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United Nations assesses economic, social and cultural rights in Kyrgyzstan

02 June 2015

On 1st until 2nd of June, the current state of economic, social and cultural rights in Kyrgyzstan was discussed by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Netherlands Helsinki Committee was present and supported the presence of two of its partners, the Child Rights Defenders League and Advocacy Network for Children. Together we represented a network of ten NGOs working on economic and social rights for women and children in Kyrgyzstan.

The Committee’s session started off with a series of statements from National Human Rights Institutions (including Ombudspersons) and NGOs from the countries discussed during the session. Among others, the situation in Venezuela, Ireland, Thailand and Mongolia were also discussed. The statements serve as a reminder and provide an opportunity to highlight important (potentially new) information for the Committee members ahead of discussing the country situations with state representatives for the following two weeks. It provides them with possible questions to address to State parties and alternative information to that provided by the State in their report.

Until the last moment, there was no clarity for a possibility for an interpretation from Russian into English. Therefore, the statement of the Coalition of NGOs working on economic and social rights for women and children was done in English and recited on behalf of the Coalition by NHC’s Deputy Director Jan de Vries.

There were specific issues addressed such as freedom of civil society to continue to operate in Kyrgyzstan (a ‘foreign agent’ law is currently discussed in the Parliament); the need for rights-based policy-making; social benefits for low-income families and families with children with disabilities; child labour; sexual and reproductive health rights and maternal mortality; violence against children at home and at state institutions; the position of children with disabilities and children of persons with disabilities; and the right to education for vulnerable and marginalised groups of children. The text of the statement is available here.

Six other NGOs from Kyrgyzstan were present to highlight other issues. This was done in two statements. One statement was on the freedom of religion (by Open Viewpoint) and another on the issue of internal and external migration and its impact on exercising economic, social and cultural rights (by Bir Duino Kyrgyzstan). The Ombudsman of Kyrgyzstan was also present and focused in particular on the ‘foreign agent’ law and its negative impact on freedom of association and expression.

The morning session with the Committee was followed up by an informal lunch meeting organised by NHC on behalf of all the Kyrgyz NGOs present. On this small scale and closed event, the committee was invited for lunch and listen to additional information from the NGOs. For all present, the most crucial part about this meeting was the discussion and questions the committee had for the Kyrgyz NGOs. After three brief statements, adding to information already presented, in particular on issues regarding rights-based policy making; freedom of civil society and their potential to have a positive impact on the enjoyment of rights; violence against children; worst forms of child labour; forced marriage and bride kidnapping; specifics on external migration; and right to adequate housing. After the brief statements, there was one hour in which the committee members asked an array of questions regarding, amongst others: right to housing, migration, the ‘foreign agent’ law, the position and capacity of the judiciary and the possibility for citizens to claim their rights, freedom of religion and state interference, as well as maternal mortality. Right after the informal lunch, the Committee reconvened in order to address their questions to the officials of the Kyrgyz state. NGO representatives continued to be present, though they were not allowed to intervene.

The minutes of the meeting with the Kyrgyz officials will be open for public soon, after which the Concluding Observations will be published. In it the UNESCR will make its recommendations public to the Kyrgyz State. It is crucial for the NGOs to present these recommendations that are solid and concrete, as they provide the basis for further advocacy with the Government. The challenging work of addressing the recommendations will then start, in hope that the situation in Kyrgyzstan improves and we do not get an identical set of recommendations in four or five years’ time.