The government decreased law enforcement efforts. Articles 166 and 170 of the new criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of three 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. During the reporting period, Article 167 on trafficking of children was added to the criminal code, and it prescribed imprisonment for a term of five to eight years. Prosecutors could also charge traffickers using Article 159 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 up to five years if the victim was an adult and five to 10 years’ imprisonment under aggravating circumstances, including the involvement of children. It had been previously reported that investigators frequently downgraded trafficking crimes to lesser charges to ease investigation and prosecution, which lead to lesser penalties.
During the calendar year, the government initiated investigations of six trafficking cases, including one sex trafficking case and five forced labor cases under Articles 166 and 170—compared with 40 cases in 2020, including 24 sex trafficking cases and 16 forced labor cases, and eight cases in 2019, including one sex trafficking case and seven forced labor cases. The government also reported the continuation of seven ongoing investigations from the previous reporting period (two for sex trafficking and five for forced labor). As in prior years, courts continued to investigate trafficking cases under statutes for lesser crimes. The government did not prosecute or secure convictions in any sex trafficking or forced labor cases during the reporting period, compared with three prosecutions and convictions in the previous reporting period. In previous years, some prosecutions initiated under Articles 166 and 170 featured elements that were inconsistent with the definitions of trafficking as established in international law, such as the sale of infants. In June 2021, authorities conducted an operation that investigated saunas in Bishkek and Osh to address sex trafficking; authorities reported that 63 different crimes were uncovered during the enforcement operations but did not indicate if human trafficking was included.
The Kyrgyz Republic’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. NGO contacts reported that trafficking laws were not equitably enforced and noted that there was no practical mechanism to ensure foreign victims could report trafficking cases to law enforcement. In previous years, 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 beyond victim testimony. According to authorities, inexperienced and poorly trained investigators charged crimes that met the definition of trafficking as lesser crimes in the past. Courts may have improperly dismissed some trafficking cases on the basis of insufficient evidence, including several cases of child sex trafficking. 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. Authorities did not provide data on the total number of officials participating in these training events, but at least 150 prosecutors and investigators benefited from joint Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) and Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) trainings funded by an IO. During the reporting period, the government, with support from an IO, assigned judges to serve as trainers for adjudication and sentencing in mock-trials. In collaboration with an IO, the government conducted training for law enforcement, prosecutors, labor inspectors, and social service providers on the NRM and improving coordination in anti-trafficking efforts. Authorities partnered with an international organization to develop online courses on detection, investigation, prosecution, and adjudication of cases and treatment of victims. The government made revisions to the Criminal Procedure Code to include Article 520 on conducting procedural actions by means of video and Article 521 on the establishment and activities of joint investigative and operational groups, which became effective in December 2021, to facilitate international cooperation on joint investigations regarding transborder crimes.
Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year, with law enforcement officials and judges accepting bribes to drop cases and, at times, warning suspects prior to law enforcement operations in recent years. Media reports noted that stigmatization and a corrupt law and justice system were the main reasons individuals did not seek assistance from or report to authorities. International organization experts have noted widespread impunity and lack of effective prosecution. Traffickers were reportedly also able to avoid punishment by offering victims payment to drop cases in prior years. The PGO reported that some cases initiated in the preceding reporting period were closed during this reporting period because victims did not want to cooperate with law enforcement and the PGO, due to mistrust and fear of repercussions. The judicial system continued to feature widespread corruption; during the previous reporting period, the government began investigating two law enforcement officials for potentially facilitating an unspecified trafficking crime; the MVD reported no progress on the investigations. The government did not report any prosecutions or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking crimes.