Human rights in Kazakhstan
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Kazakhstan is one of the most multi-ethnic countries in the world with 130 ethnic groups professing more than 40 different religions and faiths, as its government from the onset of independence strove to safeguard religious freedom and inter-ethnic cooperation.
The 2014 report "Looking Forward: Kazakhstan and the United States", published by the Central Asia- Caucasus Institute, Silk Road Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University SAIS, recognizes Kazakhstan's "progress in the area of democratization, human rights, and religious liberty is of global significance", and urges the United States to work with, not on, Kazakhstani authorities "to build democratic capacity and habits."
In 2009 Kazakhstan released a National Human Rights Action Plan. The Plan was published with the technical assistance of the United Nations Development Program in Kazakhstan within the framework of the project “Fostering National Capacities for the Development of a National Human Rights Action Plan in Kazakhstan.”
The National Human Rights Action Plan provides recommendations and procedures regarding the "improvement of mechanisms for the realization of the constitutional rights of citizens. Particular attention is paid to reinforcing the independence of the judicial system, the development of non-judicial mechanisms for the protection of human rights and the protection of the civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights of citizens, including the rights of socially vulnerable groups, in harmony with international standards."
The preparation of the Human Rights Action Plan for Kazakhstan is the result of a successful cooperation between the Government, the United Nations Development Programme, non-governmental organizations, other UN agencies and other partner organizations who definitely supported this endeavor, such as British Embassy to Kazakhstan, The Netherlands Embassy to Kazakhstan and the OSCE Center in Astana. The preparation of the Plan was preceded by a baseline study and report on human rights in Kazakhstan that analyzed the national legislation, the law enforcement practice and compliance with international law provisions in human rights protection. The Human Rights Commission and the group working on the Action Plan took note of the international experience and the successes and lessons learnt. Along with this stream of work, Kazakhstan has actively supported the establishment and work of the UN Council on Human Rights, and is initiating the Universal Periodic Review process, thus sending clear signals of its commitment to the human rights agenda.
Kazakhstan's political structure concentrates power in the presidency. Current President Nursultan Nazarbayev was elected to a 7-year term in a 2006 election that, many observers note, fell far short of international standards.
United National Human Rights Council
Kazakhstan was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2012.
Kazakhstan acknowledges the work is not yet finished, and is committed to continued improvement. Foreign Minister Idrissov asserted that Kazakhstan’s election to the UNHRC is not only “a badge of honor but [also] a spur to continue improving human rights abroad and at home.”
Addressing the UNHRC on March 1, 2011, then-Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev described Kazakhstan’s progress: “Over all these years we have steadfastly worked to realize basic human rights and freedoms, including in close cooperation with specialized organizations from the UN system and international human rights structures,” he said. “This strategic priority is the point and goal of the large-scale socioeconomic and sociopolitical reforms in all spheres of our society.”
Politics, freedom of speech and the press
Political expression was reported to be restricted in Kazakhstan in the months leading up to presidential elections in December 2005, according to observers, including Human Rights Watch and Freedom House. Kazakh authorities reportedly attempted to restrict freedom of speech and shut down independent media and civil society groups. In September, the Vremya printing house unexpectedly cancelled contracts with seven newspapers, with no explanation given. Likewise, other printing firms in Kazakhstan's former capital, Almaty, also refused to print the publications. After a week-long hunger strike by the editors of these papers, the Daur publishing house agreed to publish five of the newspapers. Virtually all of Kazakhstan's broadcast media are owned by firms closely associated with the government; newspapers are some of the few sources of independent reporting.
Some outsider observers, including HRW, have noted increasing anxiety in the Kazakh government after recent democratic revolutions in former Soviet states including Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. Efforts to restrict dissent ahead of the 2 December 2005 elections may have indicated the government's attempt to prevent such transformation from occurring in Kazakhstan.
