Wednesday

28th Jun 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.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EEGet the Latest News from the 2017 Estonian EU Council Presidency @EU2017EE
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Talks Should Insist on Ending Reprisals Against Critical Voices
  3. European Free AllianceEFA Is Looking for a New Intern
  4. Malta EU 2017Conservation of Atlantic Tunas: International Measures Become EU Law
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCan Statin Therapy Interfere With a Physically Active Lifestyle?
  6. EPSUOn Public Services Day, Stop Austerity! Workers Need a Pay Rise!
  7. EGBAOnline Gambling: The EU Court Rejects Closed Licensing Regimes In Member States
  8. World VisionFaces of Today, Leaders of Tomorrow: Join the Debate on Violence Against Girls - 29 June
  9. ECR GroupThe EU Must Better Protect Industry from Unfair Competition
  10. Malta EU 2017Better Protection for Workers From Cancer-Causing Substances
  11. EPSUAfter 9 Years of Austerity Europe's Public Sector Workers Deserve a Pay Rise!
  12. Dialogue PlatformGlobalised Religions and the Dialogue Imperative. Join the Debate!

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFEU Trust Fund Contribution to UNICEF's Syria Crisis Response Reaches Nearly €200 Million
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCan an Ideal Body Weight Lead to Premature Death?
  3. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Charges: What Does It Entail?
  4. World VisionWorld Refugee Day, a Dark Reminder of the Reality of Children on the Move
  5. Dialogue PlatformMuslims Have Unique Responsibility to Fight Terror: Opinon From Fethullah Gülen
  6. EUSEW17Check out This Useful Infographic on How to Stay Sustainable and Energy Efficient.
  7. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Criticises the Juncker Plan's Implementation
  8. UNICEF1 in 5 Children in Rich Countries Lives in Relative Income Poverty, 1 in 8 Faces Food Insecurity
  9. International Partnership for Human Rights26 NGOs Call on Interpol Not to Intervene Versus Azerbaijani Human Rights Defenders
  10. Malta EU 2017Significant Boost in Financing for SMEs and Entrepreneurs Under New Agreement
  11. World VisionYoung People Rise up as EU Signs Consensus for Development at EU Development Days