Saturday

28th May 2022

EU defends Kazakh leader on human rights

  • Juncker with Nazarbayev in Brussels on Wednesday (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

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

Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said on Wednesday (30 March) in Brussels after meeting the Kazakh leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, that “we discussed the package of reforms which are under way in Kazakhstan and which are promising.”

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

He also said he “evoked problems on the subject of human rights."

But he added that Nazarbayev, whom he twice called his “dear friend,” is “sensitive” to the reform process.

“I know the president for many years and I know he’s sensitive to these issues,” Juncker said.

The 75-year old Kazakh leader, who has stayed in power since 1989, said he “listened very carefully to the friendly advice” and invited Juncker to visit Kazakhstan next year.

He said international monitors adjudged recent parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan as having respected democratic standards.

He urged the EU to lift visa requirements for Kazakh nationals and to let Kazakh airlines operate normally in Europe, after a ban, between 2009 and 2015, on Astana air.

He also met EU Council president Donald Tusk later in the day.

No questions asked

His comment on the elections was false, according to the OSCE, a European pro-democracy organisation which did the monitoring and which said in its report one week ago that Kazkakhstan has a “considerable way to go” to meet its norms.

But neither the EU Council nor the commission let press ask questions.

When asked whether this was to shield Nazarbayev from negative publicity, a commission spokeswoman said: “Not at all. We were half an hour late and we ran out of time [for questions].”

When asked which reforms Juncker found “promising,” the spokeswoman said by email that Juncker was referring to three initiatives: the100 concrete steps programme; the Nurly Zhol scheme; and “structural reforms.”

She said the 100 steps plan is a “broad ranging initiative covering judicial, administrative and economic reforms.”

She described Nurly Zhol as “wide-ranging national programme … that may enable a real reform process in the area of economic reform,” including privatisation.

She said the structural measures are “aimed at reducing the current strong dependence on revenues from extracting industries”.

NGOs tell different story

The commission’s praise is flalty contradicted by NGOs working in Kazakhstan.

The Open Dialog Foundation, a Polish NGO, in a letter to Tusk ahead of the Kazakh visit said “Kazakhstan has actually stepped-up its repressive actions against critical voices in the country and abroad.”

It noted that oppositon leader Vladimir Kozlov is in jail despite EU appeals and that increasing numbers of independent journalists and civil society activists, such as Gyuzyal Bayadalinova and Bolatbek Blyalov, are being detained.

It also said the parliamentary elections “saw no genuine opposition” to Nazarbayev’s party.

Human Rights Watch, a US-based NGO, lists several other political prisoners on its Kazakhstan page and says it “heavily restricts freedom of assembly, speech, and religion.”

Amnesty International, in a report out on 3 March, said “authorities in Kazakhstan are failing to properly investigate hundreds of reports of torture and other ill-treatment by members of the country’s law enforcement agencies and prison staff.”

Economic ties

Juncker and Nazarbayev said EU-Kazakhstan economic ties are set to become stronger when a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement enters into force on 1 May.

The accord was signed in December and envisages more political meetings, closer security cooperation, and what the EU calls “a strong emphasis on democracy and the rule of law” in bilateral relations.

It also aims to open up Kazkahstan to European firms via regulatory changes.

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.

Opinion

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.

Opinion

When Reagan met Gorbachev — a history lesson for Putin

Neither Reagan nor Gorbachev achieved their goal at the famous Reykjavik summit of 1986. Despite that fact there are lessons that current leaders — particularly Vladimir Putin — could adopt from these two iconic leaders.

Opinion

Orbán's overtures to Moscow are distasteful and detrimental

Some Western European politicians are reviving the chimera of a negotiated settlement. None of this makes the current, half-hearted approach towards sanctioning Russia look better — nor does it shed any favourable light on the cravenness of Hungary's current government.

News in Brief

  1. Dutch journalists sue EU over banned Russia TV channels
  2. EU holding €23bn of Russian bank reserves
  3. Russia speeds up passport process in occupied Ukraine
  4. Palestinian civil society denounce Metsola's Israel visit
  5. Johnson refuses to resign after Downing Street parties report
  6. EU border police has over 2,000 agents deployed
  7. Dutch tax authorities to admit to institutional racism
  8. Rutte calls for EU pension and labour reforms

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic delegation visits Nordic Bridges in Canada
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersClear to proceed - green shipping corridors in the Nordic Region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers agree on international climate commitments
  4. UNESDA - SOFT DRINKS EUROPEEfficient waste collection schemes, closed-loop recycling and access to recycled content are crucial to transition to a circular economy in Europe
  5. UiPathNo digital future for the EU without Intelligent Automation? Online briefing Link

Latest News

  1. EU summit will be 'unwavering' on arms for Ukraine
  2. Orbán's new state of emergency under fire
  3. EU parliament prevaricates on barring Russian lobbyists
  4. Ukraine lawyer enlists EU watchdog against Russian oil
  5. Right of Reply: Hungarian government
  6. When Reagan met Gorbachev — a history lesson for Putin
  7. Orbán oil veto to deface EU summit on Ukraine
  8. France aims for EU minimum-tax deal in June

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us