September 24, 2002
His Excellency Askar Akaev
Republic of Kyrgyzstan
Dear Mr. President:
On the occasion of your visit to Washington, we are pleased to have the opportunity to identify several matters of mutual interest and concern in this year that marks ten years of Kyrgyzstan’s participation in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Considering the significance of the continuing war on terrorism, in which your country has cooperated with the United States, and the related issue of stability in Kyrgyzstan, we believe it is imperative to address some fundamental questions of democracy and state-society relations in Kyrgyzstan.
This year has been one of turmoil in Kyrgyzstan, beginning with the arrest of parliamentarian Azimbek Beknazarov in January, followed by the shooting of demonstrators in Aksy demanding his release in March and then months of large-scale demonstrations. The protest movement has quieted down in anticipation of your proclaimed intention to take some decisive measures by November 15, and yet the level of societal discontent – caused, as you said yourself at Yale this past weekend, by poverty and a widespread sense of “disempowerment” – remains high. Some activists seek your resignation and the holding of pre-term elections, and there is no doubt that many citizens of your country are deeply disappointed by the turn away from democracy in the last few years and are prepared to express their discontent in the streets.
The emergence of “street politics” in Kyrgyzstan reflects the sad reality that “normal” politics have become virtually impossible. Deprived of other effective outlets for expressing discontent or influencing their government, people have exercised their right to assembly and association in an effort to send a serious message to their government. Their message should not be ignored nor their voices squelched.
We had an opportunity to meet with representatives of Kyrgyzstan’s opposition in July, at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Berlin. On the basis of our conversation, as well as the Helsinki Commission’s constant monitoring of the situation in Kyrgyzstan, we would respectfully offer several suggestions intended to address the current crisis:
• Appoint an independent commission to investigate the Aksy events. The perceived partiality of the current investigation has undermined its credibility among those, especially in Aksy, who seek a just apportionment of responsibility for the shootings. As you know, the shootings have caused the most serious political crisis in Kyrgyzstan in ten years.
• Honor the commitment to permit freedom of speech, assembly and association. On September 9, your government announced plans to ban demonstrations for three months. The order was subsequently revoked, but it indicated a very short-sighted approach to state-society relations and crowd control. Too much has occurred in Kyrgyzstan this year for the authorities simply to forbid rallies with any hope of success.
• Release Felix Kulov. Along with Amnesty International and other human rights groups, we consider General Kulov a political prisoner, punished for his attempt to run for office. His release would not only rectify an injustice, it would help stabilize the political environment and create good will for your government inside and outside the country.
• Take seriously the opportunity afforded by the convening of the constitutional commission. Throughout Central Asia, “super-presidencies” have emerged, which make irrelevant the constitutionally mandated separation of powers. We believe the commission you have established, which is examining the redistribution of prerogatives between the executive and legislative branches, offers not only Kyrgyzstan’s best hope of avoiding further instability but may serve as a model for neighboring countries, which sooner or later will confront their own political crises. A creative, successful effort, taking account of the perspectives of the opposition and civil society, could have an historic impact.
Kyrgyzstan stands at a turning point. We are convinced that “business as usual” will not be able to salvage the situation and urge you and your government to take the daring and necessary steps to implement democratic reforms and protect fundamental human rights without further delay. We stand ready to be of assistance in your efforts to make such needed reforms.
Steny H. Hoyer, M.C. Christopher H. Smith, M.C.
Ranking Member Co-Chairman