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Kyrgyzstan

Executive Summary

The Kyrgyz Republic has a parliamentary form of government designed to limit presidential power and enhance the role of parliament and the prime minister. October 2 parliamentary elections were marred by accusations of vote buying and voter intimidation; opposition parties protested the results. After two nights of violence, the Central Election Commission annulled the elections and parliament approved an interim government led by Sadyr Japarov. On October 15, President Jeenbekov resigned and Japarov became acting president. A new presidential election was scheduled for January 10, 2021 along with a referendum on whether the country should transfer to a presidential system or government or keep its parliamentary system.

The investigation of general and local crimes falls under the authority of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, while certain crimes such as terrorism and corruption fall under the authority of the State Committee on National Security, which also controls the presidential security service. The Prosecutor General’s Office prosecutes both local and national crimes. Law enforcement falls under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, which falls under presidential jurisdiction. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: use of torture by law enforcement and security services; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest; political prisoners; problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and site blocking; refoulement of refugees to a country where they would face a threat to their life or freedom; significant acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; trafficking in persons; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons and impunity for gender based violence; significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.

While the government took steps to investigate and prosecute or punish officials known to have committed human rights abuses, especially those involved in corrupt activities, official impunity remained a problem.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

While the law provides criminal penalties for public officials convicted of corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Civil society and media reported numerous incidents of government corruption during the year. According to Transparency International, the government appears to selectively investigate and prosecute corruption cases. The practice of officials in all levels of law enforcement accepting the payment of bribes to avoid investigation or prosecution is a major problem. Law enforcement officers, particularly in the southern part of the country, frequently employed arbitrary arrest, torture, and the threat of criminal prosecution as a means of extorting cash payments from citizens (see section 1.d.).

Corruption: The GKNB’s anticorruption branch is the only government body formally empowered to investigate corruption. It is not an independent government entity; the branch’s work is funded from the GKNB’s operating budget. The branch limits its cooperation with civil society. The State Service to Combat Economic Crimes, also known as the Financial Police, investigates economic crimes, which sometimes includes corruption-related crimes.

A joint investigative report started in 2019 and continued this year by RFE/RL affiliate Azattyk, the OCCRP, and Kloop, uncovered a large corruption scheme centered on smuggling goods into and out of the country. The investigation relied upon Aierken Saimaiti, a self-confessed money launderer, who was later killed in Istanbul after he was revealed as the source of the reporting. Saimaiti identified former deputy customs head Raimbek Matraimov as the ringleader of the scheme, using his official position to move shipments of goods through customs without inspection or fees in exchange for payments from smugglers. The GKNB conducted an initial investigation into the claims, but did not directly investigate Matraimov.

According to Eurasianet, the interim Japarov administration arrested the crime kingpin and issued a statement claiming Matraimov has since 2016 operated a corrupt scheme to “extract shadow income during [his] administration of the customs system.” In the aftermath of his arrest, Matraimov reportedly agreed to pay $24.5 million in compensation for damage caused through his activities to the country’s coffers, though the investigative reporting indicated his criminal activity resulted in the embezzlement of over $700 million.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires all public officials to publish their income and assets. The State Personnel Service is responsible for making this information public. Officials who do not disclose required information may be dismissed from office, although the government did not regularly enforce this punishment.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Numerous domestic and international human rights organizations operated actively in the country, although government officials at times were uncooperative and unresponsive to their views.

Government actions at times appeared to impede the ability of NGOs to operate freely.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government permitted visits by representatives of the United Nations and other organizations in connection with the investigation of abuses or monitoring of human rights problems in the country, including those of the OSCE, ICRC, Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and International Organization for Migration. The government provided international bodies largely unfettered access to civil society activists, detention facilities and detainees, and government officials.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman acts as an independent advocate for human rights on behalf of private citizens and NGOs and has the authority to recommend cases for court review. Observers noted the atmosphere of impunity surrounding the security forces and their ability to act independently against citizens, factors that limited the number and type of complaints submitted to the Ombudsman’s Office.

