Along with its nation-building after gaining independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan has followed a path of controlled democratisation, which became more streamlined since Tokayev took over as president in March 2019.
“An important stage of political modernisation is a further implementation of concrete measures in the field of human rights. A corresponding decree was signed today. The government has been instructed to adopt an Urgent Action Plan for its implementation,” Tokayev said on Twitter on Thursday (10 June).
The European Parliament in February passed a resolution criticising Kazakhstan for its human rights record, highlighting the plight of ethic minorities, women and LGBTI residents, and deploring a crackdown on civil society groups and activists and demanding the release of political prisoners.
Kazakh officials and diplomats responded that the criticism was unfair and that the EU should not ignore or discourage efforts to improve the country’s record on human rights.
The decree includes measures aimed at improving the mechanisms of cooperation with the UN Human Rights Council, as well as enhancing the protection of the rights of human trafficking victims and citizens with disabilities.
Priority areas include attempts to eliminate discrimination against women, boost freedoms of association, expression and freedom to life and public order.
The plan also aims to increase in the efficiency of interaction with non-governmental organisations and aims to improve human rights in the criminal justice system to stamp out torture and ill-treatment of prisoners.
On his Telegram channel, presidential aide Erlan Karin reflected on previous human rights reforms initiated by Tokayev, including the abolition of the death penalty in late 2019.
Karin pointed to what he said was a consistent focus on the importance of regulations against cyberbullying, human trafficking, torture, staff misconduct in penitentiary institutions and gender discrimination in Tokayev’s state-of-the-nation addresses and meetings with the National Council of Public Trust.
“The implementation of all the provisions enshrined in today’s decree will foster a comprehensive modernisation of the human rights sphere and will become our next step towards building a just and progressive state,” Karin told the Astana Times.
Meanwhile, Zhemis Turmagambetova, president of the Charter for Human Rights Public Fund, told the paper that the decree presents an opportunity to transform the human rights issue from an abstract problem into a practical matter with efficient solutions.
According to Turmagambetova, the current Kazakh legislative system needs modernisation and reforms to make it more well-structured.
“It is the government’s turn to develop plans for the implementation of the decree. It must clearly follow the principles of a responsive government,” Turmagambetova said, adding that the state should involve civil society and international experts in a “constructive partnership.”
At the same time, boosting Kazakhstan’s human rights record could bring economic benefits, noted Usen Suleimen, ambassador at large for human rights at the Kazakh foreign ministry, with potential foreign investors attracted by a more stable, lower-risk economic environment.
“The step taken by the president is an important strategic decision aimed at strengthening the economic side of Kazakhstan’s development. We can expect the bolstering of economic relations with the countries of Europe, America and Asia leading up to the formation of a powerful regional economy,” Suleimen told the Astana Times.
“However, it largely depends on the implementation of the action plan and on the dialogue with civil society,” Suleimen added.
The decree came into effect after its signing and its implementation will be monitored and enforced by the administration of the president. The results of the action plan are expected to be discussed annually, with the first assessment due on 25 January, 2022.
[Edited by Josie Le Blond]