Dear Asylbek Sharipovich:

I am writing to ask you to act to ensure that a discriminatory anti-gay “propaganda” bill currently before Parliament is withdrawn or rejected and does not become law. On February 17, 2015, the Parliamentary Committee on Rule of Law, Order and Fighting Crime (“the Committee”) considered the “propaganda” bill during its session, following which Committee members voted to approve the bill and send it to a second reading in the Jogorku Kenesh. Human Rights Watch believes that this bill is harmful to all citizens in Kyrgyzstan and violates Kyrgyzstan’s constitutional and international human rights obligations.

As you may know, Human Rights Watch is an international nongovernmental organization that investigates and reports on human rights abuses in over 90 countries worldwide. Human Rights Watch has been monitoring the situation in Kyrgyzstan for approximately 20 years and has maintained an office in Bishkek since 2012. We work on a range of human rights issues, including the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in countries worldwide.

The bill, numbered 6-11804/14 and which was registered in parliament on May 6, 2014, would introduce criminal and administrative sanctions for disseminating information about “nontraditional sexual relations” or promoting “homosexual lifestyles.” The initiators of the bill have argued that its aim is to protect “traditional family values.”

Human Rights Watch is concerned that far from protecting family values, the bill, if adopted, will lead to a situation in which people in Kyrgyzstan will be unable to access information they need to protect their health; that human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, doctors, HIV/AIDS prevention workers and others involved in issues related to sexual health, as well as sexual orientation and gender identity, will be prevented from publicly addressing these topics; and that cases of violence against LGBT people, which are already underreported and rarely investigated in Kyrgyzstan, would be concealed even more.

Already, public commentary on the draft bill since it was introduced in May 2014 has included hateful, discriminatory, degrading rhetoric about LGBT people in Kyrgyzstan. The bill has served to further marginalize and discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Kyrgyzstan, further endangering a population that the government is obligated to protect. It is incompatible with Kyrgyzstan’s constitution and is in clear violation of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

In 2010, Kyrgyzstan took the notable step of becoming a parliamentary democracy, and recently was granted “partner for democracy” status by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. When the then-chair of the Jogorku Kenesh requested this status in 2011, he stated “the past few years show that the Kyrgyz Republic shares the Council of Europe’s values, which are founded on pluralism and gender equality, together with parity-based democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Kyrgyzstan has also pledged in its National Strategy to Achieve Gender Equality by 2020 to “create an institutional framework to ensure equal rights and opportunities for citizens of the country, regardless of gender, age, social status, health opportunities, gender identity and other grounds of discrimination, for the full realization of human potential of the population of Kyrgyz Republic.”

On behalf of Human Rights Watch, we urge you and the Jogorku Kenesh to stay true to these principles and commitments.

In accordance with your legislative mandate, we ask that you resolutely reject this bill. It is incompatible with Kyrgyzstan’s stated commitment to democratic and human rights values, violates Kyrgyzstan’s constitution, which clearly states that “Kyrgyz Republic shall respect and ensure human rights and freedoms to all persons on its territory and under its jurisdiction,” and contravenes international human rights legislation to which Kyrgyzstan is party, which we outline in more detail below.

Violations of Kyrgyzstan’s Constitution

Kyrgyzstan’s Constitution, under article 16, affirms that the “Kyrgyz Republic shall respect and ensure human rights and freedoms to all persons on its territory and under its jurisdiction.” It also states that “laws that deny or derogate human and civil rights and freedoms shall not be adopted in the Kyrgyz Republic.” The constitution stipulates that some limitations may be introduced, but that they “should be commensurate to the declared objectives.”

The restrictions imposed on disseminating information about homosexuality are not only disproportionate, but also blatantly discriminatory against a particular group and would place unjustified restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly.

The wording of the bill allows for the authorities to penalize people who work in human rights organizations and civil society groups, journalists, and any others for disseminating information or participating in public activities that are found to be “propaganda” of “nontraditional” sexual relations.

Freedom of speech, freedom of information (to seek and disseminate) and freedom of assembly are protected in Kyrgyzstan’s constitution under articles 31, 33, and 34, respectively.

Furthermore, article 31, part 4 bans “promoting national, ethnic, racial or religious hatred; or gender and other social superiority which calls to discrimination, hostility and violence.”

