Kazakhstan: Discrimination, Criminal Justice and Freedom of Expression and Assembly voiced as key concerns for the HR Committee

The Second Periodic Report of Kazakhstan was reviewed by the Human Rights Committee on the 22nd and 23rd of June 2016. The Review was attended by an impressive number of civil society representatives, many of whom also partook in an informal briefing with Committee members, highlighting key human rights concerns in Kazakhstan. A range of issues were discussed in the ensuing dialogue, key amongst which were the rights of women and LGBT persons; the use of torture in detention; and freedom of expression, association and assembly.

"The State party is currently reconsidering reducing the law on detention to 48 hours (24 hours for minors), in line with the ICCPR"

- (Delegation of Kazakhstan)

Discrimination against women and LGBT persons

Regarding the rights of women and girls, the Committee expressed concern for the underrepresentation of women in the political sphere, as well as their overrepresentation in low-paid or unpaid work. The delegation claimed that the government aimed to achieve 30% female representation in politics by 2030. Moreover, the gender wage gap was due to the higher level employment of women in lower-paid sectors, whilst men occupied some 25 dangerous professions which were not open to women and were better paid, although the government are looking to reduce this list.

In response to questions addressing violence against women and bride-kidnapping, the delegation reported that 26,000 women had turned to the State for help in 2015, including 4,000 calls via a special hotline offering an advisory service. Of 19 organisations providing rehabilitation for female victims, 7 were State bodies and others, run by civil society, received State funding. Victims of rape also have the right to free legal and medical assistance. The delegation reported 7 convictions for bride-kidnapping in 2015, with an increased sentence to a maximum of 15 years.

Regarding LGBT rights, the Committee requested whether sufficient protection from discrimination was provided under the existing legal framework. The delegation replied that all forms of discrimination are prohibited under the law, including against LGBT persons, and that the government has put in place a National Plan of Action addressing the protection of LGBT rights. The Committee also questioned more than once whether there was any truth in allegations that transgender persons were forced to undergo 30 days of institutionalisation as well as forced sterilisation, but this remained unanswered.

Criminal justice

The laws regarding ‘anti-extremism’ were noted by the Committee as dangerously vague, with a high risk of being used to repress freedoms of expression and association. The delegation replied that absolute clarity in this regard would be complicated, but to avoid arbitrary interpretation, a separate investigative mechanism is mandatory, without which authorities do not have the power to implement their interpretation of the Criminal Code. Moreover, organisations prohibited by the State cannot be guilty of a crime unless action is taken, and one such organisation which planned to set up a Caliphate to overthrow the existing order was consequently prohibited. 

The Committee also referred to necessary registration and preconditions for political or religious organisations as a barrier to freedom of assembly. The delegation replied that this was a regulation of procedure rather than a restriction, and responded to the Committee’s suggestion that replacing the Ministry of Justice with an independent body has not been discussed by the government.

Responding to reports on media repression, the delegation assured of a numerous and varied media, and whilst activities can be suspended by law, local authorities can no longer possess powers of regulation.

Responding to the concerns of the Committee regarding the treatment of detainees, the delegation reported that it is a requirement that detainees are informed of their rights, and there is a body responsible for dealing with cases of violations in this regard. The delegation also stated that lawyers have unlimited access to clients held in detention, and that typically detainees were brought before a judge within 60 hours, rather than the 72 hours stipulated by Kazakh law, and that the Prosecutor-General did not have the power to extend the time of detention. Notably, the Committee was informed that the State party is currently reconsidering reducing the law to 48 hours (24 hours for minors), in line with the ICCPR.

In terms of judicial independence, the delegation stated that the candidacies of judges are open, and that the role of the President in appointing the judge points to the special status of judges themselves.

Responding to concerns regarding prison conditions and military intervention in carrying out security in prisons, the delegation reported that reforms had led to a reduction in the prison population by 30%, leading to an improvement in space and food provisions. Legislation permits the participation of the national guard in penitentiary services.

Regarding laws on victim-perpetrator reconciliation and exemption of persons “acting under official capacity” for acts of torture, the delegation claimed that physical or psychological suffering was punishable by 5-12 years imprisonment. Whilst there is an option of reconciliation with the victim, the government are currently working on a Draft Concept which may lead to amendments to the Criminal Code in this regard. Victims of torture are entitled to State compensation of up to $10,000, however families of victims cannot apply for this.

The Committee also inquired whether Kazakhstan was moving towards the abolition of the death penalty. The delegation confirmed that this was the case.

The Committee also expressed concern that the Ombudsman was not granted the power to rule on government decisions, and that the Office of the Ombudsman lacked necessary funding and resources. The State party responded that the government had signed a law to increase the status of the Ombudsman.

Recommendations from the Committee

The Concluding Observations for which the State should provide information on the implementation within one year, concern:

  • Accountability for human rights violations in connection with Zhanaozen events: The State party should carry out an independent, impartial and effective investigation into the individual deaths and injuries in connection with the events in Zhanaozen, as well as into all allegations of torture and ill-treatment, with a view to ensuring proper accountability for perpetrators, restoration of the rights of convicted persons to a fair trial, and effective remedies for the victims and their families.
  • Torture and ill-treatment: The State party should take robust measures to eradicate torture and ill- treatment, inter alia by ensuring independent investigations into such allegations and appropriate sanctions for perpetrators and  full reparation for victims.
  • Freedom of association and participation in public life: The State party should bring its regulations and practice governing the registration and functioning of political parties and NGOs into full compliance with the Covenant. The State party should, inter alia: refrain from criminalising public associations for legitimate activities; clarify the broad grounds for the suspension or dissolution of political parties; and ensure that state funding is not used as a means to control or interfere with the activities of such associations.

The next (third) periodic report of Kazakhstan should be submitted by 15 July 2020.

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