Kazakhstan Takes Further Steps in Human Rights Protection

ASTANA – Kazakhstan is in the midst of democratic transformation, making progress in strengthening the human rights protection system and aligning it better with the best international practices, the Akorda press service reported in a factsheet posted on Jan. 12.

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According to the document, significant amendments have been made to legislation pertaining to democratic participation, human rights protection, and the rule of law. These changes have facilitated a higher level of participation of the population in the decision-making process, according to the concept of the “Listening State”.

“The unveiling of this document by the president’s administration signifies another step in publicly setting out the priorities of the head of state in this important area,” said Alua Nadirkulova, ambassador-at-large for human rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Astana.

She explained that it followed the Dec. 8, 2023 decree by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev approving a new action plan in the field of human rights. “That document represented the third package of measures in this area and was adopted just before the Human Rights Day, showcasing the president’s dedication to addressing issues in this domain, while also considering societal demands and international commitments.”

Compared to the previous two packages from 2021 and 2022, the third package envisions the implementation of nearly twice as many legislative and practical tasks by 2025, including over 40 events. “These sociallly-oriented measures aim to promote policies of equal rights and opportunities for both women and men, freedom of association, the right to work and workplace safety, the right to life and dignity by adopting a zero-tolerance approach towards domestic violence and torture, as well as ensuring respect for human rights in criminal justice and business sectors, non-discrimination, and inclusion,” Nadirkulova explained.

The decree and the action plan signal Kazakhstan’s dedication to promoting democratic principles and protecting human rights. A significant component of this initiative is the collaboration with prominent international organizations such as the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in executing the measures outlined in the plan.

Democratic participation 

The reforms enacted a limit of a single seven-year term for presidents, removing an option of re-election. The presidential influence over local governments and the Senate, the upper house of the Parliament, was curtailed. 

The registration threshold for political parties was reduced fourfold from 20,000 to 5,000. This liberalization resulted in the emergence of new parties such as Respublica and Baytaq. Respublica got into the Mazhilis, the lower chamber of the Parliament, after a parliamentary election in March 2023, along with the established parties of Amanat, Auyl People’s Democratic Patriotic Party, Aq jol Democratic Party of Kazakhstan, People’s Party of Kazakhstan, and the National Social Democratic Party.

The powers of the Mazhilis were expanded through a new electoral model – based on party lists and single-mandate constituencies.

The factsheet also notes that Kazakhstan introduced quotas for women, youth, and persons with special needs on electoral party lists and in the allocation of parliamentary mandates. The elections of mayors of district and city levels resulted in the renewal of nearly 60% of rural political leaders.

The creation of the Presidential Youth Personnel Reserve gave young professionals a chance to take leading positions in the civil service. The transformation of the National Council of Public Trust into the National Kurultai (Congress) bolstered public participation in governance.

Human rights mechanisms

The adopted legislative amendments strengthened the independence of courts. The categories of cases for jury trials have been expanded.

Kazakhstan granted constitutional status to the institution of the Ombudsperson for Human Rights. The Constitutional Court was re-established on Jan. 1, 2023, with a clear purpose to enhance the safeguarding of citizens’ basic rights and freedoms.

“Its decisions have the final force, as even the President cannot revise them, including those decisions related to the constitutional rights of citizens,” reads the factsheet.

A recently adopted law regulating mechanisms such as online petitioning is meant to enhance citizen’s engagement in government’s activities. The law on online petitions is due to enter into force on April 1, 2024.

Kazakhstan has introduced the Social Code aimed at supporting vulnerable citizens, including a special payment for those employed in hazardous working conditions.

The country has also abolished the death penalty, protecting prisoners’ right to health. It has also ratified the United Nations conventions on children rights and persons with disabilities.

Kazakhstan has strengthened criminal responsibility for torture, legal definitions of torture and ill-treatment as well as the national mechanism of torture prevention. Enhanced legal frameworks address domestic violence, eliminating possibilities of repeated reconciliation in such cases.

The country has made a few more legislative reforms, adopting the laws on payments from the National Fund to Kazakhstan’s children and on peaceful assemblies.

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