Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz Republic

Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz Republic

Hon.
Zach Wamp
United States
House of Representatives
107th Congress Congress
First Session Session
Friday, October 12, 2001

Mr. Speaker, in the rugged region of Central Asia, two nations have been dealing with proposed changes to current religion laws. In both Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz Republic, new religion laws have emerged partially in response to real concerns about terrorism and state security. After the events of September 11, our whole country has a very clear understanding of the threat terrorists pose. Still, our commitment to democracy and religious freedom stands firm. Consequently, I want to highlight and praise both countries for seeking assistance from the OSCE Advisory Panel on Freedom of Religion or Belief. The choice to seek assistance and working to ensure the new legislation is in line with protecting human rights is a mark of wise governance.

Even more, I want to encourage these governments to continue their close co-operation with this body of experts, and to continue to strive to uphold OSCE commitments and international norms for religious freedom. In Kazakhstan, there has been great discussion over a proposed amendment to its 1992 law “On Freedom of Religion and Religious Associations.” The Kazakh Government has been responsive to critiques of the law and removed it from consideration during this past summer. Furthermore, it has listened to the comments made by the OSCE Advisory Panel and modified some of the more troubling sections of the proposed law.

However, concerns still exist in the area of registering Islamic religious groups by the Kazakhstan Moslem Spiritual Administration. It seems likely that with the various Islamic religious groups that are at odds over purely theological issues, registration could be denied for merely being out of favor with the Spiritual Administration. This is problematic; religious organizations should not be denied registration solely on the basis of their religious beliefs. Before the proposed law is reintroduced, I hope Kazakhstan will address these issues, so as to ensure its compliance with all OSCE commitments.

The Kyrgyz Republic is currently considering a proposed law entitled “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations,” which would replace the 1991 Law on Freedom of Religion and Religious Organizations. In the Kyrgyzstan's short history of independence, it has consistently joined international human rights covenants. As one of the 55 participating States in the OSCE, the Kyrgyz Republic agreed to abide by the Helsinki Final Act and all subsequent agreements, in which clear language concerning religious freedom exists. This new legislation, made long before the events of September 11, was in response to real fears about terrorism. With religion often being used as a guise to legitimize criminal activities, I recognize the genuine concerns of Kyrgyz authorities about religious organizations existing in their country. However, while the United States has new understanding of the threat of terrorists, I want to encourage the Kyrgyz Republic from overreacting and unnecessarily limiting religious freedom. While the current law on religion is generally in line with its OSCE commitments, it is my concern that if the new law is enacted, Kyrgyzstan will no longer be in compliance with its international obligations. This is especially true concerning the provisions addressing registration of religious groups. In its current form, the draft law's use of registration requirements appears complex, confusing and convoluted. The two step process of registering religious groups appears to be more an exercise for government involvement rather than a well outlined procedure for recognizing religious communities. The vague requirement of “record-keeping” registration is especially problematic, as it could serve as a major obstacle for successful registration that the government can utilize to block an application. Clear and transparent guidelines would be a superior way to prevent arbitrary tampering by government officials in the process of registration.

In closing, I hope both the Kazakh and Kyrgyz Governments will be mindful of 1989 Vienna Concluding Document, (para 16.3), which states that governments are obligated to “grant upon their request to communities of believers, practicing or prepared to practice their faith within the constitutional framework of their states, recognition of the status provided for them in their respective countries.”

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    This briefing proposed the question of what the impact will be in the Central Asian region as the United States prepares to leave Afghanistan. This strategy will particularly impact the economies of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, as the United States has accelerated efforts to integrate Afghanistan with the economies of these countries. Witnesses testifying at this briefing addressed the ability of these governments to create the necessary conditions for more trade and exchange, including infrastructure development, efficient customs regimes and reliable transportation networks. The deep political divisions in this region that prevent collaboration on basic necessities such as water and electricity were also identified as hindrances to building greater economic cooperation. These issues were analyzed in the context of the current situation and the future outlook for economic development along the New Silk Road.

  • The State-Sanctioned Marginalization of Christians in Western Europe

    This briefing presented a close examination of recent reports and studies showing an alarming rise in social and governmental hostility toward religion in general—and Christianity in particular—in Western Europe. Various topics of discussion underscored how the current state of affairs is in tension with Europe’s history as the intellectual birthplace of religious freedom, as well as with its commitment to democracy. Witnesses testifying at the hearing – including Professor Tom Farr, Director of the Religious Freedom Project Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University; Dr. Roger Trigg, Academic Director of the Kellogg Centre for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Oxford University; and Roger Kiska, Senior Counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom – noted with concern the growing European trend to pit human rights against religious freedom. Censorship of the cross and other religious symbols, growing restrictions on parental rights in the area of the education of their children, and limitation on free expression—including religious expression—through “hate speech” laws were also identified as obstacles for religious liberty in Western Europe.

  • Escalating Violence against Coptic Women and Girls: Will the New Egypt be more Dangerous than the Old?

    This hearing examined evidence that, as Egypt’s political and social crisis persists, violence against Coptic women and girls is escalating, including kidnappings, forced conversions, and other human rights abuses.  According to a new report released at the hearing by Michele Clark, at least 550 Coptic women and girls over the last five years have been kidnapped from their communities.  The few who have been found suffered human rights abuses including forced conversion, rape, forced marriage, beatings, and domestic servitude while being held by their captors, raising the question whether developments in the new Egypt are leaving Coptic women and their families more vulnerable than ever.  The hearing also included testimony and suggestions about possible initiatives the United States can take that may drastically curb the human rights issues in Egypt as they pertain to Coptic rights.

  • Healing the Wounds of Conflict and Disaster: Clarifying the Fate of Missing Persons in the OSCE Area

    The hearing examined efforts by governments and their partners in clarifying the fate of persons missing within a number of OSCE participating States and partner countries, especially in the western Balkans and northern Caucasus. The hearing also appraised the adequacy of assistance to governments and other entities engaged in locating missing persons, the obstacles that impede progress in some areas, as well as how rule of law mechanisms help governments fulfill their obligations to the affected families and society in clarifying the fate of missing persons. Currently, over a million persons are reported missing from wars and violations of human rights. In addition, there are thousands of reported cases a year of persons missing from trafficking, drug-related violence, and other causes. Locating and identifying persons missing as a result of conflicts, trafficking in humans and human rights violations and other causes remains a global challenge, with significant impact within the OSCE area.

  • Irish Chairmanship of the OSCE

    Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Eamon Gilmore and others discussed what had transpired in regards to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) while Ireland was at the helm of the organization. This included priorities set by Gilmore involving Internet freedom. Congressman Smith also praised Gilmore for incorporating his experiences in Ireland into his leadership of the OSCE, such as drawing on Ireland’s experience in Northern Ireland’s peace process in reference to protracted conflicts elsewhere in the OSCE region. The hearing attendees went on to discuss the status of the agenda as it related to ODIHR and human dimension meetings.

  • Kazakhstan: As Stable As Its Government Claims?

    This hearing was led by Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) and Benjamin L. Cardin following the shooting of protesters by security forces in Kazakhstan. The implication for this was less certainty concerning the stability of Kazakhstan’s repressive government. The hearing examined was whether Kazakhstan’s poor human rights record factored into the country’s instability.

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