The government modestly increased law enforcement efforts in some areas but, for the third consecutive year, did not prosecute or convict any traffickers. Articles 171 and 173 of the criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of two and a half to five years’ imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Prosecutors could also charge traffickers using Article 260 for engaging a person in prostitution through the use of force or the threat of force or fraud, which was punishable by a fine or imprisonment of three to five years’ if the victim was an adult, five to 10 years’ imprisonment if the victim was 14-17 years old, and 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment if the victim was younger than 14 years old. Investigators frequently downgraded trafficking crimes to lesser charges to ease investigation and prosecution, which lead to lesser penalties.
Key government agencies and law enforcement bodies were required to work remotely for seven months during the reporting period as a pandemic mitigation measure; this, coupled with periods of severe political instability and subsequent turnover of stakeholder ministry leadership, significantly impacted investigative and prosecutorial efforts. During the calendar year, the government initiated 40 trafficking investigations—24 for sex trafficking under Article 171 and 16 for labor trafficking under 173—compared with one and seven, respectively, in 2019. This significant increase was due in part to the government’s efforts to formally reexamine more than 300 previously dismissed cases involving potential trafficking elements. Of these cases, the prosecutor general’s office (PGO) referred 26 to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) for reinvestigation; ten such cases related to “sexual exploitation” subsequently moved to new pre-trial proceedings under Article 166 (involvement into prostitution) and Article 171. Two cases related to “labor exploitation” were reopened for investigation under unspecified statutes. Seven of the 26 referred cases were formally terminated, and the remainder were ongoing at the end of the reporting period. Authorities also continued to investigate seven cases initiated in the previous reporting period. Many criminal cases were suspended due to pandemic-related delays in court proceedings and the redirection of limited law enforcement resources to pandemic mitigation activities; for much of the reporting period, police, attorneys, prosecutors, and judges had significantly reduced capacity to conduct enforcement and judicial work. As in prior years, courts continued to investigate trafficking cases under lesser statutes, and some prosecutions initiated under Articles 171 and 173 featured elements that were inconsistent with the definitions of trafficking as established in international law, such as the sale of infants. Authorities reported prosecuting three fraudulent adoption cases under trafficking statutes but, for the third consecutive year, did not prosecute or secure convictions in any sex trafficking or forced labor cases that were consistent with international law. Unlike in previous years, the government did not provide information on how many such cases culminated in convictions (compared with 11 suspects convicted of fraudulent adoption in 2019).
Kyrgyzstan’s NRM, promulgated in 2019, allowed civil society and international organizations to file criminal complaints on behalf of victims; however, the government did not report if this provision was implemented during the reporting period. In previous years, victim advocates reported a general lack of proactive investigation, particularly of cases in which the victims did not self-report specific complaints. Courts may have improperly dismissed some trafficking cases on the basis of insufficient evidence, including several cases of child sex trafficking. Civil society continued to report the need for systemic training for law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges, particularly on how to identify victims, work with them as witnesses, and gather evidence outside of victim testimony. During the reporting period, the government collaborated with an international organization to develop and disseminate educational materials on anti-trafficking case methodology for law enforcement and judicial authorities in the southern region. The government, in conjunction with international donors and civil society partners, continued to conduct and participate in training sessions on improving international anti-trafficking cooperation, investigative and prosecutorial best practices, and provision of legal assistance to victims; these trainings proceeded in virtual format as a result of the pandemic. Authorities did not provide data on the total number of officials participating in these training events (compared with 1,119 MVD officials in 2019), but at least 30 prosecutors and investigators benefited from joint PGO and MVD training courses. Unlike the previous year, the government provided information on international investigations; authorities reportedly cooperated with the Government of Italy on a case involving a Kyrgyzstani suspect who may also have been a victim of forced criminality. In previous years, corruption and official complicity presented significant obstacles to anti-trafficking law enforcement, with law enforcement officials and judges accepting bribes to drop cases and, at times, warning suspects prior to raids. Traffickers were reportedly also able to avoid punishment by offering victims payment to drop cases in prior years. The judicial system continued to feature widespread corruption; during the reporting period, the government began investigating two law enforcement officials for potentially facilitating an unspecified trafficking crime; the investigations were in process at year’s end. The government did not report any prosecutions or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking crimes.