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Re: Kazakhstan's Stalled Reforms

Dear Ministers,

We are writing in advance of the upcoming OSCE Ministerial Council in Athens (December 1-2, 2009), which we believe provides a crucial opportunity to address directly Kazakhstan's stalled reforms and press for concrete improvements in light of its pending OSCE chairmanship. We are calling on you and your counterparts in other OSCE participating states to articulate these concerns in your speeches at the Ministerial Council and to  make clear to the government of Kazakhstan that enforcing universal human rights principles is a core pillar of the OSCE and that the chair-in-office of the organization has a particular obligation to respect them.

Since the OSCE participating states decided to give Kazakhstan the 2010 chairmanship the human rights situation in the country has deteriorated rather than improved. Minimal reform steps in February 2009, for which the government was appropriately credited, were outweighed by the adoption of restrictive amendments to media and internet laws, restrictions in practice on peaceful demonstrations and protests, and the use of national security interests to justify incommunicado detention and denial of access to legal counsel. Furthermore, the country's leading human rights defender, Evgeniy Zhovtis, was sentenced to four years' imprisonment following an unfair trial which was upheld on appeal. The attached fact sheet provides you with information on these key areas of concern regarding Kazakhstan's compliance with its international human rights obligations and gives specific recommendations for steps the government of Kazakhstan should be taking to fulfill these obligations.

Throughout 2009, the European Union and the United States as well as the OSCE's representative on freedom of the media issued several public statements underlining the need for further progress in the lead-up to Kazakhstan's OSCE chairmanship. Both the EU and the US expressed their concern regarding the adoption of the internet law, the sentencing of journalist Ramazan Yesergepov, and the fair trial violations in Evgeniy Zhovtis's case. Notably, the EU stated it "regrets" that it had "to express its concern with regard to freedom of the media in Kazakhstan on a number of occasions."

In its public statements, the Kazakh government often emphasizes the relatively short period of time-18 years-it has had to develop and implement human rights standards. Yet the government also stresses the dramatic strides it has made in the same period to develop the economy. When Kazakhstan made its bid for the OSCE chairmanship several years ago it did so as a mature member of the international community. In doing so it assumed full responsibility to serve as a leader in all three dimensions of the organization.

We are counting on you to uphold a principled position by making a statement at the Ministerial Council expressing concern about recent developments in Kazakhstan and outlining steps the Kazakh government needs to take in order to implement meaningful reforms worthy of an OSCE chair.

Thank you for your attention to these concerns.

With best regards,


Holly Cartner                               Lotte Leicht                                                                                 

Executive Director                        EU Director                                                                              

Europe and Central Asia Division                            


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