NHC and EBRD President discuss human rights in Kazakhstan
The President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Sir Suma Chakrabati, visited Kazakhstan during the week of 9 June. During his visit to Almaty, the President and several of his colleagues from the EBRD met with the Norwegian Helsinki Committee’s Regional Representative in Central Asia, Ivar Dale, to discuss recent developments in the sphere of human rights.
In May 2014, Kazakhstan and the EBRD signed an agreement that will funnel 2.7 billon US dollars of government funds into the economy via international financial institutions. During his visit to Kazakhstan, Sir Suma Chakrabati will also meet with Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev and co-chair a meeting of the Kazakhstan Foreign Investors’ Council.
In addition to the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, civil society was represented by the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, as well as the Kazakhstan branches of Crude Accountability and Transparency International.
During the meeting the NHC’s representative underlined the large gap evident between what the Kazakhstani government claims to be its firm commitment to democratic development and human rights, and the actual situation in the country, especially with regards to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.
While the Constitution of Kazakhstan guarantees freedom of assembly for all its citizens, authorities ensure that any public criticism of government policy is met with jail terms and considerable fines. Holding a demonstration of any kind is presently not possible in practice, as such events immediately are broken up by riot police. Similarly, newspapers and other media outlets containing materials critical of the authorities are routinely closed down by court decisions, in violation of citizens’ right to express themselves freely.
While the meeting between civil society and EBRD was taking place in Almaty, police in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana raided the offices of the independent internet-based TV-channel 16/12. The channel takes its name from the date 16 December, which is both Kazakhstan’s Day of Independence, as well as the date when at least sixteen oil workers were shot and killed by police forces in the town of Zhanaozen in 2011.
- I am concerned that routine violations of fundamental rights in Kazakhstan such as freedom of the media is creating a society which might be progressing economically, but where a new generation is growing up without knowledge of how a democratic society functions, what it means to have a public exchange of opinion and to actively partake in a living democracy, Ivar Dale said in his remarks to the EBRD President.
The NHC also raised the closure of political opposition party Alga! and the continued imprisonment of its leader, Vladimir Kozlov. Similar topics were raised by the other organizations present, as well as concerns regarding the high level of corruption in Kazakhstan and issues related to budget transparency.
Sir Suma Chakrabati agreed that these are serious areas of concern, and that the EBRD must look at these issues more closely during their work in Kazakhstan in the coming years. He also took an interest in the current situation in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, where the economy may be less developed, but where democratic reforms are progressing at a faster pace.