Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: The Honorable Joseph R. Pitts
Commissioner - The Helsinki Commission

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I would like to thank the Chairman for this important hearing on human rights and democracy in Kyrgyzstan.

Over the past three months, as the U.S. has led the war against terrorism, the importance of Central Asia to U.S. national security and regional stability has come into sharp focus.

As Central Asia states, such as Kyrgyz Republic, celebrate 10 years of independence, it is good for us to look at the progress they have made and some challenges they continue to face.

It is no secret that economic prosperity, the growth of democracy, and the establishment of the rule of law are essential for the stability of the region. To ensure this, it is necessary for the U.S. to actively engage this region. We must work with leaders of these countries and build bridges with them – both economically and politically. We must let them know that the U.S. is not going to turn a blind eye to the region.

This is why we are here today: to engage this region - to engage Kyrgyzstan – and have an open dialogue on freedom and democracy.

To be sure, all Central Asian countries have fallen short of OSCE standards to varying degrees. This fact is not in dispute. However, the hesitancy on the part of Congress to highlight progress that has been made in the region is of great concern. If we are to be an honest partner with Kyrgyzstan, we must not miss opportunities to encourage the good that has been done. We must look at Kyrgyzstan and other countries with promise in the region not only from OSCE standards, but also as a potential leader in building regional cooperation.

Kyrgyzstan, like its neighbors who were once part of the Soviet Union, has faced a difficult road to recovery and prosperity, but it has made significant progress and I expect that progress to continue.

Kyrgyzstan is one of the most democratic nations in the Middle East and Asia regions. Is it good enough? No. Does it have room to grow? Yes. There have been some steps backward, specifically in the area of free and fair elections, and this concerns me. But we cannot lose perspective. After just 10 years of independence, I believe Kyrgyzstan is on its way to a prosperous future – but the U.S. must work closely with Kyrgyzstan along the way.

The people of Kyrgyzstan are hungry for democracy and economic prosperity, and there is a great desire to work with the U.S. and have a U.S. presence in the region.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses this afternoon, especially my friend, Ambassador Abdrisaev. I look forward to hearing how the U.S. can best encourage economic development in the region; how can the U.S. better work with Kyrgyzstan to stem the growth of Islamic extremism that threatens its borders and its security; and what role can Kyrgyzstan play as a leader in freedom and democracy in the region.

We must be vigilant in protecting human rights around the world. But if we don’t engage countries, particularly in Central Asia, wisely, our efforts will be counterproductive. By positively engaging countries, such as Kyrgyzstan, working together on shared interests, and encouraging leadership that leads to prosperity, we will be able to more effectively address, throughout the region, the concerns I mentioned previously.

Thank you, and I yield back the balance of my time.