Ahead of the high-level segment of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), held each March, The Astana Times discussed cooperation between Kazakhstan and the UN and bilateral relations with Switzerland with Ambassador of Kazakhstan to Switzerland and Permanent Representative to the UN Office in Geneva Mukhtar Tileuberdi.
What is the relationship between Kazakhstan and the UN Human Rights Council?
The UNHRC is the UN’s principal body responsible for promoting and protecting human rights around the world. … Cooperation between Kazakhstan and the UN Human Rights Council is at a high level and has been growing substantially over the last few years.
In 2012 Kazakhstan was elected as a member of the UN’s human rights body, and over the past three years we have been actively involved in its work. Our country co-sponsored many thematic resolutions that were adopted by the UNHRC. It was among the main co-authors of some of those resolutions and has been contributing significantly to the work of various mechanisms of the council.
In addition to being a member of the UNHRC, in 2014 Kazakhstan was a coordinator of the Asia-Pacific Group, which is by far most numerous group, and last year it was Vice Chairman of the UN Human Rights Office.
Kazakhstan supports a high level of cooperation with all mechanisms and procedures of the UNHRC. In 2014, our country successfully completed the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights. The UPR is one of the main and most effective mechanisms of the council. Currently, the country is working towards implementing recommendations made following the review. In addition, we are actively cooperating with special procedures mechanisms.
Our relationship with the UNHRC has been developing quite fast, and we intend to continue to contribute to the work of the council and to maintain a high level of cooperation with its mechanisms.
Over the past few years, Kazakhstan has become a subject of focus of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, one of the main mechanisms to assess human rights situations on the spot. How do you assess cooperation between our country and the special mandate holders of the UNHRC?
Indeed, the interaction of our country with the mechanism of special procedures of the UNHRC is at a high level. In 2009, Kazakhstan sent an open-ended invitation to all holders of mandates of special procedures of the council, thus confirming our commitment to further strengthen the national system of promoting and protecting human rights.
In a short period, 10 UN special mandate holders visited our country, two experts even twice. Last year there was a visit by Maina Kiai, special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and Baskut Tuncak, special rapporteur on toxic and dangerous waste. The analysis shows that special rapporteurs visit our country more often than they do any other country. This means that we are open for cooperation with this mechanism and we do not create barriers to external monitoring of human rights in our country. … [T]here is an ongoing dialogue and interaction. Kazakhstan is open to further cooperation and to honest and constructive dialogue with the special procedures’ mandate holders of the council.
What outstanding issues does Kazakhstan have regarding implementing recommendations from UN human rights mechanisms?
Kazakhstan is currently a party to all major international instruments regarding protection of human rights, and we pay special attention to our cooperation with the UN in this area. This is evidenced by the fact that we regularly and swiftly provide periodic reports to relevant UN committees and are actively involved in their submission.
Without naming all the reports that Kazakhstan has submitted over the past few years, I would like to highlight that last year we presented our fourth periodic report to the UN Committee on the Rights of Children, and this year we will present our first national report to the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances and our second periodic report on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Regular reporting to the UN bodies and subsequent constructive and open dialogue with them helps us mark our course to improve our promotion and protection of human rights. All states go through this process. At the same time, this is not to say that recommendations of one committee have any priority over recommendations of any other. All of them must be scrutinised thoroughly.
In this regard, it is critical to maintain permanent and constructive dialogue with relevant committees, and to respond in a timely manner to any requests they have, to comment and to make consistent steps to improve the national system of protecting human rights and freedoms.
Last year Kazakhstan joined the Geneva-based World Trade Organisation (WTO). What can you say about the first months of our membership?
In mid-December, a Kazakh delegation led by Minister for Economic Integration Zhanar Aitzhanova attended the 10th WTO Ministerial Conference in Nairobi for the first time as a full member. It seems fitting that our first WTO conference ended with the adoption of a significant decision for Kazakhstan, to eliminate export subsidies for agricultural products.