Criminalizing dissemination of information about “non-traditional” sexual relations positions “traditional” sexual relations superior to “non-traditional,” and clearly creates a situation of discrimination against “non-traditional” relations, which research shows tends to lead to both hostility and violence. Such a situation is at odds with the above prohibition in Kyrgyzstan’s Constitution.

Violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

As party to the ICCPR, Kyrgyzstan has an obligation to respect freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, the right to respect for the personal, private, and family lives of individuals, the right to equality, and the ban on discrimination in the enjoyment of those rights. The draft bill currently under consideration violates articles 2, 17, 19, 21, and 26 of the ICCPR.

In addition, the UN Human Rights Committee, which oversees states’ compliance with the ICCPR, expressed concern about violence perpetrated by police officers and in some cases, by family members, against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in Kyrgyzstan during its March 2014 review of Kyrgyzstan’s state report. The committee expressly called on the Kyrgyz government to adequately address such abuses by investigating and holding those responsible to account.

In November 2014, a committee of United Nations experts, including the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom or opinion and expression, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders,  and the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, noted that: “The UN has already documented violence and discrimination against LGBT people in Kyrgyzstan and shown how similar laws in other countries have led to targeted abuse and violence against LGBT persons.”

Adopting this blatantly discriminatory bill would further marginalize the LGBT community in Kyrgyzstan and could undermine efforts to tackle impunity for violent abuses against LGBT people.

Pledges Made During the Universal Periodic Review

On January 19, 2015 Kyrgyzstan underwent its second Universal Periodic Review in Geneva. No less than 18 of the recommendations issued by participating states concerned discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and the rights of LGBT people.

While it rejected other recommendations on the same issue, the following recommendations enjoyed Kyrgyzstan’s support:

  • from France, to “take all necessary measures to fight effectively against all forms of discrimination;”
  • from Brazil to “ensure that national legislation conforms to international human rights standards on non-discrimination, particularly concerning sexual orientation and gender identity, gender and racial discrimination;”
  • from Uruguay to “equal rights and opportunities to all persons without distinction and promote policies to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity;”
  • from Sweden to “ensure that allegations of violence, torture, inhumane and degrading treatment of LGBT persons, by government and non-government actors, are investigated promptly and efficiently and that perpetrators are brought to justice;”
  • from Slovenia to “undertake all necessary measures to prevent discrimination and violence against  LGBTI persons;” and
  • from Finland to “ensure that its legislation protects the rights of everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity, minority status or any other basis, to freedom of expression and assembly, freedom from discrimination and equality before the law.”

By voting to approve the bill prohibiting “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,” the Law, Order and Fighting Crime Committee in the Jogorku Kenesh ignored Kyrgyzstan’s pledge to implement the aforementioned recommendations.

Commitments to Council of Europe Standards

In April 2014, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) granted Kyrgyzstan’s Jogorku Kenesh “Partner for Democracy” status. In the accompanying resolution, PACE identified specific issues that “are of key importance for strengthening democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Kyrgyzstan,” including:

15.24. combating all forms of discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity;

15.25. not following up on the draft law based on the model of laws relating to the prohibition of “homosexual propaganda;”

15.26. fighting, in law and in practice, all forms of discrimination based on gender; ensuring and actively promoting effective equality between women and men; fighting discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT); fighting all forms of gender-based violence;

Less than a year after being granted this notable status, the Jogorku Kenesh is considering a bill that would blatantly violate these calls.

The Council of Europe has long taken a strong stance on the human rights of LGBT people, culminating in the March 2010 adoption of a set of recommendations by its Committee of Ministers (CM/Rec (2010)5) on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. The recommendations call on member states to ensure that the stipulated principles and measures are applied in national legislation, policies, and practices relevant to the protection of LGBT people. The relevant recommendations are:

Examine existing legislative and other measures, keep them under review, and collect and analyze relevant data, in order to monitor and redress any direct or indirect discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity;

Ensure that legislative and other measures are adopted and effectively implemented to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, to ensure respect for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons and to promote tolerance towards them.

