A School Teacher-Turned-Lawyer Fights for Justice as She Inspires Others to Do the Same

November 2012

For more than 10 years, Aysalkyn Karabaeva taught Kyrgyz language and literature at a secondary school in Osh. An ethnic Kyrgyz herself, Aysalkyn is married to an ethnic Uzbek. To fulfill her long-standing dream of becoming a lawyer, Aysalkyn went back to school and in 2007, she earned her law degree from Osh State University and became a licensed lawyer.

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Aysalkyn Karabaeva organized a group of long-serving lawyers in the south of Kyrgyzstan to launch a regional bar association and to provide continuing legal education to their peers. 

At first she worked on small litigations and minor civil cases. Eventually, she expanded her practice area and began to represent clients in criminal cases, including by defending individuals accused of terrorism.

Her membership in the national bar association has afforded her access to some of the only training opportunities available for Kyrgyzstani legal professionals. She has attended several skills-building workshops at the Advocates Training Center, which the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) supports. She has also—at the invitation of the Union of Lawyers—attended ABA ROLI-sponsored counter-terrorism and interactive-teaching trainings in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

The ethnic violence of 2010 in the south of Kyrgyzstan changed the lives of many lawyers. Its aftermath raised substantial legal issues  related to ethnicity and threats to personal security few lawyers were prepared to handle, resulting in an urgent need to train lawyers who were otherwise prepared to protect the rights of ethnic minorities. Aysalkyn represented more than 20 ethnic Uzbeks accused of inciting ethnic hatred and violence. She also continues to work with ethnic Uzbeks, helping them obtain citizenship.

The series of trainings she attended inspired Aysalkyn to organize a group of long-serving lawyers in the south of Kyrgyzstan to launch a regional bar association and to provide continuing legal education to their peers. Launched in July, the association currently has about 20 members. Aysalkyn says that the association offers the members a support group. “The work of an advocate is difficult,” she says, “I regularly turn to other colleagues to get assistance.” Indicating that members constantly help one another, Aysalkyn says, “We are like one hand with many fingers. We are strong when we are together.”

Aysalkyn led her first CLE session in February, training her colleagues on criminal defense-related practical skills. She says that while she now has adult students, her experience as a school teacher helps her teach the CLE classes. Her passion for public speaking, persuasion and getting one’s message across, she says, has helped her become a good trainer, while her lawyer-trainees make her a proud one. “Meeting them working in courts or pre-trial detention centers, and just in the street, they always amaze me with their dedication and success,” she says. “They help me to stay afloat and believe that it is necessary to continue what I have started.”

Aysalkyn also visits law schools to share her experiences with students and to encourage them to become the best lawyers they can be. Aysalkyn says that her dream of a peaceful country where all citizens have equal opportunities and where the rule of law prevails keeps her going. “We need to keep trying for the sake of fairness, justice and the rule of law in our country,” she says. “When the legal community, judges, lawyers and others [become] more competent, independent and more self-sufficient, nobody will want to leave our country.”

To learn more about our work in Kyrgyzstan, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org.

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