(Berlin) – The Kazakhstan government should invite international experts to join its domestic investigative efforts into serious human rights violations during the January 2022 protests and violence to ensure that the results are seen as credible, Human Rights Watch said today. The statement followed a meeting between Mukhtar Tileuberdi, Kazakhstan’s foreign affairs minister, and Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.
“Kazakhstan has announced investigations and commissions to examine the January events, but the government has a long history of such efforts failing to bring accountability or justice,” Roth said. “A hybrid investigation, with international experts joining national investigators, offers the best opportunity for these new investigative efforts to be more successful.”
Roth raised those points during the conversation with Foreign Affairs Minister Tileuberdi. According to Kazakhstan authorities, at least 225 people were killed, and many injured in early January in shootings by security forces and violence in Almaty and elsewhere. Those killed included 19 members of the security forces. Thousands of people were detained. Human Rights Watch and other groups have documented dozens of cases of arbitrary detention, mistreatment and torture in detention, and lack of access to lawyers.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, several UN human rights experts, the United States, and the European Union’s human rights envoy have called for an independent investigation into the January events. The best way to guarantee that independence is through a hybrid national-international investigation, Human Rights Watch said.
Such a fact-finding investigation needs to be well-resourced, genuinely independent and transparent, and have access to government information, Human Rights Watch said. The scope of its mandate should allow it to examine the circumstances around the deaths in the context of the protests in Almaty on January 4 through 6, the possible responsibility of police forces or others for these violations, and allegations of torture and other abuses. Kazakhstan should commit to receiving and considering the conclusions of the investigation, providing a remedy for the violations, and holding those responsible to account.
It is important for international personnel involved in the investigation to be able to make a sustained and dedicated long-term commitment to the effort, Human Rights Watch said. Roth suggested to the government that the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the UN Human Rights Council are possible sources of support and expertise. Short-term visits by international observers, while important, will not yield the genuine partnership that sustained involvement by dedicated personnel will provide.
Human Rights Watch has documented Kazakhstan’s failure on many occasions to carry out effective investigations into serious human rights violations or to bring those responsible to justice, including with respect to the killings in Zhanaozen in 2011 and the subsequent trials and convictions.
Human Rights Watch has published two reports about the January events. Kazakhstan: Killings, Excessive Use of Force in Almaty documents that the Kazakh security forces used excessive force on at least four occasions, including lethal force such as shooting at protesters and rioters who posed no immediate threat. At least 10 people appear to have been killed in this way by security forces, and the likely death toll in these incidents is probably much higher.
The second report, Kazakhstan: Protesters Arbitrarily Arrested, Beaten, documents that Kazakh security forces arbitrarily arrested peaceful protesters and others, ill-treated and tortured some detainees, including with beatings with batons and electric shocks.
Should the government fail to conduct an effective investigation that meets international standards, Human Rights Watch said, OSCE members should invoke the Moscow Mechanism, an OSCE investigation procedure, and UN Human Rights Council members should address the issues at their next session.
“The government of Kazakhstan under president Kasym-Jomart Tokaev says it is committed to a new approach to economic and political affairs following the January events,” Roth said. “Accounting for grave recent abuses needs to be part of this process. To avoid a deep stain on its record, Kazakhstan’s investigation should meet the highest international standards.”