While Kyrgyzstan is not a member of the Council of Europe, in April 2014, PACE stated that “It deems that, by requesting partner for democracy status, the Kyrgyz Parliament has demonstrated its will to embark on this path and its readiness to learn from European practice, and has chosen Council of Europe standards as benchmarks on its way forward.” The Jogorku Kenesh signed this status on June 23, 2014.

The bill currently under consideration by the Jogorku Kenesh is in flagrant violation of these Council of Europe principles. The European Parliament in January 2015 reiterated the Council of Europe’s concerns, called on the Jogorku Kenesh to reject the bill, and urged politicians to refrain from hate speech against LGBTI people.

Violations Against LGBT People in Kyrgyzstan

As you may be aware, the environment for LGBT people in Kyrgyzstan is hostile, and LGBT people are frequently targeted for police extortion, harassment, and physical abuse. In a 2014 report, “They Told Us We Deserved This,” Human Rights Watch documented how Kyrgyz police subject gay and bisexual men to a range of abuses, including physical, sexual, and psychological violence, arbitrary detention, and extortion under the threat of violence or of exposing victims’ sexual orientation to friends and family. Lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender men experience violence from their families and others trying to “cure” them of homosexuality. Human Rights Watch documented such abuses in a 2008 report entitled “These Everyday Humiliations.”

It is the duty of the government and Jogorku Kenesh to protect everyone in Kyrgyzstan, including children, from violence and discrimination. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern about violence, harassment, and discrimination faced by children under 18 years of age who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex, and urged Kyrgyzstan to “to take urgent measures to prevent discrimination against children in marginalized and disadvantaged situations, […] children belonging to the LGTBI group, and periodically evaluate outcomes of its measures.” More generally, the committee has highlighted the harmful effects of sexual-orientation-based discrimination on adolescent health, including when they are denied essential health information as a consequence.  In its 2003 general comment on adolescent health, for example, the committee noted that adolescents who are subjected to discrimination on these and other grounds “are more vulnerable to abuse, other types of violence and exploitation, and their health and development are put at greater risk.”

International Response to the Adoption of Similar Legislation in Russia

In 2013, Russia adopted similar restrictive legislation against “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” to children. The adoption of that legislation coincided with the escalation of violent attacks on LGBT people in Russia. As Kyrgyzstan’s ‘propaganda’ bill is similar in content, it is relevant to briefly outline the effects and response to the adoption of this law in Russia.

Human Rights Watch documented attacks on and aggressive harassment of LGBT people in Russia because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in a 2014 report entitled “License to Harm.” Victims described being beaten, abducted, humiliated, and called “pedophiles” or “perverts,” in some cases by homophobic vigilante groups and in others by strangers on the subway, on the street, at nightclubs, at cafes, and in one case, at a job interview.

The Russian law has drawn significant international criticism, including by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) representative on freedom of the media, the Council of Europe Venice Commission, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and the European Union. All of these international bodies expressed profound concern about such discriminatory legislation and urged Russia to repeal the law.

In October 2013, the UN Human Rights Committee ruled that a measure banning “homosexual propaganda” adopted by the Ryazan regional legislature was “ambiguous and discriminatory.” The ruling found that Russia violated the rights of an LGBT activist, Irina Fedotova, to freedom of expression and protection from discrimination by prosecuting her under the Ryazan law, and ordered Russia to pay Fedotova compensation as well as the amount of her fine and legal expenses. The committee reminded Russia of its obligation “to prevent similar violations in the future and [to] ensure that the provisions of the domestic law are made compatible with” articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights upholding freedom of expression and banning discrimination.

Additionally, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon in his speech on December 11, 2012 condemned legislation that would “criminalize public discussion of homosexuality,” saying “I deplore these kinds of measures wherever they are introduced. They threaten basic rights, feed stigma and lead to more abuse.”

In conclusion, we respectfully ask you again, as members Jogorku Kenesh, to use your influence to help ensure that laws adopted in Kyrgyzstan are in full compliance with national and international human rights standards. We urge you to use your vote to uphold the rights of all persons in Kyrgyzstan to fully enjoy the right to freedom of expression- including the right to seek, receive and impart information - without discrimination of any kind.

Thank you for your attention to these concerns.

Sincerely,

Hugh Williamson
Director of Europe and Central Asia Division
Human Rights Watch

Graeme Reid
Director of the LGBT Program
Human Rights Watch