The Kyrgyz Republic adopted a presidential system of government by referendum on January 10, replacing the prior parliamentary form of government. President Sadyr Japarov, who had been serving as interim president since October 2020 following political upheaval that resulted in the annulment of parliamentary elections and the forced resignation of his predecessor, was elected on January 10 in elections considered generally free and well organized.
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 for National Security, which also controls the presidential security service. The Prosecutor General’s Office prosecutes both local and national crimes. Law enforcement is under the authority of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which falls under presidential jurisdiction. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: an arbitrary killing by police; a high-profile disappearance; use of torture by law enforcement and security services; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence and threats of violence against journalists and censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom; interference with freedom of association including overly restrictive laws on the funding and operation of NGOs and civil society organizations; serious acts of government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of minority groups and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons; 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 or those involved in corrupt activities, official impunity remained a problem.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The rape of both women and men, including spousal rape, is illegal. 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 2020 police recorded 9,025 cases of domestic violence, a 65 percent rise compared to previous years, but only about 940 of the cases were sent to courts. In the first eight months of the year, the police registered 7,665 cases of domestic violence against women, 30 percent higher than the same period in 2020. Domestic violence experts explained that increased unemployment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, alcoholism, and strain on families who care for children left behind by migrant workers are causes of the increased rate of domestic violence. Experts also explained that increased rates of domestic violence could be due to an increase in women’s willingness to file reports with police.
From the end of December 2020 until January, three women died by suicide in the northeastern Issyk-Kul region in separate cases linked to domestic violence. One of the women previously had said if she ran away, her husband would find her and torture her. Police refused to open a criminal probe into the domestic violence of one of the other women because they claimed there were no witnesses, no reports of a crime, and no complaints.
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.
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. NGOs noted some women are reluctant to report cases of violence to police because they do not trust the police to handle the cases appropriately. 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. According to an Amnesty International report, there are 14 crisis centers in the country. All but one are based in the towns of Bishkek and Osh. Experts note that the centers are underresourced. In February the Bishkek municipality opened a new crisis shelter called Ayalzat with funding from the Ministry of Health and Social Development to counter domestic violence. There was space for 60 women and children.
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 approximately 14 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 registered complaints with law enforcement authorities regarding bride kidnapping. Victims did not file criminal cases against the perpetrators in almost 80 percent of the cases, while police and prosecutors criminally investigated the remaining 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.
On April 5, four men abducted and killed 27-year-old Aizada Kanatbekova in a case of bride kidnapping. Although the kidnapping was captured by security cameras and Kanatbekova’s relatives reported it to police immediately, the perception that police delayed the launch of an investigation caused significant public outrage. On April 15 in response to Kanatbekova’s kidnapping and murder, civil society groups organized demonstrations in front of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. More than 40 police officers, including the Bishkek city police chief, were subsequently dismissed.
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: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Societal attitudes discouraged the use of contraception, especially outside of marriage, and local NGOs and the UN Population Fund reported that women were often denied access to reproductive healthcare due to societal barriers.
The government did provide access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including emergency contraception. Reproductive health advocates said that although clinical guidelines mandate the provision of a sexual and reproductive health services to sexual violence survivors, many clinics lack the resources to provide a full range of services. The government provided contraceptives for certain groups of women, including those with disabilities and HIV-positive women.
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.
The constitution provides for the right to equality and nondiscrimination on many grounds including race, language, and ethnicity. International human rights groups, including the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, note that although there are antidiscrimination provisions in the Criminal and Labor Code, there are no specific provisions in other key areas such as education and healthcare. National minorities, who make up 26 percent of the population, remain underrepresented in both elected and government positions, especially in law enforcement bodies.
Tensions between ethnic Uzbeks – who comprised nearly 15 percent of the population – and ethnic Kyrgyz remained problematic, particularly in Southern Osh Oblast where ethnic Uzbeks make up almost one-half the population. Discrimination against ethnic Uzbeks in business and government, as well as harassment and reported arbitrary arrests, illustrated these tensions. Ethnic Uzbeks reported that large public works and road construction projects in predominantly ethnic Uzbek areas, often undertaken without public consultation, interfered with neighborhoods and destroyed homes. Human rights NGO Bir Duino reported that ethnic Uzbeks were overwhelmingly targeted by laws governing extremist materials shared or liked on social media.
