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Kazakhstan: OSCE Chairmanship Undeserved

Kazakhstan’s Chairmanship for 2010 Places OSCE Human Rights Principles at Risk

Kazakhstan should not have been named chair-in-office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch said that Kazakhstan’s chairmanship risks undermining the integrity of the OSCE’s human rights principles.

The OSCE’s Ministerial Council, which met in Madrid, agreed today for Kazakhstan to assume the body’s chairmanship in 2010. Kazakhstan made bids for the chairmanship in 2005 and 2006, but was rebuffed due to its poor human rights record.

“Kazakhstan doesn’t observe OSCE commitments at home,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Entrusting in Kazakhstan the leadership to uphold the organization’s human rights commitments is a singularly bad idea.”

Kazakhstan has yet to hold an election that meets OSCE standards for free and fair elections. Due in part to government manipulation, opposition candidates did not win a single seat in the August parliamentary elections. Constitutional amendments adopted in mid-2007 now make it possible for President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who has led Kazakhstan since before independence from the Soviet Union, to run for an unlimited number of terms.

The broadcast media are dominated by government loyalists, and independent journalists are threatened and harassed for criticizing the president or government. Libel continues to be a criminal offense. Alikbek Zhumbaev, an opposition activist, is currently serving a five-year prison term for insulting President Nazarbaev.

In advance of its OSCE chairmanship, the Kazakh government promised to reform media and electoral legislation, and pledged to preserve the mandate of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), whose election monitoring Russia has sought to undermine. Human Rights Watch expressed concern that Kazakhstan’s pledges lack credibility because it has supported all prior efforts to weaken the ODIHR’s monitoring mandate.

“The Kazakh government has had two years to show that it’s genuinely committed to OSCE human rights principles,” said Cartner. “While it adopted a few positive measures, it has shown no signs of fundamental change. Now the leverage is gone.”

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