Human Rights Watch (HRW) is urging Kyrgyzstan to withdraw a draft constitution submitted to lawmakers last month, saying it undermines human rights norms and weakens the checks and balances necessary to prevent abuses of power.
“The current draft constitution does not reflect the high human rights standards Kyrgyzstan says it aspires to,” Syinat Sultanalieva, Central Asia researcher at the New York-based human rights watchdog, said in a statement on March 5.
Kyrgyzstan has been in political crisis since parliamentary elections in October led to protests that triggered the toppling of the government and the resignation of then-President Sooronbai Jeenbekov.
President Sadyr Japarov was among several prominent politicians freed from prison by protesters during the unrest. He had been serving a 10-year prison sentence for hostage-taking during a protest against a mining operation in northeast Kyrgyzstan in October 2013. He has denied the charge.
Since winning a presidential election in January, Japarov has advanced the draft constitution.
Votes of at least 80 members of the caretaker parliament, or a two-thirds majority, are required to adopt the proposed constitution before it is put to a national referendum.
HRW said the legislature should postpone consideration of the text until after a new parliament has been elected to “allow for a full deliberative and consultative constitutional reform process.”
The government should also refer the draft to the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission of constitutional experts.
“President Japarov has pledged to uphold and respect human rights,” Sultanalieva said, adding: “A new constitution lays the foundation for these actions, so it is vitally important for this document, and the process of preparing it, to uphold beyond all doubt the highest standards of human rights and the rule of law.”
In its annual report released earlier this week, the Washington-based human rights watchdog Freedom House said the draft constitution “could reshape Kyrgyzstan’s political system in the mold of its authoritarian neighbors.”
HRW said provisions in the draft regarding the role of the executive and parliament “erode the constitution’s current system of checks and balances.” It cited a proposed article providing the president with powers previously exclusive to the parliament, such as initiating new laws and referendums, in addition to the existing power of veto.
The group said two other articles would allow the president to indirectly recall the mandates of members of parliament. If the president obtains the support of a majority of lawmakers, the head of state can strip a parliament member’s immunity from criminal prosecution, which HRW said would create “the conditions for political pressure on members who are critical of the ruling party or the president.”
Other “problematic” provisions would transfer power from the parliament to the president to appoint members of the cabinet, and appoint and dismiss judges, the prosecutor-general, the chairman of the central bank, as well as nominate and dismiss half of the Central Election Committee.
HRW noted that several proposed articles “directly violate” international human rights standards, including one that would prohibit activities, public events, and dissemination of information contrary to the “moral values and the public consciousness of the people of Kyrgyzstan.”
The draft constitution also excludes an article guaranteeing freedom of identification of ethnic identity, a move that would create “a dangerous potential for ethnic profiling and discrimination against ethnic minorities.”
The draft also includes a provision imposing “unnecessary, burdensome” financial reporting requirements on nongovernmental organizations, trade unions, and political parties.