Following the ethnic violence in the south of the country in 2010, the government adopted the Concept on Strengthening National Unity and Interethnic Relations, which commits officials to pursue equal rights and opportunities regardless of ethnicity. Human rights organizations report that investigations following the 2010 ethnic violence disproportionately target ethnic Uzbeks.
Birth Registration: Although the law provides that every child born in the country has the right to receive a birth certificate, local registration, and citizenship, some children of migrant parents who moved to and acquired citizenship of another country had to prove both of their parents were Kyrgyz citizens to acquire citizenship.
Education: The law provides for compulsory and free education for the first nine years of schooling or until age 14 or 15. Secondary education is free and universal until age 17. The government did not provide free basic education to all students. The system of residence registration restricted access to social services, including education for children who were refugees, migrants, or noncitizens. Families of children in public school often paid burdensome and illegal administrative fees.
Child Abuse: No specific law covers child abuse in the country. The Children’s Code regulates the role of different state institutions in ensuring, providing, and protecting children’s rights. According to NGO and UN reports, child abuse, including beatings, child labor, and commercial sexual exploitation of boys and girls continued to occur. According to the National Statistics Committee, more than 277,000 children were without parental care due to labor migration to Russia and other countries. The Child Protection League stated that violence against children left under guardianship of the migrants’ relatives occurs in almost all cases.
In December 2020 a court acquitted two of three suspects in the rape of a 13-year-old girl in the Issyk-Kul region. One of the suspects received a sentence of seven and a half years. According to her family, the three men raped her for six months, filmed her, and threatened that they would show the videos to her classmates. The girl had an abortion after becoming pregnant and required extensive psychological support. In December 2020 a march was held in Bishkek to raise attention to this case and sexual violence against women and girls.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Children ages 16 and 17 may legally marry with the consent of local authorities, but the law prohibits civil marriages before age 16 under all circumstances. Although illegal the practice of bride kidnapping continued (see section 6, Women). The kidnapping of underage brides remained underreported.
In 2018 UNICEF estimated that 12.7 percent of married women between the ages of 20 and 49 married before age 18. The law criminalizes religious marriages involving minors; however, prosecutors did not file any cases of criminal charges for religious marriages involving minors.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the sale of children younger than age 18, child trafficking, child commercial sexual exploitation and child pornography, as well as other sexual crimes against children. It provides penalties for conviction of up to 15 years in prison if the victim is a child. The law also makes it a crime to involve someone in prostitution by violence or the threat of violence, blackmail, destroying or damaging property, or fraud. The government made limited efforts to enforce the law.
The criminal code prohibits the distribution of child pornography and the possession of child pornography with the intent to distribute. The law does not specifically define child pornography, and the criminal code does not fully criminalize computer-related use, access to child pornography online, or simple possession of child pornography.
According to UNICEF and local observers, children younger than age 18 in Bishkek were involved in commercial sexual exploitation. Although precise figures were not known, police stated that typical cases involved young girls from rural areas who relocated to Bishkek for educational opportunities or to flee from an abusive family environment. Once in the capital, they entered the sex trade due to financial need. NGOs and international organizations reported law enforcement officials’ complicity in human trafficking by accepting bribes to drop cases, warning suspected traffickers prior to raids, and allowing traffickers to avoid punishment by offering survivors payment to drop cases. Police allegedly threatened, extorted, and raped child sex-trafficking victims. The government reportedly did not always investigate allegations of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses. Under the criminal code, it is illegal for persons ages 18 and older to have sexual relations with someone younger than age 16.
Displaced Children: There were numerous reports of child abandonment due to parents’ lack of resources, and large numbers of children lived in institutions, foster care, or on the streets. Approximately 80 percent of street children were internal migrants. Street children had difficulty accessing educational and medical services. Police detained street children and sent them home if an address was known or to a rehabilitation center or orphanage.
