KYRGYZSTAN: ‘Civil society realises the importance of joint actions to protect rights and freedoms’

MuratKarypovCIVICUS speaks about the potential approval of a Law on Foreign Representatives that would further restrict civil society in Kyrgyzstan with Murat Karypov, Project Coordinator of the legal programme of Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan.

Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan is a human rights organisation and one of Kyrgyzstan’s oldest and largest civil society organisations (CSO). Founded in 1999, it works to protect and promote human rights and freedoms, particularly freedoms of association and expression. It provides legal help to civic activists, people from excluded groups and torture victims. It also promotes human rights through arts, including through its annual International Documentary Film Festival on Human Rights.

How is civil society changing in Kyrgyzstan?

Civil society in Kyrgyzstan has changed significantly in recent years. More and more young people are involved in processes to protect and promote human rights and freedoms, and young activists are particularly interested in raising the level of legal consciousness, awareness of international law and international treaties and agreements to which Kyrgyzstan is a party. A large number of young people are interested in improving the situation in the country and openly talk about their proposals and ideas for the socio-economic and political development of Kyrgyzstan. Projects by international organisations aimed at promoting women’s leadership and increasing the level of participation of local communities in decision-making processes at the national level are gaining popularity.

Since 2018, Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan has successfully implemented a study in partnership with the Global Association for Disaster Risk Reduction on promoting the voices of local communities to decision-makers from local to global and reducing gaps between communities. The resulting methodology was effectively applied by Bir Duino to train women community deputies to increase their participation in decision-making processes.

Today, civil society realises the importance of joint actions to protect rights and freedoms in Kyrgyzstan. Activists are more united.

What is the Law on Foreign Representatives?

A new law on CSOs, the Law on Foreign representatives, is making its way through parliament. Its main purpose is to increase the national authorities’ monitoring and evaluation of CSOs.

It’s a version of laws adopted in different countries known as foreign agents’ laws. It’s much like the law in Russia. The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law did a comparative analysis and found that these two laws are very similar.

Already all CSOs regularly provide many mandatory reports in electronic and written form, every month and annually. So the requirement to provide some additional reports is not a challenge for us. But the main issue is how the law will be implemented, and whether it leads to more control over CSO activities.

Some members of parliament say the main reason for this new law is because a lot of CSOs don’t provide sufficient information about their activities, particularly their budgets. They further accuse CSOs of hiding their real purposes, saying some are involved in political lobbying and creating political instability.

As a CSO, we’re responsible for every dollar we receive from international donors. We’re open to providing any kind of information about activities within a funded project. International donors are very strict in their requirements about how funding should be used. I think it’s almost impossible to spend even one dollar for other purposes. That’s why for our organisation and a lot of CSOs, we’re absolutely sure we’re transparent and accountable for any kind of funding we receive from international donors.

How could the new law affect civil society in Kyrgyzstan?

The question is still open. Will this law be accepted or not? Because even after the results of the third stage of consideration, we have some hope the president will use his veto power to refuse this law.

Even after the acceptance of this law, our organisation and partners, and a lot of other CSOs, will go on with our activities and our project implementation, but it will definitely affect our activities, particularly those on human rights. A lot of activities could be classed as political activities, meaning they will be restricted.

Activists have joined efforts to inform international organisations and financial institutions about the need for the president to veto the law due to its inconsistency with human rights principles and standards under the key UN guidelines and the Aarhus Convention, an environmental rights treaty.

Joint appeals on this bill were made on behalf of local CSOs, international organisations and international financial institutions. Domestically, almost 100 local CSOs issued a statement on their position, and over 30 international CSOs published a statement on the new law, including some from the Russian Federation as well as other European countries. They are showing solidarity with our position.

The next steps are to wait for the president’s final decision. There is nothing more the international community can do in this matter.

How might international donors respond?

Even if international donors can no longer implement projects that are seen as political, there are many fields of work they can support. If human rights funding is going to be limited, attention could be given to implementing projects, for example, in the sphere of education, public health or environment.

For example, our organisation closely and actively works with local communities in distant and mountainous regions. People at the local level are not very well informed about the activities of international donors. That’s why their opinions can be manipulated. More conservative groups will tell them that international donors or CSOs are involved in political issues. It can be difficult for us to change their mind and explain we are not involved in political issues. But just imagine if, for example, an organisation supports the construction of a hospital or school of some kind, or reconstruction work, then people in the community will understand that international donors provided support. And nobody will have opportunity to say it’s a political issue or some kind of foreign influence.

Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan has been targeted for pressure and discrimination by conservative groups. Nevertheless, we continue to work to engage with local communities, raise their awareness of the importance of advancing international principles of human rights and freedoms, along with disaster risk reduction, and promote community voices to local to global decision makers.

Civic space in Kyrgyzstan is rated ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

Get in touch with Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan through its webpage or Facebook page, and follow @birduino_kg on Instagram.



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