The Kyrgyz Republic has a parliamentary form of government designed to limit presidential power and enhance the role of parliament and the prime minister. During presidential elections in October 2017, the nation elected former prime minister and member of the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, to succeed outgoing President Almazbek Atambaev. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) described the elections as competitive and well administered, but it noted room for improvement in the legal framework to prevent misuse of public resources in election campaigns and to effectively deter vote buying.
Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.
Human rights issues included law enforcement and security services officers’ use of torture and arbitrary arrest; site blocking and criminal libel in practice; pervasive corruption; human trafficking, including forced labor; attacks and other bias-motivated violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons and members of ethnic minority groups; violence against women and forced marriage; and child labor.
While the government took steps to investigate and prosecute or punish officials known to have committed human rights abuses, especially those involved in corrupt activities, official impunity remained a problem.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. In practice there were some procedural irregularities.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: In October 2017 voters elected former prime minister Sooronbai Jeenbekov as president, with approximately 55 percent of the total vote. The OSCE deemed the elections competitive with 11 candidates who were generally able to campaign freely; however, cases of misuse of administrative resources, pressure on voters, and vote buying remained a concern.
In March security services filed criminal charges against the runner-up in the 2017 election, Omurbek Babanov, for plotting “seizure of power and the organization of mass riots.” Previously, in November 2017 the PGO had charged Babanov with “public calls for violent change of the constitutional order” and “incitement of religious or ethnic strife” (criminal code Article 299) in connection with Babanov’s comments at a campaign rally. According to media reports, Babanov was residing outside of the country.
Political Parties and Political Participation: Members of parliament are selected through a national “party list” system. After voting occurred, party leaders regularly reordered the lists, often to the disadvantage of women. In 2017 an amendment to the law on elections requires that members of parliament who resign their mandate be replaced by persons of the same gender.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. The election code requires the names of male and female parliamentary candidates be intermixed on party lists and that no more than 70 percent of candidates on a party list can be of the same gender. As of November fewer than 10 percent of parliamentary seats were held by women.
By law women must be represented in all branches of government and constitute no less than 30 percent of state bodies and local authorities. The law does not specify the level of the positions at which they must be represented.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Numerous domestic and international human rights organizations operated actively in the country, although government officials at times were uncooperative and unresponsive to their views.
Government actions at times appeared to impede the ability of NGOs to operate freely.
The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government permitted visits by representatives of the United Nations and other organizations in connection with the investigation of abuses or monitoring of human rights problems in the country, including those of the OSCE, ICRC, Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and International Organization for Migration. The government restricted visits to Azimjon Askarov but otherwise provided international bodies largely unfettered access to civil society activists, detention facilities and detainees, and government officials.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman acted as an independent advocate for human rights on behalf of private citizens and NGOs and had the authority to recommend cases for court review. Observers noted the atmosphere of impunity surrounding the security forces and their ability to act independently against citizens limited the number and type of complaints submitted to the Ombudsman’s Office.
Although the Ombudsman’s Office exists in part to receive complaints of human rights abuses and pass the complaints to relevant agencies for investigation, both domestic and international observers questioned the office’s efficiency and political independence. In June Ombudsman Kubat Otorbaev resigned. While Otorbaev said his resignation was not due to outside pressure, parliamentarians at times criticized his work and raised the possibility of his early dismissal. On September 26, Tokon Mamytov, a former GKNB officer, was appointed to the post of ombudsman, a decision that human rights organizations criticized.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal, but as in previous years, the government failed to enforce the law effectively, and rape cases were underreported. Penalties for conviction of sexual assault range from three to eight years’ imprisonment. Prosecutors rarely brought rape cases to court. Police generally regarded spousal rape as an administrative, rather than a criminal, offense.
While the law specifically prohibits domestic violence and spousal abuse, violence against women and girls remained a significant yet underreported problem. Penalties for domestic violence convictions range from fines to 15 years’ imprisonment, the latter if abuse resulted in death. In 2015 HRW catalogued a range of violent forms of domestic violence and found that the government did not sufficiently investigate and prosecute cases, provide services and support for survivors, pursue protection, or penalize perpetrators. In the small number of reported cases reviewed by courts over recent years, many charges were considered administrative offenses rather than crimes, thus carrying a lesser punishment.
A 2017 domestic violence law streamlined procedures for the issuance of protective orders and increased protections for the victims of domestic violence. The law requires police to file cases of domestic violence and recognizes economic violence as a form of abuse in addition to physical and psychological abuse. The law also entitles witnesses to report on abuses and requires police to act on reports filed by witnesses.
