(Bishkek) – Kyrgyzstan should extend the deadline for completing a massive inventory of its legal system, Human Rights Watch said today.
The initial completion date for reviewing and, if necessary, amending 356 laws has been set for December 31, 2021, but is expected to be extended, to allow a newly elected parliament to familiarize itself with the process and for appropriate engagement with civil society and other relevant stakeholders. Rather than pressuring task forces to expedite the review, Kyrgyzstan should lead by example in following international standards of good governance, including in drafting and enacting laws.
“The government of Kyrgyzstan declared the inventory to be a legal necessity, but then allowed too short a timeframe, which resulted in hasty assessments, government interference in sensitive issues and lack of consultation with people affected by these laws, ”said Syinat Sultanalieva, researcher in Central Asia. to Human Rights Watch. “Kyrgyz citizens must be able to exercise their right to meaningfully participate in this important process. “
Problems over the inventory process have been among the broader concerns about political developments in Kyrgyzstan since October 2020, when the parliamentary election results were overturned. A new constitution adopted in April 2021 contains clauses that violate Kyrgyzstan’s international human rights commitments.
In addition, the interim parliament, in office since October 2020, has acted well beyond its limited mandate. It has initiated, amended and passed a significant number of sensitive laws that undermine Kyrgyzstan’s human rights obligations.
Non-governmental organizations participating in the working groups have proposed extending the deadline to December 31, 2022, at least for some potentially “contentious” laws. They include several that address fundamental issues related to the respect and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The original deadline falls just a month after parliamentary elections slated for November 28, which would give the new parliament barely a month to consider all issues. It is essential that parliamentarians have enough time to familiarize themselves with the process and substance of the laws being revised, Human Rights Watch said.
In August, the United Nations office in Kyrgyzstan urged the government to honor its commitment to allow sufficient time for appropriate consultations with all relevant stakeholders, at all stages of the inventory process.
Experts from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, in a joint statement in March on Kyrgyzstan’s constitutional amendment process, noted the commitments that OSCE states like Kyrgyzstan have taken with respect to the legislative process. They include a commitment to ensure that legislation is passed through a public process, which comes after a process of open debate, reflecting the will of the people.
The inventory review process was initiated by presidential decree on February 8, but reviews did not begin until July, leaving less than six months to complete the enormous task. The process involves assessing the quality and necessity of the 356 laws within the legal framework, then identifying and addressing inconsistencies and internal conflicts, especially with the new constitution and international obligations.
The government has established six thematic working groups made up of representatives of relevant ministries and civil society, as well as independent experts. The working groups follow a three-step methodology for the inventory: assessment of laws according to defined criteria; categorization and confirmation of lists of laws to be annulled, re-approved or reconsidered; and the development of new laws and the re-approval of existing laws.
The working groups reviewed 330 of the 356 laws to be amended, according to civil society representatives. The next step is to develop draft amendments for these laws, followed by the consideration and potential adoption of the amendments by Parliament.
However, civil society representatives in the working groups told Human Rights Watch that they had not yet been invited to participate in the second stage and that draft amendments and new laws were underway. development within the relevant ministries behind closed doors.
In September, the working groups were informed that four basic laws governing the media in Kyrgyzstan would also be subject to the inventory process. These are the Media Law, the Law on the Protection of Professional Activities of a Journalist, the Law on Television and Radio, and the Law on Public Television and Radio. Despite recommendations from independent experts and working journalists that there is no need to change these laws, the working groups continued to take stock. The most drastic changes proposed would return the public broadcasting channel to state ownership.
Civil society groups involved in the inventory process said sensitive laws to analyze involved scrutiny of public councils that oversee state bodies, religious freedom and religious organizations, non-governmental groups , access to government information, guarantees and freedom of information, assemblies, rights of persons with disabilities and the National Center for the Prevention of Torture. Other sensitive laws deal with the financing of terrorist activities, the fight against extremist activities, the Bar of Kyrgyzstan, national security, civil status procedures, trade unions, public health, external video surveillance, protection against domestic violence and guarantees of equal rights and opportunities for men. and women.
Along with the inventory, the country’s interim parliament continued to amend laws identified for review, threatening to overtake the inventory process. Neither of the two amendment processes – directly by Parliament or through the inventory process – involves meaningful public participation and oversight. The section of Parliament’s website to include the texts of all bills under consideration has been under reconstruction for more than a year since Parliament’s servers were destroyed in mass protests against the official election result October 2020 in Kyrgyzstan.
Among the contested laws passed by the interim parliament is one on protection against fake news, which has already had a chilling effect on independent media and critical voices; and the Non-Governmental Organizations Act, which introduces unwarranted and onerous financial reporting requirements that can be used to hinder the work of groups that criticize the government. Parliament also continues to press for the passage of a trade union bill that restricts the activity of independent unions, even though the president has twice vetoed it.
“After a year of major political upheaval, the government of Kyrgyzstan should ensure that the newly elected parliament has sufficient time to participate in the inventory process,” Sultanalieva said. “Parliament needs time for effective consultations with the public, to integrate Kyrgyzstan’s international human rights commitments and, in general, to ensure that the general public has open access to the process.