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(Berlin) – Kazakhstan fails to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people from violence and discrimination, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. LGBT people in Kazakhstan face hostility and abuse, a lack of sufficient response and support mechanisms, and an intensified climate of fear amid recent efforts to adopt an anti-LGBT “propaganda” law. 

Poster of Kazakh composer Kurmangazy Sagyrbaiuly and Russian poet Aleksandr Pushkin designed by Havas Worldwide Kazakhstan, an advertising agency. © 2014 Havas Worldwide Kazakhstan

The 31-page report “‘That’s When I Realized I Was Nobody’: A Climate of Fear for LGBT People in Kazakhstan,” documents pervasive homophobic attitudes, hateful treatment, and failure of police and other government agencies to protect LGBT people in Kazakhstan. The report is based on in-depth interviews with LGBT people, activists, human rights experts, and social service and health practitioners in Kazakhstan. Human Rights Watch also analyzed the proposed “propaganda” legislation presented in Kazakhstan’s parliament early in 2015 that was later scrapped.

“The climate of fear for LGBT people in Kazakhstan is stoked both by the abuses and discrimination they face directly, as well as abuse and discrimination when they try to report rights violations to authorities,” said Kyle Knight, LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “The Kazakh government should clearly state its support for the human rights of LGBT people, ensure that no discriminatory legislation is passed into law, and take immediate steps to tackle homophobia.”

Human Rights Watch documented the atmosphere of fear in which LGBT people live in Kazakhstan, and a range of abuses they suffer, including inadequate response by authorities and service providers. In one example, a gay man in Almaty told Human Rights Watch that when he attempted to report a mugging to police in a park, he pointed to where it happened, outside a gay nightclub, and the officers refused to investigate, saying: “Oh you were over there, walking from that direction? Well that’s where the faggot night club is so we can’t help you.” A psychologist at an HIV clinic in Almaty said that of the hundreds of gay and bisexual male clients she had seen in the past five years, not even one had devised a strategy to safely come out. 

A lesbian mother in Almaty said: “The problem is that we start to believe these nasty things about ourselves because there’s no counter-argument in public.”

The climate of fear for LGBT people in Kazakhstan is stoked both by the abuses and discrimination they face directly, as well as abuse and discrimination when they try to report rights violations to authorities.
Kyle Knight

LGBT rights researcher

Almaty, the bustling southern city that is Kazakhstan’s former capital, is contending to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. The only other contender is Beijing. Both countries have serious human rights problems, but in the process of bidding for the Olympics, Kazakhstan’s parliament moved to adopt anti-gay “propaganda” legislation that would have directly contravened the Olympic Charter’s rule that discrimination is incompatible with the Olympic Movement. The legislation was not signed into law, but one member of parliament has proposed reintroducing it. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will select the 2022 host country on July 31, 2015, in Kuala Lumpur.

“The IOC shouldn’t take its eye off the ball on ugly discrimination and human rights abuses for Olympic host contenders,” Knight said. “The IOC and the Kazakhstan government should publicly condemn anti-LGBT discrimination to signal that there is no place for homophobia in global sport or the countries that want to host Olympic Games.”

In December 2014, as part of its “Olympic Agenda 2020,” the International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed that all future host city contracts would include a requirement to specifically ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The IOC move has been seen by many as a rebuke to Russia, which passed a similar discriminatory anti-gay “propaganda” law ahead of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

Despite the IOC’s strengthened requirements, in early 2015, Kazakhstan’s parliament passed draft legislation against “propaganda of non-traditional sexual orientation.”

The process for adopting the draft legislation in its final stages was not transparent, and final drafts of the bills were never made public. The bills were sent to President Nursultan Nazarbayev for his signature after they passed a senate reading in February. On May 18, Kazakhstan’s Constitutional Council found pending legislation unconstitutional, but did not address the discriminatory aspects of the bills.

If the bill was rejected only on the grounds that it was vaguely worded, there is no guarantee that future legislation would respect the non-discrimination obligation in international human rights law and the Olympic Charter, Human Rights Watch said.
“[The gay community] has been silent and [has] tried to survive the abuses that come our way,” a 29-year-old gay man in Kazakhstan told Human Rights Watch in March. “And still, you can see in the parliament today that they want to call us ‘illegal propaganda.’”
The IOC’s June evaluation report on Almaty’s readiness to host the Olympic Games says that Kazakhstan’s “National Government and the regional and municipal governments of Almaty have committed to fully respect the provisions of the Olympic Charter and the Host City Contract.” Human Rights Watch wrote to the IOC four times asking the IOC to take action to ensure that the Kazakhstan government does not introduce discriminatory laws.

On July 15, the president of the IOC, Thomas Bach, responded to Human Rights Watch that “The IOC is an organisation that is firmly opposed to all forms of discrimination in sport.” 

“In addition, in the context of the evaluation for the Games,” Bach wrote, “the IOC’s Evaluation Commission sought assurances from both Candidate Cities and their local Government authorities that the Host City Contract and Olympic Charter would be fully respected for all participants of the Olympic Games and in Olympic-related matters.”

“Human Rights Watch research shows there is a big gap between the Olympic Charter and the environment on the ground in Kazakhstan,” Knight said. “Any assurances need to be considered against Kazakhstan’s continuing climate of discrimination and fear for LGBT people that Human Rights Watch documented in our report.”   


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