NUR-SULTAN – Kazakhstan’s Jusan operation, which returned nearly 600 citizens from Syria, is an excellent example for other countries to follow, said United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child Chair Renate Winter in an exclusive interview with The Astana Times.
During several stages of the humanitarian operation, conducted from January through June, a total of 595 Kazakh citizens, including 406 children, among them 31 orphans, 156 women and 33 men were returned to the country. The name of the operation, Jusan, is translated as bitter wormwood from Kazakh. It refers to a plant widely spread in the Kazakh steppes and its specific and pleasant smell is synonymous for Kazakhs with their ancestral home.
The country has been providing comprehensive assistance to the children and women returned from the zone of the conflict, while the men are being prosecuted for participating in a foreign war. The efforts set an unprecedented example, though “risking quite a lot of problems,” Winter said.
“Jumping into cold water without any experience in dealing with such difficult, really difficult cases, difficult situations and getting people home, no other country has done that in such an amount and so quickly as Kazakhstan. When other countries also started to do it, it was slowly and reluctantly, but Kazakhstan went and did it. For that, I think one really has to congratulate somebody and, in this case, Kazakhstan,” she added.
The majority of the returnees are children and the operation also included their mothers.
“It is again quite something, because a lot of member states of the United Nations do not do that. They are ready to take children, most of all children from one to six, but not all of them, because they think they are all terrorists already, and certainly not the parents or very rarely the mothers. This is the usual situation and it was so different with Kazakhstan,” said Winter.
She noted the country’s example will be brought to the attention of other nations.
“Believe me, in my visits to other countries and in Geneva, when we speak about the issue, I am going to cite the example of Kazakhstan. It is a really good example. The committee on the rights of the child collects good initiatives, good examples and bad examples and when we have a good example, we always mention a country,” she said.
To ensure smooth integration, work must be done to communicate with local communities nationwide to prevent discrimination.
“If they do, then we have a big problem and a big risk that they reoffend again, because if they are not accepted, then they do the same thing once again. Because most of the time they do it first of all because they are not accepted, because they do not have the means to live, because they are discriminated against. All these kinds of issues are reasons, but the children, especially children born there, they have no fault; they have not committed anything, they did not ask to be born, but nevertheless, they are now in very difficult situations,” she said.
Winter commended Kazakhstan’s commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which the country ratified in 1994, as the nation did not revoke citizenship from children, which, she noted, is against any humanitarian law.
Children have to cope with severe physical and psychological scars. The government, specialised psychologists and social workers need to ensure assistance, support and appropriate care that varies depending on the child’s age.
“A programme for children age three to adapt to a new environment is completely different from a programme that has to deal with a six to ten-year-old child who has already seen the decapitations, cruelties, lost one parent, experienced bombs and so on. These children are completely different, because they are all traumatised,” she said.
Whether the action was forced or of their free will is also very hard to determine.
“You never know if it was free will. What is free will for a child in this regard? The child does not have informed consent to anything. There are several types of programmes and there is no programme to cover all. That is impossible,” said Winter.
Young prisoners, aged 16-18, present multiple risks, as they can recruit while incarcerated. Penal Reform International (PRI), which assists counties, including Kazakhstan, in criminal justice and penal reforms, is currently in negotiations with the Kazakh government to provide experts who would organise training for local officials.
“You cannot train somebody who would not like to be trained and you cannot give information to somebody who says ‘I know it all.’ If it is not a case and officials would like to have some kind of information and assistance, I am very sure PRI is ready to help, as is UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund). A combination of both is very good, because they come from different angles,” said Winter.
She praised Kazakhstan’s juvenile code. Nineteen specialised courts, initiated by the government in 2007, work specifically with children.
“It is one of the countries in the region and I think the only one that has a real juvenile code with specialised juvenile judges. The specialisation is not that advanced, but it is there already and judges are doing whatever they can with the not-so-good law that they have had until now,” she said.
Winter recommended incorporating diversion programmes and mediation into the country’s juvenile penal law.
“On top of it, PRI is working to convince legislators to really change either the new code, which will be the best solution, or to put in at least a few articles concerning new things and developments like diversion and alternatives in old law. We are ready and can train the judges in this regard,” she said.
She noted the importance to prevent mixing the penal code and family code.
“The family code is a civil matter code that has to deal with family issues, divorce, custody rights, heritage and adoption, but not with penal matters. What is important now is to say that the child with penal responsibility (in Kazakhstan, the age is 14) is an issue for the penal justice and juvenile code, but a child under that age is criminally not responsible and therefore belongs to the family code. But a family code can never, ever send such a child to a closed institution,” she said.
The government must prevent police from sending young children to a closed institution, as the decision is only within the purview of judges.
“As soon as you speak about a closed institution, it is deprivation of liberty whatever name the closed institution has and deprivation of liberty is an attack on the political rights of the person. This can only be done by a judge; not by the police, not by the administration and not by the parents,” said Winter.
She also noted the importance of creating a foster family institution.
“In a country where families love children, it should be not that difficult to find a family where you can put a difficult child who is grateful not to be in the institution. In the institution, you always have the same problem. The stronger, the worst of the children, so to say, is the boss and this is the problem for all the other children. There are quite a lot of children in the institution who have not done anything wrong; nothing, no crime, not even a small one, only unruly behaviour. If the teacher is not happy with me, it is not a reason to send me to an institution, but this is happening and it should not happen,” she added.