Human Rights Developments
The erosion of legislative power began on March 6, when the Constitutional Court ruled that the popular 1994 elections that had created the parliament were unconstitutional. Within days, President Nursultan Nazarbaev, citing that ruling, dissolved parliament and governed for the rest of the year by presidential decree. His promise that new elections would take place "within two to three months" still had not materialized eight months later. On April 29 a popular referendum which some observers claimed was riddled with violations, approved the president's proposal that the electorate do away with the scheduled 1996 presidential election and allow him to retain his post uncontested until the year 2000.
On August 31, after less than a month's deliberation, reportedly 89 percent of participating voters approved a draft constitution that vastly expanded presidential prerogatives, giving Nazarbaev the authority to dissolve the parliament for something as minor as the parliament's failure to approve his nomination for prime minister, and making it all but impossible to remove the president from office. The draft also effectively dissolved the Constitutional Court, the only body that could challenge these changes.
After printing criticism of the dissolution of parliament, on March 23, the outspoken local newspaper Karavan was forced to close for two weeks when a fire swept through its offices in what some observers believed was political arson. On April 4, the Procurator General's office closed the newspaper Kazakhstanskaia Pravda, charging that it had incited ethnic hatred. On April 29, the day of the presidential referendum, B. Itterman, head of the village administration for Krasnodol'sk in Kellerovsky rayon, was assassinated "for refusing to distort the result of the referendum," according to a June 2 protest statement from the Russian Federation's Federal Assembly State Duma. On August 21, just days before the constitutional referendum, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reportedly arrested approximately half of a group on hunger strike, representing the pressure group Anti-Dictatorship Bloc and urging an election boycott, for allegedly holding an unauthorized protest. That same day, one of the strike organizers, deputy of the dissolved parliament Vladimir Chernyshev, reportedly was beaten at the entrance to his apartment, in an apparent effort to end the strike.
The Right to Monitor
The Role of the International Community
The U.S. response to the string of blatantly undemocratic actions was tentative and sometimes contradictory. Ambassador William Courtney hailed the March dissolution of parliament as a move "to strengthen the rule of law in Kazakhstan," according to The Moscow Tribune of March 14, while Defense Minister William Perry protested the move. U.S. criticism of the presidential referendum and of parts of the draft constitution was more categorical: Secretary of State Warren Christopher stated on August 31 that backsliding along the path to democracy would "affect the closeness of U.S.-Kazakstan relations."
The Work of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki