Stacey Hsu on side of mountain

What is it Like to be a Canadian Lawyer in Kyrgyzstan?

  • March 14, 2019
  • Stacey Hsu

When my chance came to work in Kyrgyzstan, I knew it was a once-in-a lifetime opportunity. In addition to being a part of the ancient Silk Road and nomadic culture, the country drew my interest because it is the only parliamentary democracy in Central Asia. 

For the past few months, as part of the Canadian Bar Association’s Young Lawyers International Program, supported by Global Affairs Canada, I have been living and working here in Kyrgyzstan. Also known as the Kyrgyz Republic, this landlocked country shares a border with China, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. It’s a beautiful country whose culture and systems of law and government have been fascinating to explore.

For the next few months, I will continue working at the International Development Law Organization (IDLO), an inter-governmental organization headquartered in Rome with field offices all around the world. They are devoted to promoting the rule of law through working with governments and their people and by strengthening institutions. The Kyrgyz judiciary has been hindered by political influence and corruption, and is now undergoing a process of modernization supported by the IDLO. We work closely with the judiciary and the society on a number of projects including the Judicial Strengthening Program where we develop the capacity of the judiciary, restore judicial integrity, and support reforms towards judicial independence and financial independence.

In the first week of arriving in Kyrgyzstan, I attended at the Supreme Court where judges were being trained on the new Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code (which came into effect on January 1, 2019). The training is especially critical because most judges are recent appointments with less than three years of experience. Unlike Canada, Kyrgyz judges do not have security of tenure. They are appointed for seven-year terms with a possibility of extension based on a number of factors. As a result, judicial turnover is high. Further, it wasn’t until 2016 that judges gained any kind of meaningful financial security. 

Drawing on my litigation experience in Canada, I also contribute to a project on promoting and facilitating mediation in Kyrgyzstan. Mediation, in its modern sense, is a novel concept here. Having participated in hundreds of mediations in Canada, I assisted an international mediator with teaching a Masterclass on commercial mediation. We held a press conference to educate businesses and the public on what mediation is and how to use it. I also attended a conference at the International Court of Arbitration on the 60th Anniversary of the UN Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. In my opinion, mediation is an excellent solution to resolve disputes in a society that is rebuilding its trust in the judiciary. 

In addition to work, I’ve hiked the Kyrgyz mountains, traveled to Uzbekistan on a Silk Road caravan and eaten a lot of local food (hand-pulled noodles, fresh meats, and free-range-organic everything!). On weekends, I frequent the local Opera and Ballet House, which is world-class and affordable due to dancers on tour from Russia. 

I hope to continue working in development law. But, for now, Kyrgyzstan is my home. It is a country in transition, and with that, comes the opportunity to help build strong legal systems that are sustainable. For me, that is the most exciting and rewarding part about living in Kyrgyzstan.

About the author

Stacey Hsu is a Canadian lawyer working in Kyrgyzstan. She sits as an elected member of the OBA Council and Equality Committee for the OBA. You can continue to follow her adventures at or on Instagram @staceyssilkroad.