Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination discusses situation in Kyrgyzstan and New Zealand with NGOs

Committee on the Elimination   CERD/13/6
  of Racial Discrimination

18 February 2013

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning held an informal meeting with non-governmental organizations from Kyrgyzstan and New Zealand.  The reports of these two countries will be reviewed by the Committee this week.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations in Kyrgyzstan raised a number of issues concerning the worsening of inter-ethnic relations, since the change of government and armed conflict between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in 2010, including the impunity of those responsible for violence against ethnic minorities, the increasing use of hate language in the media, the poor representation of ethnic-minority group members in the civil service, the limited access to education and media in ethnic minority languages, and the situation of ethnic-minority women.       

Ion Diaconu, the Committee’s Rapporteur for Kyrgyzstan, noted that there was a negative climate against ethnic minorities in the country and asked the representatives of non-governmental organization what could be done to change the situation.  Other Committee Experts expressed concern at the difficulties faced by women from minority groups and the situation regarding education in the minority languages, and asked whether there were any institutions in Kyrgyzstan which could be called upon to help resolve the situation.  Additional information was requested on the ethnic composition of the People’s Assembly and of local assemblies.
Representatives of a non-governmental organization in New Zealand said that New Zealand was not undertaking any steps to ensure that the rights of indigenous peoples were protected under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  More specifically, the Maori people were a vulnerable and disadvantaged minority who constantly faced the threat of human rights violations.

Committee Experts wanted to know in what ways the rights of the Maori might be impacted upon by a free trade agreement which New Zealand was negotiating with 11 other States, whether there was structural discrimination against the Maori, what level of representation the Maori had in Parliament and in local government, and whether New Zealand had worked in consultation with the Maori to resolve outstanding issues.

The next meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. on Monday, 18 February, when the Committee will begin its consideration of the fifth to seventh periodic reports of Kyrgyzstan (CERD/C/KGZ/5-7).     

Statements on Kyrgyzstan   

Institute for Regional Studies said that about 22 per cent of the population of Kyrgyzstan consisted of ethnic minorities.  In 2010 there had been an armed conflict between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the south of the country.  The change of regime, which took place in the same year, had a negative impact on the overall political situation in the country and there were still tensions in society.  During and after the conflict of 2010, the use hate speech in the media had become a trend and there had been a rise in aggressive nationalism, which contributed to the worsening of inter-ethnic relations.  Hate language was also used by politicians in their speeches.  Recommendations to include the term “discrimination” in national legislation had not been taken onboard, which significantly hindered improvements in the human rights situation of ethnic minorities.  Ninety-one per cent of civil servants came from the ethnic majority and only a small percentage of them came from the minority groups.    

Open Viewpoint Foundation said that, in 2010, many weapons had been seized by citizens who represented the ethnic majority and the Government had failed to provide protection for its own citizens.  Many of those weapons were still in the hands of the citizens today.  During the events of 2010, the ethnic majority had destroyed homes of members of ethnic minorities and incidents of violence still occurred.  Television channels belonging to the ethnic minorities in the South of the country were unable to operate.  Following the armed conflict of 2010, trials had not been carried out in a fair way or in a safe environment and current legislation did not protect against discrimination.  There was no effective legislation on hate crimes nor were there provisions for protecting persons from ethnic groups.             

Centre for Multicultural and Multilingual Education said that a major inter-ethnic conflict between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks had erupted in the summer of 2010.  The conflict had created a large number of internally displaced persons and caused shortages of food and medical supplies.  Some 426 persons had died during the conflict and several thousands had been injured.  Many feared the reoccurrence of ethnic hostilities in the country and there were serious security concerns among the Uzbek minority, in particular.  Complaints had also been received about discrimination against women from ethnic minorities.  The social stigma attached to sexual and physical violence made it difficult for women to report incidents of sexual and gender-based violence.  Many members of ethnic minorities had left for Russia after the armed conflict in order to avoid discriminatory treatment and humiliation.  The lack of security for minority women business owners remained a major concern.

Youth Human Rights Organization said that the recommendations which had been made by the Committee in 2007, concerning the introduction into the secondary education system of the history of ethnic minorities living in Kyrgyzstan, had not been fulfilled.  Since 2010 there were few opportunities to receive education in the Uzbek language free of charge.  The number of schools teaching in Uzbek was decreasing, while the number of schools teaching in Kyrgyz and Russian was increasing.  It was also impossible to study the Tajik language in higher education.  The methodology of teaching Kyrgyz in secondary education was not adapted to the needs of students from ethnic minority groups.                  

Spravedlivost said that members of the Uzbek ethnic minority did not speak Russian or Kyrgyz and, since the Uzbek television channel had been closed down, they had no films or entertainment programmes in their own language and everything was broadcast in Kyrgyz.  As a result, they were forced to watch television from Uzbekistan, which meant that they effectively received no information about their own country.  The level of nationalism in the region was high. 

Institute of Alisher Navoy said that in Kyrgyzstan there had been direct discrimination against the ethnic Uzbek minority and, since 2010, the general impression was that the new government supported this.  Testing in the Uzbek language had been abolished in education and schools which had been teaching in Uzbek were forced to begin teaching in Kyrgyz.  The Government had not upheld its obligation to protect all its citizens.  Furthermore, Uzbek was no longer used in higher education and was almost not used at all in the media, and there were no judges of Uzbek ethnic origin.  The law against discrimination was being violated on a regular basis in the case of the Uzbek minority.

Open Society of Justice Initiative said that selective investigations and prosecutions which routinely targeted ethnic Uzbeks were a common phenomenon in Kyrgyzstan, whereas no charges were being brought against those who were responsible for violence against the Uzbek ethnic minority.  The lack of accountability of those responsible for the events of ethnic violence which erupted in 2010 was a cause of concern.  

Questions by Experts

ION DIACONU, Country Rapporteur for Kyrgyzstan, said that Kyrgyzstan was now a parliamentary republic and therefore the President no longer had essential powers.  He noted that there was a negative climate against ethnic minorities and asked representatives from non-governmental organizations what they thought could be done to change the negative political climate against minorities.  He also asked whether there were mixed Kyrgyz-Uzbek families in the country.      

Committee Experts queried the role that the international community had played in Kyrgyzstan in the post-2010 conflict period.  They also expressed concerns at the difficulties facing women from minority groups and the situation regarding education in the country’s minority languages.  Were there any institutions in Kyrgyzstan which could be called upon to help resolve the situation?  More information was requested on the composition of the People’s Assembly as well as on the local assemblies, especially in terms of participation from ethnic minority groups.  What measures had been taken to ensure that the judicial system functioned properly in terms of protecting the rights of ethnic minority groups?      

Response from Non-Governmental Organizations

Concerning the comment about the President having limited powers compared to the Parliament, one speaker said that the problem about the composition of the Parliament was that the majority of its members were Kyrgyz.  There was no special department for monitoring non-discrimination or for protecting the rights of ethnic minorities.  The situation could be improved by effective legislation which needed to be brought in line with the Convention, beginning with a clear definition of the term “discrimination”. 

Regarding education, the recommendations of the Committee had not been fulfilled and the Government faced problems to include the history of minority groups when re-writing textbooks.  Ethnic minorities were represented by non-governmental organizations in civil society but had a poor level of representation in political parties, which was reflected in the ethnic composition of Parliament.  There was an Assembly of the People of Kyrgyzstan but it only worked to preserve the culture of ethnic minorities rather than to improve their situation, which was mainly left to non-governmental organizations.  A separate committee on equality and non-discrimination no longer existed. 

Lack of knowledge of the State language, Kyrgyz, posed problems with regards to employment.  Concerning employment in the public sector, in particular, there was no official State competition for the recruitment of civil servants and no monitoring for discrimination.  A speaker said that the Government should take effective measures to actively protect the rights of minority women, especially those living in rural areas.  It was also necessary to create favourable conditions for women coming from ethnic backgrounds so they could be fully involved in the judicial and Government structures.  Efforts to set up specific projects and regular training opportunities to support minority women should be intensified.

An Independent Commission of Enquiry should be set up to investigate the events of 2010 and complaints of discrimination and violence.  The perpetrators of hate crimes and other acts of violence against ethnic minorities should be identified and brought to justice.    

Statement on New Zealand

Aotearoa Indigenous Rights Trust said that New Zealand was not undertaking any steps to ensure that the rights of indigenous peoples were protected under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which New Zealand had ratified, albeit with reservations.  The right of fresh water was in the process of being given to private companies and the current scheme proposed by the Government was not doing enough to protect the rights of the Maori.  Discussions in the context of the free trade agreement, which New Zealand was currently negotiating with eleven other States, were being conducted behind closed doors and there was no transparency as to how that agreement would affect the rights of the Maori.  An exploration permit had been awarded to a Brazilian oil company without consulting or protecting the right of consent of the local tribe whose fishing rights would be affected by the exploration process.  New Zealand was not doing enough to protect Maori as a vulnerable and disadvantaged group in society.       

Questions by Experts

Experts wanted to know in what way the reservations mentioned by the non-governmental organization were impeding New Zealand’s implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  Had New Zealand tried to determine, in consultation with the Maori, whether there was a way forward despite the reservations which had been placed on the Declaration?  Experts noted that the Declaration, which was not a Convention or a Treaty, was not legally binding.  Was there a way that the Maori people could ensure the implementation of the Declaration, following the example of other indigenous minority groups in countries such as Canada? 

More information was requested on possible ways in which the free trade agreement might negatively affect the Maori.  Was there structural discrimination against the Maori, for example in the judicial system?  Were the Maori represented in the government and in political parties?  Other than the Maori, were there any other minority groups, such as immigrants from Asia or citizens of African descent, who may have been experiencing discrimination in New Zealand?

What had New Zealand’s reaction been to the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation that the decision of the Waitangi Tribunal be given additional weight since it was not binding?
Response from Non-Governmental Organization

A speaker said that little additional information was available on the reservations that New Zealand had placed on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  Following ratification of the Declaration, no resource allocation or dissemination of relevant information had taken place.  New Zealand wished to maintain a good record of human rights internationally, so international fora could be utilized to help place pressure on New Zealand in that regard.  As there was no information on the content of the free trade agreement which was being negotiated, it was difficult to say which Maori rights might be affected.
Concerning the question about structural discrimination, a speaker said that the negative statistics in relation to Maori were shocking, especially in terms of the high number of Maori being incarcerated, which pointed to a structural problem in the judicial system.  New Zealand had put in place a number of policies to ensure affirmative action but there was little willingness to acknowledge that there was systemic discrimination against Maori as a specific group.  It was mentioned that there was a particular Maori Party which worked to implement Maori policies and there was Maori representation in the Parliament.  Overall the representation of Maori in local government was very limited and Maori requests to have such representation were often rejected.  It was clarified that the Waitangi Treaty, which was almost 150 years old, had been signed by the Queen of England, who was still the Head of State of New Zealand.  The Waitangi Tribunal, which did not have binding powers, should have been given greater weight but it was not clear what New Zealand’s reaction had been to the Treaty itself.  However, there was no piece of legislation in which the provisions of the Treaty, such as the duty to consult and the duty of good faith, were enshrined.

For use of the information media; not an official record