Today’s hearing on democratization and human rights in Kyrgyzstan is the latest in a series the Helsinki Commission has held on Central Asia. Prior hearings have examined the political and human rights situation in Kazakstan, in Uzbekistan and in Turkmenistan.
Since then, of course, much has changed in the world. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the United States and the launch of our military campaign in Afghanistan, Central Asia has gone from being largely seen as a resource-rich backwater to front and center on the world stage. U.S. engagement with the countries of the region was demonstrated by Secretary of State Powell’s trip to the region last week.
Naturally, the anti-terrorist effort is an overriding priority. But September 11 has also made increasingly clear the nexus between repressive governments and terrorism, and related to that, the centrality of democratic development as an indispensable component of stability. Accordingly, and reflecting the mandate of the Helsinki Commission, the specific focus of this hearing will be on human rights and democratization.
In that respect, Kyrgyzstan’s reputation has unfortunately changed substantially, and not for the better, since the mid-1990s. We will be investigating in some detail the causes and manifestations of that transformation with our witnesses here today. It is my hope that we can come away from this hearing not only with a better understanding of the situation in Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia but also with concrete ideas on what the United States, including Congress, can do to improve matters.
One particular area of concern that many of us share is corruption, on which the Helsinki Commission has focused serious attention. The former Soviet republics, as is widely known, are notorious for corruption.
Kyrgyzstan is no exception. On August 11, the Kyrgyz Prime Minister -- not an opposition politician but the head of government -- described efforts by law-enforcement bodies to counter corruption, smuggling and economic crime as “a total disaster.” He attributed that failure to the fact that most criminal groups have protectors within the law-enforcement bodies, and estimated financial losses from smuggling to be in the millions of dollars annually. I would hope our witnesses will elaborate on the connection between official corruption and human rights concerns.
Finally, we should keep in mind Kyrgyzstan's security situation. Insurgents from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which the U.S. Government considers a terrorist organization linked to Osama bin-Laden’s Al Qaeda network, invaded Kyrgyzstan in the summers of 1999 and 2000. The direct military engagement by the United States in Central Asia now offers at least the hope that the Afghan quagmire which served as the breeding ground for many sources of instability in the region may be drained and security restored.
We hope our witnesses will address the issue of Kyrgyzstan’s security concerns, as well as examine the nexus between security and democracy. And most important, we hope to hear good suggestions for how the United States can best promote stability and observance of human rights in Kyrgyzstan and its neighbors, so that the promise of the Helsinki Final Act - to which they are all signatories - can be realized.
As President Bush observed in his Human Rights Day proclamation yesterday, “Americans stand united with those who love democracy, justice and individual liberty.”