Many crimes against women went unreported due to psychological pressure, economic dependence, cultural traditions, fear of stigma, and apathy among law enforcement officers. There were also reports of spouses retaliating against women who reported abuse. The government provided offices to the Sezim Shelter for victims of domestic abuse and paid its expenses.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Although prohibited by law, the practice of kidnapping women and girls for forced marriage continued. In 2017 the OSCE estimated that each year 12,000 young women were kidnapped into forced marriages and 20 percent were raped in the process. Kidnapped brides were more likely to be victims of domestic abuse and were limited in their pursuit of education and employment. The negative effect of the practice extended to children of kidnapped brides. Observers reported there was a greater frequency of early marriage, polygamy, and bride kidnapping in connection with unregistered religious marriages. This also affected data availability on such marriages.
Some victims of bride kidnapping went to the local police to obtain protective orders, but authorities often poorly enforced such orders. In May, following an attempt by Mars Bodosev to kidnap 20-year-old Burulai Turdaaly kyzy, police held both Bodosev and Turdaaly kyzy in the same holding cell in a police station. While awaiting further processing, Bodosev stabbed Turdaaly kyzy to death. Following the killing, the Ministry of Internal Affairs punished 23 police officers for neglect. On December 10, a Bishkek court found Bodoshev guilty of killing Turdaaly kyzy and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. Akmet Seiitov, who assisted Bodoshev in the kidnapping, was sentenced to seven years in prison. Although in 2013 the government strengthened the penalty for conviction of bride kidnapping to a maximum of 10 years in prison, NGOs continued to report no increase in the reporting and rare prosecution of the crime.
Sexual Harassment: Media reported on widespread sexual harassment in the workplace and on public transportation. The law prohibits physical sexual assault but not verbal sexual harassment.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women and men, but due to poor enforcement of the law, discrimination against women persisted.
As in previous years, data from NGOs working on women’s issues indicated women were less healthy, more abused, less able to work outside the home, and less able than men to determine independently the disposition of their earnings.
Birth Registration: Although the law provides that every child born in the country has the right to receive a birth certificate, local registration, and citizenship, some children were stateless (see section 2.d.). Children of migrant parents who moved to and acquired citizenship of another country had to prove both of their parents were Kyrgyz citizens to acquire Kyrgyz citizenship.
Education: The law provides for compulsory and free education for the first nine years of schooling or until age 14 or 15. Secondary education is free and universal until age 17. The government did not provide free basic education to all students, and the system of residence registration restricted access to social services, including education for children who were refugees, migrants, or noncitizens. Families of children in public school often paid burdensome and illegal administrative fees.
Child Abuse: According to NGO and UN reports, child abuse, including beatings, child labor, and commercial sexual exploitation of boys and girls continued to occur.
Early and Forced Marriage: Children ages 16 and 17 may legally marry with the consent of local authorities, but the law prohibits civil marriages before age 16 under all circumstances. Although illegal, the practice of bride kidnapping continued (see section 6, Women). The kidnapping of underage brides remained underreported.
In 2018 UNICEF estimated that 12.7 percent of married women between the ages of 20 and 49 married before age 18. A 2015 HRW report on domestic abuse found inadequate government attention focused on addressing bride kidnapping or other forms of early and forced marriage. A 2016 law criminalizes religious marriages involving minors. No prosecutions were filed.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the sale of children, child trafficking, child prostitution and child pornography, as well as other sexual crimes against children. The law criminalizes the sale of persons, forced prostitution, and provides penalties for conviction of up to 15 years in prison if the victim is a child. The law also makes it a crime to involve someone in prostitution by violence or the threat of violence, blackmail, destroying or damaging property, or fraud.
The criminal code prohibits the distribution of child pornography and the possession of child pornography with the intent to distribute. The law does not specifically define child pornography, and the criminal code does not fully criminalize computer-related use, access to child pornography online, or simple possession of child pornography.
According to local observers, children under age 18 were involved in prostitution. According to UNICEF, children under age 18 in Bishkek were involved in prostitution. Although precise figures were not known, police stated that typical cases of child prostitution involved young girls from rural areas who relocated to Bishkek for educational opportunities or to flee from an abusive family environment. Once in the capital, they entered the sex trade due to financial pressures. There were allegations of law enforcement officials’ complicity in human trafficking; police officers allegedly threatened, extorted, and raped child sex-trafficking victims. The government reportedly did not investigate allegations of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses. Under the criminal code, it is illegal for persons ages 18 and older to have sexual relations with someone under the age of 16.
Displaced Children: As in previous years, there were numerous reports of child abandonment due to parents’ lack of resources, and large numbers of children lived in institutions, foster care, or on the streets. Approximately 80 percent of street children were internal migrants. Street children had difficulty accessing educational and medical services. Police detained street children and sent them home if an address was known or to a rehabilitation center or orphanage.
