January 2021 Monthly Forecast

ASIA

UNRCCA (Central Asia)

Expected Council Action

In January, the Special Representative and head of the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA), Natalia Gherman, is expected to brief the Security Council in closed consultations on the UNRCCA’s activities.

Key Recent Developments

Gherman last briefed Council members in videoconference (VTC) consultations on 6 July 2020. She updated members on the UNRCCA’s activities pertaining to counter-terrorism, transboundary water management, border demarcation, and regional cooperation initiatives with Afghanistan. In addition, she described the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the region and briefed on the UNRCCA’s initiatives aimed at empowering women and youth in the region.

Since Gherman’s last Council briefing, the UNRCCA has continued to offer mediation support in resolving regional issues. The situation in Kyrgyzstan constituted a focus of the centre’s work in recent months. On 5 October 2020, protests erupted in Kyrgyzstan following allegations that the parliamentary election held the previous day was fraudulent. After protests turned violent, with at least one person killed and more than 1,000 injured during clashes between protestors and the police, President Sooronbay Jeenbekov declared a state of emergency and deployed troops to the streets of Bishkek. As a result of the political unrest, the Kyrgyz Central Election Commission annulled the election results on 6 October and Jeenbekov resigned on 15 October. Kyrgyzstan’s lawmakers appointed Sadyr Japarov, a former parliament member, as prime minister and subsequently as acting president. Japarov had been serving an 11-and-half-year prison sentence for kidnapping a regional governor until he was released by his supporters during the turbulent October protests. Japarov has called the charges against him politically motivated.

On 22 October 2020, the parliament adopted a bill postponing new parliamentary elections to the spring of 2021, overturning a previous decision by the Central Election Commission which called for holding elections on 20 December 2020. On 24 October, the Central Election Commission announced that presidential elections would take place on 10 January.

Between 16 and 26 October 2020, Gherman conducted a series of meetings with Kyrgyz officials in Bishkek, including Japarov, the minister of foreign affairs and the vice-speaker of the parliament. In the meetings, Gherman expressed the UN’s readiness to support the electoral process while emphasising that the next elections must be free and fair, ensure the meaningful participation of women and youth, and include strong oversight of the electoral process. A set of priorities was discussed for UN assistance to Kyrgyzstan to overcome the current crisis: rule of law, socio-economic stabilisation, health, education, social protection, electoral support, and human rights. In her meetings, Gherman emphasised the importance of an inclusive and transparent decision-making process in the country as a basis for UN support.

On 13 November 2020, the UNRCCA announced a Joint Statement of Intent between the government of Kyrgyzstan and the UN. The statement expressed the resolve of the Kyrgyz government and the UN to cooperate on addressing current challenges to peace, stability and development, including the deteriorating socio-economic situation and consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Kyrgyz government expressed its commitment to fulfilling its international obligations and intention to uphold the separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the state. It pledged, among other things, to maintain the principles of the rule of law; good governance; and protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of speech. The Joint Statement of Intent appears to be the first of its kind involving the UN and a Central Asian state.

On 14 November 2020, Japarov suspended his duties as acting president and prime minister to become eligible to run in the upcoming presidential election. Parliamentary chairman Talant Mamytov became acting president and Artyom Novikov was named acting prime minister. After his designation as acting prime minister in October, Japarov called for making changes to Kyrgyzstan’s constitution, and a new draft constitution was made public on 17 November. It provides for a single executive (the president) along with a smaller parliament. Currently, the duties of the executive branch in Kyrgyzstan are divided between a president and a prime minister who are chosen by parliament. Human rights organisations expressed concern that the proposed amendments would weaken Kyrgyzstan’s parliament and concentrate power in the presidency, with Human Rights Watch warning that the envisioned constitutional reforms “significantly erode checks and balances on the executive”. On 10 December, the Kyrgyz parliament approved Japarov’s initiative to hold a national referendum on the constitutional reforms simultaneously with the presidential election on 10 January.

Because of COVID-19-related restrictions on travel, the UNRCCA has adapted much of its preventive diplomacy activities to an online platform since March 2020, carrying out several meetings, including sessions aimed at increasing cooperation to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. On 21 September, the UNRCCA organised an online seminar, “Women Parliamentarians’ Partnership for Peace and Stability in Central Asia and Afghanistan”, for women parliamentarians to share good practices in addressing threats to peace and security through parliamentary tools.

On 10 December 2020, the UNRCCA hosted the tenth annual meeting of deputy ministers of foreign affairs of the Central Asian states and Afghanistan via VTC. Participants exchanged views on developments affecting peace and security in Central Asia and discussed areas of cooperation, such as countering terrorism in the region. As part of the meeting, UNRCCA hosted the second Government-Youth Dialogue for Central Asia and Afghanistan. Youth representatives from the Central Asian states and Afghanistan met virtually with high-level officials from the region and discussed issues relating to regional youth interaction.

Key Issues and Options

One of the main issues for the Council is how to make better use of the UNRCCA’s experience in conflict prevention and what more the Council could do to support the UNRCCA’s role in preventive diplomacy and regional cooperation.

Council members will be following the region’s electoral processes, including Kyrgyzstan’s 10 January presidential election and constitutional referendum, and the legislative election planned on the same day in Kazakhstan. Members will be interested in the possible effects that the conduct of these processes and their outcomes might have on stability in the region. Council members may seek to issue a press statement welcoming the UNRCCA’s efforts in the context of the October 2020 electoral crisis in Kyrgyzstan. Such a product could mention the issuance of the Joint Statement of Intent between the government of Kyrgyzstan and the UN as an important step in this regard.

Another issue for the Council is how to mitigate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in the region that could affect international peace and security, including secondary impacts on the socio-economic situation, on counter-terrorism efforts, and on the human rights situation. Some members might emphasise the importance of respecting the rule of law and human rights, as well as of making sure that efforts to curb the spread of the virus do not curtail such civil rights as the right of assembly.

Council Dynamics

Council members are generally supportive of the work of the UNRCCA and view it as an important tool in promoting cooperation in Central Asia. However, Council members have been unable to agree on a press statement on the UNRCCA since January 2018, owing to disagreements between the penholder, Russia, and the P3 (France, the UK and the US) about whether to include references to cooperation with the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. In January 2018, the Council was able to agree to a press statement due to the efforts of then-Council member Kazakhstan, who obtained consensus by referring to “relevant regional organisations” without naming them.

In addition, it appears that in past consultations on the UNRCCA, several Council members raised issues relating to human rights, with Germany and the US referring to the situation of Uighur minorities. Other members, including China and Russia, opposed the statements made about this matter, saying that it was unrelated to the UNRCCA’s mandate. In the latest 9 July 2020 consultations, it seems that several members referred to the need to uphold human rights, without explicitly referencing Uighur minorities. It is not yet known how the change in the US administration might affect its positions in this regard. The addition of India—a country with an important role in the region—to the Council as an elected member may also affect Council dynamics on the UNRCCA.

UN DOCUMENTS ON THE UNRCCA

Security Council Letters
7 May 2007S/2007/279 This was a letter from the Secretary-General on the establishment of a United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy in Ashgabat.
Security Council Press Statements
25 January 2018SC/13179 This was a press statement welcoming further cooperation and coordination between UNRCCA, the Central Asian States, and relevant regional organisations, including those organisations of which the Central Asian States are members.