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Calls for Kyrgyz President to Veto ‘Foreign Representatives’ Bill

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Calls for Kyrgyz President to Veto ‘Foreign Representatives’ Bill

From the EU delegation and the U.N. resident coordinator to an array of domestic NGOs, calls for Japarov to veto the bill have sounded loud and clear.

Calls for Kyrgyz President to Veto ‘Foreign Representatives’ Bill
Credit: Depositphotos

Following a third and final reading, on March 14 the Kyrgyz parliament adopted without further debate the “foreign representatives” law, which has drawn consistent criticism from domestic civil society activists and international partners. In the wake of its passage – and amid the void between passage and signature into law – the chorus of opposition has sounded again, urging President Sadyr Japarov to veto the bill.

In a brief joint statement posted late on March 14, the European Union delegation and the embassies of Canada, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States, urged Japarov “to listen to the concerns voiced inside and outside the country, and revisit this legislation with parliamentary leaders.”

Provisions in the law “threaten the ability of non-profits and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to operate freely, contravene international norms, and jeopardize our ability to provide assistance that improves the lives of the citizens and residents of the Kyrgyz Republic,” the statement reads.

“If signed in its current form, the law has the potential to hurt the most vulnerable who rely on the essential services – such as food, healthcare, and education – that non-profits and NGOs provide.”

The following day, more concerned statements went out. On March 15, Bir Duino – a Kyrgyz human rights organization – issued a joint statement signed by members of the Solidarity Network, including the Green Alliance of Kyrgyzstan, Nash Vek, Coalition For Equality, and others urging Japarov to veto the “foreign representatives” bill. The statement characterized the law as “aimed exclusively at limiting the activities of civil society organizations.”

“Public organizations in Kyrgyzstan are full partners in the implementation of National Development Programs to promote the [Sustainable Development Goals] and the Global Agenda for Assistance to Mountain Countries, initiated by you personally; we are open and ready for partnership and effective cooperation,” the organizations stated.

Earlier, on March 1, a group of 15 mostly Kyrgyz organizations published a letter addressed to the four major international financial institutions that fund development projects in Kyrgyzstan – the Asian Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, European Investment Bank, and World Bank – to share their “serious concerns.”

The letter warned: “If adopted, the law will pose a serious threat to the success of development activities in Kyrgyzstan.”

Also on March 15, U.N. Resident Coordinator in Kyrgyzstan Antje Grave issued a statement expressing concern that the “foreign representatives” law “could lead to undue restrictions on the activities of civil society, including potentially impeding progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

Grave highlighted the role civil society organizations play, in particular “providing essential services to vulnerable and marginalized people, providing assistance to those in need during crises, protecting human rights and promoting peace.”

Grave noted that the law “could pose challenges to the effective participation of civil society in development initiatives aimed at helping to alleviate poverty, reduce inequality and achieve the SDGs.” Furthermore, it could “also lead to stigmatization of [civil society organizations] and civil society activists, restrictions on human rights, and impede public participation and inclusive dialogue.”

Beyond concerns that the “foreign representatives” law could be used, as its Russian inspiration has been, to close down organizations the government does not like, there are less direct worries that the additional reporting requirements will further strain NGOs already buried in bureaucracy and that the label – “foreign representative” – will stigmatize the sectors and turn individuals away from working with such organizations. 

As each of the statements referenced above touched on, NGOs in Kyrgyzstan are often the vehicles through which foreign assistance and development aid is channeled into the country. These organizations implement development projects and many provide basic services. 

There’s no evidence that Japarov is seriously considering a veto, but the bill has not yet been signed into law. Japarov has a month to decide whether to sign or veto it.