Concerns voiced about the situation of ethnic minorities in Kyrgystan

Press Release of ADC Memorial and the Human Rights Movement Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan

In alternative information submitted to UN CERD in October 2020, ADC Memorial and Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan expressed their concern about the plight of ethnic minorities in a time of social and political instability following mass protests, the president’s resignation, and the postponement of parliamentary elections.

One cause for alarm is a recent initiative announced by the country’s new prime minister to start listing ethnicity (nationality) in passports again. A measure like this may heighten discrimination against and even persecution of members of ethnic minorities. The requirement to document one’s national identity is founded on a return to the Soviet principle of “nationality in passports” (which was previously known as Item 5—in Soviet passports this item listed nationality, which resulted in mass discrimination against members of non-titular groups). However, people can have diverse identities, including national, religious, and linguistic identities, which may be manifested in one way or another (in blog posts, clothing, artistic work), while a passport only concerns citizenship, which is dangerous to compartmentalize into nationality.

ADC Memorial and Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan also noted that ethnic minorities living in dense settlements have faced additional risks during the COVID-19 pandemic: They have been poorly informed about the dangers of COVID-19 and prevention measures because they do not speak the Kyrgyz or Russian languages to an adequate degree, do not use the internet or social media, and follow religious and traditional practices. The groups called on the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic to consider the specific needs and lifestyles of ethnic minorities to minimize the risk of the spread of COVID-19 in these communities.

The groups believe that the developing situation in Kyrgyzstan requires the attention of and a response from international bodies: Kyrgyz authorities during the transitional period and in the future must guarantee observance of the rights of ethnic minorities and maintain ethnic peace and harmony.

The alternative information prepared by ADC Memorial and Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan relates to the implementation of prioritized recommendations made by the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination to the Government of Kyrgyzstan in 2018 following Kyrgyzstan’s report on its implementation of the Convention. There were three recommendations: guided by Views of the UN Human Rights Council and humanitarian reasons, release the human rights defender Azimjan Askarov from prison; create a hybrid national/international mechanism to review all cases connected with the June 2010 ethnic violence and restore justice for those convicted with bias; and reintroduce instruction and exit exams in the Uzbek language and ensure a non-discriminatory policy in the areas of education and use of mother tongues. The Kyrgyz government reported to the Committee on its implementation of these recommendations in July 2020.

The Government of Kyrgyzstan has not implemented the prioritized recommendations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination:

The death of Azimjan Askarov in custody was the tragic result of many years of the Kyrgyz government ignoring calls for his release from Kyrgyz civil society, international organizations, heads of states, and public figures. The 69-year-old human rights defender and journalist sentenced to life imprisonment died on July 25, 2020, five days after the Kyrgyz authorities informed the HRC that “the state of A. Askarov’s health is satisfactory; he is being monitored by medical personnel at the prison and is periodically receiving the medicine he needs” and two days after his last meeting with his lawyer and another appeal from Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan for his release. The State Penitentiary Service categorically refused the official request of Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan to call a private ambulance for Askarov in spite of his critical condition: he could not move on his own, had lost a great deal of weight, and was coughing and having trouble breathing. The recommendations of UN CERD (2018) and the decision of UN HRC (2016) have not been implemented, even though Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan worked for many years through the court system to achieve Askarov’s release. After reviewing Askarov’s case in light of new circumstances related to the UN HRC decision, on May 13, 2020, the Supreme Court upheld the life sentence issued by the Bazar-Korgonsky District Court of Jalal-Abad Oblast. On June 12, 2020, the Administrative Court of Bishkek rejected Askarov’s procedural appeal, in which he requested that the actions of the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic be found ineffective in relation to implementation of the HRC’s Views in his case; on August 20, 2020, the Bishkek City Court dismissed the claim of Askarov’s widow, Khadicha Askarova, requesting that she be recognized as the claimant’s legal successor in this administrative case and upheld the previous ruling issued by the Bishkek Administrative Court. On October 30, 2020, the Supreme Court rejected the cassation appeal. The Kyrgyz authorities did not view Askarov’s advanced age and critical state of health, his detention conditions, which did not met the minimum standards for prisoner treatment, or the COVID-19 pandemic as reasons sufficient to pardon him and release him for humane reasons. Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan has initiated a forensic medical expert review and an investigation into the causes of Askarov’s death in custody.

UN CERD’s recommendation to create a hybrid national/international mechanism to review all cases of persons convicted in connection with the June 2010 violence has not been implemented. For example, convicted person Fakhridin Ashirov is still serving his sentence even though the HRC found that Kyrgyzstan violated Article 7, in conjunction with Article 2 (3) and Article 14 (1), of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Views of the UN HRC on review of the cases of Kh. Erbabaev, A. Davudov, A. Saydarov, and E.K. Vasilov, who have served their sentences, and payment of compensation in connection with torture, illegal arrest, and unfair trials have not been implemented.

Justice has also not been restored for ethnic Uzbek entrepreneurs, who were deprived of their businesses and property following the 2010 events. For example, Gafurzhan Dadazhanov, an entrepreneur from Nookat District, Osh Oblast who lost his land plot, garden, and business, still cannot use his land 10 years after the ethnic conflict, even though a court and the State Agency for Land Resources have recognized his ownership rights.

No provisions have been made to implement the recommendation to offer secondary exit exams in Uzbek—the Kyrgyz authorities explain that this is not economically feasible because few graduates want to take the exam in Uzbek and because parents do not want this option anyway. Prior to the ethnic conflict, there were schools in South Kyrgyzstan that provided Uzbek language instruction; now instruction is predominantly in the Kyrgyz and Russian languages. But the small number of people wanting to take the exam is the result of the educational policy of recent years, the narrowing sphere of Uzbek language use, and a decline in the status of this language. This sharp drop in Uzbek language instruction following the 2010 events has lowered the quality of education, and not just because Uzbek children are no longer able to receive a mother tongue education, but also because teachers who taught in Uzbek often do not speak Kyrgyz or Russian well enough to teach in these languages. This means that students from former Uzbek schools do not perform well on the state exit exam and are not prepared to enroll in an institution of higher education. Very few Kyrgyz universities offer a specialization in Uzbek philology, so it’s likely that teachers of Uzbek will age out of the workforce and that no new, young specialists will take their place.

Photo by Markus Meier

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