June 28, 2011

Chairman Kerry On Kyrgyzstan’s Democratic Transition

Washington, DC – This morning, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) submitted a floor statement marking the one-year anniversary of Kyrgyzstan’s constitutional referendum establishing Central Asia’s first parliamentary democracy.

“Kyrgyzstan stands at a crossroads,” said Chairman Kerry. “Over the past year, we have witnessed some progress, with credible parliamentary elections in October, the formation of a government in December, and a more vibrant media and political debate. But let’s be clear: Kyrgyzstan’s democratic experiment faces considerable challenges. The task of rebuilding the country after the deadly interethnic clashes of last summer is daunting and should inspire a sense of common purpose. Upcoming presidential elections in the fall present an opportune moment for Kyrgyzstan’s leadership to articulate a political compact that unites the diverse elements of its society.”

The full text of Chairman Kerry’s floor statement, as prepared, is below:

Mr. President, this is a critical moment for Kyrgyzstan’s democratic transition.

On June 27, 2010, the people of Kyrgyzstan took to the polls to adopt a new constitution for their country. The vote sent a powerful message to the region and to the world: that democracy is an idea whose appeal transcends ethnic divides.

Kyrgyzstan’s President, Roza Otunbayeva, deserves enormous credit for orchestrating the transition to democratic rule after the deadly interethnic clashes of last summer.

Since that tumultuous period, President Otunbayeva has overseen the first free and truly democratic parliamentary elections in Central Asia. She has made it a priority to strengthen the rule of law. And she has moved to create a government that is increasingly responsive to the needs of all its citizens, regardless of ethnicity.

Kyrgyzstan today stands at a crossroads. Its people have expressed the desire to live in an open, free and just society. Over the past year, we have witnessed some progress toward that goal, with credible parliamentary elections in October, the formation of a government in December and a more vibrant media and political debate.

But let’s be clear: Kyrgyzstan’s democratic experiment faces considerable challenges.

Three, in particular, threaten the aspirations that powered last year’s historic vote.

First, Kyrgyzstan’s coalition government is beset by infighting. The task of rebuilding the country after the turmoil of the past year is daunting. But the challenges should also inspire a sense of common purpose. Upcoming presidential elections in the fall present an opportune moment for Kyrgyzstan’s leadership to articulate a political compact that unites the diverse elements of its society.

Second, the country’s fractious political environment has impeded efforts to combat organized crime and corruption. Rampant crime has heightened the sense of insecurity among citizens, created an unfavorable climate for business and slowed economic growth. To the government’s credit, over 90 members of organized criminal groups are now behind bars. But much work remains to be done to reform Kyrgyzstan’s judicial system and strengthen controls over its borders.

The United States can play a constructive role by providing financial support and technical expertise. We must also speak out forcefully for even-handedness in the prosecution of cases related to last year’s violence. Guaranteeing justice and equality before the law would go a long way toward alleviating interethnic tensions. 

Finally, Kyrgyzstan must deal with the underlying causes of last year’s violence. Reconciliation initiatives have been slow to get off the ground. And tensions between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities continue to fester.

Mr. President, Kyrgyzstan is a multi-ethnic state. Its diversity is a source of strength. But too often, opportunistic actors have exploited ethnicity to settle scores, acquire resources and reclaim land in the fertile plains of the Ferghana valley.     

Last June, Senator Lugar and I authored a resolution on Kyrgyzstan calling for a full and fair investigation into the violence. The recently released report of the Kyrgyzstan Inquiry Commission is a welcome contribution to this debate, and I hope that all parties will give serious consideration to its findings.  

The United States has committed over $28 million for projects that will support reconciliation in Kyrgyzstan. A portion of these funds will engage civil society to increase links between Kyrgyz and Uzbek communities. U.S. assistance will also support implementation of the recommendations contained in the Inquiry Commission’s report. Going forward, we must continually look for ways to bring Kyrgyz and Uzbeks together through economic and community-based initiatives.

I harbor no illusions about the road ahead. Indeed, no experiment – democratic or otherwise – has been without its fair share of setbacks. But I remain confident that the people of Kyrgyzstan will seize this moment and advance the cause of democracy for the benefit of their country, the region and the world. 

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