We are writing in advance of your upcoming trip to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, which we believe provides a unique opportunity to discuss the state of human rights in both countries and press for concrete improvements. We hope you will make full use of the opportunity of your trip to make clear to the governments of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan that enforcing universal human rights principles is a core component of OSCE policy in the region.

In Kyrgyzstan, we hope you will flag concern about declining pluralism and urge the president to veto a draft law on freedom of assembly that was adopted by the parliament on June 13 and is now pending his signature. The draft law unreasonably restricts freedom of assembly. For example, article 9 of the draft law allows provincial governors and heads of self-governance bodies to determine the location of a gathering, change the time and conditions of the event and ban the event if there is a risk of public disorder. Local human rights groups are concerned that this wording provides the authorities with carte blanche arbitrarily to ban gatherings or demonstrations.
In addition, on July 1, the day of your visit to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s Constitutional Court will rule on whether an ordinance on public gatherings adopted in 2007 by the Bishkek City Council that restricts public gatherings in the capital contradicts the constitution. The ordinance permits assemblies in only three places in Bishkek and requires organizers to submit notification of any public gathering to municipal authorities at least 10 days in advance of the planned event – an unnecessarily restrictive requirement. The ordinance contains several more disproportionate limitations to the right of peaceful assembly, and local human rights groups and Human Rights Watch have advocated for its annulment.
We are also concerned about a noticeable downgrading of women’s rights by the Kyrgyz authorities and ask that you call on the government of Kyrgyzstan to make domestic violence and the abduction of women for forced marriage (bride-kidnapping) a priority policy concern. The government portrays domestic violence as a private problem relevant to some individuals. It acknowledges neither the broad scale of the problem, nor the failure by the police, local authorities, and the courts to effectively stop and prevent domestic violence. Nor does the government view domestic violence as a human rights violation.

During a parliamentary hearing last week, parliamentarians as well as NGO representatives complained about the lack of political will to effectively implement the 2003 Law on Social-Legal Protection from Domestic Violence. They criticized the lack of sufficient funds for crisis centers, police training and awareness raising programs and the lack of meaningful statistics. They called on the government to set up a governmental coordination body or agency dealing with domestic violence and other gender issues and to give it adequate authority, mandate and resources to ensure the enforcement of relevant laws. Echoing their calls would be timely support to the effort to establish a better state response to domestic violence.

In Kazakhstan we ask that you raise concern with Kazakhstan’s leadership about the lack of progress toward fulfilling the commitments Kazakhstan’s Foreign Minister Marat Tazhin made at last year’s OSCE Ministerial Council in Madrid. In meetings earlier this month with Human Rights Watch, Kazakhstan’s public officials reiterated their commitment to these pledges. Yet, in practice, the government has made almost no progress in taking concrete steps for implementation.

When Kazakhstan assumes the chairmanship, the OSCE and the public will look to it to embody and project OSCE values. The chairmanship is also an opportunity for the international community to press for concrete progress in long overdue reforms. For both reasons, it is important for OSCE participating states to engage with Kazakhstan to ensure progress on reforms prior to 2010.

On May 29, 2008 we sent you a letter and a memorandum describing the human rights situation in Kazakhstan in detail and outlining specific steps the government should be taking to fulfill Minister Tazhin’s pledges and other reforms.

We ask that y0u convey two strong messages during your meetings in Astana: first, that is important for Kazakhstan’s government to meet these commitments by the end of 2008; and second, that it is important for the government to significantly improve its record on honoring other OSCE commitments before it takes over the organization’s chairmanship in 2010.

Sincerely,

Holly Cartner
Executive Director
Europe and Central Asia Division