Although the Ombudsman’s Office exists in part to receive complaints of human rights abuses and pass the complaints to relevant agencies for investigation, both domestic and international observers questioned the office’s efficiency and political independence.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal. As in previous years, the government failed to enforce the law effectively, and many rape victims did not report their rape or sexual assault to police or NGOs. Penalties for conviction of sexual assault range from three to eight years’ imprisonment. Prosecutors rarely brought rape cases to court. Police generally regarded spousal rape as an administrative rather than criminal offense.

While the law specifically prohibits domestic violence and spousal abuse, violence against women and girls remained a significant yet underreported problem. Penalties for domestic violence convictions range from fines to 15 years’ imprisonment, the latter if abuse resulted in death. In 2019 HRW criticized the government for failing to prevent and punish violence against girls. In 2017 the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that the number of registered cases of domestic violence was more than 7,000. In 2018 this figure increased by 14 percent to approximately 8,000 cases. HRW reported that, within the first 14 days of the year, at least three women were killed in domestic violence cases. The Ministry of Justice reported 6,145 domestic violence cases registered by the police in 2019, but only 649 resulted in criminal cases. Four of the criminal cases were for killings. Among the domestic violence cases brought to court, prosecutors classified a significant number as administrative offenses or misdemeanors, which carry a lighter sentence. A 2019 revision to the Code of Misdemeanors, however, includes a provision that criminalizes domestic violence. During the state of emergency due to COVID-19, media reported that domestic violence increased by as much as 60 percent, with a 65 percent increase in domestic violence cases in Bishkek from the prior year. Both the Ombudsman’s Office and the prime minister called for stronger laws against gender-based violence in response to the increase in domestic violence.

Many women did not report crimes against them due to psychological pressure, economic dependence, cultural traditions, fear of stigma, and apathy among law enforcement officers. Civil society and media reported instances of spouses retaliating against women who reported abuse. The government provided offices to the Sezim Shelter (Sezim is the Kyrgyz word for crisis) in Bishkek for victims of domestic abuse and paid some of its expenses. International NGOs and organizations contributed funding to other shelters throughout the country. Despite this funding, NGOs such as Human Rights Watch questioned the government’s commitment to address the problem.

On June 12, a video surfaced on social media depicting a man torturing and humiliating his wife in public while an unknown individual filmed the abuse at his demand. Although the woman in the video declined to press charges against her husband, prosecutors charged him with torture, a charge that does not require a complaint by the victim. On July 2, the Suzak District Court of Jalal-Abad Province found the man guilty of torturing his wife, sentenced him to two years of probationary supervision, and released him from custody. The court ruled on a number of obligations that the accused must fulfill; otherwise, the sentence may be reviewed in favor of imprisonment. According to lawyers from the human rights organization Spravedlivost, probationary supervision is a new norm in the law that allows the court to make a decision based on the gravity of a crime, identity of a perpetrator, and their behavior.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Although prohibited by law, the practice of kidnapping women and girls for forced marriage continued. In 2018 the United Nations estimated kidnappers forced 13.8 percent of girls younger than age 24 into marriage. Men married to kidnapped brides were more likely to abuse their wives and limit their pursuit of education and employment. The negative effect of the practice extended to children of kidnapped brides. Observers reported there was a greater frequency of early marriage, polygamy, and bride kidnapping in connection with unregistered religious marriages. This also affected data availability on such marriages. In 2018 the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that over the previous five years, 895 individuals complained to the law enforcement authorities regarding bride kidnapping. In 727 cases victims did not file criminal cases against the perpetrators. Police and prosecutors criminally investigated 168 cases.

Some victims of bride kidnapping went to the local police to obtain protective orders, but authorities often poorly enforced such orders. NGOs continued to report that prosecutors rarely pursue kidnappers for bride kidnapping. The law establishes penalties for bride kidnapping of 10 years in prison and a fine.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits physical sexual assault but not verbal sexual harassment. Police did not actively enforce these laws. Media reported on widespread sexual harassment in the workplace and on public transportation.

