Saturday

18th Jan 2020

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

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join 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.

China spy suspect worked for EU for 30 years

The former EU ambassador suspected by German prosecutors of spying for China was Gerhard Sabathil, according to EU officials speaking on condition of anonymity.

Nuclear arms race threat after EU rebukes Iran

EU powers have triggered a process that could bring the world back to 2006, when sanctions and threats were all that stood in the way of a Middle East nuclear arms race.

News in Brief

  1. 'No objection in principle' on Huawei cooperation, EU says
  2. French aircraft carrier goes to Middle East amid tensions
  3. EU suggests temporary ban on facial recognition
  4. EU industry cries foul on Chinese restrictions
  5. 'Devil in detail', EU warns on US-China trade deal
  6. Trump threatened EU-tariffs over Iran, Germany confirms
  7. EU trade commissioner warns UK of 'brinkmanship'
  8. Germany strikes coal phase-out deal

Magazine

EU diplomacy 2.0

MEPs on the foreign affairs committee ought to be like second-tier EU diplomats on the Western Balkans and Russia, according to its German chairman, but foreign policy splits could bedevil its work.

Opinion

'A game of roulette' - life as a journalist now in Turkey

Turkey has more journalists behind bars than any other country in the world. The authorities seem to equate journalism with terrorism: everyone has the right to express themselves, but, in their eyes, legitimate journalism is a threat to security.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us