Saturday

16th Dec 2017

Opinion

EU needs to press for Kazakhstan reforms now

  • The EU has a last-minute opportunity to send Kazakhstan leader Nursultan Nazarbayev a message on human rights (Photo: Kazakh presidency)

The European Parliament stands poised to ratify the first Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) with a central Asian country.

This deal showcases the deepened relationship between Kazakhstan and the European Union, and provides for greater trade and business relations between them.

Significantly, the agreement specifies that in their cooperation, Kazakhstan and the EU will "attach particular importance" to human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Kazakhstan has freely violated rights, however, since the agreement was signed.

In mid-November, the European Parliament delayed consideration of the agreement, which the EP needs to ratify before it can fully go into effect.

This offers the European Commission an 11th hour opportunity to send its Kazakh counterparts the unequivocal message that meaningful reforms will help seal the deal.

In its draft resolution accompanying the agreement, the text of which has been agreed upon by all political parties and is now public, the European Parliament gives meaning to the broad human rights language in the agreement itself, rightly calling for the "release of all activists and political prisoners currently in jail," and denouncing routine restrictions to free speech and media freedom.

The parliament's resolution points at Kazakhstan's use of excessively broad Criminal Code article on inciting social discord against activists and journalists. It urges Kazakhstan to revise its 2014 trade union law, which restricts labor rights, and denounces the attacks on the country's labor movement and their leaders.

These are critical and specific human rights concerns that should guide the European Commission's dealings with Kazakhstan's leaders.

In the years the EU spent negotiating the content of the enhanced PCA with the Kazakh government, it forfeited an important opportunity to condition progress in negotiations with meaningful human rights reforms in Kazakhstan.

Meaningful improvements weren't forthcoming then and they haven't been forthcoming in the last two years either.

Since the EU's top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, formally signed the agreement with her Kazakh counterpart Erlan Idrissov on 21 December 2015, Kazakh authorities have renewed efforts to silence their critics.

In May 2016, Kazakh authorities arrested the activists Max Bokaev and Talgat Ayan for their role in organising peaceful protests against an unpopular proposed amendment to Kazakhstan's land law.

In November 2016, Bokaev and Ayan were sentenced to five years in jail and banned from engaging in civic activities following a trial that fell short of international fair trial standards.

Authorities have continued to restrict media freedom and target critical journalists, and have harassed human rights organisations with unjustified tax inspections.

Most recently, in September, an Almaty court convicted Zhanbolat Mamay, editor of the independent Sayasy Kalam: Tribuna newspaper, on politically-motivated money laundering charges and banned him from journalism for three years.

Union leaders in jail

Beginning in last December, Kazakh authorities began a concerted large-scale crackdown on the independent trade union movement, forcibly shutting down the country's main independent nation-wide trade union, bringing its leader, Larisa Kharkova, to court in apparent retaliation for her trade union activism and banning her from leadership positions in trade unions for five years.

Her freedom of movement is also restricted. Two other union leaders, Nurbek Kushakbaev and Amin Yeleusinov, were imprisoned earlier this year after they organised a peaceful protest deemed illegal by the authorities.

As the EU's new agreement with Kazakhstan is expected to boost trade and business, Brussels should be seriously concerned about dealing with a partner that prevents independent trade unions from operating and attacks their leaders.

On Wednesday (29 November), the EU holds its annual human rights dialogue with Kazakhstan.

The first week of December, the EU will host the five central Asian justice ministers in Brussels. Other high-level meetings are in the pipeline for early 2018. These meetings give EU officials a final chance to relay to Kazakhstan that a deeper partnership cannot go ahead as long as critics are jailed and a free media suppressed.

Doing so is in the EU's own interest, to ensure that its political and economic relations with Kazakhstan are not undermined by the absence of independent counterpowers in Kazakhstan's business and industrial sectors.

Perhaps then, there will be no further delay green-lighting enhanced EU-Kazakhstan relations.

Mihra Rittmann is central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, Philippe Dam is advocacy director for Europe and central Asia at Human Rights Watch

EU defends Kazakh leader on human rights

The European Commission has said reforms in Kazakhstan are “promising” despite reports by NGOs that Astana has “stepped-up” its crackdown on opposition activists.

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.

Iceland: further from EU membership than ever

With fewer pro-EU MPs in the Iceland parliament than ever before, any plans to resume 'candidate' membership of the bloc are likely to remain on ice, as the country prioritises national sovereignty and a more left-wing path.

News in Brief

  1. EU adopts 'track-and-trace' tobacco system
  2. Luxembourg appeals Amazon tax decision
  3. EU leaders agree to open phase 2 of Brexit talks
  4. Juncker: May made 'big efforts' on Brexit
  5. Merkel took 'tough' line on Russia at EU summit
  6. EU leaders added line supporting 'two-state' solution
  7. EU leaders agree to 20 European Universities by 2024
  8. Belgian courts end legal proceedings against Puigdemont

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  2. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% plastics recycling rate attainable by 2025 new study shows
  3. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  4. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  5. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  6. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  10. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  12. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties

Latest News

  1. Catalonia, Brexit, and Uber on EU agenda This WEEK
  2. Macron and Merkel take tough line on Poland
  3. Eurozone future needs structural reforms, EU leaders told
  4. Showdown EU vote on asylum looking likely for next June
  5. EU stresses unity as it launches next phase of Brexit talks
  6. Polish PM ready for EU sanctions scrap
  7. Dutchman to lead powerful euro working group
  8. EU mulls post-Brexit balance of euro and non-eurozone states

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  2. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  3. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  4. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  6. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  7. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  8. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  9. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  10. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  12. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives