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UN: Rights Committee Criticizes Kyrgyzstan

  • Beatrice Hogan

The UN Human Rights Committee has reviewed Kyrgyzstan's status as part of a regular survey of signatories to human rights conventions. The spotlight fixes attention on Kyrgyzstan at a time when it appears to be backsliding on democracy. Correspondent Beatrice Hogan reports.

United Nations, 2 August 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The periodic review by the UN Human Rights Committee of Kyrgyzstan last month coincides with a time of mounting criticism by international human rights monitors of the country's treatment of opposition voices.

The committee's findings appear to validate concerns of independent watchdogs that the country is not meeting its commitments under the international Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The chairwoman of the UN committee, Cecilia Medina Quiroga, says she has several concerns after hearing reports from government representatives and non-governmental groups in Geneva.

She says her committee is watching closely the fate of prisoners on Kyrgyzstan's death row since a moratorium on the death penalty expired. Quiroga also says the recent closing down of newspapers under the pretext of tax evasion is incompatible with principles of freedom of expression. And she says the status of women is not clearly defined in the report given by Kyrgyz officials in Geneva.

Kyrgyz officials in Geneva were not available to comment on the committee's findings.

Kyrgyzstan signed the covenant along with other major human rights treaties when it became a sovereign state after the breakup of the Soviet Union. These treaties oblige countries to respect international norms in their national laws and to submit to periodic reviews by the world body.

Cathy Fitzpatrick, the director of the New York-based International League of Human Rights, follows the situation in Kyrgyzstan closely. She told RFE/RL in a telephone interview that in the past, Kyrgyzstan has been sensitive to international criticism and she hopes it will act on the committee's concerns this time too.

"The world opinion and rulings expressed through these bodies is something [governments] cannot dispute. And then if there's a worsening situation, the UN starts to send investigators. The high commissioner can then talk to them personally and say 'shape up.' When you get really bad situations, like in Yugoslavia, the secretary-general gets involved."

Fitzpatrick says the human rights situation in Kyrgyzstan -- once heralded as Central Asia's 'island of democracy' -- has certainly worsened since parliamentary elections earlier this year.

Just two weeks ago, authorities closed the offices of the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights and issued an arrest warrant for its director, Ramazan Dyryldayev.

Fitzpatrick also points to the case of Feliks Kulov, a former vice president and the chief rival to President Askar Akaev. Kulov was favored to win a seat in parliament this year but was declared the loser in an election that was internationally criticized as deeply flawed.

Kulov afterward was sent to prison on flimsy charges dating back to the mid-1990s. His trial concluded this week and a verdict is expected soon.

Fitzpatrick says the case typifies the problems in the criminal justice system.

"We decided to really go after this case because the infractions are minor and there's no reason to hold him in pre-trial detention. There's no reason to have him in a closed court."

She says such abuses are typical for the region and are violations of the International Covenant. At the heart of the problem is the all-powerful prosecutor, a position that Fitzpatrick says remains unchanged from the Soviet era.

"There's a war between the old and the new. It's part generational and it's part systemic. The ones that are in the Foreign Ministry and the Justice Ministry are arrayed against the prosecutor and security, the power ministry. That's the usual split you find in these countries."

For this reason, Fitzpatrick urged that foreign governments provide assistance toward creating strong legal associations and better training of lawyers.

Activists like Fitzpatrick say the main mechanism of the Human Rights Committee is rhetorical. Nevertheless, the weight of world opinion can influence a government's attitudes and be a catalyst for change.

Neighboring Uzbekistan is scheduled to report to the Human Rights Committee this fall.