Institutionalized Children: State orphanages and foster homes lacked resources and often were unable to provide proper care. This sometimes resulted in the transfer of older children to mental health-care facilities even when they did not exhibit mental health problems. The ombudsman stated the country’s sole children’s detention center did not respect the right of juvenile detainees to education and medical services. Human Rights Watch reported that institutionalized children with disabilities face segregation, the overuse of psychotropic medications and forced psychiatric hospitalizations, neglect, and lack of access to quality education. In many institutions a single care-worker was responsible for 15 to 25 children at a time.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
The Jewish population in the country was approximately 460. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, requires access to public transportation and parking, authorizes subsidies to make mass media available to persons with hearing or vision disabilities, and provides free plots of land for the construction of a home. The government generally did not ensure proper implementation of the law, and discrimination persisted. In addition persons with disabilities often had difficulty finding employment due to negative societal attitudes and high unemployment among the general population.
A lack of government resources made it difficult for persons with disabilities to receive adequate education. Although children with disabilities have the right to an education, the Association of Parents of Children with Disabilities stated schools often denied them entry. The government funded programs to provide school supplies and textbooks to children with mental or physical disabilities. The Association of Parents of Children with Disabilities reported efforts by the Ministry of Education and Science to improve the situation by promoting inclusive education for persons with disabilities. According to Ministry of Education and UNICEF data, approximately 36 percent of children with disabilities are registered as receiving some form of education.
According to UNICEF, the government and families institutionalized one-third of children with disabilities. The government did not adequately provide for basic needs, such as food, water, clothing, heating, and health care, and did not adequately address overcrowded conditions.
Authorities usually placed children with mental disabilities in psychiatric hospitals rather than integrating them with other children. Human Rights Watch reported approximately 3,000 children with disabilities are segregated in residential institutions or special schools where they face neglect and discrimination.
The Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with mental disabilities. According to local NGO lawyers, members of the PGO had no training and little knowledge of the protection of these rights and did not effectively assist citizens with disabilities. Most judges lacked the experience and training to make determinations whether it was appropriate to mandate committing persons to psychiatric hospitals, and authorities institutionalized individuals against their will.
Observers noted authorities had not implemented a 2008 law requiring employers to fulfill hiring quotas for persons with disabilities (approximately 5 percent of work positions).
While the law protects against discrimination and stigmatization of persons with HIV or AIDS, according to UNAIDS, persons with HIV continued to encounter high levels of stigma and discrimination. According to 2015 Stigma Index data, HIV-positive persons and those key populations at increased risk for HIV (men who have sex with men, persons who inject drugs, and commercial sex workers) felt fear or experienced verbal abuse, harassment, and threats, with some reporting incidents of physical abuse and assault. This can lead to reduced access or uptake of critical prevention and treatment services. Civil society reported that social stigma of positive HIV/AIDS status led to loss of employment and a lack of access to housing for individuals with such a status or LGBTQI+ individuals. Estimates during the year indicate that 67 percent of those living with HIV/AIDS know their status against a target of 95 percent. This percentage is even lower among key populations.
The country does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults or speech that supports LGBTQI+ issues. LGBTQI+ 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 LGBTQI+ status. LGBTQI+ NGOs reported harassment and continuing surveillance of their workers and offices by security services. One LGBTQI+ NGO reported an office break-in. The same NGO reported that the personal information of its staff, including sexual orientation and gender identity, was published.
In 2014 HRW released a report based on interviews with 40 LGBTQI+ 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 LGBTQI+ 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 LGBTQI+ community reported that authorities regularly monitored chatrooms and dating sites to punish and extort those who were seeking homosexual sex through online venues.
A LGBTQI+ NGO reported that the parents of a bisexual 19-year-old girl attempted to force her to marry a man and held her against her will when she refused. She managed to escape and went to a shelter, but her parents reported her missing to the police and the police returned her to her parents.