Monday

12th Nov 2018

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.

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

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.

All Quiet on the Eastern Front?

Russia is trying to foment a clash between Hungary and Ukraine over the territory of Zakarpattia in a potential crisis overlooked by EU leaders.

News in Brief

  1. UK seeks swift use of new EU chemical weapons blacklist
  2. Barnier briefs EU ministers: intense negotiations continue
  3. Romanian minister preparing EU presidency steps down
  4. Finland says Russia possibly behind GPS jamming
  5. German AfD leader under fire for Swiss campaign funding
  6. Seehofer announces he will step down as CSU party leader
  7. EU condemns elections in Russia-occupied eastern Ukraine
  8. German Greens pick two top candidates for EU election

Why 'Spitzenkandidat' is probably here to stay

The power of the parliament to 'appoint' the president of the EU Commission is new, highly-contested - and not universally understood. In fact, even some of the lead candidates to replace Jean-Claude Juncker are against it.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. Romanian leaders trade jibes over upcoming EU presidency
  2. EU warns Romania not to abuse GDPR against press
  3. EU 'Magnitsky Act' must bear its proper name
  4. Fear of nationalist surge marks European memorials
  5. Liberals ally with Macron for election, but no candidate yet
  6. Revealed: Link between MEPs CO2 votes and domestic car jobs
  7. All Quiet on the Eastern Front?
  8. Merkel and Brexit in spotlight This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  3. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  9. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  10. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us