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How to Protect and Expand an Enabling Environment

[ 2 ] Civil society space in Kyrgyzstan is under pressure. Kyrgyz
CSO leaders find it harder to organise peaceful social protests
and public events that are critical of government policy,
and struggle to gain insight into government policies and
budgets. Kyrgyz human rights defenders and civil society
activists fear for their personal security. In addition, CSOs in
Kyrgyzstan have witnessed a number of legislative attempts
to restrict their access to foreign funding over the past few
years and to delegitimise their work as the work of “foreign
This document provides a summary of a report on the
enabling environment for civil society in the Kyrgyz Republic
carried out on behalf of the ‘Central Asia on the Move
Platform’. The report was compiled with the support of
Dan Church Aid (DCA) and Interchurch Organisation for
Development Co-operation (ICCO). Similar reports have been
developed – within DCA and ICCO´s international network, Act Alliance – on Nepal, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Colombia, and
Rwanda. Challenges to the enabling environment of CSOs
are a worldwide phenomenon.
DCA and ICCO have engaged in this research because CSOs
play a vital role in the democratic development of their
societies and in holding governments to account for their
human rights obligations. It has been recognized that
a strong and vibrant civil society is a key component of
sustainable and legitimate development. Without it, aid is
less likely to achieve its objectives and people are more likely
to suffer from policies that fail to consider their needs. This
is not a new argument. Indeed, the world’s governments
have made high-level commitments (e.g. at the Fourth
High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan) to enable
a rights-based and participatory environment in which civil
society can thrive. However, these commitments are yet to
be achieved in full.
The findings of this research are based on the views of
the Kyrgyz CSO leaders on developments in their enabling
environment, as expressed through both online questionnaire
surveys and focus group discussions. The survey questions
were designed with reference to the rights and responsibilities
outlined in the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility
of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and
Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights (including the
right to development) and Fundamental Freedoms adopted
by the UN General Assembly in 1998.
A total of 81 CSO leaders participated in the survey. 71.6% of
those surveyed identified human rights as their main area of
activity. 19.8% of the organisations interviewed were rural-
based. The remaining CSOs were primarily city-based with
30.9% operating in the capital, Bishkek. The results of the
survey were triangulated with more detailed information
obtained during focus group discussions (FGD). Overall, 10
FGDs were held in the cities of Bishkek and Osh and the seven
oblasts of Kyrgyzstan. The minimum size of a focus group
comprised five persons. The list of participants was prepared
by the research team, but coordinated and approved by DCA,
ICCO and partners.
dca kyrgyzstan

[ 3 ] The legal framework that governs the activities of CSOs
in Kyrgyzstan comprises the Constitution of the Kyrgyz
Republic, the Civil Code of the Kyrgyz Republic, the Law on
Non-Commercial organisations of 1.10.1999, the Law on State
registration of Legal Entities with changes from 2007, the
Tax Code of the Kyrgyz Republic, other legal and regulatory
acts of the Kyrgyz Republic, as well as international treaties
ratified or acceded to by Kyrgyzstan.

In Kyrgyzstan, non-governmental organisations can be
created in various legal forms. The traditional forms are
public associations and public foundations, as well as
consumer cooperatives, religious bodies etc. The Law on
Non-Commercial Organisations, however, does not define a
“non-governmental organisation” and uses the broader term
“non-profit organisation”, making it difficult to understand the unique nature of NGOs. The afore-mentioned law
establishes the right of NGOs to operate without establishing
a legal entity and to free state registration. It also affords
legal and natural persons the opportunity to jointly establish
and participate in associations. However, in 2013, a bill was
put forward proposing that CSOs receiving foreign funding
or participating in so-called political activities “on behalf of
foreign sources” should have the status as “foreign agents”.
In fact, three NGO-discriminatory legislative initiatives were
proposed in 2013: one by the State Security Agency and
two by members of the Parliament. If the proposed bill had
been passed, CSOs would have been confronted with the
possibility of criminalization of almost all aspects of human
rights defenders’ activities. However, these draft laws and
amendments were rescinded.
This section will give a status report of the enabling environment for Kyrgyz CSOs, in relation to the following rights:

The right to participate
 The right to freedom of assembly
 The right to freedom of association
 The right to freedom of expression/the right to develop and discuss new ideas and advocate for their acceptance
 The right to unhindered access to and communication with non-governmental and inter-governmental organisations, and
international bodies
 Access to information and the right to seek, obtain, receive and hold information
 The right to access resources for the purpose of protecting human rights, including the receipt of funds from abroad
The right to participate
CSOs were divided on the degree of access they have to
government authorities and on their ability to participate
in the formulation of development policies. 52.8% of
respondents felt that their views were given less consideration
by the government than was the case five years ago. Survey
results showed that while 53.3% of the respondents found
it difficult to work with and access government structures,
a minority did not have a problem in this area. Only 14.5%
of the respondents reported that they had worked together
with the authorities in the past year to provide their views and recommendations on current development programs.
According to the Kyrgyz CSOs that participated in this
research, the government sought dialogue with only a small
group of CSOs. The majority of the CSOs surveyed (85.5%)
characterized the participation as “not meaningful” because
they viewed the invitations by the government as token
gestures to show that civil society had been consulted.
While human rights organisations tended to experience
more difficulties, even organisations co-operating with state
agencies experienced barriers.

[ 4 ] A downward trend in the right to freedom of assembly was
reported. The majority of CSOs (62.3%) believe that it has
become more difficult to organise a peaceful protest than it
was five years ago (see Chart 1). According to 70% of the
CSOs surveyed, restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly
are most common when protests are critical of government
The right to freedom of assembly
policy. The respondents also reported that the police do not
always act according to the law and prevent citizens from
holding peaceful rallies. CSOs located in the capital, Bishkek,
and in regional cities experienced the most obstacles. 42.4%
also found it difficult to organise public meetings in their
own communities (see Chart 1).
The ability to organize public meetings
in one’s own community
The ability to organize public meetings against the Government’s policies
The ability to organize peaceful
public protests compared to that 5 years ago 42.4%
70.0% 30.0%
62.3% 3 7. 7 %
Chart 1: Re
Gula ToR y and le Gal fR amewoRk, The l aw on Peaceful assemblies
negative trends Positive trends
safety fo developmental activities
in the region
humiliation of dignity
Pressure to withdraw from the activities 54.5%
50.6% 49.4%
21.5% 78.5% 45.5%
Chart 2: fReedom of associa
Tion and assembly
negative trends Positive trends
The ability to obtain permission
to engage in an activity
Practice of bribery to run the activities
stigmatization of the organisation
a threat of closure 40.0%
5 7. 7 %
10.4% 42.3%
89.6% 60.0%
Chart 3: The RiGhT T
o funcTion fReely and wiThouT unwaRR anTed sTaTe inTR usion
negative trends Positive trends
The right to physical integrity and freedom of association
The right to physical integrity and freedom of association
is also under threat in Kyrgyzstan. Most of the survey
participants (54.5%) responded that they did not feel safe
or had doubts about their security while pursuing their NGO
activities in a given region of the country (see Chart 2).
Among those who felt the most insecure were organisations working on rights protection, citizens’ interest promotion,
gender issues, as well as those organising various advocacy
campaigns and actions. Human rights CSOs were the most
affected: they reported receiving threats not only aimed
at limiting their activities, but also targeting their family
More than half of the respondents (50.6%) experienced, to
varying degrees, instances of humiliation and violation of
their human dignity. Organisations working with LGBTI rights
were most likely to face stigmatization (see Chart 3). More
than half of the respondents (57.7%) believed that CSOs risk stigmatisation if they protect the rights of sexual or religious
minorities. LGBTI organisations also faced discrimination and
stigmatisation from fellow CSOs. The negative perception of
LGBTI persons has become much more pronounced over the
past two or three years in the country.

[ 5 ] In addition to the aborted legislative attempts mentioned in
the previous chapter to restrain civil society, 40% of CSOs re

ported unreasonable obstructions when they tried to obtain
permission to engage in an activity. 21.5% of respondents
experienced pressure to desist from their activities (see Chart
The right to freedom of expression
Access to Information and the Right to Seek, Obtain, Receive and Hold Information
The results of the survey revealed a downward trend in
freedom of expression. As Chart 4 demonstrates, more
than two-thirds (68.8%) of the survey participants feel
their freedom of speech is more restricted than it was five
years ago. These results relate to the fact that there have
been political attempts, through legislation, to circumscribe
NGOs’ ability to criticise the government. However, 68% of the participants believe they still have opportunity to
publicly engage in political dissent without fear of reprisals.
Nonetheless, at least 32% of the respondents expressed the
concern that their criticism might result in sanctions against
them. 20% have been subjected to accusations, which they
believe are related to their criticism of or statements on
government policy in the media.
The level of safety of expressing
criticism on development issues
The ability to openly express criticism on
development issues compared to that of 5 years ago
The frequency with which cso leaders are officially accused of defaamation 32.0%
68.8% 31.2%
20.0% 80.0%68.0%
Chart 4: fReedom of exPRession
negative trends
Positive trends
The ability to obtain information on the Government budget
and political decision-making on development issues
The ability to openly express criticism on
development issues compared to that of 5 years ago
The level of success of
the result of the inquiries
c ounterfeiting cso documents 60.3%
67.1% 32.9%
8.3% 37.5%
91.7% 39.7%
Chart 5: The RiGhT T
o seek and dissemina Te infoRmaTion
negative trends Positive trends
On the other hand, CSOs have relatively easy access to the
media as affirmed by 82% of the respondents. Despite the
ease of access to the media, just a third of the respondents
(35%) had the actual opportunity to express their views on development issues, either in the local or national mass
media. The survey also demonstrated high levels of access
to the internet (92.5%). 2). Analysis of the survey forms revealed that organisations
that did face closure were located in Bishkek (3 organisa-
tions) and in rural areas (1) and were engaged in activities
that focused on human rights, advocacy, education, health,
and small and medium business development.
Negative trends were also noted in relation to access to
information with 60.3% of the respondents finding it
difficult to access information on government budgets and
policy decisions on development issues. Moreover, 67.1% of the survey participants noted that it was significantly easier
to get this information five years ago. 62.5% reported a lack
of success in getting formal responses to their enquiries.
On the other hand, CSOs have relatively easy access to the
media as affirmed by 82% of the respondents. Despite the
ease of access to the media, just a third of the respondents
(35%) had the actual opportunity to express their views on development issues, either in the local or national mass
media. The survey also demonstrated high levels of access
to the internet (92.5%).

[ 6 ] The right to access resources for the purpose of protecting
human rights, including the receipt of funds from abroad
Kyrgyz CSOs reported a decline in their levels of funding.
They felt that this situation was further exacerbated by the
uneven distribution of scarce resources, and maintained that
only a select few receive funds while smaller CSOs struggle
to get a share.
Kyrgyz CSOs get most of their funding from foreign and
international organisations. However, the decline in funding
has made maintaining a sustainable financial position
for Kyrgyz CSOs a cause for concern. The reasons can be
attributed to a reduction in the number of donor programs
available, stringent project requirements for accessing funds, and not least, the introduction of anti-democratic legislative
initiatives over the past five years, especially in 2013. All of
these elements contribute towards limiting CSOs’ ability to
get support from abroad.
As far as UN funds are concerned, CSOs are of the opinion
that, while internal financial and administrative requirements
have increased, institutional support has diminished, making
it increasingly harder for smaller CSOs to access financing.
Kyrgyz CSOs believe that there is a need for donors to be
more transparent in the disbursement of grants and the
monitoring of implementation.
dca kyrgyzstan

The following section contains recommendations for the government of the Kyrgyz Republic,
international donors and the UN on actions that should be taken to improve the enabling
environment for Kyrgyz NGOs.
Key Recommendations for the
Government of the Kyrgyz Republic

Ensure respect for the UN Declaration on Human
Rights Defenders in legislation and practice, and refrain
from adopting legislation that is not in compliance
with international standards and Kyrgyzstan´s treaty
obligations, such as those under the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Discontinue
the practice of copying and duplicating the laws of other
countries that restrict and discriminate against civil
society institutions;
 Introduce changes and amendments to the Law of the
Kyrgyz Republic “On Peaceful Assemblies”, in accordance
with the recommendations of the Venice Commission,
namely, a change in the name of the law to “On freedom
of assembly ” and the introduction of the term “public
events” in the conceptual apparatus of the above Law;
 Ensure that State authorities, the local self-government
and Internal Affairs authorities respect the right of
citizens to peacefully assemble in keeping with the
government´s international human rights obligations;
 Ensure the effective protection of CSOs under threat;
 Establish a regular communication platform between
CSOs and the Government to discuss development policy
and socio-economic issues, including a diversity of CSOs;
 Develop a wide range of anti-discriminatory legislation,
in close cooperation with organisations representing the
interests of LGBTI citizens, which include provisions for
non-discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender
 Enact amendments to the Tax Code and other relevant
laws to facilitate an enabling environment for CSOs in
 Receive visits from UN Special Rapporteurs, including
the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of
association and peaceful assembly.
Key Recommendations to the EU
 Include a strong focus on the enabling environment for
civil society when elaborating the Civil Society roadmap
for Kyrgyzstan. It is imperative that the CSO roadmap
addresses the conditions needed to secure an enabling
environment de jure and de facto, in line with the
understanding of an enabling environment set out in the
CSO communication;
 Ensure that civil society is involved in the process of
preparing the country roadmaps so that these roadmaps
provide the framework for a structured, broad, and
inclusive engagement with civil society. The CSO roadmap
process should have clear in-country calendars and clear
information on the process and follow-up;
 Facilitate the necessary space and capacity so that a
diverse array of civil society organisations can engage
with the delegation, ensuring that their inputs influence
EU policies (from the grassroots to Brussels and back)
and inform the political dialogue between the EU and the
Key Recommendations to the UN
 Monitor developments in the enabling environment for
civil society and human rights defenders in Kyrgyzstan
through the Universal Periodic Mechanism, relevant
treaty bodies, Special Procedures, etc.
Key Recommendations to
Kyrgyz Civil Society Organisations
 Ensure good governance from within, in particular,
strengthening mechanisms for own transparency and
 Monitor and respond to unconstitutional initiatives that
restrict civil society space;
 Identify and strengthen strategies for protection;
 Strengthen networking, co-operation and co-ordination
on issues of the enabling environment across a broad
range of civil society organisations involved in the
different sectors.