USDOS – US Department of State (Autor)
The Government of the Kyrgyz Republic (or Kyrgyzstan) does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Kyrgyzstan was upgraded to Tier 2. These efforts included initiating investigations into potential cases of official complicity; reassessing hundreds of previously dismissed cases for trafficking indicators, leading to the reinstatement of several investigations; repatriating dozens of vulnerable Kyrgyzstani children from potentially exploitative circumstances in armed conflict zones in Iraq and Syria; and, with support from an international organization, developing and disseminating anti-trafficking training materials for police and prosecutors. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. For the third consecutive year, the government did not prosecute or secure convictions in any cases that featured genuine trafficking elements according to international law. Authorities relied heavily on international organizations for victim identification and service provision. Following political unrest, the central government disbanded the national anti-trafficking coordinating body, preventing the completion and approval of urgently needed standard operating procedures (SOPs) for implementation of the national referral mechanism (NRM).
Respecting due process, investigate and, when sufficient evidence exists, criminally prosecute, convict, sentence, and incarcerate persons complicit in human trafficking, including government officials, and ensure convicted traffickers serve proportionate and dissuasive prison sentences. • Finalize, approve, train officials on, and implement SOPs for the NRM. • Increase efforts to proactively identify trafficking victims, particularly among such vulnerable groups as individuals in commercial sex, LGBTQI+ individuals, women and girls subjected to traditional forced marriage practices, Kyrgyzstani migrant workers, and Chinese nationals working in Chinese government-affiliated construction projects within Kyrgyzstan, as well as within increasingly vulnerable internet recruitment channels. • Redesignate a specific government body to coordinate inter-ministerial antitrafficking efforts. • Increase trafficking-specific training for law enforcement, including by contributing to the efforts of international organizations to train police, prosecutors, and judges. • Ensure identified trafficking victims are exempt from punishment for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. • Continue to collaborate with, and provide financial or in-kind support to, civil society organizations assisting victims. • Implement child-sensitive investigation and prosecution procedures for cases in which children may be human trafficking victims. • Establish and implement a comprehensive anti-trafficking data collection system for use by law enforcement and inter-ministerial coordinative bodies. • Eliminate the imposition of all employee-paid recruitment fees on Kyrgyzstani migrant workers.
The government modestly increased law enforcement efforts in some areas but, for the third consecutive year, did not prosecute or convict any traffickers. Articles 171 and 173 of the criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of two and a half to five years’ imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Prosecutors could also charge traffickers using Article 260 for engaging a person in prostitution through the use of force or the threat of force or fraud, which was punishable by a fine or imprisonment of three to five years’ if the victim was an adult, five to 10 years’ imprisonment if the victim was 14-17 years old, and 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment if the victim was younger than 14 years old. Investigators frequently downgraded trafficking crimes to lesser charges to ease investigation and prosecution, which lead to lesser penalties.
Key government agencies and law enforcement bodies were required to work remotely for seven months during the reporting period as a pandemic mitigation measure; this, coupled with periods of severe political instability and subsequent turnover of stakeholder ministry leadership, significantly impacted investigative and prosecutorial efforts. During the calendar year, the government initiated 40 trafficking investigations—24 for sex trafficking under Article 171 and 16 for labor trafficking under 173—compared with one and seven, respectively, in 2019. This significant increase was due in part to the government’s efforts to formally reexamine more than 300 previously dismissed cases involving potential trafficking elements. Of these cases, the prosecutor general’s office (PGO) referred 26 to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) for reinvestigation; ten such cases related to “sexual exploitation” subsequently moved to new pre-trial proceedings under Article 166 (involvement into prostitution) and Article 171. Two cases related to “labor exploitation” were reopened for investigation under unspecified statutes. Seven of the 26 referred cases were formally terminated, and the remainder were ongoing at the end of the reporting period. Authorities also continued to investigate seven cases initiated in the previous reporting period. Many criminal cases were suspended due to pandemic-related delays in court proceedings and the redirection of limited law enforcement resources to pandemic mitigation activities; for much of the reporting period, police, attorneys, prosecutors, and judges had significantly reduced capacity to conduct enforcement and judicial work. As in prior years, courts continued to investigate trafficking cases under lesser statutes, and some prosecutions initiated under Articles 171 and 173 featured elements that were inconsistent with the definitions of trafficking as established in international law, such as the sale of infants. Authorities reported prosecuting three fraudulent adoption cases under trafficking statutes but, for the third consecutive year, did not prosecute or secure convictions in any sex trafficking or forced labor cases that were consistent with international law. Unlike in previous years, the government did not provide information on how many such cases culminated in convictions (compared with 11 suspects convicted of fraudulent adoption in 2019).