Institutionalized Children: State orphanages and foster homes lacked resources and often were unable to provide proper care. This sometimes resulted in the transfer of older children to mental health-care facilities even when they did not exhibit mental health problems. In August the Office of the Ombudsman called for the closure of the country’s sole children’s detention center. As of October, the detention center had not been closed. The ombudsman stated that the center did not respect the right of juvenile detainees to education and medical services.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
The Jewish population in the country was approximately 460. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, requires access to public transportation and parking, authorizes subsidies to make mass media available to persons with hearing or vision disabilities, and provides free plots of land for the construction of a home. The government generally did not ensure proper implementation of the law, and discrimination persisted. In addition, persons with disabilities often had difficulty finding employment due to negative societal attitudes and high unemployment among the general population.
A lack of government resources made it difficult for persons with disabilities to receive adequate education. Although children with disabilities have the right to an education, the Association of Parents of Children with Disabilities stated schools often denied them entry. The government funded programs to provide school supplies and textbooks to children with mental or physical disabilities, and the Association of Parents of Children with Disabilities reported efforts by the Ministry of Education and Science to improve the situation by promoting inclusive education for persons with disabilities.
According to UNICEF, one-third of children with disabilities were institutionalized. As in previous years, conditions at psychiatric hospitals were substandard, stemming largely from inadequate funding. The government did not adequately provide for basic needs, such as food, water, clothing, heating, and health care, and facilities were often overcrowded.
Authorities usually placed children with mental disabilities in psychiatric hospitals rather than integrating them with other children. Other residents were also committed involuntarily, including children without mental disabilities who were too old to remain in orphanages.
The PGO is responsible for protecting the rights of psychiatric patients and persons with disabilities. According to local NGO lawyers, members of the PGO had no training and little knowledge of the protection of these rights and were ineffective in assisting citizens with disabilities. Most judges lacked the experience and training to make determinations as to whether it was appropriate to mandate committing persons to psychiatric hospitals, and authorities institutionalized individuals against their will.
Observers noted authorities had not implemented a 2008 law requiring employers to fulfill special hiring quotas for persons with disabilities (approximately 5 percent of work positions).
Tensions between ethnic Uzbeks–who comprised nearly 15 percent of the population–and ethnic Kyrgyz remained problematic, particularly in Southern Osh Oblast where Uzbeks make up almost one-half the population. Discrimination against ethnic Uzbeks in business and government, as well as harassment and reported arbitrary arrests, illustrated these tensions. Ethnic Uzbeks reported that large public works and road construction projects in predominantly Uzbek areas, often undertaken without public consultation, interfered with neighborhoods and destroyed homes. Additionally, according to HRW, a 2016 Supreme Court study found that a majority of suspects prosecuted for terrorism and extremism, including under Article 299, were ethnic Uzbeks from the south.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
LGBTI persons whose sexual orientation or gender identity was publicly known risked physical and verbal abuse, possible loss of employment, and unwanted attention from police and other authorities. Inmates and officials often openly victimized incarcerated gay men. Forced marriages of lesbians and bisexual women to men also occurred. The Labrys Public Foundation noted the continued practice of “corrective rape” of lesbians to “cure” their homosexuality.
Members of the LGBTI community continued to report attempts to forcibly “out” gays, lesbians and transgender persons on social media. Specifically, secretly recorded videos of LGBTI wedding ceremony participants and their guests were posted on social media pages, drawing unwanted attention and harassment.
In 2014 HRW released a report based on interviews with 40 LGBTI persons chronicling instances of official extortion, beatings, and sexual assault. The report described in detail how police patrolling parks and bars frequented by gay men would threaten them with violence and arrest or threaten to reveal their homosexuality to their families if they did not pay bribes. These practices, according to representatives of the LGBTI community, continued during the year. NGO leaders in the southern part of the country reported an even greater threat. During the year members of the LGBTI community have reported that authorities regularly monitored chatrooms and dating sites in an effort to punish and extort those who were seeking out homosexual sex through online venues.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
While the law protects against discrimination and stigmatization of persons with HIV/AIDS, according to UNAIDS, persons with HIV continued to encounter high levels of stigma and discrimination. According to 2015 Stigma Index data, HIV-positive persons felt fear or experienced verbal abuse, harassment, and threats, with some reporting incidents of physical abuse and assault. Loss of employment and lack of access to housing were reported due to social stigma of HIV/AIDS status. A recent study conducted by Kyrgyz Indigo, an LGBTI advocacy organization, found that more than 70 percent of gay and bisexual men were unaware of their HIV status.