Sunday

20th Aug 2017

Opinion

EU missing the boat on Kazakhstan reform

  • Kazakhstan rocket launch: the country has a long history of hosting both Russian and EU space missions (Photo: Nasa/Carla Cioffi)

It may not make headlines that the EU and Kazakhstan are upgrading relations, in the form of an enhanced Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA), even as a delegation of government officials prepares to depart for Brussels for the next round of negotiations, on 30 June and 1 July.

For all of Kazakhstan’s efforts to bolster its international image and standing, the country is still a far cry from a household name. And relatively few are aware of the existing EU-Kazakhstan PCA, so efforts to upgrade economic, trade and political relations, might barely register.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

But as a longstanding member of Kazakhstan’s human rights community, I can’t help but take note. Here’s why.

From the outset, the EU side sent a critically important message by underscoring that “strengthening EU-Kazakhstan relations does not – and cannot – occur independently from the progress of political reforms in Kazakhstan.”

The EU foreign affairs chief went on to elaborate on this stance by specifying that “the success of negotiations on the new agreement will be influenced by the advancement of political reforms and fulfilment of Kazakhstan’s international commitments.” The European Parliament reiterated this message in two separate resolutions adopted in 2012 and 2013, stressing that “progress in the negotiation of the new PCA must be linked to the progress of political reform.”

In short, I don’t think the EU could have stated it any more clearly: Kazakhstan must demonstrate improvements in human rights and democratic reforms for negotiations with the EU to proceed.

For those of us trying to secure human rights improvements in Kazakhstan, the EU’s role as a potential catalyst for change took on a renewed meaning.

But three years later, I am sorry to say there isn’t much to applaud.

From my front-row seat in Kazakhstan, I can tell you that the human rights situation in my country has significantly deteriorated since negotiations for an enhanced partnership began in June 2011. Meanwhile, the EU seems to have forgotten about its pledges to link enhanced relations to rights reform. It hasn’t even articulated specific improvements Kazakhstan should make to guide advancement in negotiations.

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan has intensified its repression.

In December 2011, Kazakh authorities responded to an outbreak of violence after a seven-month strike in western Kazakhstan by lethally shooting oil workers and others.

In the aftermath, courts imprisoned labor and opposition activists, including the Alga! opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov, to long prison terms, blatantly disregarding serious and credible allegations of torture, such as by oil workers Rosa Tuletaeva and Maksat Dosmagambetov and violations of fair trial standards.

I monitored Kozlov’s trial, and saw how the principles of free and fair trial, equality of arms and right to defence were openly violated.

The same could be said about the trials of Vadim Kuramshin, a rights defender, Aron Atabek, a public figure, Sayat Ibrayev, a religious leader, and Mukhtar Dzhakishev, manager of the state nuclear company, all of whom Kazakhstani human rights organisations consider political prisoners.

Early parliamentary elections in January 2012 did not come close to meeting international standards. The OSCE/Odihr observation mission concluded that the authorities did not provide “the necessary conditions for the conduct of genuinely pluralistic elections” and the vote did “not meet fundamental principles of democratic elections.”

Starting in November 2012 - and as recently as April - independent and opposition newspapers and Internet media outlets have been suspended or shut down. Today there are only a handful left. Over these three years, the authorities have repeatedly rounded up and detained peaceful protesters.

As a lawyer, and someone who spent over two and a half years in a Kazakh prison after an unfair trial, I am equally disturbed by the recent overhaul of criminal, criminal-procedural and administrative legislation.

Kazakhstan has squandered a golden opportunity to bring core pieces of legislation in line with international human rights standards, opting instead to keep disproportionate criminal and administrative sanctions for violations of media, religion, assembly and association laws, for example.

Human rights groups have spoken out collectively to express serious concern about the draft laws and called on President Nursultan Nazarbayev to veto the bills.

So, both from a de jure and de facto point of view, Kazakhstan has not made the human rights and political reforms that the EU said were necessary for negotiations toward upgraded relations.

Will the EU heed the concerns of rights groups and activists, myself included, about the deteriorating human rights situation in Kazakhstan and use what is left of the negotiations process to push for meaningful reform?

Or will the EU continue to turn a blind eye?

The writer is chair of the board of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law

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.

Nato woos Kazakhstan at security forum

The remote capital of post-Soviet petro-state Kazakhstan hosted this year's security forum of Nato's partner countries, the first time the event took place outside Europe in a bid to secure more support for the alliance's mission in neighbouring Afghanistan.

EU needs lasting solution to refugee crisis

If we continue with the failed approach of the last two years then this could become a systemic crisis that threatens the EU itself, writes Gianni Pittella.

Column / Brexit Briefing

The return of the chlorinated chicken

Britain has only just started on the path towards a post-Brexit trade deal with the US, but you can already see the same all-too-familiar disagreements.

Stop blaming Trump for Poland’s democratic crisis

If you were to judge events purely on the US media's headlines, you would be forgiven for wondering if the Polish government had anything to do with its recent controversial judicial reforms.

News in Brief

  1. Macedonia sacks top prosecutor over wiretap scandal
  2. ECB concerned stronger euro could derail economic recovery
  3. Mixed Irish reactions to post-Brexit border proposal
  4. European Union returns to 2 percent growth
  5. Russian power most feared in Europe
  6. Ireland continues to refuse €13 billion in back taxes from Apple
  7. UK unemployment lowest since 1975
  8. Europe facing 'explosive cocktail' in its backyard, report warns

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceDoes Genetics Explain Why So Few of Us Have an Ideal Cardiovascular Health?
  2. EU2017EEFuture-Themed Digital Painting Competition Welcomes Artists - Deadline 31 Aug
  3. ACCABusinesses Must Grip Ethics and Trust in the Digital Age
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Welcomes European Court of Justice's Decision to Keep Hamas on Terror List
  5. UNICEFReport: Children on the Move From Africa Do Not First Aim to Go to Europe
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersWe Need Democratic and Transparent Free Trade Agreements Says MEP Jordi Solé
  7. Counter BalanceOut for Summer, Ep. 2: EIB Promoting Development in Egypt - At What Cost?
  8. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  9. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  10. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  11. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  12. ECPAFood Waste in the Field Can Double Without Crop Protection. #WithOrWithout #Pesticides

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  2. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  3. Martens CentreWeeding Out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  5. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Ep. 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  6. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  7. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way
  8. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  9. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School
  10. EPSUEP Support for Corporate Tax Transparency Principle Unlikely to Pass Reality Check
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Improves the External Investment Plan but Significant Challenges Ahead
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCloser Energy Co-Operation Keeps Nordic Region on Top in Green Energy