Kyrgyzstan: Amendments to NGO law would threaten freedom of expression and association

Press release

Following the 35th Universal Periodic Review of Kyrgyzstan’s official country report, submitted by the national authorities on 20 January 2020, FIDH and its three member organisations in the country, Bir Duino, Adilet and Kylym Shamy, express their alarm at three legislative initiatives which, if adopted, could severely undermine freedom of association in Kyrgyzstan and the ongoing dialogue between civil society and the authorities.

At the end of this month, the Parliament of Kyrgyzstan (Jogorku Kenesh) will consider a draft law amending the current legislation on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and legal entities. The draft law № 6-28018/19 from 30 December 2019 imposes additional onerous reporting requirements on NGOs. Specifically, in addition to the annual income and expenses reports, NGOs will need to detail the size and structure of their incomes and expenditures, the value of their property, the number of employees, including volunteers, and their remuneration. In case of a failure to report the information, NGOs will be sanctioned with liquidation within one year. In addition, State authorities would have the right to conduct ad hoc inspections, request additional documents and other information with the view to more closely oversee NGOs’ activities. FIDH and its member organisations believe that the proposed initiative is the authorities’ latest attempt to establish tighter control over the nonprofit sector.

Earlier in 2019, two other amendments to the NGO law were introduced to the Jogorku Kenesh, ostensibly in order to strengthen governmental oversight over NGOs and trade unions.3 The April 2019 draft law “On trade unions” would impose a vertical organisational structure on trade unions and establish special procedures for forming a trade union. Among other things, the draft law proposes designating the Federation of Trade Unions as the sole authorised representative of workers. However, membership in the Federation is open only to registered trade unions, thus excluding a large part of independent trade unions, which are unregistered. If adopted, the initiative would also centralise the management of trade unions in the hands of the Chairman of the Federation of Trade Unions, in violation of the right of trade unions to self-organise and self-regulate. The initiative would also violate the basic principles of trade union activity, such as voluntary accession to trade union organisations and their associations and the principle of federalism.

Another attempt to tighten freedom of association is a draft law amending the procedure for conducting inspections of businesses, equating NGOs with commercial enterprises with respect to control measures, including planned and unscheduled checks by 10 different State bodies. The draft law was introduced to the Parliament by the Ministry of Economy in August 2019, and is currently considered by Jogorku Kenesh.4 The adoption of the draft law will grant the authorities even more opportunities to control and supervise the activities of civil society.

FIDH, Bir Duino, Kylym Shamy and Adilet believe that the three legislative initiatives, by imposing excessive reporting requirements on civil society organisations and expanding government control over the management and reporting of NGOs and trade unions, would run afoul of freedom of association, guaranteed by Article 35 of Kyrgyzstan’s Constitution, Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as Article 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Kyrgyzstan is a party.

The Kyrgyz authorities systematically attempt to tighten State control over civil society, effectively restricting freedom of association. Notably, between 2013 and 2015, the Jogorku Kenesh attempted to amend the NGO law by introducing a “foreign agent” clause in the legislation. This measure, mirroring the notorious Russian “foreign agent” law, would have imposed on civil society organisations a number of restrictions on receiving funding from international donors. Due to strong mobilisation on the part of civil society and international organisations, after a two-year struggle, the Parliament was forced to reject these legislative amendments.

While welcoming the previous steps taken by the government to promote meaningful dialogue with the civil society, which has proven to be fruitful and resulted in enhanced democratic institutions and reduced inequalities that benefitted the whole Kyrgyz society, FIDH and its three member organisations in Kyrgyzstan appeal to the Kyrgyz authorities to stay the course of engagement and liberalisation of civil society. The organisations urge Kyrgyzstan to withdraw the above mentioned draft laws as contrary to the State’s domestic and international obligations.

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