Kyrgyzstan’s parliament should not dismiss the country’s human rights Ombudswoman, Atyr Abdrakhmatova, before she completes her five-year term and should refrain from interfering with her work, Human Rights Watch said today.
On April 19, 2023, parliament voted not to accept her annual report on the human rights situation in Kyrgyzstan for 2022, with some members of parliament calling for a vote of no confidence, as well as proposing Abdrakhmatova’s early dismissal. The moves may have been in retaliation for her vocal criticism of the October 23, 2022 arrests of 25 civil activists, bloggers, and politicians who disagreed with the government over a border issue. At least 20 of the group remain in detention. She has also been outspoken regarding the deterioration of human rights in the country. The parliament is expected to discuss the ombudswoman’s future within the next few parliamentary sessions.
“The dismissal of Ombudswoman Abdrakhmatova would be another troubling signal to the international community that Kyrgyzstan does not take its human rights obligations seriously,” said Syinat Sultanalieva, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The government should ensure that the Ombudsman’s Office remains independent and is able to carry out its mandate to protect human rights in Kyrgyzstan without interference.”
Based on media reports, members of parliament did not let Abdrakhmatova finish presenting her annual report and instead voted 41 to 14 not to accept the report. Members of parliament did not ask Abdrakhmatova any clarifying questions or otherwise engage on the substance of her report.
The move to dismiss Abdrakhmatova may be linked to her active defense of the “Kempir-Abad case” detainees, who have spent more than five months in pretrial detention. They were charged with fomenting mass unrest after they publicly disagreed with the government over the impending transfer of jurisdiction over the Kempir-Abad dam to Uzbekistan as part of a border demarcation deal.
On April 20 the presidential press secretary, Erbol Sultanbayev, dismissed Abdrakhmatova’s statements about the deterioration of freedom of speech and respect for human rights in the country as erroneous. Sultanbayev said Abdrakhmatova “protects those who wanted to destabilize the situation in the country,” in clear reference to the “Kempir-Abad case,” and accused her of not being as vocal about the rights of ordinary citizens.
A group of 60 independent activists and representatives of human rights organizations in Kyrgyzstan have called on President Sadyr Japarov to publicly defend the ombudswoman and on members of parliament to refrain from interfering with the institution’s independence. Activists also note that the provision in the law on the ombudsman that allows members of parliament to prematurely dismiss the ombudsman violates the internationally recognized standards for independence and accountability of national human rights institutions, such as the Paris Principles.
Abdrakhmatova is Kyrgyzstan’s first woman to hold the Ombudsman’s Office and a former human rights defender with extensive legal experience. She was elected to office in March 2022. Although Abdrakhmatova has received internal complaints about her attempts to reform the Ombudsman’s Office’s approaches to human rights monitoring and protection, her work has been praised by both national and international human rights partners.
The Kyrgyz authorities should allow Abdrakhmatova to complete her term without interference and to take further concrete steps to strengthen and protect independent human rights institutions in the country, Human Rights watch said.
“Abdrakhmatova has been recognized in Kyrgyzstan and internationally for her work to defend human rights,” Sultanalieva said. “A decision to dismiss her ahead of her term in apparent retaliation for her work would send a disturbing message that the Kyrgyz government does not uphold its international human rights obligations.”