Right to Fair Trial
According to a US government report released in 2014, in Kazakhstan "The law does not adequately provide for an independent judiciary. The executive branch sharply limited judicial independence. Prosecutors enjoyed a quasi-judicial role and had the authority to suspend court decisions. . . Corruption was evident at every stage of the judicial process. Although judges were among the most highly paid government employees, lawyers and human rights monitors alleged that judges, prosecutors, and other officials solicited bribes in exchange for favorable rulings in the majority of criminal cases."
The multiplicity of faiths in Kazakhstan is astounding considering its lengthy history of religious oppression. Islam is the majority religion with over 70% of the country’s population practicing. Over 25% of the country’s population practices mostly Russian Orthodox Christianity while there also exist small populations of Buddhists and Jews.
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the various religious communities worship largely without government interference. The generally amicable relationship among religions in Kazakh society contributes to religious freedom. Despite all this, the Government has encouraged local officials to limit the practice of religion by some nontraditional groups.
Central Asia experts from Johns Hopkins University wrote in the 2014 report Looking Forward: Kazakhstan and the United States that "America should recognize that Kazakhstan's embrace of religious pluralism and toleration under a secular state holds important potential for the Muslim world as a whole, and should therefore recognize and promote Kazakhstan's religious freedom and secularism."
One national religious initiative that has gained prominence since independence from the Soviet Union is Kazakhstan’s determination to develop its interfaith and interethnic diversity in a holistic, well-meaning manner. Recently, the city of Astana hosted a 4th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. Representatives from the United States and elsewhere organized the Congress which was held in late May. Among the participants were Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, a leading moderate Muslim leader in the U.S., mostly known for his Cordoba Initiative, Rev. Robert Chase of Intersections International, a multi-faith social justice organization, Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, director of external affairs from the Orthodox Church of America, Rabbi Andrew Baker, a chairman of OSCE, an organization combating anti-Semitism, Daisy Khan, a Muslim women’s rights activist, and William Vendley, General Secretary of the World Conference for Religions of Peace. The President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev pushed the idea for a Congress forward to help Kazakhstan’s faiths dialogue with each other about mounting religious tensions growing in the world, especially after the September 11th attacks in New York City.
On November 20, 2006, three buses full of riot police, two ambulances, two empty lorries, and executors of the Karasai district arrived at the community in sub-zero weather and evicted the Hare Krishna followers from thirteen homes, which the police proceeded to demolish. The Forum 18 News Service reported, "Riot police who took part in the destruction threw personal belongings of the Hare Krishna devotees into the snow, and many devotees were left without clothes. Power for lighting and heating systems had been cut off before the demolition began. Furniture and larger household belongings were loaded onto trucks. Officials said these possessions would be destroyed. Two men who tried to prevent the bailiffs from entering a house to destroy it were seized by 15 police officers who twisted their hands and took them away to the police car." The Hare Krishna community had been promised that no action would be taken before the report of a state commission – supposedly set up to resolve the dispute – was made public. On the day the demolition began, the commission's chairman, Amanbek Mukhashev, told Forum 18, "I know nothing about the demolition of the Hare Krishna homes – I'm on holiday." He added, "As soon as I return to work at the beginning of December we will officially announce the results of the Commission's investigation." Other officials also refused to comment.
In January 2008, under the new Article 164 'religious organizations' law, Kazakh secret police arrested Unification Church missionary Elizaveta Drenicheva. As reported by Kazakhstan's television news, she was sentenced to two years in prison, simply for lecturing about the Divine Principle, her church's basic theology. Kazakhstan's own government Human Rights office protested her conviction.
In April 2014, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion and Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, held a press conference in Astana giving recommendations on religious affairs in Kazakhstan, and praised Kazakhstan on the cooperation between religions.
“Kazakhstan is a pluralistic country, and no one can say how many religions are practiced here with certainty. Interreligious relations have been very peaceful in this country. There have been no violent pressures to this day, which is an accomplishment achieved by the people of Kazakhstan. Some attributed this to their ‘nomadic’ traditions of hospitality and openness towards others. The government takes efforts to promote interreligious cooperation and peace. A special role is played by the Agency for Religious Affairs (ARA) represented here by [ARA Deputy Chairman] Mr. [Galym] Shoikin,” Bielefeldt said.
