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Kazakhstan: Rights Deteriorating as OSCE Chairmanship Nears

OSCE Foreign Ministers Should Raise Concerns and Urge Improvements at Athens Gathering

(New York) - Foreign ministers gathering for the annual Ministerial Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Athens on December 1 and 2 should use the meeting to urge Kazakhstan to address pressing human rights concerns before it takes over the chairmanship of the organization in January, Human Rights Watch said today.

Greece is the current OSCE chair. The annual foreign ministers' meeting is a key decision-making forum for the OSCE, at which foreign ministers of participating states review and assess the activities of the organization. The Ministerial Council is also the forum that decides which country chairs the organization. Kazakhstan was granted this role for 2010 at the 2007 Ministerial Council in Madrid.

"Kazakhstan's poor human rights record made it a controversial choice to begin with," said Andrea Berg, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. "OSCE foreign ministers should use the Athens meeting to send a clear message that as Kazakhstan assumes the organization's chairmanship, it needs to bring its human rights record in line with OSCE standards."

While the Kazakh government made several important but modest human rights improvements in early 2009, it has not implemented more meaningful reforms. Instead, it has recently dealt a series of blows to human rights. In the last several months, it has further tightened control over independent media and the internet, brought politically motivated lawsuits against its critics, and sentenced a leading human rights defender to four years in prison following a patently unfair trial.

A new Human Rights Watch briefing paper, "Ten questions on Kazakhstan and the OSCE chairmanship," highlights a number of key areas of concern regarding Kazakhstan's compliance with its international human rights obligations and urges OSCE participating states to push for steps the Kazakh government needs to take to implement meaningful reforms worthy of an OSCE chair.

The government of Kazakhstan has announced its desire to host an OSCE summit at the end of its chairmanship. The OSCE has not held a summit, which brings together the heads of state of all 56 OSCE participating states, since 1999.

"An OSCE summit in Kazakhstan would further enhance the government's international prestige," said Berg. "Before OSCE states support this idea they should make clear that the Kazakh government needs to undertake serious, meaningful reforms."

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