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    Country Reports


Initial report dated 11 March 1998

Kyrgyzstan declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Located in Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan borders China to the east, Kazakstan to the North, Tajikistan to the Southwest and Uzbekistan to the West. The country is a melting pot of ethnicities, religions and cultures; ethnic Kyrgyz comprise fifty-two percent of the country's 4.5 million inhabitants, while Russians, Kazakhs and other Central Asian ethnic groups constitute forty percent of the population. Seventy-five percent of Kyrgyz people identify themselves as Muslim, and a variety of Judeo-Christian religions are represented as well.

Following its independence in 1991, Kyrgyzstan rapidly transformed into a nation with many of the elements of a liberalized economy and pluralistic democracy. However, both international and domestic human rights groups and western funding agencies are becoming increasingly concerned that the country's economic and political development has regressed. The political landscape is characterized by a constant gridlock between Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev and parliament. Although Kyrgyzstan's economy continues to grow, the average monthly income is still less than US $ 40 per month, indicating an increasing discrepancy between rich and poor. Kyrgyzstan struggles to become self-sufficient, but attracting foreign investment remains a problem.

Economic Situation

Kyrgyzstan was one of the first of the former Soviet republics to develop and implement economic reforms, becoming a model for other nascent countries in the region. It was one of the first to privatize state-run enterprises, and the first Central Asian country to introduce its own currency, the som. Endorsed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), President Akaev's economic stabilization program resulted in a dramatic lowering of the inflation rate, from over 1,000 percent in 1994 to less than fifteen percent today. Privatization is all but complete; Akaev is currently mobilizing support for its final phase, the transfer of land from state to private ownership.

Kyrgyzstan's economy shows signs of huge transitions taking place throughout the country. It is a mountainous country with a predominantly rural economy; agriculture accounted for forty-five percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 1997.1 Cotton, wool and meat constitute the country's main exports, but production has declined over ninety percent since 1990. Kyrgyzstan's mining sector, if developed, could produce profitable exports. One eighth of the world's gold reserves are located in Kyrgyzstan, and the country invests significant resources in developing the mining sector, having recently formed a joint venture with a Canadian company.2

Pensioners and unemployed workers, seventy percent of whom are women, suffer from delayed government payments and subsidies. In 1996, eighty percent of the country's inhabitants earned an average wage of US $ 25 or less; forty percent of all Kyrgyz families lived below the poverty level.3

Political Situation

President Askar Akaev has led Kyrgyzstan since 1991; he was reelected in 1995. A darling of the western donor community, Akaev has been praised for implementing economic and political reforms and encouraging government transparency. As in many other post-Soviet countries, Kyrgyzstan's political landscape is marked by constant tension between a president eager to implement economic and political reforms supported by the IMF, World Bank, U.S. Government and European Union, and a communist parliament seeking to ease the effect of the transition on citizens' lives.

Though Akaev has been praised for successfully implementing economic reforms, these reforms were often implemented by skirting the country's new constitution and weakening Parliament's power. Rather than adapting his decrees to achieve political compromise, Akaev has dissolved Parliament (in 1994) and conducted referenda to mobilize support outside of the legislative framework for his reforms. Since 1991 Akaev has conducted and won four referenda, each increasing the power of the executive office at the expense of Parliament.4 Most recently, in October 1998, a nation-wide referendum passed after parliament fought the latest phase in Akaev's privatization program. The changes proposed in the referendum further consolidated his domination of the government: he cut in half the number of elected representatives in the bicameral Parliament, from seventy to thirty eight, and increased the number of appointed parliamentary seats from thirty-five to sixty-seven. Although these actions were undertaken ostensibly in the name of accelerating reforms, they have gradually dismantled the system of checks and balances in Kyrgyzstan's post-independence constitution.

Human Rights

Kyrgyzstan's constitution provides ample opportunity for citizens to participate in the political process, criticize their leaders and change their government. However, the government has increasingly displayed intolerance toward the activities of opposition parties, human rights watchdog groups, and independent media.

For the most part, opposition activities are thwarted ostensibly for bureaucratic reasons, under the pretense, for instance, that a group's registration papers are not in order. In October 1998, the Ministry of Justice notified the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights, an established monitoring organization, that the organization's registration was being revoked. The notification contained no information about how the Committee could rectify the problem, and was sent just days before the presidential referendum that the group was set to monitor.5 According to the U.S. Department of State and the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights, the 1994 and 1996 referenda had contained significant irregularities.

Three human rights activists were arrested and detained in the town of Jalal-Abad in September 1998 then they attempted to organize a peaceful demonstration against the president's upcoming referendum6 The activists, local leaders of the national Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights, had requested and obtained permission from local authorities to hold the demonstration; members of parliament were expected to participate. The activists, who were denied access to legal counsel, were sentenced to fifteen days' administrative detention for "violating public order."7

Two days before the 1995 presidential elections, the campaign chairman of an opposition party was arrested and charged with libel against the president while distributing campaign materials stating that Akaev was ethnically Kazakh.8 Three presidential candidates were "de-registered" immediately prior to the elections.9 In September 1998, National Patriotic Party leader Nazarbek Nyshanov was arrested by the Ministry of National Security on financial corruption charges. However, human rights organizations maintain that little evidence existed in support of the allegations, and that the arrest was due to his open and vitriolic criticism of Akaev's government.10


