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Kyrgyzstan: Rights Groups Urge Bishkek To Extend Death Penalty Moratorium, Outlaw Executions

Kyrgyzstan's moratorium on the death penalty is scheduled to end on 31 December. In an open letter to Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev, a coalition of local and international nongovernmental organizations is urging Bishkek to join the growing number of states that have permanently abolished capital punishment.

Prague, 20 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Kyrgyzstan has not executed anyone since 1998, when President Askar Akaev declared a moratorium on capital punishment in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Extended twice, the current moratorium is scheduled to expire at the end of this month, and the country once more finds itself at a crossroads: either finally to abolish capital punishment in law and in practice or to begin performing the executions of at least 160 people believed to be on death row.

In an open letter to Akaev, a coalition of international and local human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, is urging Bishkek to outlaw the death penalty and to take what the letter calls "a historic step that would enhance fundamental human rights protection for future generations in Kyrgyzstan."

A representative of the London-based rights group Amnesty International, Judit Arenas, said the abolition of the death penalty has become an important issue in light of continuing political tensions in Kyrgyzstan. "Within the context of the country, we are also urging the government of Kyrgyzstan to make sure that the death penalty does not become a tool that can be used against political opponents, because that would really be outside the line of international human rights standards," Arenas said.

Tursunbai Bakir-uulu is a former Kyrgyz lawmaker and politician who on 13 December became the country's first ombudsman. He said that during his practice as a lawyer, he became convinced that the death penalty is not an appropriate means of preventing crime. "Criminality will not decrease [by using the death penalty]. The bottom line is that neither the state nor its citizens have the right to take a life given by God. Instead, a criminal should spend the rest of his life in jail and seek God's forgiveness, seek the forgiveness of [his victim's] relatives, and clear his conscience by suffering," Bakir-uulu said.

Arenas also cited UN research on the link between countries that have the death penalty and their respective homicide rates. She said that the study, which was conducted in 1988 and updated in 1996, concluded that there is no correlation. "That has been explained by criminologists and other experts in that area to be [counterproductive] because they believe that the death penalty actually brutalizes society and, as a result, people are more immune, you know, they don't have the same respect for human dignity as in those states where they don't apply capital punishment," Arenas said.

More than half of the world's countries have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice. According to Amnesty International, 75 countries and territories today do not impose the death penalty for any crime and that, on average, about three countries a year have outlawed the death penalty since 1976 or have gone from abolishing it for ordinary crimes to abolishing it for all crimes.

Of the five Central Asian countries, only Turkmenistan has outlawed capital punishment, while a de facto ban on executions exists in Russia. Turkmenistan is scheduled to review its ban later this month, however.

Natalya Ablova is a director of the Kyrgyz Bureau on Human Rights and Rule of Law and one of the signatories of the open letter to the Kyrgyz president. She said the fair application of the death penalty can never be guaranteed, no matter the country. "There is always a possibility of a legal error, even in countries where the courts are free from any kind of influence and corruption. Even in these countries, errors occur. Besides, a state that kills has no moral right to demand that its citizens not kill," Ablova said.

Despite a worldwide trend toward abolition of the death penalty, Ablova admitted there will always be those people who are in favor of capital punishment, such as those who work in prison systems and the relatives of crime victims. But she said that the death penalty exacts too high a price from society as a whole. "Imagine how the children, the families, and relatives of a person sentenced to death suffer. It turns out that we punish the whole family when we take the life of a person who has taken another person's life. But why should the children and wife of a convict also endure such a horrible punishment? After all, they didn't kill anyone. But the family of a victim demands to punish another family. This is, I am sorry, medieval, vandalism, and revenge. This is the an-eye-for-an-eye and a-tooth-for-a-tooth principle," Ablova said.

So far, neither Akaev nor the Kyrgyz government has made any public statements about the future of capital punishment in the country after the current moratorium ends.

While expressing his objection to the death penalty, Kyrgyz ombudsman Bakir-uulu said he believes it is more realistic at this time to talk about an extension of the moratorium rather than the complete abolition of capital punishment in Kyrgyzstan. "These days, I have been preparing an official letter to the president. In order to preserve humanity and human dignity, our president should continue the moratorium on the death penalty for the next year. I think if we prolong its term, the world community [and] our donor countries in Europe would welcome it."

International and Kyrgyz human rights activists say they believe that Akaev will prolong the moratorium for another year but add that their fight for the complete abolition of the death penalty in Kyrgyzstan will continue.

(RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report.)