One hundred days since Kazakhstan took over the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) chairmanship, civil society representatives from Kazakhstan have challenged the government on its undelivered promises and failure to put in practice commitments taken in Madrid in 2008, particularly in reference to the human dimension of the OSCE. Participants noted that while the Kazakhstani government appears open to dialogue, there is a lack of willingness to engage meaningfully with civil society.
At a recent debate organized by the Open Society Institute–Brussels and attended by European officials, diplomats, and NGOs, Kazakhstani civil society activists argued that progress in human rights, freedom of media, freedom of assembly, and access to justice falls short of promises made by the Kazakhstani government prior to taking up the chairmanship.
To illustrate their concerns, members of the "Kazakhstan OSCE 2010" coalition presented The First One Hundred Days of Kazakhstan's Chairmanship of the OSCE (download pdf), which details infringements on media freedom, including the seizure of the weekly newspaper Voice of the Republic, as well as restrictions on freedom of assembly. Speakers also detailed the widespread practice of torture and ill-treatment in prisons and police facilities, noted by the UN special rapporteur Manfred Nowak and reaffirmed in a recent Amnesty International report No Effective Safeguards Against Torture, and voiced concerns about access to justice, arguing the ongoing case of human rights defender Evgeniy Zhovtis, who remains imprisoned following a procedurally flawed trial.
The NGOs called on the international community to urge the Kazakhstan government to:
- reform media legislation, including decriminalising libel;
- reform legislation on freedom of assembly and align it with international (including OSCE) standards;
- release Evgeniy Zhovtis and conduct a new investigation into the case;
- introduce effective safeguards against torture during arrest including an independent body to investigate torture allegations;
- implement fully its national Human Rights Action Plan.
In particular, participants called on the European Union to use "friendly criticism" in publicly pointing out these concerns. As Kazakhstan remains a strategic partner to the European Union and looks for closer ties, advancing the core human rights values and freedoms in the country will play only a positive role in providing the basic normative conditions necessary for a deeper partnership.