Reproductive Rights: By law couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. The law stipulates that citizens have the right to make decisions freely and responsibly regarding the number of children and the time of their birth in marriage or out of wedlock, and the intervals between births necessary to preserve the health of the mother and children.

According to the law, every woman has the right to use contraception and to undergo surgical procedures to prevent future pregnancies. National health regulations require that family planning counseling and services be readily available through a range of health-care professionals. Citizens have the right to receive reproductive health consultations at public or private hospitals and request information on a variety of subjects, including the status of reproductive and sexual health, prevention of sexually transmitted infections, and methods of contraception. While the government supports access to contraceptives, there are long-held societal attitudes against the use of contraception, especially contraception used outside of marriage.

Local NGOs and the UN Population Fund reported that, despite the legally guaranteed access to reproductive health, women were often denied access to reproductive healthcare due to societal barriers. National healthcare protocols require that women be offered postpartum care and counseling on methods and services related to family planning. Reproductive health access remains limited in some rural areas. There are no governmental barriers to victims of sexual violence receiving reproductive healthcare, although social stigma likely contributes to some women not receiving adequate healthcare as victims of sexual violence.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women and men, but enforcement of the law was poor, and discrimination against women persisted.

Data from NGOs working on women’s issues indicated women were less healthy, more abused, less able to work outside the home, and less able than men to determine independently the disposition of their earnings.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The country does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults or speech that supports LGBTI issues. LGBTI persons whose sexual orientation or gender identity was publicly known risked physical and verbal abuse, possible loss of employment, and unwanted attention from police and other authorities. Inmates and officials often openly victimized incarcerated gay men. Forced marriages of lesbians and bisexual women to men also occurred. The Labrys Public Foundation noted the continued practice of “corrective rape” of lesbians to “cure” their homosexuality. LGBTI NGOs reported harassment and continuing surveillance of their workers by security services.

In 2014 HRW released a report based on interviews with 40 LGBTI persons chronicling instances of official extortion, beatings, and sexual assault. The report described in detail how police patrolling parks and bars frequented by gay men would threaten them with violence and arrest or threaten to reveal their homosexuality to their families if they did not pay bribes. These practices, according to representatives of the LGBTI community, continued during the year. NGO leaders in the southern part of the country reported an even greater threat. During the year members of the LGBTI community reported that authorities regularly monitored chatrooms and dating sites in an effort to punish and extort those who were seeking homosexual sex through online venues.

LGBTI-friendly NGOs reported that violence against LGBTI persons increased during the state of emergency introduced due to COVID-19, especially family members committing violence against LGBTI persons during quarantine. In the aftermath of the March 8 Women’s March, attacked by ultranationalists in part due to rumors that it was a gay pride march, Member of Parliament Zhyldyz Musabekova published posts on social media calling for violence against LGBTI persons. Musabekova wrote, “Tired of these gays turning the holiday into a mess. They did the right thing and drove them away. Now we need to kick them out of the country.”

On September 29, unknown entities posted a graphic video on social media targeting the American University in Central Asia (AUCA), opposition parties, and the United States for promoting “Western amoral principles” in the country. The video, which included secret recordings of sex acts between two male members of the AUCA community, paints anyone associated with the university, including the leadership of numerous major opposition parties such as Bir Bol and Reforma, as stooges of the West and “promoters of the LGBTI agenda.”

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The law provides workers the right to form and join trade unions. The government effectively enforced these rights. The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference and provides them the right to organize and bargain collectively. Workers may strike, but the requirement to receive formal approval made striking difficult and complicated. The law on government service prohibits government employees from striking, but the prohibition does not apply to teachers or medical professionals. The law does not prohibit retaliation against striking workers. The government did not effectively enforce applicable laws.

Many unions reportedly operated as quasi-official institutions that took state interests into consideration rather than representing workers’ interests exclusively. The Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) remained the only umbrella trade union in the country. The government did not require unions to belong to the FTU. Labor rights advocates reported the existence of several smaller unaffiliated unions.

Workers exercised their right to join and form unions, and unions exercised the right to organize and bargain collectively. Union leaders, however, generally cooperated with the government. International observers judged that unions represented the interests of their members poorly. In past years some unions alleged unfair dismissals of union leaders and the formation of single-company unions. In June the government presented unspecified criminal charges against trade union leader Kanatbek Osmonov and placed Osmonov under house arrest.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law specifically prohibits the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of sex or labor exploitation and prescribes penalties that were sufficient to deter violations. Forced labor is also prohibited by the labor code and the code on children. The government did not fully implement legal prohibitions, and victim identification remained a concern. Forced labor was found in agriculture, construction, textiles, domestic service, and childcare.

In September, Amnesty International reported that in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government forced doctors to work in COVID quarantine zones. Since May doctors in Kyrgyzstan have been working what the Ministry of Health has called a “Barracks Regime” (kazarmennyi rezhim) to cope with the mounting pandemic. Doctors were forced to live near or in their place of work throughout. All doctors dealing directly with COVID-19 patients were on a regime of 14 days of shifts followed by 14 days of quarantine. The 14 days of quarantine after their shift work were not spent at home, but in hotels, hostels or in designated areas within the hospitals in which they worked.

See also the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law sets the minimum legal age for basic employment at 16, except for work performed without a signed employment contract or work considered to be “light,” such as selling newspapers, in which children as young as 14 may work with the permission of a parent or guardian. The law prohibits employment of persons younger than age 18 at night, underground, or in difficult or dangerous conditions, including in the metal, oil, and gas industries; mining and prospecting; the food industry; entertainment; and machine building. Children ages 14 or 15 may work up to five hours a day, not to exceed 24 hours a week; children ages 16 to 18 may work up to seven hours a day, not exceeding 36 hours a week. These laws also apply to children with disabilities. Violations of the law incur penalties, which are sufficient to deter violations. The government did not effectively enforce the law and a lack of prosecution of violations continued to pose challenges to deterrence. Almost all child labor was in agriculture based on the 2014-2015 National Child Labor Survey.

Child labor remained a problem. Children continued to be engaged in household-scale work in cotton and tobacco cultivation; growing rice, potatoes, sugar beets, and wheat; and raising cattle and sheep. Reports indicated children worked in the industrial and services sectors as well, in coal mining; brick making; and construction, including lifting and portering construction materials and cutting metal sheets for roofs. In the services sector, children worked in bazaars, including by selling and transporting goods; washing cars; working in restaurants and cafes; begging and shoe shining as part of street work; and providing domestic work, including childcare. Examples of categorical worst forms of child labor in the country included: commercial sexual exploitation, sometimes as a result of human trafficking; and illicit activities, including trafficking drugs, as a result of human trafficking (see section 7.b.).

The PGO and the State Inspectorate on Ecological and Technical Safety (Inspectorate) are responsible for enforcing employers’ compliance with the labor code. According to the Inspectorate, an insufficient number of labor inspectors resulted in infrequent and ineffective child labor inspections to ensure appropriate enforcement of the labor laws. Since many children worked for their families or were self-employed, the government found it difficult to determine whether work complied with the labor code. Due to the moratorium on unannounced business inspections, the state labor inspectorate was unable to apply penalties against any employers involved in the use of child labor.

See also the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings  and the List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

The law prohibits discrimination with respect to employment and occupation on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, language, origin, property, official status, age, place of residence, religion, and political convictions, membership in public organizations, or other circumstances irrelevant to professional capacities. The government did not effectively enforce the law, and the penalties were insufficient to deter violations and were not commensurate to other laws on civil rights. Ethnic Uzbeks in the south also complained that discriminatory practices in licensing and registering a business with local authorities made starting a small business difficult.

