings, demonstrations, hunger strikes, and other forms of public assembly. While any government is within its rights to require notification of public demonstrations, the Kyrgyz government to date has adopted no subsequent legislation or regulations specifying the agency that should receive notifications or the form notification should take. This gap has allowed officials arbitrarily to interpret the limitations on the right to freedom of assembly and detain and fine peaceful protestors.

    In one recent example, on April 15, 2004, Kyrgyz police arrested 18 people at a march in support of Feliks Kulov, including Emil Aliev, acting head of the Ar Namys party, and several human rights activists. Government officials have also interfered with the right to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression with respect to NGO gatherings. Also in April, local officials in Issyk-Kul province reportedly obstructed the convening of several meetings and fora on human rights organized by Kyrgyz NGOs.

    Despite a new law, signed by President Akaev in November 2003, making torture of civilians by authorities punishable by up to ten years in prison, torture remains widespread in Kyrgyz pre-trial detention facilities and prisons. During the past year there were credible reports of ill-treatment and torture and at least one suspicious death in custody. Local human rights groups reported that on February 22, 2004 twenty-nine-year-old Ulugbek Kadirov was found dead in his cell in the Kara-Suu temporary detention facility in southern Kyrgyzstan. Numerous injuries to his body suggest that his death was violent and that he may have been tortured.

    The Kyrgyz government should be required to take the following specific steps:

  • Release former vice-president Feliks Kulov, imprisoned since 2000 on politically-motivated charges.
  • Arrange an independent review of arbitrary civil suits launched by government officials against journalists and independent media outlets, and ensure thorough and impartial investigations into attacks against journalists and their relatives, making the results of these investigations public.
  • Rescind criminal defamation laws, including those that currently allow government officials to bring claims of insult to “honor and dignity” when they are called to account for corruption and abuse of office.
  • Ensure an independent investigation of the September 2003 registration of the new self-styled leadership of the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights, in order to establish the legality of that decision.
  • Allow an international investigation into the use of lethal force by police against demonstrators in Aksy in March 2002; despite previous indications of apparent progress, those who shot and killed five demonstrators have not been brought to justice for that crime.
  • Issue guidelines to courts clarifying the notification requirement for public assembly, introduced as part of a February 2003 constitutional amendment. The legislation failed to specify the agency that should receive notifications or the form these notifications should take. These guidelines should be consistent with the ICCPR and should not constitute a restrictive licensing regime.
  • Launch independent investigations into any allegations of torture or physical mistreatment of detainees by police.
  • Issue standing invitations to all U.N. special mechanisms to visit Kyrgyzstan.
  • We hope that you will find these suggestions useful, and wish you a productive meeting.


    Rachel Denber
    Acting Executive Director
    Europe and Central Asia Division

    Lotte Leicht
    Brussels Office Director
    Human Rights Watch

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