Monday

22nd Apr 2019

Opinion

Kazakh leader comes to Brussels: Another wasted opportunity?

The 9 October visit by Kazakhstan’s president, Nursultan Nazarbaev, to Brussels will serve as a pointed reminder of the EU’s colossal failure to secure human rights improvements as part of its engagement with his government, whose record has gone from bad to worse in recent years.

On the agenda for Nazarbaev and his host, the outgoing European Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, is what the External Action Service has termed the “political sealing” of upgraded relations in the form of an enhanced Partnership and Co-operation Agreement between the EU and Kazakhstan.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

This despite two realities that simply don’t add up.

The first, a clear pledge at the outset of the negotiations some three years ago now by the EU high representative Catherine Ashton to link advancement of relations with Kazakhstan to progress in reforms.

To quote her directly: “Strengthening EU-Kazakhstan relations does not – and cannot – occur independently from the progress of political reforms in Kazakhstan". Or: “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 second reality – Kazakhstan’s human rights record, which, problematic to begin with, has only further deteriorated in the years since the enhanced PCA negotiations were opened.

Clearly, Kazakhstan did not get the message from the EU. And no wonder, since Brussels also appears to have completely dropped the ball, with no evidence that it used the negotiations process to advance human rights improvements.

It is no surprise that an 7 October opinion piece by Nazarbaev in the Wall Street Journal ahead of the Brussels visit makes no reference to rights or democracy.

Over the past year, Kazakhstan authorities have used a restrictive law on public assemblies to jail or fine dozens of people for participating in or organizing peaceful protests.

In February, for example, police in Almaty broke up small-scale protests, including a one-person protest by a blogger, Dina Baidildaeva, and in May, 10 people were sentenced to up to four days in jail for attending a protest gathering outside Astana.

Authorities have also cracked down further on free speech and dissent, including closing independent and opposition newspapers, such as Pravdivaya Gazeta in March and the Assandi Times in April.

The government has also clamped down on minority religious groups, using a restrictive religion law to fine or detain worshipers for peacefully practicing religions that are outside of state control.

According to Forum18, a religious freedom watchdog, as of July, a dozen people had been jailed since the year began and over 45 people fined.

A major legislative overhaul by the government ignored serious misgivings expressed by leading Kazakh human rights groups, resulting in the adoption of new criminal and administrative codes, and a new law on trade unions, that further restrict fundamental freedoms in breach of international standards.

The prominent opposition leader, Vladimir Kozlov, the labor activists Rosa Tuletaeva and Maksat Dosmagambetov, and a rights defender, Vadim Kuramshin, remain behind bars despite flawed trials.

In July, in a practice reminiscent of Soviet-era punishment, the authorities forced an independent lawyer, Zinaida Mukhortova, into involuntary psychiatric detention, where she remains.

But instead of the EU following up on its pledges to link the process toward elevated relations to progress in human rights by articulating the kinds of reforms it expected Kazakhstan to take, EU statements since those early, welcome ones by Ashton have made no reference either to the pledges or to the country’s glaring lack of political reforms.

Ignoring a problem won’t make it go away. It is also not likely to go down well with the European Parliament, whose consent is required for the enhanced PCA to enter into force.

In two separate resolutions on Kazakhstan, most recently in 2013, the parliament has already made clear that enhanced relations with Kazakhstan should be linked to rights improvements, stressing that “progress in the negotiation of the new PCA must be linked to the progress of political reform.”

Thursday’s visit by Kazakhstan’s leader gives Barroso a golden opportunity to rectify this sorry record, and bring human rights squarely back into the equation.

He should seize this chance to reaffirm the EU’s stance on the core importance of human rights in the relationship, and convey a clear expectation of meaningful reforms before the enhanced PCA is concluded.

The writer is the Europe and Central Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch,a New York-based NGO

EU missing the boat on Kazakhstan reform

The EU is preparing to upgrade relations with Kazakhstan, despite its promises to push for reform and Astana's backsliding on human rights.

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.

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.

How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament

British plans to - maybe - take part in EU elections risk legal chaos in the next European Parliament, which could be resolved only by treaty change - an unlikely prospect.

Press freedom and the EU elections

We are campaigning for the next European Commission to appoint a commissioner with a clear mandate to take on the challenge of the protection of freedom, independence and diversity of journalism.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us