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IPHR calls on authorities of Kyrgyzstan to withdraw draft law threatening NGOs

International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and CIVICUS call on the authorities of Kyrgyzstan to withdraw the highly restrictive draft law on NGOs, which was recently introduced, and to ensure that any legislation affecting freedom of association that is adopted is in line with the country’s international human obligations.

The draft NGO law, elaborated by the presidential administration, was put forward for public discussion on November 2, 2022 after it was prepared in what appears to have been a rushed manner without adequate consultation with experts and civil society representatives.

The draft significantly increases state control over NGOs, provides for excessive restrictions on the operations of such organizations, and raises concerns that it could be used to target groups working on issues which are sensitive to authorities.

«This draft law mirrors NGO legislation seen in more repressive countries in the post-Soviet region. Going ahead with this initiative would seriously endanger the operating freedom of NGOs in Kyrgyzstan and undermine hard-won gains in terms of civil society participation in the country,’’ said Brigitte Dufour, Director of IPHR. «The Kyrgyzstani authorities should drop this ill-considered draft law and focus instead on securing an environment in which human rights and other NGOs can carry out their crucial work without hindrance and intimidation.»

As the organization notes, introduction of the draft law is particularly worrisome as it comes in the context of a worsening environment for free speech and civic space in Kyrgyzstan.

In recent months, the authorities have widened their campaign against critical voices, including through mass arrests and criminal charges initiated against activists, journalists and human rights defenders who have spoken out against the government. Activists and bloggers have also been intimidated and warned because of social media posts critical of the government — most recently a veteran human rights activist Aziza Abdirasulova was singled out for pressure.

The draft law requires all NGOs, including branches and representations of foreign NGOs, to register with the authorities in order to operate lawfully in the country, unlike existing legislation that does not require compulsory state registration of such organizations. NGOs that are already registered would have to re-register within seven months after the law enters into force; otherwise, they would be liquidated.

Moreover, the draft law grants broad powers to authorities to oversee NGOs’ compliance not only with national law but also with their statutes, thus affording state bodies the role of controlling and assessing whether NGOs ‘’correctly’’ implement their own mandates. As part of their oversight functions, state bodies would be able to request access to a range of NGO documents, including bank information; to send representatives to attend any events organized by NGOs; and to carry out annual inspections of NGO activities.

«If adopted, the draft NGO law would deal a serious blow to Kyrgyzstan’s vibrant civil society. It is so broadly worded that it can easily be used to arbitrarily obstruct the work of organizations that are ‘thorns in the side’ of those in power because they criticize government policies, expose human rights violations or stand up against injustice,’’ said Aarti Narse, Civic Space Research Officer at CIVICUS.

States are obliged to avoid measures that disproportionately target or burden civil society organizations and to ensure that such groups are able to carry out their activities without unwarranted state interference.

As IPHR notes, the draft law runs counter to the commitments made by the Kyrgyzstani government prior to its recent election as a member of the UN Human Rights Council for the period 2023-2025. As part of its membership bid, the government specifically undertook to enhance the capacity of civil society in the country.

«We urge the Kyrgyzstani authorities to put a halt to the consideration of the draft NGO law in its current format and to ensure that any draft legislation affecting NGOs is elaborated through close and effective consultation with civil society representatives and national experts. The authorities should also request and welcome international expert comments on such draft legislation from the Venice Commission, the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association,» the human rights organization says.