On December 10, the world celebrates Human Rights Day. On this day in 1948, the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the first universal international act on human rights.
Today we are witnessing a global reappraisal of the meaning of human rights as a universal value. The change in traditional ideas about them is the result of the emergence of new, often unforeseen challenges and threats associated with the development of modern information, communication and medical technologies, biosafety, etc. In the year of the adoption of this declaration, as well as in 1966, when the international covenants on human rights were adopted, society had no idea about the right to the inviolability of the human genome or access to the Internet. Now, in the 21st century, these rights are no less relevant than other, more traditional ones.
The COVID-19 pandemic has become a serious challenge not only for economic and political systems, but also for the mechanisms for the implementation and protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms that have been actively established in recent decades. Kazakhstan is among the countries that have faced these challenges.
Data show that most people are concerned about their rights to housing, quality health care, good education and decent work. It is in this direction that the range of human rights activities have significantly expanded in Kazakhstan over the past year. And in this work we first and foremost rely on our Constitution.
Of course, the government, without belittling the importance of the political rights and freedoms of citizens, must always take proper care of their social and economic rights too. They are all equally important.
Kazakhstan’s Constitution, adopted in 1995 during a critical period in the history of our state, and which relied on elevated international legal guidelines, recognised the natural character of human rights, approving the most important provision that “Human rights and liberties shall belong to everyone by virtue of birth, be recognised as absolute and inalienable”. This means that the right to life, liberty and security, as well as social security and many other rights, belong to the individual from birth and for life, regardless of political regimes, social systems, religious beliefs, etc.
This is the essence of the concept of human rights, which orientates all branches of government, with the participation of civil society, towards a careful and respectful attitude to our main values.
Since gaining our independence, Kazakhstan has made significant progress in the human rights sphere, as well as in strengthening democratic institutions. Legislation and law enforcement practice is being improved, the judicial and penitentiary systems are being transformed. Active cooperation with various international non-governmental organisations continues to develop, both at the global and regional levels.
Kazakhstan adopted an essentially new law “On Peaceful Assemblies”, amended the laws “On Political Parties”, “On Elections”, “On Parliament and the Status of its Deputies”, as well as decriminalised Article 130 (defamation) in the Criminal Code. In order to protect the fundamental right to life and dignity of a person, Kazakhstan signed the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aimed at abolishing the death penalty.
Another priority is ensuring equal opportunities for women and youth. We have significantly improved our position in the global Gender Inequality Index and introduced a mandatory 30 percent quota for women and youth on political party lists for parliamentary elections.
Work continues to enhance a constructive dialogue between civil society institutions and power structures. After all, ensuring the implementation of human rights is the foundation of civil society, and a developed civil society, in turn, is a reliable guarantee of ensuring them.
President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev stands for a constant dialogue between the authorities and society. The foundation of a “state that listens” has been built. Strengthening interaction with the independent expert community and a wide range of public organisations both within the country and abroad is a major task for us.
A new impetus to the development of public dialogue was given by the National Council of Public Trust, which quickly engaged into the implementation of political reforms. This work will continue.
The main goal of the current reforms is to increase the stability and efficiency of the functioning of the entire government. The country’s socioeconomic development can only be successfully pursued through the rule of law and the protection of citizens. Therefore, all state and non-state institutions related to the protection of human rights must be sensitive to various social and political challenges and risks of violation of the rights and freedoms of fellow citizens.
Modern Kazakhstan is a socially-oriented state and its policy is aimed at shaping conditions that ensure a decent life and free development opportunities for its citizens. Based on that, our country is moving forward in implementing the basic principle of the UN 2030 Agenda on the Sustainable Development Goals – “Leave No One Behind”. This principle underlies the policy pursued by our state to ensure the right of citizens to full participation in the economic, political and other spheres of society.
The concept of sustainable development is aimed at ensuring a balance of environmental protection and economic growth, equality and justice, the interests of an individual, society and the state, etc. And in the end, sustainable development is mainly aimed at a person, his rights and freedoms.
The implementation of the recommendations of the National Human Rights Action Plans allowed Kazakhstan to achieve substantive progress in building a rule-of-law state, strengthening state and public mechanisms for protecting human rights, and forming a developed civil society.
The institutions of the Ombudsman for Human Rights and the Ombudsman for the Rights of the Child have become an important mechanism in the system of protecting human and civil rights and freedoms. The establishment of these human rights instruments is a serious step in deepening democracy in Kazakhstan, which has been welcomed by the international community.
Today, the demand of society to further improve the level of protection of human and civil rights and freedoms requires human rights institutions in Kazakhstan to be more efficient, search for new forms of work, and increase the efficiency of using existing tools.
We have achieved a lot, but there is more work ahead. Human Rights Day is an occasion to assess our progress today and understand how we will protect the rights of our citizens tomorrow. As the saying goes, “Walk and Thee Shall Reach,” therefore it is important to take new effective measures to further improve the mechanisms for protecting human rights.
Today, Kazakhstan, like the rest of the world, is faced with the issue of harassment of citizens on the Internet. Children suffer from this first and foremost. Our President has set the task to strengthen other measures to protect children’s rights, in particular, to accede to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The issue of further improving the national legislation on combating torture remains relevant. President Tokayev has instructed to bring it in line with the provisions of the International Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman Acts.
We are also paying close attention to the fight against human trafficking. Law enforcement agencies will have to improve the procedure for investigating such crimes. Violators should be severely punished by the courts.
The criminal sphere should be modernised, following the example of the developed OECD countries. We need a model that ensures timely protection of citizens’ rights and meets high international standards.
These are the priorities that were formulated in President Tokayev’s recent State of the Nation Address.
Ultimately, the government’s main goal at this stage is to strengthen the social protection of citizens, enhance the conditions for children, the elderly, women, youth, maintain respect for the rights of all ethnic and religious groups, persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups of the population, and ensure the functioning of extrajudicial mechanisms for the protection of human rights.
Active cooperation of Kazakhstan with international partners contributes to the formation of a culture of protection of human rights in our country, the development of national democratic institutions and the strengthening of the rule of law. In this regard, we attach major importance to international cooperation in the field of protection and promotion of human rights. We are convinced that the United Nations should play the leading role in the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the international arena.
It is important to take into account the peculiarities of the development and traditions of various societies, first of all, their cultural, religious and historical values. This topic is relevant in the activities of international organisations, including the OSCE, the OIC and others. Kazakhstan, in turn, intends to continue to make a significant contribution to the development of international cooperation in the field of promotion and protection of human rights and freedoms. We are open to a constructive and mutually respectful dialogue on human rights with all states, as well as governmental and non-governmental actors.
We all understand that human rights have not only a legal, but also a moral and ethical dimension. Therefore, there is a need for an awareness of the responsibility shared by all the actors involved in the implementation of human rights.
Significant efforts are still required to make implementation of all human rights everyone’s daily reality. Human rights education should play an important role in this – new generations should be aware of their inalienable rights and be able to fully exercise and protect them.
The author is Mukhtar Tileuberdi, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan.