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Central Asia: HRW Says EU Should Press Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan On Rights Issues

The EU-Kyrgyz and EU-Kazakh Cooperation Councils will meet tomorrow in Brussels. The New York-based Human Rights Watch says the European Union should use the opportunity to press for concrete improvements in human rights in those countries. It says that both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have consistently flouted the human rights criteria in their Partnership and Cooperation Agreements with the EU.

Prague, 21 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Human Rights Watch (HRW) is urging the European Union to use tomorrow's EU-Kyrgyz and EU-Kazakh Cooperation Council meetings to press senior Bishkek and Astana officials for concrete improvements in human rights.

In a press release issued today, HRW says the meetings constitute the single-most important bilateral encounters of the year between the two Central Asian nations and the EU.

Marie Struthers, a Moscow-based consultant on Russia and Central Asia for HRW, told RFE/RL: "The Cooperation Council meetings between the EU and Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan provide a forum to discuss preferential trade and financial agreements under what are called the Partnership and Cooperation Agreements. This is therefore a particularly opportune time to call for concrete measures to bring those countries' human rights comportment into compliance with their obligations under these agreements."

The EU formalized bilateral ties with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and eight other countries in the region with 10-year Partnership and Cooperation Agreements (PCAs) setting out political, economic, and trade relationships. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan's PCAs with the EU were launched in July 1999.

Struthers noted that in the case of Kazakhstan, private and public multilateral lending institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank will look to the priorities that the EU sets at tomorrow's meeting. "The priorities that are set [tomorrow] will send a signal to these actors and serve as a reference points for their own engagement for Kazakhstan," she said.

Struthers noted a "severe deterioration" in the past year in overall political freedom and media freedom in both Central Asian nations. She also noted "inertia" on the part of the Kazakh and Kyrgyz governments toward international efforts to promote reform during that time. She said that it is now time to reverse these trends.

"Certainly the EU has used strong words in the past and even in the very recent past to highlight human rights abuses taking place in Central Asia right now. But it seems to us an opportune time to match those strong words with concrete actions," Struthers said.

Struthers stressed that HRW is urging the EU to use the upcoming meetings to insist on the following specific steps. "We're urging the EU to call for the release from prison of Ghalimzhan Zhaqiyanov, who is a political prisoner in Kazakhstan and a co-founder of the DVK, the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan [opposition movement]. [We're also urging the EU to call for] the release of [Kazakh] journalist and human rights defender Sergei Duvanov, and another political opposition leader in Kyrgyzstan, Feliks Kulov. All of [them] have been convicted on charges that appear to be politically motivated," she said.

Struthers said that HRW is also asking the EU to urge both governments to allow for an independent review of all criminal cases brought against members of the political opposition, and to rescind criminal defamation laws. The latter include laws that currently allow government officials to bring claims of insult to "honor and dignity" when they are called to account for corruption and abuse of office.

"In our view, judicial prosecution of political opposition activists has increased in the past year or two. And in the case of Kazakhstan, we are seeing even at this time that prosecution continues as fall 2003 regional council elections approach and as parliamentary elections approach next year," Struthers said.

Struthers said that HRW also recommends that the EU coordinate its Central Asia policy closely with other governments and organizations active in the region, including the United States and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

One example of such cooperation would be for the EU to enlist the OSCE's special envoy to Central Asia, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, to track specific steps taken by the Kazakh and Kyrgyz governments to bring themselves into compliance with the human rights requirements of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreements.