Is Judicial Independence Finally Coming to Kyrgyzstan?

Is Judicial Independence Finally Coming to Kyrgyzstan?

In a region where authoritarian rule thrives, Kyrgyzstan just held the most competitive presidential election in Central Asia since the fall of the Soviet Union. If the new president, Sooronbai Jeenbekov, can create an independent judicial system, Kyrgyzstan has a real chance to build a sustainable democratic government.

Since becoming an independent country in 1991, the government of Kyrgyzstan has used a combination of the courts and law enforcement bodies to consolidate power and quash political opposition. The current president, Almazbek Atambayev, for example, has filed recent lawsuits to silence media outlets and political opponents who have been critical of his leadership.

Kyrgyzstan’s constitution gives the president significant power to reform the court system, which means Jeenbekov could make significant moves, relatively quickly, to shield the court system from political interference. Doing so would improve the economy, public safety, and trust in government.

First, Jeenbekov should reestablish and reaffirm the legitimacy of the Council for the Selection of Judges. The council determines who becomes a judge in Kyrgyzstan, and its members are nominated by the parliament, the president, and civil society.

In theory, each one of the three groups is supposed to be able to choose one-third of the council’s members. Since 2015, however, close to 30 percent of candidates proposed by the Council for Selection of Judges were turned down by the president—without any justification. Under these conditions, it is difficult, to say the least, for the judiciary to exercise meaningful oversight over the government’s other branches.

Second, additional guarantees should be put in place to ensure that the work of the Disciplinary Commission of the Council of Judges is free from any form of political influence. There have long been allegations that the commission uses its power not to protect the judiciary’s independence, but rather to exert the president’s authority. An example: in the past two years, 27 judges have left the judiciary through either disciplinary hearings or “voluntarily” (a frequently used euphemism when a judge is forced out for political reasons).

Last but not least, Jeenbekov could initiate changes to the government budget that would protect the judiciary’s future funding from politically motivated spending cuts. If the judiciary had dedicated funding, it would not be subject to the annual whims of politicians during budgetary debates. A steady funding stream, removed from political influence, would increase the judiciary’s independence.

Judicial independence would allow for reforms to be implemented that would protect the rights of marginalized groups, such as addicted drug users and the LGBTI community. While the constitution ensures legal protection for these groups, their rights are frequently violated and they are treated as criminals. An independent judiciary that consistently defended human rights would also help to facilitate the end of the government’s widespread and systematic use of torture.

Developing a more independent judiciary also is in the self-interest of Kyrgyz politicians because it would better guarantee their physical safety—an independent judiciary would make it harder for the ruling party to toss its political opponents into prison. Some former politicians who failed to implement judicial reforms when they were in power are now political prisoners, experiencing firsthand the consequences of their mistake.

Most importantly, a fair and independent judiciary would bring about greater stability and enhance the public’s trust in their government. Despite new laws such as the Criminal Procedure Code and the Code of Civil Procedure, the Kyrgyz public remains profoundly skeptical of the courts: 90 percent of voters, for example, think the judiciary is corrupt. This is not surprising, but it is not sustainable, either. Sooronbai Jeenbekov has a chance to change this. 

There is a strong coalition of development partners in Kyrgyzstan ready to put in the hard work to support and implement these kinds of necessary and positive changes. In addition to Soros Foundation Kyrgyzstan, the OSCE, the UNDP, and the European Commission have continually supported legislation that would enact significant judicial reforms.

But before the members of this coalition can get going, they need to know that the new administration is serious about judicial independence. It will ultimately be up to the new president to show whether he’s willing to lead.

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3 Comments

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I would like to be involved and help in any capacity.

Having participated in rule-of-law programs there since independence -- even sponsored by Soros -- I do indeed appreciate the fine analysis of the current situation.

Needless to say, an independent judiciary is key.

''...90% des électeurs '' et pourquoi ne pas être juste et dire 100% , car ce système du  président Almazbek Atambayev ressemble goutte pour goutte aux autres systèmes dits dictatoriaux. Par exemple, le Maroc ,dans l'Afrique du Nord ou l'Algérie ou dans les 23 pays arabes...il se passe exactement comme ici en Kirghizistan et je dirais plus;la corruption est devenue dans le sang des citoyens qui font n'importe quoi pour bénéficier d'un subside et l'administration ne fonctionne que pour les riches qui ont les moyens financiers de soudoyer les fonctionnaires de l’État. Certes, l'administration fonctionne aussi ,dans un cas très précis avec les hommes du palais et en dehors le peuple est devenu une populace qui n'a ni instruction civile ni éducation, ni un savoir pour pouvoir contrer les manipulations enfantines d'un pouvoir en place qui suce le sang des pauvres et misérables citoyens:exploitation ,pure et simple, des richesses naturelles(phosphate,pétrole,gaz,...) sans que le citoyen marocain ne voit la couleur de l'argent , un salaire non fonction du niveau de vie , une situation délabrée ,le chômage dépasse officieusement les 90% car un salaire qui ne suffit pas (3 à 4 fois moins de sa valeur réelle) et une sécurité sociale rares... c'est pour cette raison l'armée a un rôle à jouer pour rétablir l'ordre , en instaurant une monarchie parlementaire et donc de responsabiliser les politiques ou, carrément une première république marocaine . Ceci dit avec des pincettes, car le maréchal Sissi en Égypte dépasse cette vision démocratique pour instaurer sa propre dictature car il faut à Sissi de ne pas se présenter aux prochaines élections présidentielle pour laisser à la société civile de gouverner comme toute autre démocratie avec une sous-condition ,siné-qua-non,l'armée est là pour surveiller et contrôler toute dérive et prête pour un autre coup d’État militaire ,ce qui devrait être dans les 23 pays arabes ...car la société civile à Kirghizistan comme dans les autres pays en voie de développement et dans le Maroc n'est pas encore mûre...''Ce sera finalement au nouveau président de montrer s'il est prêt à diriger'' tâche rude car il s'agit de convaincre son microcosme ,comme au Maroc c'est le Makhzen , qui ont une coutume et une habitude à traiter autrement les pauvres et misérables citoyens et qui ont la capacité de changer le président ou le roi autant de fois que ce microcosme le désire. Le président a donc une marge de manœuvre très limitée, à moins si le président s'avère un révolutionnaire.

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