Thursday

27th Apr 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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

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.

Brexit is about Europe's future as well

Europe must learn the lessons of TTIP and ensure that the negotiations transparently address the broad interests of European citizens, including on climate change and the environment.

Column / Brexit Briefing

May's drive for one-party Brexit state

Snap election will kill off attempts to reopen debate on second referendum and inflict further damaged on confused opposition.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ECR GroupSyed Kamall: We Need a New, More Honest Relationship With Turkey
  2. ACCARisks and Opportunities of Blockchain and Shared Ledgers Technologies in Financial Services
  3. UNICEFRace Against Time to Save Millions of Lives in Yemen
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersDeveloping Independent Russian-Language Media in the Baltic Countries
  5. Swedish EnterprisesReform of the European Electricity Market: Lessons from the Nordics, Brussels 2 May
  6. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  7. Counter BalanceCall for EU Commission to Withdraw Support of Trans-Adriatic Pipeline
  8. ACCAEconomic Confidence at Highest Since 2015
  9. European Federation of Allergy and Airways60%-90% of Your Life Is Spent Indoors. How Does Poor Indoor Air Quality Affect You?
  10. European Gaming and Betting AssociationCJEU Confirms Obligation for a Transparent Licensing Process
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region and the US: A Time of Warlike Rhetoric and Militarisation?
  12. European Free AllianceEFA MEPs Vote in Favor of European Parliament's Brexit Mandate

Latest News

  1. Russische Fake-News überschwemmen die sozialen Medien Frankreichs
  2. EU agency stuck with London rent bill
  3. EU anti-fraud office ditches Martin Schulz probe
  4. Commission launches bid to make Europe social
  5. MEPs act to strip Le Pen of immunity in fake jobs case
  6. EU starts legal action against Hungary
  7. Brexit is about Europe's future as well
  8. Power struggle in Greenland: Three reasons why the EU should care

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUXinhua Insight: China to Open up Like Never Before
  2. World VisionViolence Becomes New Normal for Syrian Children
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTime to Turn the Tide and End Repression of Central Asia's Civil Society
  4. European Free AllianceAutonomia to Normalnosc - Poland Urged to Re-Grant Autonomy to Silesia
  5. UNICEFHitting Rock Bottom - How 2016 Became the Worst Year for #ChildrenofSyria
  6. Malta EU 2017Green Light Given for New EU Regulation to Bolster External Border Checks
  7. ACCAG20 Citizens Want 'Big Picture' Tax Policymaking, According to Global Survey
  8. Belgrade Security ForumCall for Papers: European Union as a Global Crisis Manager - Deadline 30 April
  9. European Gaming & Betting Association60 Years Rome Treaty – 60 Years Building an Internal Market
  10. Malta EU 2017New EU Rules to Prevent Terrorism and Give More Rights to Victims Approved
  11. European Jewish Congress"Extremists Still Have Ability and Motivation to Murder in Europe" Says EJC President
  12. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAudiovisual Media Services Directive to Exclude Minors from Gambling Ads