Currently, Kazakhstan, as a new member of the WTO, is engaged in implementing commitments made during the accession negotiations. The purpose of our Permanent Mission is to ensure cooperation between the government of our country, the WTO Secretariat and the member states through their missions in Geneva, to provide our specialists in Astana with information and analysis and with expert opinion.
With accession to the WTO, the workload increases substantially, because of the need to take an active part in the work of all WTO bodies, which are numerous. Therefore, a team of professionals under Aitzhanova, which has extensive experience from negotiating accession, along with specialists from relevant ministries and departments, continue their intensive work, now as a member of the WTO.
It is essential that under these new conditions Kazakhstan consolidates and builds its staff capacity. The Permanent Mission assists in organising training for Kazakh specialists in regulation of international trade. In this context, we cooperate not only with the WTO, but also with the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA), the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the International Trade Centre (ITC). There are ongoing projects on improving customs administration and trade facilitation, and training courses have been planned on a variety of issues relating to [WTO obligations].
The Conference on Disarmament is also being held in Geneva now. What outcomes do you expect and what, in general, are the prospects for nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament processes?
Kazakhstan considers the Conference on Disarmament the sole and indispensable multilateral negotiating platform on disarmament, nonproliferation and arms control.
However, over the last two decades, the conference has been in a deadlock. Members cannot reach a consensus on adopting the Programme of Work. The failure to start substantive negotiations on disarmament issues gives rise to well-founded criticism of the conference.
Kazakhstan makes its contribution as the leader of the nuclear disarmament process. On Dec. 7, 2015, the UN General Assembly, at the initiative of Kazakhstan, adopted the resolution on the Universal Declaration on the Achievement of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World. Supported by an absolute majority of UN member states, it was an important step towards the adoption of a legally binding international instrument to ban nuclear weapons. We intend to pursue its universalisation.
Another initiative is to create a global anti-nuclear movement. We are currently conducting work in this direction. … In the Central Asian region, we have made substantial progress. Signed by representatives of the five recognised nuclear weapon states in 2014, the Protocol to the Agreement on the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia has already been ratified by the United Kingdom, China, Russia and France, and we look forward to the completion of this work by the U.S.
The following understanding should be clear: while nuclear weapons stand as guards of national interests and security, the world is vulnerable.
How has the Kazakh-Swiss relationship been developing?
Cooperation between Kazakhstan and Switzerland at the political level can be described as a partnership dialogue.
Switzerland has been supportive of our major international initiatives, including the chairmanship in the OSCE and Astana summit of the organisation in 2010, Kazakhstan’s candidacy for the position of a non-permanent member of UN Security Council in the 2017-2018. Switzerland was one of the first European countries to confirm participation in the international exhibition EXPO 2017, it supported Kazakhstan’s accession to the WTO, and accession to the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM).
Effective political dialogue contributes to the development of economic cooperation. Switzerland is traditionally among the top ten largest trading and investment partners of Kazakhstan. In 2015, [according to official Kazakh statistics], bilateral trade volume reached $2.78 billion (3.7% of total turnover, export amounted to $2.66 billion and imports to $129,000) – the fifth place after Russia, China, Italy, the Netherlands and France. The share of Switzerland’s share in the total volume of direct investments in Kazakhstan between 2005–-2014 was 6.3 percent. This is third place after the Netherlands and the U.S.
Promising areas of Kazakh-Swiss trade and investment cooperation are the processing industry, agriculture, infrastructure projects, energy sector and the green economy. In addition, cooperation in areas such as the financial sector, including the development of the Astana International Financial Centre, engineering, technical and vocational education and the pharmaceutical and chemical industries has great potential. … In January 2016, the Swiss Federal Agency for the Promotion of Export, Import and Investment opened its Trade Office at the Embassy of Switzerland in Astana, which also confirms the interest of Swiss business circles in Kazakhstan’s market.
Contacts in education and science also facilitate deepening and expanding cooperation. There are direct links between the University of Bern and the Bern Historical Museum and Kazakh universities and research institutes.