Kazakhstan’s Constitutional Court Advances Human Rights, Says Chairperson

ASTANA – The Constitutional Court has enacted a series of decisions that enshrine fundamental principles established within the Constitution to advance human rights in Kazakhstan, said Elvira Azimova, chairwoman of the Constitutional Court. In an interview with The Astana Times, she outlined the work carried out since the court’s establishment in January.

Elvira Azimova. Photo courtesy of the author.

Establishment of the Constitutional Court

In his address to the nation in March 2022, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev set out plans to re-establish the Constitutional Court in Kazakhstan with the aim of ensuring that national laws comply with the country’s constitution and strengthen human rights. 

The Constitutional Court began operating in January. Previously it operated from 1992 to 1995.

“The establishment of the Constitutional Court is one of the outcomes of the constitutional reform in 2022 that was supported by more than 77% of Kazakh citizens in a nationwide referendum,” said Azimova.

The Constitutional Court is accessible to all citizens, including the President, the Speaker of the Senate, the upper house of the Parliament, and the Mazhilis, the lower house of Parliament, members of Parliament, the Prime Minister, courts, as well as the Human Rights Ombudsperson and the Prosecutor General.

Appeals from citizens

“The Constitutional Court has been working actively for the past eight months,” said Azimova.

“There have been around 4,000 citizen appeals. However, a significant majority of them raised issues outside the remit of the Constitutional Court, for example revising verdicts, challenging court decisions, addressing social issues, canceling decisions of entities or officials that do not have the characteristics of normative legal acts. The Constitutional Court could not consider these appeals. Nevertheless, detailed legal explanations were provided to the citizens,” Azimova said.

The high number of citizen appeals is a testament to the high level of accessibility of the Constitutional Court for citizens, according to Azimova.

“During this short period, judges reviewed more than a quarter of citizen appeals. The judges issued final decisions on 23 appeals and there are currently around 40 cases under their consideration,” she said. 

“By comparison, during the 27 years of the work of the Constitutional Council, to which citizens could not appeal, only 140 final decisions were issued. As you can see, the legal foundation of the Constitutional Court is geared towards active work,” added Azimova.

Among the 23 normative decisions of the Constitutional Court, Azimova highlighted three decisions published on July 11.

“These decisions were related to appeals of the President of the country that involved the examination of the Social Code, the law on decentralization of powers of the government and executive bodies and the law on the return of unlawfully withdrawn state assets,” said Azimova.

The Constitutional Court determined that these draft laws adopted by the Parliament on June 20 and June 29 comply with the Constitution.

“These laws were actively discussed in society both before and during their consideration in Parliament and adoption by its members. President Tokayev made the decision to refer these laws to the Constitutional Court in order to review their compliance with the Constitution before signing them,” she added.

Approximately 41% of the lodged appeals were about discontent with court decisions and on matters related to social rights, pension provisions, access to information, access to justice and labor rights. 

Only 26% of citizen appeals were related to recognizing regulatory legal acts or their specific provisions as unconstitutional. 

Promoting public awareness

The court also carries out work to promote public awareness and understanding of its role and functions among citizens, lawyers, legal consultants and universities through seminars, conferences and panel discussions.

“The Constitutional Court organized a webinar for over 1,300 lawyers and legal consultants. Also, more than 200 students from the law faculties of leading universities in the country participated in open lectures conducted by Constitutional Court judges. Over 150 informational campaigns, interviews in the media and articles have been published on the Constitutional Court’s website,” said Azimova.

“Moreover, the Scientific Advisory Council which consists of more than 30 Kazakh scholars with the Doctor of Law degrees in various fields was established in order to gather opinions of the academic and expert community,” she added.  

The court works closely with leading advisory bodies on constitutional matters, including the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe.

“The recommendations of the Venice Commission, which includes experts from more than 60 countries and of which Kazakhstan has been a member since 2012, concern the development of constitutional law as a fundamental path to democracy through the rule of law,” said Azimova.

Implemented amendments

The Constitutional Court is key to Kazakhstan’s wide-ranging strategy to develop a firm foundation for its human rights policies going forward, according to Azimova.

“As a result of last year’s constitutional reform, Kazakhstan’s legal system is acquiring a human-centered and democratic character, enhancing its potential for safeguarding rights,” she said.

Azimova highlighted outcomes that have been achieved in eight months, including enacting a series of laws and regulations that enshrine certain fundamental rights.

“Over the course of eight months, the Constitutional Court recognized five out of 30 existing legal norms as unconstitutional and provided new interpretations for 11 norms of normative legal acts in accordance with the Constitution,” said Azimova.

“Consequently, amendments were made to the Tax Code regarding the amount of state fees since the previous fee amount hindered citizens’ access to justice,” she said, citing one example of the amendments.  

Another case involved repealing the requirement for a molecular-genetic examination as a condition for filing a lawsuit, as such a requirement limited the right to access justice, according to Azimova.

“Furthermore, a case involving a requirement for simplified adoption contradicted the state’s constitutional obligation to protect children, maternity and parenthood as well as its international commitment to ensuring the best interests of the child according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that is ratified by Kazakhstan. Provisions of the Social Code that could potentially lead to discrimination against specific social groups in terms of guaranteed state benefits and allowances were revised,” said Azimova.

The government is working on accommodating all the recommendations and is preparing a series of other legislative amendments to present to the Parliament by the end of the year.

Responding to a question about whether the court monitors the implementation of its final decisions, Azimova said the institute is involved in “external monitoring.”

“The Constitutional Court closely monitors the implementation of these recommendations by the government, courts and other state bodies. This is a process of external monitoring. However, interfering in the activities of the government, courts and other state bodies is unacceptable. If the Constitutional Court is not satisfied with the level of implementation of its final decisions, it has the right to make additional decisions,” said Azimova.

She emphasized that transparency is crucial and that the court investigates appeals and publishes the decisions.

“It should be noted that all final decisions of the Constitutional Court are obligatory to be published. They come into force from the day of their adoption and are binding throughout Kazakhstan, and not subject to appeal. They have direct effect and do not require confirmation by other state bodies and officials,” she explained.

Cooperation with international organizations

The Constitutional Court has operated for eight months, but much work lies ahead.

“As the successor to the Constitutional Council, we will continue to collaborate with the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, the Eurasian Association of Constitutional Control Bodies, the World Conference on Constitutional Justice, the Association of Asian Constitutional Courts and Equivalent Institutions and Turk-Ai,” Azimova said.

“Moreover, proposals and recommendations of the scholarly and expert community within the framework of the Scientific Advisory Council, and participation as experts in specific constitutional proceedings also remain crucial,” she added.

“We hope that the political authorities will actively engage in constitutional proceedings, draw their own conclusions and take preventive measures. This was the recommendation of the Venice Commission to states that established constitutional control bodies to uphold the rule of law and protect human rights,” said Azimova.

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