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Kyrgyz “Foreign Representatives Law” enacted amid criticism

Washington warns the new law could limit or end the operation of organizations delivering assistance and cautions Georgia about its new draft law
UN.Org
President Sadyr Japarov addresses the UN General Assembly in New York.

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On April 2, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov announced that he had signed a hotly contested bill that allows authorities to register organizations as “foreign representatives,” legislation that numerous observers claim closely mirrors a repressive Russian law on “foreign agents.”

In his April 2 post on Facebook, Japarov argued that the law will “regulate” the activities of nongovernmental organizations receiving financial support from abroad and rejected multiple warnings by NGOs and human rights groups about the negative impact the new legislation will have on civil society.

NGOs accused of widespread corruption

Japarov accused Kyrgyz NGOs of “deceiving” foreign organizations and groups that support them financially, claiming he could “prove” that NGOs in his country steal money from their donors. However, he gave no evidence to back up the assertion.

According to Japarov, the law on “foreign representatives” will help to prevent possible fraudulent activities and the embezzlement of finances received by local NGOs from their foreign sponsors.

Last week, more than 100 Kyrgyz NGOs urged Japarov not to sign the bill, claiming it will negatively affect the operations of all such organizations in the Central Asian country.

Kyrgyzstan’s parliament approved the bill some weeks back, on March 14, which imposed stringent regulations and excessive government oversight on organizations receiving funding from abroad.

This legislation mandates onerous reporting on all financial, governance, and operational activities, specifically targeting independent NGOs that rely on foreign funding, which will be classified as “performing the functions of a foreign representative.”

Reaction by Amnesty International

According to Amnesty International, in February, amid mounting pressure from civil society organizations and international bodies, one of the most controversial provisions in the draft law providing for criminal liability for breaches of the law was removed. However, the legislators did not address numerous other human rights concerns that directly contravene international human rights law.

At the time, Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director, stated: “The passing of this legislation by parliament is deeply troubling. We have witnessed, over a decade ago in Russia and across the region, how similar legislation laid the groundwork for the systematic dismantling of civil society.”

Negative reaction from Washington

The U.S. Department of State issued the following Press Statement on April 2:

“Protection of Non-Governmental Organizations in the Kyrgyz Republic

We are deeply concerned by the Kyrgyz Republic’s enactment of the so-called “Foreign Representatives” bill into law, which puts at risk the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are essential to a more democratic and inclusive Kyrgyz Republic. This is the latest in a series of Kyrgyz government actions that have undermined democratic governance and civil society.

NGOs play a critical role in linking government and the community to improve the welfare of all Kyrgyzstanis. The “Foreign Representatives” law will place undue burdens on NGOs and has the potential to limit or end the operation of organizations that are delivering critical assistance to the Kyrgyz people – including U.S. assistance that is implemented by local and international NGOs. Restricting the work of these organizations and allowing for unbridled government interference in their operations could prevent the provision of U.S. assistance that improves health care and education, strengthens the rule of law, improves delivery of public services, and expands economic opportunity for Kyrgyzstanis. This work is integral to achieving our shared goal of a prosperous and successful Kyrgyz Republic.

It is in our shared interest to support effective democratic governance and civil society, and by so doing, contribute to strengthening peace and security. We will continue to engage with the Kyrgyz government on protecting civil society and defending fundamental freedoms.”

Is Georgia taking the same path?

The State Department issued a shorter media statement April 4 cautioning Georgia about the potential impact of a similar piece of legislation recently introduced in the Georgian parliament.  Again on April 18, the State Department issued a new notice in starker terms, focusing on the continuing advance of the draft legislation. It said: “We are gravely disappointed by the Georgian parliament’s decision to advance Kremlin-inspired “foreign influence” legislation.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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