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Kyrgyzstan|opinion & analysis|October 19, 2023 / 10:12 AM
Statement by UN Resident Coordinator Antje Grawe on foreign agents bill

AKIPRESS.COM - Statement by UN Resident Coordinator Antje Grawe in the Parliament of Kyrgyzstan on October 17.

"Honourable Ms. Cholpon Sultanbekova, Chair of the Committee on Constitutional Legislation, State Structure, Judiciary and Legal Issues,

Distinguished Members of the Jogorku Kenesh (Parliament),

Dear representatives of civil society, international organizations and development partner,

I wish to thank you for initiating this Parliamentary Hearing on the draft Law “On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts (the Law “On Non-Commercial Organizations" and the Criminal Code)”, as well as for the opportunity to participate today.

I have been publicly calling for the holding of open parliamentary hearings which allow for meaningful and constructive participation of a wide range of relevant stakeholders, including representatives of civil society and the expert community, so I am delighted to see this hearing taking place today and I hope that views, concerns and recommendations voiced here from those concerned by this draft law will be considered in the final decision-making.

The openness for constructive dialogue and dissenting views stands for the strong democratic foundation that H.E. Mrs Narmatova has just spoken to.

In this spirit, allow me to share some considerations about this draft law, on behalf of the UN System in the Kyrgyz Republic.

Overall, this legislative initiative, if adopted in its current form, raises concerns both with regards to Kyrgyzstan’s human rights record and the achievement of the country’s sustainable development goals, as laid down in Kyrgyzstan’s own national development strategies. The draft law, in its current version, in fact falls short of the Kyrgyz Republic’s international human rights commitments, and its enforcement, if adopted, would hinder inclusive development processes in the country.

On the first point, it is important to note that many provisions in the proposed law would be contrary to the Kyrgyz Republic’s international human rights obligations, including the right to the freedom of association, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the right to non-discrimination and the right to privacy.

Of particular concern is the provision that would introduce a criminal liability and jail sentences of up to 10 years for actively participating or supporting non-commercial organizations whose work is considered to “incite citizens to refuse to fulfil their civic duties or commit other unlawful acts.” This offence is ill-defined, broad and open to subjective interpretation which may result in selective prosecution of entities working actually for the public good.

Another concern relates to the broad powers granted in the draft law to the Ministry of Justice to conduct unannounced inspections of premises, check activities and to seize documentation. It also requires non-commercial organizations involved in “political activities” and which receive funding or property from foreign sources to register as “foreign representatives”. Failure to do so can lead to suspension of their operations for up to six months, without a court order.

Under human rights law, such broad administrative powers may violate freedom of association and autonomy of NGOs and impede their legitimate work.

The UN’s Special Rapporteurs dealing with these fundamental freedoms and rights have detailed their concerns in their letter of 2 October 2023, which is available publicly. Equally, the Spokesperson of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights voiced the High Commissioner’s concerns during a press briefing on 12 October. I would encourage you to study their deliberations in detail including their reasoning for their call not to adopt these amendments.

Turning to the second area for concern, the perspective of sustainable development, this draft legislation carries several risks, first and foremost in relation to its potential impact on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the Kyrgyz Republic.

Civil society organizations play a crucial role, alongside the State, at all governance levels, in social service delivery, notably in reaching rural or remote areas, and vulnerable groups. They are also key partners of the UN and the wider international donor community.

For the UN alone, a significant part of the development support [22 million USD] for Kyrgyzstan, provided by the UN family’s 25 agencies, is being implemented in collaboration with civil society organizations, serving in particular vulnerable groups, including the elderly; people with disabilities; women and girls, children, youth and adolescents; mothers of children living with tuberculosis or HIV; survivors and victims of domestic violence , trafficking and cross-border conflicts; migrants, rural and low-income families and communities; refugees and asylum seekers, volunteers, linguistic and religious minorities, and others.

In short, if adopted, this law risks to lead to disruptions - in the best-case scenario, and to an end - in the worst-case scenario - of this support CHANNELLED THROUGH NGOs, undermining the aspirations and hopes of Kyrgyzstan’s people for a better life and future. And, let there be no doubt: it would primarily affect the most vulnerable in the society.

As such, it would also risk to undermine President Sadyr Japarov’s ambitious goal for Kyrgyzstan to be among the top 30 countries in reaching the SDGs by 2030, which he put forward at the recent Summit on the Sustainable Development Goals of Heads of State held in New York in September. Kyrgyzstan currently ranks 45th out of 166 UN Member States. In order to reach this goal, the President acknowledged the need to focus on poverty alleviation and the reduction of social and economic inequalities including through investments in education and the green economy. He stressed that it was fundamental to strengthen a social safety system based on equity and inclusion, to put poverty dynamics back on a downward path.

Against this background, allow me to strongly recommend revisiting this draft law and other legislative initiatives that would have a chilling effect on the freedom of association, the freedom of expression and the freedom of the media, and instead design legislative and / or policy frameworks which provide an enabling environment for Kyrgyzstan’s development aspirations in which its citizens can enjoy all human rights, enabling them to contribute to wider public good.

In conclusion, I look forward to working together with Parliament, Government and all other partners to achieve the SDGs and protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms in Kyrgyzstan I and the UN Country Team in the Kyrgyz Republic stand ready to provide any required expertise and support."

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