Kyrgyzstan’s NRM, promulgated in 2019, allowed civil society and international organizations to file criminal complaints on behalf of victims; however, the government did not report if this provision was implemented during the reporting period. In previous years, victim advocates reported a general lack of proactive investigation, particularly of cases in which the victims did not self-report specific complaints. Courts may have improperly dismissed some trafficking cases on the basis of insufficient evidence, including several cases of child sex trafficking. Civil society continued to report the need for systemic training for law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges, particularly on how to identify victims, work with them as witnesses, and gather evidence outside of victim testimony. During the reporting period, the government collaborated with an international organization to develop and disseminate educational materials on anti-trafficking case methodology for law enforcement and judicial authorities in the southern region. The government, in conjunction with international donors and civil society partners, continued to conduct and participate in training sessions on improving international anti-trafficking cooperation, investigative and prosecutorial best practices, and provision of legal assistance to victims; these trainings proceeded in virtual format as a result of the pandemic. Authorities did not provide data on the total number of officials participating in these training events (compared with 1,119 MVD officials in 2019), but at least 30 prosecutors and investigators benefited from joint PGO and MVD training courses. Unlike the previous year, the government provided information on international investigations; authorities reportedly cooperated with the Government of Italy on a case involving a Kyrgyzstani suspect who may also have been a victim of forced criminality. In previous years, corruption and official complicity presented significant obstacles to anti-trafficking law enforcement, with law enforcement officials and judges accepting bribes to drop cases and, at times, warning suspects prior to raids. Traffickers were reportedly also able to avoid punishment by offering victims payment to drop cases in prior years. The judicial system continued to feature widespread corruption; during the reporting period, the government began investigating two law enforcement officials for potentially facilitating an unspecified trafficking crime; the investigations were in process at year’s end. The government did not report any prosecutions or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking crimes.
The government modestly increased efforts to protect victims. The government reported proactively identifying or participating in the identification of victims, but authorities did not disaggregate such cases from the 111 victims identified by an international organization, compared with two forced labor victims reportedly identified by the government in 2019. NGOs reported identifying and providing services to an additional 82 victims. According to civil society groups, the government referred at least six forced labor victims, all Uzbekistani nationals, to NGO shelter services (compared with two forced labor victims identified and referred in 2019 and none in 2018). International organizations and NGOs did not provide information on victims’ genders, ages, nationalities, or types of trafficking in which they were exploited, compared with 60 exploited in forced labor and 12 in sex trafficking; one Uzbekistani national; one child; and 40 men and 32 women in 2019.
The government formally promulgated the NRM in 2019, but the pandemic and political unrest significantly constrained its implementation during the reporting period. The NRM established formal policies on victim identification, assistance referral, provision of social services, and protection of victims’ personal data, and did not require victims to participate in a criminal case to receive assistance. It also included provisions that addressed the treatment and proper provision of assistance to children. However, SOPs to guide the NRM’s implementation—particularly at the oblast and local levels—remained incomplete amid a large-scale government restructure that disbanded the national anti-trafficking coordinating body. Civil society reported the NRM lacked specific measures outlining assistance for foreign victims and did not feature language explaining how NGOs could appeal in instances when the government failed to properly identify victims. Authorities did not proactively implement NRM provisions guiding victim identification among vulnerable communities. The government reportedly granted Chinese companies permission to circumvent pandemic-related border closures and enter the country to engage Chinese nationals in construction projects; authorities did not take steps to monitor these crews for the forced labor indicators common in Chinese-government affiliated projects. The government trained law enforcement officials on the new NRM during the reporting period, but NGOs continued to ascribe the government’s insufficient victim identification to enduring capacity constraints. Absent sufficiently systematized procedures, some police demonstrated ad hoc efforts to screen and refer potential victims identified in enforcement operations, but they did not provide relevant data. The government continued to grant limited financial and in-kind support to two NGO-run shelters that provided services for trafficking victims, including foreign nationals, but the activities of these shelters were heavily constrained by the pandemic. During the reporting period, authorities opened a crisis center in Bishkek for women and girls subjected to domestic violence that could also accommodate trafficking victims; data on assistance provided at this facility and the two trafficking-specific shelters were unavailable in 2020 (compared with nine Kyrgyzstani victims assisted in 2019). The government did not have a policy to provide longer-term shelter or residency options for foreign victims. In previous years, consular officials assisted trafficking victims with provision of no-cost travel documents for transit through migration and passport control, as well as with financial support, including the procurement of airline tickets for their repatriation; such information was unavailable in 2020, in part due to pandemic-related border closures and travel restrictions. Authorities did not report providing any consular or repatriation assistance to Kyrgyzstani victims identified abroad. The government did not provide statistics on the repatriation of foreign victims in 2020, compared with one foreign victim repatriated in 2019 and 29 in 2018. The government took steps to repatriate dozens of highly vulnerable children born to Kyrgyzstani nationals who had traveled alongside relatives to armed conflict zones in Iraq and Syria; however, observers noted authorities at times did not demonstrate sufficient political will to repatriate adult ethnic Uzbek Kyrgyzstani nationals, some of whom reportedly experienced conditions indicative of sex trafficking or forced labor, from refugee camps in these and other conflict areas.
