Roza Otunbayeva was born in Frunze (now Bishkek), Kyrgyz SSR, USSR into the family of Isak Otunbayev, a member of the Supreme Court of Kyrgyz SSR (1967–1992), and Salika Daniyarova, Teacher. She graduated from the Philosophy Faculty of Moscow State University in 1972 and went on to teach as Senior Teacher and then as Head of the Philosophy Department at Kyrgyz State National University for six years (1975–1981). In 1975 she became Candidate of Sciences after defending her dissertation, "Critique of falsification of Marxist-Leninist dialectic by the philosophers of Frankfurt school". Roza Otunbayeva is a divorced mother of two children. She is fluent in Russian, English, German and French in addition to Kyrgyz.
In 1981, she began her political career as the Communist Party's Second Secretary of the Lenin raion council (raikom) of Frunze (now Bishkek). From 1983 to 1986 Ms. Otunbayeva served as the Secretary of the City Communist Party Committee in Frunze (now Bishkek). In 1986 she was appointed the Deputy to the Chairman of the Council of Ministers, and the same time the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1989 she was appointed as the Executive Secretary and later as the Chairwoman of the USSR UNESCO National Committee, and she also became member of the USSR Foreign Ministry's Board. In 1989–1992 she served as the Vice-President of the UNESCO Executive Council. By 1992, the now independent Kyrgyzstan was led by Askar Akayev, who chose her to be Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister, positions she held until later that year when she became her country's first ambassador to the US and Canada (1992–1994). In May 1994 she was called back to her original post of Kyrgyz Minister of Foreign Affairs, remaining there for three years. From 1997 to 2002, she served as the first Kyrgyz ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. From 2002 to 2004, she was recruited Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in the Peacekeeping Mission for Georgia. Upon her return to Kyrgyzstan in late 2004, Otunbayeva became politically active. In December 2004, she and three other opposition parliamentarians founded the Ata-Jurt (Fatherland) public movement in preparation for the February 2005 parliamentary elections.
From March to September 2005 Ms. Otunbayeva served as Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Otunbayeva was one of the key leaders of the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan which led to the overthrow of President Akayev. Subsequently, she served for a few months as Acting Foreign Minister in the interim government of then prime minister (and acting president) Kurmanbek Bakiyev. After Bakiyev was elected President and Feliks Kulov became Prime Minister, Otunbayeva failed to receive the required parliamentary support to become Foreign Minister. She then ran unsuccessfully in a parliamentary by-election a few months later. Otunbayeva played a key role in the November 2006 protests that pressed successfully for a new democratic constitution.
She was the co-chairwoman of the country's Asaba (Flag) National Revival Party for a short time. In December 2007, Otunbayeva was elected to the Jogorku Kenesh – the Parliament of Kyrgyzstan – on the list of the Social Democratic Party of Kyrgyzstan. She served as the Leader of the Opposition SDP from 2008 to 2010. In 2009 she became the Leader of People's Front opposition.
On April 7, 2010, Otunbayeva was chosen by opposition leaders as head of the Interim Government of the Kyrgyz Republic, following widespread rioting in Bishkek and the ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.
With violent protests in support of ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev continuing in Jalalabad, the home city of the former president, it was announced on May 19, 2010, by the interim government that elections would be delayed until 2011 and Otunbayeva was named as president. Following a referendum on the new Kyrgyz constitution, she was sworn in on July 3, 2010. Otunbayeva however was prohibited by the new constitution from running in the 2011 presidential election and her term ended on December 31, 2011. The referendum was supported by over 90% and changes the government from a Presidential republic to a Parliamentary republic. Parliamentary elections were held in October and the new parliament elected the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
In January 2012 Roza Otunbayeva has established the International Public Foundation "Roza Otunbayeva Initiative". The main objective of the Foundation is to implement programs and projects that will contribute to the social, political and economic development of the Kyrgyz Republic.
Roza Otunbayeva was listed as one of the 150 Most Influential Women in the World by Newsweek/Daily Beast 2011 Edition.
Otunbayeva is a member of:
• Club de Madrid (Madrid)
• Governing Board of the Interstate Foundation of Humanitarian Cooperation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) (Moscow)
• Leadership Council of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a Global Initiative of the United Nations (New York)
• Board of the UN University for Peace (UPEACE) in Costa Rica
• Board of the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (New Delhi)
• IOM Migration Advisory Board (Geneva)
She is an Honorary Professor at the:
• Shanghai University of Political Science and Law (China)
• Honorary Professor at the Ganjavi University (Azerbaijan)
She is also an Honorary Professor at:
• I. Razzakov Kyrgyz State Technical University
• B. Beishenalieva Kyrgyz State Arts and Culture University
• K. Tynystanov Issyk-Kul State University
• J. Balasagyn Kyrgyz National University
• K. Moldobasanova Kyrgyz National Conservatory
• MVD Academy of Kyrgyzstan
• Jalal-Abad State University
• K. Karasaev Bishkek Humanities University
• S. Naamatov Naryn State University