Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: His Excellency Baktibek Abdrisaev
Kyrgyzstan Ambassador to the United States - The Republic of Kyrgyzstan

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I would like to express my gratitude to the members of the OSCE Commission for the opportunity to share vision of my country about the security situation, democratic reforms and human rights in Kyrgyzstan.

The tragic events of 11 September conclusively convinced the world community of the necessity of immediate joint efforts by all countries to declare war on this “ plague of 21st century” – international terrorism.

Since 1999 southern Kyrgyzstan has lived through attacks by Islamic insurgents connected to the Al-Qaeda network and Osama Bin Laden in the Ferghana Valley. All this time we have been forced to pay attention and allocate resources to the fight against terrorism while continuing to work towards deepening reforms in our country. More than 50 of our people perished in this war. This is why Kyrgyzstan has repeatedly called for immediate, effective and coordinated measures on the national, regional and international scale towards the full annihilation of terrorism’s very roots.

During the last several years, Kyrgyzstan has undertaken indispensable measures to ensure its national security. The borders are guarded by increasingly better-equipped military and security forces. At the last summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, we initiated the creation of an anti-terrorist center dedicated to the prevention of and struggle against international terrorism. Kyrgyzstan implemented necessary measures for enhancing its military security. A permanent rapid reaction force under the CIS collective security treaty has been operating in Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan receives significant assistance from the U.S. Department of Defense ranging from military training of Kyrgyz special forces units in skills necessary to conduct operations in mountainous terrain to providing them with the necessary equipment to conduct their operations. Our country is grateful to the U.S. Administration for providing significant help during all this period in our fight against terrorism, drugtrafficking and securing of our borders. Related to this issue, I would like to express my deep appreciation for the decisive and enthusiastic support rendered to Kyrgyzstan in 1999 by a group of senators and first of all members of the Helsinki Commission senators Sam Brownback and Gordon Smith who helped to expedite the Pentagon’s actions in assisting us during crisis.

In the wake of the events of September 11th, when the US led the international coalition in the fight against terrorism, Kyrgyzstan expressed its readiness to take part in it and to cooperate in a number of areas. Along with the measures initially undertaken by the President of the Kyrgyz Republic, Dr. Akaev, was the granting of permission to use Kyrgyz airspace for U.S. military aircraft, participation in transporting humanitarian aid through Kyrgyzstan to Afghanistan, and cooperating in intelligence exchanges. At present, both chambers of our Parliament ratified an agreement between our countries about the deployment of air assets of the coalition forces on Kyrgyz territory. Besides this, as a signatory of the Geneva Convention on Refugees, Kyrgyzstan has been traditionally ready to play an active role in this matter as well. I would like to remind you that there are currently about 20 thousands refugees from Afghanistan and Tajikistan on Kyrgyz soil – refugees which we have been harboring for the past five years.

Mr. Chairman, I believe that today’s hearing in the OSCE Commission reflects new realities of the times where it become evident that the experience, abilities, and institutional potential of OSCE will play a key role in the war on terrorism and strengthening the security in the Central Asian region. Solving this problem has become the primary challenge for this region due to the increased combined threat of international terrorism, religious and political extremism, organized crime, and narcotrafficking. Increased help on the part of OSCE for the countries of Central Asia and, in particular, Kyrgyzstan, in counteracting these growing threats, will constitute a significant contribution by the organization in strengthening regional security. This is the goal of the OSCE conference initiated by Kyrgyzstan on the problems of extremism and terrorism which will start it’s work tomorrow in Bishkek. We welcome participation of the representative of the OSCE Commission in the work of this important forum. Invitations to this conference have been sent by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kyrgyz Republic, Mr. M. Imanaliev, to the co-chairman of the OSCE Commission, Congressman C. Smith and to Congressman George Pitts, member of the commission. We expect much from this conference which should facilitate the activation of regional and international cooperation in the fight with this evil.

In his speech before the Permanent council of OSCE in Vienna in September of this year, President Akaev noted, “Afghanistan is the main source of regional terrorist threat. We currently face an increase in this threat with all its destabilizing by-products. The Afghan situation should be of equal importance in the OSCE agenda as is the Balkan problem. In this regard, I would like to remind you of one Kyrgyz initiative: As you may recall, during the Istanbul Summit of OSCE, I proposed conducting a forum/dialogue between OSCE and the Islamic Conference Organization on issues of regional security. This initiative was supported at the OIC summit which took place in Qatar the previous year, where a decision was made to create an OIC working group to study this issue. I believe that after this reaction, OIC and OSCE may take steps towards creating such a dialogue between these two authoritative organizations. Undoubtedly, the situation in Afghanistan and its neighboring areas should be the primary topic of discussion.

It is important to study the possibility of strengthening the role of the institute of the special representative of OSCE in Central Asia, expanding his duties in the framework of preventive diplomacy. It would also be useful to expand the practice of conducting regional round-tables under the umbrella of OSCE with the purpose of studying the most pressing issues of regional security. It is worth considering the idea of affording legal status to the OSCE in order to undertake more decisive measures and steps within the framework of the OSCE mandate in its three main missions – first of all in the issues of security.” We believe that these proposals by the Kyrgyz President will be of interest to the OSCE and that we can count on your support.