Victims remained highly vulnerable to pressure from traffickers to withdraw their complaints or settle cases informally; MVD’s witness protection unit reported assisting trafficking victims but provided no additional details. Article 31 of the criminal code adopted in 2019 allowed for investigative judges to receive victim testimony outside of court, or electronically over video calls; however, there was no evidence that victims benefitted from this provision in 2020, despite an increase in the use of remote technologies for judicial processes during the pandemic. Government-provided attorneys reportedly lacked knowledge on handling trafficking cases. Observers noted insufficient legal representation for child victims. The government did not maintain or implement child-sensitive procedures for the investigation or prosecution of cases involving child victims. While the law provided the opportunity to seize traffickers’ assets and compensate victims, authorities did not report granting such restitution during the reporting period. There were no reports that officials fined, detained, or penalized trafficking victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit; however, absent systematized screening procedures as part of law enforcement raids on commercial sex establishments, it is possible the government punished some unidentified victims through arrest or deportation.
The government demonstrated uneven efforts to prevent trafficking. The State Migration Service (SMS), which formerly led the anti-trafficking interagency working group and served as the national prevention coordinating body, was disbanded in March 2021 as part of a government restructuring campaign. The government reported that relevant anti-trafficking responsibilities would be transferred back to individual line ministries until a new coordinating body could be established, but this remained pending at the end of the reporting period. Although authorities did not report how many times the working group convened in 2020 prior to the abolishment of the SMS (twice in 2019), the working group did convene virtually during the pandemic to continue discussing implementation of the current national action plan (NAP) and preparations for the new NAP for 2021-2024, which remained in draft at the end of the reporting period. In 2019, the SMS established an additional interagency focus group of all relevant entities, including local state, non-state, and international actors to accelerate implementation of the NRM and improve law enforcement investigations of trafficking cases. Although it met twice in 2020, the operating status of this entity was unclear amid the pandemic, political instability, and inter-ministerial restructuring, as was that of the parliament’s anti-trafficking task force, which acted as the group’s oversight body. Anti-trafficking coordination councils at the local level, composed of regional government representatives, NGOs, and local civic groups, continued to meet and were tasked with implementing the NRM, although the pandemic often significantly obstructed this work. The government cooperated with international organizations and continued to conduct awareness campaigns that reached thousands of people throughout the country. The government lacked a uniform system of collecting trafficking data, which, in conjunction with pandemic-related coordination challenges, continued to hinder effective self-evaluation. According to some civil society groups, the government increased the politically-motivated harassment of labor union activists while pursuing legislative amendments that would further restrict freedom of association among groups seeking to improve labor rights.
