On July 28, at the 77th session of the UN General Assembly declared access to a clean and healthy environment a universal human right. Kyrgyzstan became one of the eight states that did not support the document, for which 161 countries voted.

From the countries of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, only Russia, Belarus, and Kyrgyzstan abstained from voting for the resolutions. In addition to these three countries, Syria, Ethiopia, China, Iran, and Cambodia also abstained.

On August 1, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan responded to requests from independent Kyrgyz media that “taking into account national interests, we believe that it is premature to make such a decision at this stage.” On social media environmental activists, experts and journalists began to criticize the government’s decision. In a very short time, civil society was able to reach out to the government and get confirmation that they still have the right to a clean environment.

On August 2, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan made another statement that the country did not oppose the said resolution.

The Foreign Ministry explained that the draft resolution was submitted by the proposed countries «in a very short time» for study by UN member states. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan has completed the procedure for coordinating the country’s position with the interested state bodies of the republic, in connection with which it was decided to support this resolution. By following the rules of procedure of the UN General Assembly, Kyrgyzstan will soon send its final position on this resolution to the UN Secretariat,” the official press release of the ministry says.

The agency also states that Kyrgyzstan is fully committed to the international efforts of the UN and its member states in combating climate change and protecting the environment, biodiversity, glaciers, and other natural resources.

Importance of this document to EECCA countries

From the region of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, only three countries abstained from voting on this resolution: Russia, Belarus, and Kyrgyzstan. This disagreement within the framework of international environmental agreements is not the first for Russia and Belarus. For the countries of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe region, there is the Aarhus Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters. Russia has not ratified the Aarhus Convention, and Belarus recently announced its withdrawal from this international agreement effective October 22, 2022. In both countries, environmental and climate activism is pursued by the totalitarian regime.

Vadim Ni, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Public Foundation «Social and Ecological Fund» in Almaty, Kazakhstan, was surprised by the decision of the Kyrgyz UN delegation on the resolution.

“For me, as a specialist in environmental law, the position of only one of the countries that abstained from voting, Kyrgyzstan, remained incomprehensible. The Kyrgyz delegation did not seem to express any positions on this resolution that were not adopted, and did not make any statements during the negotiations. Paragraph 1 of Article 49 of the Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic, adopted by a referendum (popular vote) on April 11, 2021, recognizes the right to an ecological environment favorable for life and health. Kyrgyzstan is a Party to the Aarhus Convention, in which this right is recognized at the international level in the text of the preamble to this international agreement. That is, the country recognizes this right within the framework of its Constitution and ratified international agreement, but for some reason refrained from recognizing it at the level of a resolution of the UN General Assembly.”

EECCA CAN network coordinator Olha Boiko spoke in an interview with Azattyk Media the day before and pointed out the importance of adopting a UN resolution.

“Nowadays, we hear a lot of news about Kyrgyzstan at the international level. Recently, a glacier collapsed, then there were heat waves, and after that, due to heavy rains, a mudflow came down. Doesn’t all this prove that climate change is indeed an important issue for the country? Civil society must understand the root cause of such changes and monitor the activities of the state, demanding its right to a clean and safe environment. The state, in turn, representing the interests of the country at the international level, must take into account the opinion of civil society. The fact that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan decided to reconsider its decision shows the importance of civil monitoring.”