Kazakhstan and the United Nations: Maturing Relationship

On March 2, Kazakhstan will celebrate the 23rd anniversary of its acceptance as a full member of the United Nations. The decision, less than three months after the country gained independence, was the start of a strong relationship which continues to grow.

imagesSix weeks later, President Nursultan Nazarbayev appointed Akmaral Arystanbekova as Kazakhstan’s first Permanent Representative to the United Nations. This was followed soon after by the decree to set up Kazakhstan’s Permanent Mission to the UN in New York.

The first UN office in Kazakhstan was opened in 1993 in Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan soon became a member of almost all UN agencies, two regional commissions (UNECE and ESCAP), and was periodically elected to a number of the functional commissions of ECOSOC. In addition, Kazakhstan became a member of the Executive Boards of UNICEF, UNESCO and UN-Women. Between 2013 and 2015, Kazakhstan is a member of the UN Human Rights Council.

On Oct. 24, 2014, in his welcoming speech at a roundtable devoted to UN Day, Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan Erlan Idrissov expressed the country’s gratitude for the contribution of UN experts and the leadership of its specialised institutions. He added that their support has been instrumental in developing and consolidating the newly-independent Kazakhstan.

“For over 20 years we have been successfully cooperating on a multitude of projects on poverty reduction, healthcare and education systems, social services, sustainable development, environmental protection and the efficiency of public administration, as well as many other sectors,” the Minister said.

In 2013, Kazakhstan officially announced its candidacy for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for 2017-2018. As a regional leader and global partner in matters of energy security, and a valuable contributor to international peacekeeping missions, Kazakhstan intends to bring its experience to bear on some of the most pressing challenges currently facing the UN Security Council. Its bid is based on four central pillars: food security, water security, energy security and nuclear security. The vote will take place in the spring of 2016 at the UN General Assembly in New York.

Kazakhstan has actively participated in all major events and hosted major international forums under the auspices of the UN. This includes the first global UN Conference for landlocked countries in 2003, the 63rd Session of ESCAP in 2007, the WHO conference dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the Alma-Ata Declaration on primary healthcare in 2008, the 18th General Assembly of the World Tourism Organization in 2009, and the 6th Ministerial Conference on Environment and Development for Asia and the Pacific in 2010.

In a sign of Kazakhstan’s strong contribution to the UN, in 2011, a Kazakh representative, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, was appointed to the post of Deputy Secretary General of the UN. He also served as the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva and Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament. Having now returned to Kazakhstan, he is Chairman of the Senate (upper chamber) of the Parliament of Kazakhstan as well as Head of the Secretariat of the Congress of the Leaders of World and Traditional Religions.

In December 2014, Kazakhstan took another important step in its relationship with both the UN and the international community as a whole when President Nazarbayev signed a draft law establishing the country’s official development aid programme (ODA), KazAID. The previous month, Foreign Minister Idrissov and Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Kazakhstan, Stephen Tull had signed an agreement on the UNDP’s support for the aid programme. After the agreement was signed, Tull remarked on Kazakhstan’s transition from being an aid recipient to an aid donor.

KazAID, as the new agency is provisionally now called, will be the first ODA programme among the Central Asian countries, and one that will focus on providing assistance to neighbouring states. “It is another tool to create favourable external conditions for the development of the country,” First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan Rapil Zhoshybayev said in a recent interview.

Kazakhstan attaches great importance to its cooperation with the UN to ensure the protection and promotion of human rights. The government supports the leading role of the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The country has started implementing the Millennium Development Goals Plus (MDG+) agenda, which lays out more ambitious goals adapted specifically for Kazakhstan. The priority issues for Kazakhstan are reducing poverty and unemployment, reducing maternal and child mortality, promoting sustainable development, improving the environment, fighting HIV/AIDS, and ensuring gender equality.

According to Stephen Tull, Kazakhstan has already achieved some of the MDGs, including those on poverty reduction, access to primary education and promotion of women’s rights. The Government has since made further commitments under the MDG+ agenda.

“We will keep nurturing our partnership. Kazakhstan is unique in the sense that despite the fact it is young and ambitious, it has the wisdom to pursue a multilateral approach in its foreign policy and find the right balance between promoting national interests and strengthening cooperation with other member-states,” Tull said.

Kazakhstan and the United Nations have a long history of cooperation which now dates back 23 years. As Kazakhstan has matured, the nature of its relationship has changed, and will continue to change in the future.

One critical point to watch will be the election for the UN Security Council a year from now. As Idrissov noted, Kazakhstan can already count on the support of around 100 countries out of almost 200 member countries of the UN.

Yet, it is still short of the two thirds majority needed for victory. As Idrissov has said, there is no room for complacency.

In the remaining 12 months, we will surely see a flurry of diplomatic activity and campaigning across the world by both Kazakhstan and Thailand, its competitor in the Asian group. This will give Kazakhstan’s international partners the chance to judge the value of its bid and what its membership of the Security Council offers the UN and international community.

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