As with other prevention activities, the status of government-led awareness-raising, pre-departure orientation, and service provision for Kyrgyzstan’s migrant workers was unclear following the dismantling of the SMS. Some of its activities began to slow prior to the government restructure amid a decline in labor migration stemming from pandemic-related border closures and travel restrictions. Despite these changes, the government, with the support of an international organization, continued to operate an employment center in Bishkek that provided an unknown number of individuals with information on employment services, vacancy advertisements, and licensed foreign labor recruitment agencies; it also offered pre-departure orientation—which included trafficking prevention—for jobseekers to ensure safer migration and employment. The government maintained two publicly available databases of private employment agencies; one contained information on “government licensed” agencies, and the other a list of agencies about which the government received complaints. The government did not provide updates to the status of legislative amendments introduced in 2019 aiming to strengthen protection for migrant worker recruitment. By law, recruitment agencies could charge a maximum pre-departure fee of 1,000 Kyrgyzstani soms ($12) to Kyrgyzstani migrant workers seeking employment overseas. The government maintained a hotline for reporting domestic violence and general abuses against children, but none of the 129,000 calls received in 2020 led to the positive identification of any trafficking cases. The government also continued to provide a national toll-free telephone line and office space to an NGO-run hotline that provided legal advice and assistance regarding working abroad, but authorities did not report information on calls received or relevant investigations initiated through this hotline (compared with two victims identified and no investigations initiated in 2019). The government continued to provide support for a mobile phone application that connected Kyrgyzstani migrants with information on workers’ rights and contact telephone numbers, including anti-trafficking hotlines and local Kyrgyzstani embassies; additionally, the SMS maintained satellite offices in Russia, which continued to be the primary destination country for Kyrgyzstani labor migrants. During the pandemic, the government also worked with international donors to create online awareness materials and hold consultations on the risks of irregular migration for thousands of prospective Kyrgyzstani migrant workers. Unlike the previous year, the government reported providing some anti-trafficking guidance for its diplomatic personnel. The government did not report making efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Kyrgyzstan, and they exploit victims from Kyrgyzstan abroad. Adult male labor migrants working abroad are reportedly at the highest risk of trafficking. Kyrgyzstani men, women, and children are exploited in forced labor in Russia and Kazakhstan, and to a lesser extent in Turkey and Ukraine, Georgia and other European countries, as well as within Kyrgyzstan—specifically in agriculture, construction, textiles, domestic service, and childcare. As a result of a Russian labor migrant re-entry ban, thousands of Kyrgyzstani migrants are unable to return legally to Russia for work. Kyrgyzstani families on the Russian re-entry blacklist often send their children to work in Russia, where they are vulnerable to trafficking. Fearing this blacklist, some unemployed Kyrgyzstani migrant workers likely remain in Russia under irregular immigration status rather than returning home; traffickers may then be able to leverage threats of deportation as a coercive tool to secure and retain their forced labor or to compel them into sex trafficking.
Observers note a pronounced increase in the use of online recruitment channels by trafficking syndicates during the pandemic. Sex traffickers exploit Kyrgyzstani women and girls abroad, reportedly in India, Kazakhstan, Russia, South Korea, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and within the country. Women and underage teenaged girls from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan may be exploited in sex trafficking; the southern region of Kyrgyzstan is increasingly becoming a destination area for Uzbekistani and Tajikistani citizens who are exploited by sex and labor traffickers. Some men and women from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan transit the country as they migrate to Russia and Kazakhstan, the UAE, and Turkey, where they may be exploited in sex and labor trafficking. Chinese nationals employed at Chinese government-affiliated construction projects within Kyrgyzstan may be vulnerable to forced labor.
Within Kyrgyzstan, the practice of “bride kidnapping” by Kyrgyzstani men continues to place women and girls at risk of forced marriage that may subsequently lead to sex trafficking and forced labor. Unaccompanied children who engage in begging and children engaged in domestic work—often in the homes of extended family members—are vulnerable to traffickers. Some Kyrgyzstani children are vulnerable to forced labor in animal husbandry. Widespread unemployment and economic hardship among Kyrgyzstani migrant workers in Russia following the pandemic-related closure of businesses and work sites have led to a significant drop in earned income and remittance transfers, leaving these migrant workers and their families in Kyrgyzstan more vulnerable to trafficking. Some members of Kyrgyzstan’s LGBTQI+ communities may be more vulnerable to trafficking; pervasive social stigma and reports of police brutality against LGBTQI+ individuals attempting to report crimes may also dissuade LGBTQI+ trafficking victims from accessing justice. International organizations and NGOs report some Kyrgyzstani men and boys who travel to Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan to fight alongside or seek employment within armed groups—including some who are recruited with false promises of job offers in Turkey or elsewhere—are subsequently compelled to remain against their will, are subjected to forced labor in cooking, cleaning, and portering and combatant roles, and/or are forced to suffer sexual slavery. Kyrgyzstani women and children traveling with these individuals, at times under deception, are also vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labor on arrival; some are reportedly placed alongside other Central Asian family members in makeshift camp communities, where their travel and identity documentation is confiscated and their freedom of movement is restricted. Some of these women report having lost their husbands to armed conflict, after which their economic hardships and confinement in the camps make them vulnerable to coercive local marriages that may subsequently lead to sex trafficking or forced labor.