Mr. Chairman, the establishment of democracy, the rule of law, and defense of human rights are the fundamental and natural choices of Kyrgyzstan since the first days of its independence. Why natural? Let me illustrate with a example from our history: In 1995 in our country, under the aegis of UNESCO, we celebrated the 1000th anniversary of the epic poem “Manas” – about the legendery ancient hero who led the Kyrgyz in the fight for freedom. When we gave the Manas epic as a gift to several of our American friends, we were amazed that they discovered some fascinating historical facts which we took for granted since it is part of our daily lives and culture: To mention just a few, they noted that free and open elections of our ancestors’ leaders and of“Beey’s” –or judges took place in those ancient times. Of particular interest was the role of Kyrgyz women. It is well known that they never covered their faces. A very famous part of our history is occupied by Kurmandzan Datka, a woman who lived in the last century, and who was elected by the nation above six other candidates – all men -- to be the queen of Southern Kyrgyzstan. Thanks to her wisdom and foresight, she ruled for 50 years. What conclusion can we draw from this? Love of freedom and independence were the hallmarks of our nomadic peoples. These qualities are deeply rooted in our nation. We are currently trying to resurrect many of these attributes but it takes time.

This year, Kyrgyzstan celebrated its 10th anniversary of independence. These ten years were marked by the building and strengthening of democratic institutions, and by attempts to establish the foundations of a civil society while conducting economic reforms. In the multinational country of Kyrgyzstan, ethnic and religious freedom is a fact. The policy of “Kyrgyzstan-Our Common Home”, pursued by the leadership of our country, became the solid basis for inter-ethnic tolerance. As a result, Kyrgyzstan has avoided international conflicts which, unfortunately, plague many other countries in the post-Soviet era. At present, there exist in our country true political pluralism, freedom of expression, and more than 600 different print and electronic mass media resources out of which only about 70 belong to the government. Political parties and more than 3000 non-governmental organizations function freely. Our government consistently pursues a policy of openness. Regardless of numerous threats to our security from various extremist groups, all the conditions have been established for the free movement of our citizens – both internally as well as outside the borders of our country. In this regard, I would like to thank many members of the US Congress and senator S. Brownback, congressman Joe Pitts and Howard Berman in particular, who, noting this achievement, supported legislation providing to Kyrgyzstan “Permanent Normal Trade Relations” with the United States last year.

From the moment of gaining its independence, the development of a modern telecommunications system became the priority of our country’s strategic goals. This was done in order to allow our citizens to have unbounded capability to communicate with the outside world. The Internet became a commonplace phenomenon for our society, which makes us one of the leading countries in the post-Soviet era in this arena. Our country’s leadership is committed to the education and development of our younger generation. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom”. Our youth has a great thirst for knowledge and information and a desire to understand and establish communications with the outside world. We are dedicated to realizing their dreams and truly unlocking this golden door to their freedom. In this regard, one of the most important achievements (and also one of the largest and most significant investments from the US to Kyrgyzstan) was the opening of the American University of Kyrgyzstan in our capital, which has become through assistance of the Open Society of George Soros and University of Indiana one of the most popular educational institutions in the region. The President of Kyrgyzstan, himself a learned scientist and scholar, personally supported in 1993 together with the Vice-president Al Gore the initiative of establishing this university with its independent structure. We are also grateful for the support to American University from the Honorary Professor of the University, member of Helsinki Commission senator Hillary Rodham Clinton,.

During this period of building democracy, our Republic signed 23 international treaties and conventions on human rights, thus confirming its commitment to the primacy of universal democratic standards in this realm and to its effective cooperation with OSCE and the UN as well as with other international organizations in the area of human rights. We continue to work on deepening the process of democratization, reforming the legislative system in accordance with the norms of international law in the area of human rights and freedom, especially considering those mistakes and shortcomings which took place last year. To this end, the President issued a decree entitled “Measures of Strengthening the Effectiveness of Securing Human Rights and Freedom for the Citizens of the Kyrgyz Republic”. In relation to this decree, consistent work is underway to develop a new concept of formulating an independent and strong judicial system and law enforcement institutions, elevating the public’s legal awareness, and strengthening lawfulness in the country.

Steps are being undertaken at the legislative level to insure guarantees of freedom of the press. For example, the parliament is considering a draft law submitted by the government to create a human rights ombudsman which would facilitate the establishment of a balance of powers between the leadership and the citizens in issues of human rights. Round table discussions are conducted on a constant basis between officials and representatives of various political parties and non-governmental organizations, at which both sides exchange ideas about actual problems concerning the nation’s development and where they work out practical solutions to realize the country’s goals and vision. One of the realistic and effective steps towards decentralizing government became the introduction of local self-rule in all the rural areas of the country. This week, the first elections by popular vote of leaders of local governments will take place.

Taking into account all these positive measures which attest to the long term goals of reform in the country, I would like to mention that all of this has been possible thanks to the help of the international community, and in particular, the United States of America for our young democracy. Our nation is grateful to the United States which has been a true and consistent friend of our country for far-reaching assistance which has constituted approximately half a billion dollars of aid in these past ten years.

Regardless of all the above-mentioned achievements in the realm of democracy and human rights, we must admit that not everything went as perfectly as desired. The road to building a democracy is a rocky one and we have been on that road for a mere 10 years. We have from the beginning, however, been dedicated to the ideals of democracy and human rights. We respect and appreciate constructive criticism issuing from human rights and non-governmental organizations.

I would like to underscore that the continuation of deepening the democratic reforms in Kyrgyzstan is not merely a reaction to criticism of human rights organizations, but rather is an indispensable need and irrevocable desire and will of our people.

Thank you very much for your kind attention.