Advisory Body Addresses Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion in Kazakhstan, Accepts Recommendations from Civil Society

ASTANA – The right to non-discrimination was the theme of the regular meeting of the Platform for Dialogue on the Human Dimension, a consultative advisory body, held on April 29 at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and chaired by ambassador-at-large Usen Suleimen.

According to a Foreign Ministry press release, meeting participants discussed protecting the human rights and freedoms of citizens irrespective of their racial, ethnic or social origins or their religion and beliefs, as guaranteed by the Constitution of Kazakhstan. They also discussed international acts ratified by the country, and the law “On religious activity and religious associations.” 

Representative of the Prosecutor General’s Office of Kazakhstan Azamat Sargazin noted that the citizens of Kazakhstan are guaranteed the right to freedom of assembly by the constitution. “Over the past three years there were 749 different protest rallies in Kazakhstan, which were attended by about 190,000 people,” he said, “and 58.2 percent of them were held spontaneously, without the prior permission of authorities.” Moreover, Sargazin contended that the legal regulation of assembly in Kazakhstan is consistent with international law, in particular the standards of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the practice of countries in which the existing system of democracy is recognised as developed.

Today, there has been notable progress in the creation of public associations, Sargazin said. For example, there are more than 27,000 registered nonprofit organisations. It was also emphasised that in order to liberalise procedures for establishing political parties in 2009, taking into account the recommendations of the OSCE, amendments to national legislation were made and implemented. “These amendments extended the term of state registration from two to four months and reduced the numbers of supporters needed to register a political party, which are required to register a party, from 50,000 to 40,000 individuals,” commented Sargazin.

Regarding the principle of equality of religious organisations, the state allows religious organisations to act in accordance with their religious rules and regulations, participants said. “Today, in Kazakhstan, more than 3,500 religious entities representing 18 denominations are registered and coexist peacefully. All of them are free [to practice their] religion, gather to worship, distribute religious literature and create charitable organisations,” said Chairman of the Committee for Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Culture and Sports Galym Shoikin.

The participants also discussed the report of Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Heiner Bielefeldt, in which the main findings on the results of a visit of Kazakhstan from March 25 to February 4, 2014, were presented. The special rapporteur emphasised in his report that freedom of religion and belief is not simply the result of an effective policy to ensure diversity and has the status of a universal right of all people.

Representatives of the non-governmental sector raised a range of issues relating to the current system of registration of religious organisations, control of the inflow of religious literature and the statutory documents for registering religious groups. “The right to freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental human right. However, to spread this faith, to involve other people in it, may be appropriate only after an organisation is registered,” responded Shoikin. 

Some members of the platform on behalf of civil society called on the Committee on Religious Affairs to continue working to improve legislation in the sphere of religion, including its alignment with international standards.

The final chord of the meeting was the presentation by the director of the Kostanai branch of Kazakhstan’s International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, Anastasia Miller, on Kazakhstan’s first experiences in implementing decisions of international human rights bodies.

The Platform for Dialogue on the Human Dimension, hosted by the Kazakh Foreign Ministry, has served since 2013 as the format for regular interaction between government agencies tasked with protecting human rights and civil society organisations involved in the same issue.

Following the work of the dialogue platform in 2013, 157 recommendations were devised, and another 109 recommendations in 2014, most related to the progress of democratic institutions, strengthening the rule of law and protecting human rights.

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