Head of OSCE Programme Office in Bishkek UK response

We welcome and thank Ambassador Rogov, Dr Alexander Wolters, and their colleagues for their reports to the Permanent Council and the work they have undertaken in Bishkek over the last year. We welcome Ambassador Rogov to his first Permanent Council.

Kyrgyzstan is an important partner to the UK, and we have been following developments there closely this year. Following the recent clashes at the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border, we welcomed the commitment to progress negotiations on a political settlement of the outstanding border issues. We welcomed the offer made by the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office and the readiness shown by the OSCE to play a supportive role in stabilising the situation and working for long-term recovery.

I am pleased that the OSCE Academy has been able to continue its operation despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was good to read that a new Gender Mainstreaming Strategy has been developed. I wish the Academy every continued success.

I would like to praise the Programme Office’s prioritisation of evidence- and results-based programming; and congratulate the team for the international and local media coverage they have received. It is important for the reputation of the Office to both deliver real-world effect, and be seen to do so.

The report rightly reflects on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the national economy. The Programme Office is right to support an “SME-based” economic recovery. A transparent and fair business environment is critical to recovery and any measures that negatively impact trade and foreign direct investment will undermine fragile economic livelihoods.

Chair, I would like to pick out three particular areas of the Office’s work that I think deserve special mention.

First, combatting organised crime. We welcome the work done by the office to build the capacity of law enforcement officials in their investigation of organised crime cases; as well as the provision of forensic supplies. It was also encouraging to see these efforts focus on young people – an important preventative measure in this work.

Second, on gender equality. We welcome the efforts to improve gender mainstreaming in community policing; the training sessions on UNSCR 1325; enhancing women’s participation in the security sector; and discouraging gender-based violence. It was impressive to read about the work to initiate the ‘gender school’ for key ministries to implement the National Action Plans on Gender Equality and UNSCR 1325. I would encourage the Office to consider how they can improve their engagement with all stakeholders on these issues, as we all have an essential role to play.

Finally, on media freedom. Kyrgyzstan has made progress in the last year, rising three places up to 79 in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, with media pluralism deemed exceptional, albeit polarised. However, we were concerned to read, in ODIHR’s Limited Election Observation Mission Final Report on the January elections, the challenges faced by private media outlets and – while online media outlets are seen as less politically affiliated – they were often subject to intimation and pressure. We were concerned about the observations of some interlocutors on “the recent increased number of physical and verbal attacks against journalists, including by police and political protestors, as well as a lack of thorough investigation of the attacks by relevant authorities, which contributes to an atmosphere of impunity.”

We encourage the Programme Office to continue their work on the safety of journalists and protection of media outlets. Media are just one type of independent organisation – albeit an important one – that can contribute to the health and prosperity of a society and so we welcome the work the Office has done to support civil society organisations in Kyrgyzstan.

I would like to finish by thanking the teams in Bishkek for their hard work over the last year and wish them all the very best for the future.

Thank you.

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