On September 14, 2014 the Kazakhstan Embassy to Oman held a conference on religious tolerance in Kazakhstan at InterContinental Muscat. The attendees of the conference included ambassadors of Asian countries and professors of Sultan Qaboos University. The meet was titled 'Tolerance and Inter-religious Consent in Kazakhstan'. Yerzhan Mukash, Ambassador of Kazakhstan to Oman, said, “Kazakhstan is a country of diversity and tolerance. There are people of more than 130 nationalities, and they include people from Germany and Korea as well. There are various faiths but people live in harmony.”
An institution that plays an important role in ensuring the religious freedom and human rights in Kazakhstan is the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan (AKP) that was established in 1995. Its main task is "ensuring the consolidation of the interests of ethnic groups on the basis of partnership between government and civil society also organizing an effective inter-ethnic cooperation and the formation of single political, legal and cultural fields.” A decade after the establishment of the AKP Nazarbayev stated during his 2005 annual state of the nation address, “All of the world’s religions have left their mark on Kazakhstan’s land, which explains why we are strangers to intolerance and religious fanaticism. This spiritual tradition, this openness to the word of God in any form is one of the most important foundations of interfaith accord in Kazakhstan. We are known throughout the world for our tolerance, inter-ethnic and interfaith accord and dialogue.” Three years later Nazarbayev added, “Religious freedom is here and is real in the sense that preachers can preach whatever they like, provided they say nothing that is intolerant of other faiths. That’s where we draw the line.”
Rule of Law
Kazakhstan hosts each year a Congress of Kazakh Judges. The 2013 Congress was attended by 600 judges from all regions of the country and representatives of OSCE, UNDP, staff of the EU representative office in Kazakhstan, as well as judges of the CIS Economic Court and EurAsEC Court.
On 18 February 2014 in Astana, the Human Rights Ombudsman Askar Shakirov and representative of UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Kazakhstan Jun Kukita have signed a Memorandum of Understanding in the field of protection and promotion of children's rights in Kazakhstan. "Memorandum for 2014-2015" has been concluded for the implementation of international human rights treaties, in particular, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; the Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; the Law On the Rights of the Child and Kazakh President's state-of-the-nation address to the people "Kazakhstan's way-2050: common goal, common interests, common future."
President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed a law "About introduction of amendments and additions to legislative acts of the Republic of Kazakhstan concerning the Counteraction to Domestic Violence" that will prevent and suppress domestic violence.
Kazakhstan and the Rule of Law initiatives Kazakhstan hosted the Rule of Law Initiative’s first Regional Seminar “Administrative Justice – Theory and Practice in European and Central Asian Countries” in Astana in November 2012, with Germany as lead. At this seminar, concrete proposals regarding rules for an Administrative Procedure Code were introduced. On the occasion of this seminar, Kazakhstan reaffirmed its commitment to pursuing a reform of the legal and judicial system. On 3 July 2012 Kazakhstan hosted the Platform’s first training workshop on administrative law and on 1 October 2013, a training workshop on “The stages of the legislative process: theory, practice and international experience”. A round table on “Fair Criminal Justice and the Fair Trial” was co-organised with the Almaty Bar on 7 October 2013.
Justice Sector Institutional Strengthening Project The Justice Sector Institutional Strengthening Project, a project to strengthen judicial services in Kazakhstan and to improve the key legal and rule of law environment, will receive a $36 million loan from the World Bank Group. The five-year project is designed to help strengthen the implementation of key elements of the legal and institutional framework. Notably, the project will introduce modern and transparent dispute resolution systems and improve judicial efficiency. The World Bank has invested $6.8 billion for 40 projects in Kazakhstan. The project is seen as part of the Kazakh Government’s efforts to modernize justice system and ensure better rule of law.
Rule of Law Platform Stakeholders The Kazakh stakeholders include the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Institute of Legislation of the Republic of Kazakhstan under the Ministry of Justice, the Academy of Pubic Administration under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Institute of scientific expertise and analysis of the Kazakh Humanitarian Legal University, the Sapargaliev Research Institute of State and Law, the Almaty Bar, etc.
Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions
Kazakhstan joined the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APFNHRI) as an associate member at the end of August, 2014. The formal acceptance of Kazakhstan as an associate member of the APFNHRI was effected on the opening day of its 19th annual forum held at the Leela Palace Hotel in New Delhi, India. Askar Shakirov, Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsman) represented Kazakhstan at the meeting. Shakirov said membership of the forum opens up new opportunities for the human rights institutions in Kazakhstan. "The invaluable experience and knowledge of our colleagues in the region and possibilities for the exchange of ideas and best practices will all be directed towards promoting the human rights movement in our country," he added.
Human Rights Dialogue
In 2008, in line with its ‘Strategy for a New Partnership’ with Central Asia, the European Union agreed with the Republic of Kazakhstan to establish an annual human rights dialogue, and its first round was held on 15 October 2008 in Astana. Annual human rights dialogues have therefore been initiated by the EU with Kazakhstan. These dialogues constitute an essential part of the EU’s overall strategy to promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, sustainable development, peace and stability. On 12 November 2014 the European Union and Kazakhstan held the sixth round of the annual Human Rights Dialogue in Brussels. The Kazakh delegation was led by Mr Yogan Merkel, First Deputy Prosecutor General, who was accompanied by Mr Vyacheslav Kalyuzhnyy, Director of the National Centre for Human Rights, and other senior officials. The EU delegation was led by Mr Silvio Gonzato, Director for Human Rights and Democracy at the European External Action Service. The dialogue was held in a positive and constructive atmosphere. The EU welcomed Kazakhstan's development of a functioning National Preventive Mechanism for the monitoring of places of detention, and encouraged further steps to strengthen the Office of the Ombudsman and the National Centre for Human Rights. The EU acknowledged Kazakhstan's recent engagement in the second cycle of the Universal Period Review (UPR) process at the UN Human Rights Council, and encouraged the Kazakh authorities to consider accepting a number of UPR recommendations that it initially did not support. The next round of the EU-Kazakhstan Human Rights Dialogue is expected to take place in Astana in 2015.
Efforts against torture
November 18, 2014 members of Kazakhstan’s government presented the country’s most recent report on Kazakhstan’s implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane and Degrading Treatment or Punishment to the UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva.
Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Rashid Zhakupov, who introduced the report to the committee, stated that Kazakhstan’s Constitution fully prohibited the use of torture or ill treatment and that the government had adopted measures to establish a zero tolerance for torture policy.
Kazakhstan had adopted a strategy to modernise its system of human rights protection in 2010 that strengthened the independence of the judiciary. The new mechanism requires court authorisation for investigative actions, reducing the number of arrests by a factor of three and the number of juvenile arrests by a factor of seven.
The new Criminal Procedure Code recognises the inalienability of human dignity and protects everyone from cruel treatment. Evidence obtained through torture is considered unlawful and cannot be accepted by a court of law. The presumption of innocence is now the fundamental principle at the heart of criminal procedure.
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- , BeliefeNet
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- KAZAKHSTAN: No under-18s to attend worship or Sunday School (Forum 18) January 20, 2005
- Kazakh Diplomat Praises Presidential Vote - (AP) New York Times 21 November 2005
- Pro-Democracy Groups Are Harassed in Central Asia New York Times. Dec. 3, 2005.
- Opposition Party Excluded New York Times. Dec. 22, 2005.
- Concern over Kazakh religious row (bbc.co.uk) Dec. 11
- KAZAKHSTAN: Expelled for "missionary activity without registration" (concerning a Presbyterian pastor) (Forum 18) November 15, 2006
- KAZAKHSTAN: State bulldozes Hare Krishna commune, bids to chair OSCE (Forum 18) November 21, 2006
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- KAZAKHSTAN: "Economic war" to crush Baptists? (Forum 18) May 11, 2007
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