Kuanysh Sultanov, chairman of the Commission on Human Rights under the President of Kazakhstan discussed the organisation in an interview with this newspaper.
Practice proves that national harmony and stability increase when society’s interests and human rights mix harmoniously. Does this apply to the commission’s monitoring operations?
Human rights are not just declarations. Our country, since the first days of its independence, has respected the significance of the rights and freedoms of its citizens. This rule is enshrined in Article 1 of the Constitution of Kazakhstan; an entire section of the law is devoted to it. On Feb. 12, 1994, President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed a decree forming the National Commission on Human Rights, the main goal of which is protecting human rights and freedoms, as well as strengthening the country’s international human rights obligations compliance responsibilities.
In many ways, our commission is unique. It operates on a voluntary basis, because most of its members are not government officials. Also, it is subordinate to the President, which indicates the significance of its status; it has quite a lot of freedom of action.
Human rights monitoring is one of the commission’s main tasks. The commission’s reports to the President say a lot about the country’s future. They are indicators of societal well-being.
Commission members are actively involved in the discussion and protection of national human rights reports in relevant United Nations committees and during Universal Periodic Reviews at the UN Council on Human Rights.
The ombudsman and relevant NGOs weigh in on human rights issues. What makes the commission relevant?
First of all, the commission is an impartial mediator between public authorities and the nongovernmental sector.
After studying public opinion and current legislation, the commission informs the head of state both about the human rights situation in the country and the needs of civil society. At the same time, the structure is not a substitute for state agencies and NGOs. Our task is to actively improve state human rights policy, identify weak points and prepare concept proposals for improving legislation. The commission takes care in ensuring both the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people of Kazakhstan and a legalistic culture.
Tell us more about the commission’s targeted orientation.
The constitutional rights of Kazakhstan citizens regarding judicial protection, healthcare and expert medical and legal assistance are the commission’s focus. Its priorities include the right to education, respect for the legitimate interests of children and others and the protection of the rights of people with disabilities.
This whole set of issues and live communication with people was why so many proposals for improving the human rights apparatus, such as ratifying the main universal international human rights instruments and forming various interdepartmental committees on these issues in central state bodies and the establishment of the ombudsman were made.
Could you please elaborate on the legislation, in particular, the ratification of international treaties concerning human rights?
Kazakhstan has ratified eight main multilateral international legal acts. They are the International Covenants on Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and All Forms of Discrimination against Women is very important to Kazakhstan. In the same series are basic documents on the Rights of the Child and the Disabled.
International treaties recommended by the Commission for ratification include the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the status of refugees and others, including the abolition of slavery and the slave trade.
How authoritative are our human rights experts abroad?
Recently, they won the respect of the UN and [Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe] (OSCE). True leaders in the human rights sphere are Ninel Fokina, Vitaly Voronov, Zhemis Turmagambetova, Yevgeny Zhovtis, Zulfiya Baisakova, Yenlik Nurgaliyeva. Their names are known far outside of Kazakhstan.
What are the complaints lodged to the commission usually about?
I’ll start with the statistics. Last year, we received 1,027 complaints about rights violations and carefully analysed them. It turned out that most applicants do not agree with court decisions in criminal, civil, administrative and juvenile cases. This phenomenon accounts for 33 percent of complaints.
Complaints about law enforcement agencies were the second most numerous type of complaint. The numbers show that 17.53 percent of citizens who complained did so about the actions and inactions of law enforcement entities.
There are legitimate complaints about violations regarding housing and social and labour rights. The people in Kazakhstan have expressed dissatisfaction with disrespectful attitudes from officials. This applies both to the penitentiary system and institutions in education, culture and health. Claims have been made to the akims (governors) and other leaders. Complaints related to rights violations constitute 1.74 percent of all complaints.
What are the next steps?
After reviewing all appeals, we took 38 complaints under special control, doubting the objectivity of the consideration made by state agencies. Of them, 23 of them were deemed real violations. Thanks to the commission, these wrongs were made right.
How do foreign experts evaluate commission activities?
They approve changes to our country’s national human rights mechanisms, noting that more harmonious coordination of agency efforts and human rights activists is needed.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and International Organisation from Migration (IOM), our projects for protecting the rights of stateless persons and refugees, migrant workers and victims of human trafficking have no match anywhere else in the world and can be proposed as a viable model to the UN and OSCE member states.
How constructive is the commission’s dialogue with human rights NGOs?
NGOs have an important place in our human rights protection system. We pay great attention to the development and support of civil society institutions. NGOs are strategic partners of the commission in human rights endeavours. They assist in the formulation of special reports and programmes that contribute to the improvement of national legislation and practices.
The commission actively uses the potential of NGOs in educational and expert-analytical work. On a regular basis, we hold meetings, round tables, training seminars and visits to penal and socio-cultural institutions. Committee members are involved in events organised by NGOs and provide them with methodological assistance.
Our system for the protection of human rights is up to date and will always be something we find important. What are its characteristics?
Kazakhstan has created a favourable environment for safeguarding human rights. Current legislation not only complies with the highest international human rights standards, but also allows citizens to live freely and enjoy their rights and freedoms. Nevertheless, there are problems with the system.
Human rights protection has flourished in Kazakhstan in recent years. Kazakhstan’s successful chairmanship of the OSCE, OIC and other international organisations prove this. Our country, as a member of the UN Human Rights Council and its bureau, submitted its candidacy for non-permanent membership in the UN Security Council for 2017-2018.
Does the status of a member of the Mazhilis (lower house of Parliament) help in solving problems related to the violation of human rights guaranteed by the constitution?
A lot of people turn to me as the chairman of the Commission on Human Rights under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan and as a member of the Mazhilis. I try to listen to everyone in order to understand their problems; I then suggest what steps should be taken. If a civil rights violation is apparent, I am required to use my power and take control of the situation. Members of the commission work according to the same principle.