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Saturday, May 07, 2005


HRW open letter on Kyrgyzstan

From Human Rights Watch:

May 6, 2005

Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
US Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20212

Dear Secretary Rice,

We are writing to ask you to encourage the government of Kyrgyzstan to promote political stability and respect for fundamental rights in that country. It is particularly important that the new Kyrgyz government take early action to ensure that the presidential election scheduled for July 10, 2005 is free and fair and not marred by violence.

During the Akaev era, people lost faith in their government. A widespread sense of disenfranchisement fed the discontent expressed in mass protests that led to a change in government. The new administration of President Kurmanbek Bakiev must now restore democratic institutions and the rule of law in Kyrgyzstan.

Successful transition to an accountable and rights-respecting government will depend in part on the political will of those now in power. During a recent ten-day mission to Kyrgyzstan, Human Rights Watch met with senior members of the new government to present our concerns, which we detailed in a letter to President Bakiev. We are confident that there is a genuine desire on the part of some officials to create conditions for free and fair elections. However, the government faces numerous challenges. The role of the U.S. government will be critical to the Bakiev government’s success in meeting these challenges. We therefore call on the United States to provide appropriate resources and expertise to help ensure that all Kyrgyz citizens will be able to exercise their right to political participation and that the vote will truly represent the will of the electorate.

The following are priority goals that the Bakiev government must achieve to establish a level playing field and safe environment during the crucial election campaign period and beyond.

Personal Security
Areas of the country remain unstable, and violence has been reported in conflicts between supporters for different parliamentary candidates from highly contested districts. There have been reports of protestors beating judges and disrupting the courts. In some districts, Human Rights Watch has received complaints that persons allegedly associated with criminal groups have illegitimately claimed administrative posts. This has put additional constraints on the activities of local authorities and civil society. It is imperative that the government take necessary and appropriate action to ensure the personal security of all political candidates and their supporters. We ask that the U.S. government emphasize to the government of Kyrgyzstan the importance of personal security and prevention of violence and other means of intimidation of voters and candidates and their supporters. This will be especially important during the politically sensitive period leading up to elections, and will be essential for a free and fair vote.

Freedom of Assembly
We strongly recommend that President Bakiev issue a presidential decree affirming the right to freedom of assembly as provided in Kyrgyzstan’s constitution and article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The decree should include guidelines clarifying the notification requirement for public assembly, including the agency that should receive notifications and the form these notifications should take.

It is important also that the government articulate clearly the parameters of the right to freedom of assembly well in advance of the presidential vote. This is vital to the exercise of a free and fair election and as a precaution against violence and unrest. Following recent changes in the law, the rules for legitimate peaceful assembly remain unclear to many in Kyrgyzstan, including activists, law enforcement agents, and judges.

Freedom of the Media
In order to guarantee free and fair elections, it is essential that the government allow the mass media to function without interference. We have received disturbing and credible reports of intervention by the executive branch regarding the content of the national broadcasts of television news on KTR. The Bakiev government needs to receive the message loud and clear from the United States administration that censorship of the media, including government-owned media, damages the credibility of the new administration and future elections and must stop.

Election Observers
The new government of Kyrgyzstan has pledged to cooperate with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in preparation for the upcoming presidential elections. As an OSCE participating state, the U.S. should work to ensure that a sufficient number of long-and short-term election observers are seconded to Kyrgyzstan.

Electoral Reform
The U.S. government should strongly encourage the Kyrgyz government to initiate specific reforms to ensure free and fair elections in July.

The government should issue a public statement instructing the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) not to interfere in the elections process on behalf of any party or candidate.

It should ensure that the composition of electoral commissions reflect a reasonable balance of representation by the government, non-governmental organizations, and political parties. Civil society groups should be allowed access to information regarding the composition of such commissions.

The government should make available new, complete, and up-to-date voter lists, ensuring in particular that election monitoring groups are given full access to such lists. Voter lists should be prepared enough in advance to allow for scrutiny by election monitors.

The Bakiev government should denounce publicly and unequivocally the practice of vote-buying. It should also support legislation reversing existing restrictions that prevent Kyrgyz diplomats who worked abroad from running for office.

Engagement with Civil Society
The U.S. government should encourage the Bakiev administration to engage with civil society groups regarding implementation of the above recommendations, making decisions in consultation with such expert and activist groups.

The U.S. government has the opportunity now to exercise leadership and to pass on its knowledge and expertise to the new government of Kyrgyzstan. In order to avoid violence and social unrest that could derail or undermine the upcoming presidential elections, and in the interest of instilling in people a confidence in the integrity of the electoral process, we urge you to act early to support the provision of free and fair elections in Kyrgyzstan.

Thank you for your attention to these important issues, we would be happy to meet with you and your staff to discuss these matters further,

Rachel Denber
Acting Executive Director
Europe and Central Asia division

Tom Malinowski
Washington Advocacy Director

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