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Understanding Pressure on Human Rights in Kyrgyzstan

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Understanding Pressure on Human Rights in Kyrgyzstan

A new report outlines Kyrgyzstan’s challenges, with an eye on helping Western partners recalibrate their engagement with the country.

Understanding Pressure on Human Rights in Kyrgyzstan
Credit: Flickr

In October 2020, for the third time in 15 years, Kyrgyzstan saw protests lead to the ousting of a government. In aiming to sort out how, yet again, Kyrgyzstan underwent seemingly sudden political upheaval, the U.K.-based Foreign Policy Centre (FPC), drew together a bevy of Kyrgyzstan analysts to examine different facets of Kyrgyzstan’s political conundrum. Their new report, “Retreating Rights: Examining the pressure on human rights in Kyrgyzstan” makes clear that Kyrgyzstan’s problems are deep-rooted. 

The 130-page report contains essay contributions from more than dozen scholars, from a timeline of the October 2020 events by Dr. Asel Doolotkeldieva to an essay focused on social media and the rise of populism in Kyrgyzstan by Gulzat Baialieva and Joldon Kutmanaliev and a pair of essays focused on corruption. The essays are individually, and together, well worth the time to read them. 

In bringing the report to a conclusion, FPC’s Adam Hug writes that while certain issues have been amplified since the October 2020 events, “most of Kyrgyzstan’s challenges have been years in the making and at their heart lie three mutually reinforcing problems: corruption, hatred and impunity.” 

Hug draws on the essays and the author’s suggestions for how Kyrgyzstan’s international partners can engage the country in a more productive way going forward.

Kyrgyzstan, as Jasmine Cameron notes in her essay contribution, had the ambition to become the “Switzerland” of Central Asia when it became independent in 1991 and its international partners hoped it could become an “island of democracy.” But those ambitions have never been attained. 

Meanwhile, as Hug writes in the conclusion, Western governments “have perhaps been guilty of sometimes downplaying” Kyrgyzstan’s problems:

There has been a tendency to compare the country with the shocking human rights performance of its Central Asian neighbours rather than addressing Kyrgyzstan purely on its own merits, something that may have dulled some of the urgency of the response.

The rise of new President Sadyr Japarov, covered in detail in a number of the essays, presents an opportunity, Hug notes, to “review, revise and reinvigorate the international community’s engagement with Kyrgyzstan, focused on efforts to tackle corruption, hatred and impunity.”

One theme worthy of deeper consideration in Kyrgyzstan’s partner countries, which runs throughout Hug’s conclusion, is that Western governments ought to focus on affecting what areas they have the capabilities, access, and expertise to — still keeping front-and-center the trio of corruption, hatred, and impunity — while not patronizingly ignoring local priorities and activists. 

Western governments have some anti-corruption tools, like Magnitsky sanctions in the United States, but also have failed to rectify failures in their own systems that aid and abet corruption around the world. “It should go without saying that the ways in which the Kyrgyz elites have used international real estate markets, company formation and other tools, provide more evidence of the need for wider anti-corruption reforms across the West,” Hug writes.

There are no quick and easy solutions. But publications like this recent FPC report, based on largely Kyrgyz voices analyzing and reflecting on the country’s political climate and trajectory, can form the grounding of a re-think by Western partners about how to productively engage Kyrgyzstan. 

There’s lots more in the report than commented on above, so please do check it out here.