At a press conference in New York in July 1997, Akaev asserted that the development of a free press is the cornerstone of the democratic development of Kyrgyzstan.11 The government amended the constitution to guarantee greater freedom of speech, and slander has been changed from a criminal offense to a civil offense.12 Despite these gains, however, members of the media continue to face government harassment and interference on a regular basis. Irina Stepkicheva of Nasha Gazeta ("Our Newspaper)", who faced a civil suit for articles critical of the procurator genera, reported that procuracy officials repeatedly threatened her and her thirteen year-old daughter.13 In May 1998, "unknown assailants set fire to the front door of the home of Tatiana Kchmada, a reporter from Res Publica newspaper."14 Kchmada regarded this attach as retaliation for an article she had written about government corruption.15

In October 1998, a government official threatened to revoke seven journalists' licenses if they continued to write articles criticizing the upcoming referendum.16 In April 1998, Prime Minister Jumaliev reportedly threatened to close the independent newspaper "Asaba" if the editor-in-chief continued to criticize Akaev and his family members.17 In September 1998, the state-run broadcasting agency prevented a television broadcast of the country's sole independent referendum debate, ostensibly for "technical reasons."18

Relations with Neighboring Countries

Kyrgyzstan has historically been a valuable transportation link between Europe, Central Asia and the People's Republic of China. Its most problematic relationship has been with neighboring Uzbekistan. The main source of tension has involved payment terms for the US $3.3 million natural gas debt that Kyrgyzstan owes Uzbekistan.19 In November 1998, after the Uzbek government threatened to shut off Kyrgyzstan's supply of natural gas before the onset of winter, the presidents of both countries worked out a payment program, in which thirty percent of Kyrgyzstan's debt would be paid in currency and the remainder in products.20



The trafficking of women and young girls from Kyrgyzstan to Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and other countries for work in the sex trade is an increasing problem. Exact numbers are not known. According to Human Rights Watch, "Kyrgyz women and girls" are "commonly promised legitimate work abroad," only to find themselves "indebted to their traffickers for travel expenses and pressured to work in the sex industry to repay the debt."21 Government officials from the visa and registration department in Kyrgyzstan are said to collaborate with the trafficking of women out of the country by "receiving bribes from the traffickers in return for forged travel documents."22


Women are underrepresented in government and politics. Three of 105 parliamentary deputies are women.23 The Deputy Prime Minister for Social Issues, Minister of Labor and Justice and Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court are women. A women's group has been formed to recruit female candidates.


Research conducted in 1996 suggests that the incidence of violence against women has risen dramatically since independence.24 Human rights activists maintain that rape is becoming more common, with authorities often ignoring such attacks.25 "Official statistics show little change in the number of crimes against women, but medical records present a different story, with increased hospital admissions of women who have been injured by a family member."26 The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

published an official report on gender issues in Kyrgyzstan with the assistance of the Kyrgyz government. Despite claims by human rights monitoring groups that violence against women, domestic abuse, kidnapping and forcing young girls to marry is on the rise, these subjects were ignored in the paper.

Human Rights Watch reports that "more women reported incidents of domestic violence in 1998," although it is not known "whether this reflected a real increase in the number of cases of domestic violence or a greater willingness on the part of victims to report it."27


1 World Bank, Country Report: Kyrgyzstan, available on-line at http://www.worldbank.org, accessed 20 November 1998. back

2 Ibid. back

3 Jeremy Bransten, "Kyrgyzstan: A Democracy Only for the Rich," Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, on-line, available at: http://rfe-rl.org, 14 October 1997, accessed 2 December 1998. back

4 "Kyrgyz President Wins Constitutional Changes," Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 19 October 1998, on-line, Nexis, 30 November 1998. back

5 U.S. Department of State, Kyrgyz Republic Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997, on-line, Nexis, 30 November 1998. back

6 "Human Rights Activists Punished for Organizing Peaceful Protest," Amnesty International, on-line, available at http://www.amnesty.org, accessed 28 November 1998. back

7 Ibid. back

8 U.S. Department of State, Kyrgyz Republic Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997, on-line, Nexis, 30 November 1998. back

9 Ibid. back

10 Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights, e-mail, accessed 2 December 1998. back

11 Committee to Protect Journalists, Country Report: Kyrgyzstan, on-line, available at http://cpj.org, accessed 30 November 1998. back

12 Human Rights Watch, World Report 1999: Kyrgyzstan, on-line, available at http://www.hrw.org, accessed 4 December 1998. back

13 Ibid. back

14 Ibid. back

15 Ibid. back

16 Message received from Network of East West Women,, received 16 October 1998. back

17 Ibid. back

18 Ibid. back

19 "Kyrgyz, Uzbek Presidents Agree on Gas Debt," Agence France Presse, 30 November 1998, on-line, Nexis, 30 November 1998. back

20 Ibid. back

21 Human Rights Watch, World Report: Kyrgyzstan, on-line, available at: http://www.hrw.org, accessed 4 December 1998. back

22 Ibid. back

23 U.S. Department of State, Kyrgyz Republic Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997, on-line, Nexis, 30 November 1998. back

24 Ibid. back

25 Ibid. back

26 Ibid. back

27 Human Rights Watch, World Report: Kyrgyzstan, on-line, available at: http://www.hrw.org, accessed 4 December 1998. back





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