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In overhauling its criminal and administrative laws, Kazakhstan has the golden opportunity to show its de jure commitment to human rights. Instead, the country’s current draft legislative changes would “significantly limit and infringe upon” human rights, according to a powerful open statement issued last week by Kazakhstan’s leading nongovernmental organizations.

The groups fear that if no further amendments are made to the draft codes, the vague and repressive formulations will allow the Kazakh authorities to further clamp down on human rights. Collectively, they called on Kazakh authorities to make the revised laws compatible with international human rights standards.

In creating the new laws, Kazakh officials could have decriminalized libel and insult of public officials, amended the charge of inciting social discord, and tightened language to make provisions as narrowly defined and unambiguous as possible, for example.

Instead, Kazakhstan is backtracking on ensuring protection of rights from undue infringements. The concerns of my NGO colleagues are timely and valid.

While the bills have not yet completed all stages of review, so far, none of the aforementioned human rights problems, nor many of the others identified to parliament, have been fixed. Instead, many of the proposed amendments would only further restrict human rights. Thus, Kazakhstan is not only failing to live up to its international commitments, it’s blatantly flouting them.

And the authorities seem to be getting away with it, with little reaction from states who should know better.

Take the EU, for example, which claims to be “promot[ing] human rights in all areas of its external action without exception,” according to its human rights framework and action plan. Instead of engaging Kazakhstan on the draft legislation, or indeed, on a range of other human rights issues, such as the recent closure of the Assandi Times newspaper, the EU seems to be turning a blind eye – at least on the public record.

EU officials are forging ahead with negotiations for upgraded relations with Kazakhstan, in the form of an “enhanced” Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which will give Kazakhstan preferential political and economic ties to the EU.

So far, it does not appear that the EU has used the negotiations process to push for meaningful progress in human rights, even as its foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton, and the European Parliament have expressly linked the two, underscoring the need to ensure that upgraded relations go hand in hand with rights reforms.

Nevertheless it is still not too late to start.


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