KarazhanbasMunai oil workers on strike outside company offices in Aktau, Kazakhstan in October 2011.

© 2011 Robin Forestier-Walker

(Geneva) – United Nations member countries should use an upcoming UN review of Kazakhstan’s rights record to urge its government to adopt overdue reforms. Kazakhstan’s rights record will be in international spotlight during the country’s second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on October 30, 2014.

“Kazakhstan’s rights record has taken a serious turn for the worse in recent years,” said Mihra Rittmann, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The UPR is a key opportunity for Kazakhstan’s partners to show concern about this trend, and tell the government that it needs to institute meaningful reforms.”

The human rights situation in Kazakhstan has significantly deteriorated since its previous scrutiny under the UPR procedure in 2010, with authorities cracking down on free speech and peaceful dissent, imprisoning government critics, and tightening controls over freedom of association, religion, and assembly.

At its previous UPR, Kazakhstan accepted key recommendations concerning freedom of speech, including amending legislation criminalizing libel; freedom of assembly, including adopting a new law on public assemblies; freedom of religion, specifically agreeing to allow religious groups to carry out their peaceful activities free from government interference; to uphold fair trial standards; and to apply a zero tolerance approach to torture.

Yet, the record shows that Kazakhstan has fallen far short of these commitments, ignoring some and further backsliding with respect to others.

While Kazakhstan has long limited key civil and political rights, authorities began an overt crackdown on fundamental freedoms following extended, unresolved labor strikes in the oil sector which ended in violent clashes in December 2011, when police killed 12 people.

In a submission ahead of the UPR, Human Rights Watch documented how the Kazakhstan government failed to live up to previous UPR commitments and to international human rights standards more generally, in particular by:

  • Suppressing free speech and dissent through misuse of overly broad laws such as the offense of “inciting social discord”;
  • Limiting peaceful assembly by fining and imprisoning dozens of people who have attempted to stage peaceful protests;
  • Imprisoning several government critics and labor rights activists in trials that did not meet international fair trial standards, in particular opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov, labor activists Rosa Tuletaeva and Maksat Dosmagambetov, and civil society activist Vadim Kuramshin. In addition, authorities are holding Zinaida Mukhortova, a lawyer, in forced psychiatric detention;
  • Failing to investigate serious and credible allegations of ill-treatment and torture, thereby allowing perpetrators to go free and denying victims justice;
  • Ushering in a highly restrictive religion law in October 2011 that resulted in the closure of hundreds of small religious groups unable to meet membership requirements for re-registration.

“Kazakhstan made a number of important human rights pledges during the previous review that it has not fulfilled,” Rittmann said. “The upcoming UN review is a critical moment to flag Kazakhstan’s unfulfilled promises and underscore its need to implement them without further delay.”