Wednesday

20th Jan 2021

EU defends Kazakh leader on human rights

  • Juncker with Nazarbayev in Brussels on Wednesday (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

The European Commission has said reforms in Kazakhstan are “promising” despite reports by NGOs that Astana has “stepped-up” its crackdown on opposition activists.

Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said on Wednesday (30 March) in Brussels after meeting the Kazakh leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, that “we discussed the package of reforms which are under way in Kazakhstan and which are promising.”

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

He also said he “evoked problems on the subject of human rights."

But he added that Nazarbayev, whom he twice called his “dear friend,” is “sensitive” to the reform process.

“I know the president for many years and I know he’s sensitive to these issues,” Juncker said.

The 75-year old Kazakh leader, who has stayed in power since 1989, said he “listened very carefully to the friendly advice” and invited Juncker to visit Kazakhstan next year.

He said international monitors adjudged recent parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan as having respected democratic standards.

He urged the EU to lift visa requirements for Kazakh nationals and to let Kazakh airlines operate normally in Europe, after a ban, between 2009 and 2015, on Astana air.

He also met EU Council president Donald Tusk later in the day.

No questions asked

His comment on the elections was false, according to the OSCE, a European pro-democracy organisation which did the monitoring and which said in its report one week ago that Kazkakhstan has a “considerable way to go” to meet its norms.

But neither the EU Council nor the commission let press ask questions.

When asked whether this was to shield Nazarbayev from negative publicity, a commission spokeswoman said: “Not at all. We were half an hour late and we ran out of time [for questions].”

When asked which reforms Juncker found “promising,” the spokeswoman said by email that Juncker was referring to three initiatives: the100 concrete steps programme; the Nurly Zhol scheme; and “structural reforms.”

She said the 100 steps plan is a “broad ranging initiative covering judicial, administrative and economic reforms.”

She described Nurly Zhol as “wide-ranging national programme … that may enable a real reform process in the area of economic reform,” including privatisation.

She said the structural measures are “aimed at reducing the current strong dependence on revenues from extracting industries”.

NGOs tell different story

The commission’s praise is flalty contradicted by NGOs working in Kazakhstan.

The Open Dialog Foundation, a Polish NGO, in a letter to Tusk ahead of the Kazakh visit said “Kazakhstan has actually stepped-up its repressive actions against critical voices in the country and abroad.”

It noted that oppositon leader Vladimir Kozlov is in jail despite EU appeals and that increasing numbers of independent journalists and civil society activists, such as Gyuzyal Bayadalinova and Bolatbek Blyalov, are being detained.

It also said the parliamentary elections “saw no genuine opposition” to Nazarbayev’s party.

Human Rights Watch, a US-based NGO, lists several other political prisoners on its Kazakhstan page and says it “heavily restricts freedom of assembly, speech, and religion.”

Amnesty International, in a report out on 3 March, said “authorities in Kazakhstan are failing to properly investigate hundreds of reports of torture and other ill-treatment by members of the country’s law enforcement agencies and prison staff.”

Economic ties

Juncker and Nazarbayev said EU-Kazakhstan economic ties are set to become stronger when a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement enters into force on 1 May.

The accord was signed in December and envisages more political meetings, closer security cooperation, and what the EU calls “a strong emphasis on democracy and the rule of law” in bilateral relations.

It also aims to open up Kazkahstan to European firms via regulatory changes.

Kazakh 'father-creator' comes technology shopping to EU

Kazakhstan's septuagenerian President Nursultan Nazarbayev has brought over 50 businessmen on a three day visit to the EU that is to see the European Investment Bank open a €1.5 billion credit line to help fund technological upgrades.

Opinion

EU needs to press for Kazakhstan reforms now

With several trade union leaders in jail, the EU has one last chance to push Kazakhstan to improve its human rights record before ratifying a new cooperation agreement.

News in Brief

  1. Brexit prompted finance exodus from UK to France
  2. Italian PM Conte wins confidence vote in Senate
  3. Borrell washes hands of EU's Venezuela policy
  4. Russia backs Greece in eastern Mediterranean dispute
  5. 'Ski-holiday' Switzerland reaches new infection high
  6. Germany extends lockdown, others expected to follow
  7. Barnier to be Brexit special adviser to von der Leyen
  8. EU commisioner to visit Bosnia's Lipa migrant camp

Opinion

The under-reported power struggle at the top of the OSCE

An internal power struggle has undermined the world's leading international security body since the summer. The OSCE is due to finally get new leaders in December but the unprecedented power vacuum has hit at a crunch time for hotspots worldwide.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  2. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  6. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice

Latest News

  1. MEPs call to halt Russia pipeline over Navalny arrest
  2. EU targets vaccinating 70% of adults by summer
  3. Portugal pushes to start delayed 'future EU' conference
  4. EU Parliament pressing for inquiry into Frontex
  5. Untapped potential of the single market could boost European recovery
  6. Biden's 'Age of Aquarius'? Mars and Venus will clash over China
  7. The new dimension of 'ever-closer union'
  8. What do new CDU chief's pro-Russia views mean for Europe?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us