The Open Society Justice Initiative and the Soros Foundation-Kazakhstan express grave concern over the recent announcement by the government of Kazakhstan that it will return oversight of its detention facilities to the Ministry of Interior. The decision, which was made without any public discussion, raises serious questions about the government’s stated commitment to curtailing systematic abuse and the widespread use of torture in Kazakh prisons.
The reforms will again place the police in direct control of the prisoners, thereby complicating any attempt to lodge complaints or launch investigations into alleged mistreatment.
The new reforms, issued in an unexpected decree by President Nursultan Nazarbayev on July 26, 2011, came on the heels of a series of positive changes to the country’s prison system.
In 2002, Kazakhstan moved its prisons from under the control of the Ministry of Interior Affairs to the Ministry of Justice. At the time, the international community and local human rights groups welcomed the change as a step toward resolving numerous Soviet-legacy issues. In 2004, pre-trial detention institutions were moved to the authority of the Ministry of Justice. Later, the government adopted the Concept of Legal Policy for the Republic of Kazakhstan for 2010-2020, which affirmed the intention to bring the criminal penal system to recognized international standards.
The new reforms threaten to reverse progress. The step backward is particularly disappointing as it comes directly after Kazakhstan’s much-publicized 2010 chairmanship of the OSCE and during its continuing tenure as a member of the OSCE Troika.
We call on the government of Kazakhstan to stand by its earlier commitments to end torture and ill-treatment in prisons and to ensure that legal safeguards are in place to protect the human rights of prisoners. We also stress the importance of re-opening the penal reform process to civil society involvement, and urge the government to ensure that outside groups continue to have access to prisons and prisoners throughout the transition.
A Russian translation of the statement is available for download.