On average employers paid women substantially lower wages than they paid to men. Women made up the majority of pensioners, a group particularly vulnerable to deteriorating economic conditions. By law, women are prohibited from working in “dangerous professions,” including energy, mining, water, factories, trucking, agriculture, and certain types of construction. This law is a holdover from the Soviet era, and while it is not clear that it has ever been enforced, it presents a barrier to women’s full and free participation in the economy and affects women’s earning potential. In rural areas traditional attitudes toward women limited them to the roles of wife and mother and curtailed educational opportunities. Members of the LGBTI community reported discrimination in the workplace when they publicly disclosed their sexual orientation. LGBTI persons faced a high risk of becoming the victims of deception and labor and sexual exploitation. The most vulnerable group in terms of employment is transgender women, who are frequently forced out of employment opportunities. Persons with HIV/AIDS-positive status faced discrimination regarding hiring and security of employment. Employers discriminated against persons with disabilities in hiring and limited their access to employment opportunities in the workplace. During the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the LGBTI community lack paid employment, social insurance, and the resources to work at home.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The law provides for a national minimum wage, which is less than the official government’s 2017 poverty line. The law on minimum wage states it should rise gradually to meet the cost of living. The government did not effectively enforce laws related to the minimum wage. There was no employer liability for late payment of wages, allowances, or other social benefits. On July 17, the Union of Health workers asked the president for doctors’ pay to be increased. They based this request on a 2005 law which required health workers be paid not less than the average wage; this law has never been implemented. Doctors and other health workers are being paid a bonus for working the extra hours required during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The standard workweek is 40 hours, usually with a five-day week. For state-owned industries, there is a mandated 24-hour rest period in a seven-day workweek. According to the labor code, overtime work cannot exceed four hours per day or 20 hours per week. The labor code also states workers engaged in overtime work must receive compensatory leave or premium pay of between 150 and 200 percent of the hourly wage. Compliance with these requirements differed among employers. For example, large companies and organizations with strong labor unions often abided by these provisions. Employers of small or informal firms where employees had no union representation often did not enforce these legal provisions.

The National Statistics Committee defined informal economic activity as household units that produce goods and services primarily to provide jobs and income to their members. In 2017 the government estimated that only 28.8 percent of the population worked in the formal sector of the economy, while the rest worked in the informal economy.

Factory operators often employed workers in poor safety and health conditions. The law establishes occupational health and safety standards that were appropriate to main industries, but the government generally did not enforce them. Penalties for violation of the law range from community service to fines and did not sufficiently deter violations. The law does not provide workers the right to remove themselves from a hazardous workplace without jeopardizing their employment.

The State Inspectorate on Ecological and Technical Safety (Inspectorate) is responsible for protecting workers and carrying out inspections for all types of labor problems. The government did not effectively enforce the law because it was not conducting labor inspections following a moratorium on all state inspections. Even prior to the moratorium, the inspectorate limited labor inspectors’ activities. The inspectorate did not employ enough inspectors to enforce compliance. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the inspectorate also lacked sufficient funding to carry out inspections. The law does not provide for occupational health and safety standards for workers in the informal economy. The government did not effectively enforce occupational safety and health laws. Penalties for violations of these laws were commensurate with those for crimes like negligence.

Amnesty International reported that health workers were dying because of the COVID-19 pandemic but unreliable statistics were undermining the government’s response. The head of Human Resources of the Ministry of Health stated that in the period from the beginning of the epidemic in mid-March to July22, a total of 29 health workers had died. Records kept by nongovernmental groups, however, give higher death figures for health workers, indicating over 40 health workers had died.

Government licensing rules placed strict requirements on companies recruiting citizens to work abroad, and the Ministry of Labor, Migration, and Youth licensed such companies. The government regularly published a list of licensed and vetted firms. Recruiters were required to monitor employer compliance with employment terms and the working conditions of labor migrants while under contract abroad. Recruiters were also required to provide workers with their employment contract prior to their departure.

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