The theme of “Human Rights and Freedoms in Kazakhstan” was the symbolic choice for the first conference to be held in Astana since the new capital’s official presentation. Opening the conference on June 18, the Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration, Marat Tazhin, said the aim of the conference was to “encourage a democratic ambiance in Astana.” (Panorama [Almaty], June 19 and 26)
The conference supplements a series of seminars and workshops being financed by the United Nations as part of the agreement on human rights it signed with Kazakhstan in February. At the cost of US$700,000 over two years, the projects outlined by the agreement aim to strengthen links between governmental and non-governmental human rights groups. The government’s delegation at the conference was headed by Bulat Baikadamov, head of the recently formed Presidential Commission on Human Rights. His opposite number as chief representative of the nongovernmental sector was Yevgeny Zhovtis, who heads Kazakhstan’s independent International Bureau on Human Rights.
Both were skeptical about Kazakhstan’s ability to ensure full observance of the various human rights conventions the country has signed, though for significantly different reasons. Baikadamov argued that the average Kazakhstani citizen is less concerned with human rights than with receiving a decent salary. As evidence, he cited the fact that over 80 percent of claims lodged this year with his commission were of an economic, rather than a political nature. Zhovtis, in contrast, stressed that the protection of human rights lies in the hands of the state, not those of society. Kazakhstan’s human rights record, he claimed, has so far been poor. The international community, he added, has placed little pressure on Kazakhstan to enforce human rights.
Zhovtis has often been considerably more critical of Kazakhstan’s human rights record than have international monitoring bodies. He has complained in particular about restrictions on rights to free assembly, highlighting the numbers of those who have been arrested and jailed for taking part in unsanctioned demonstrations. Only a day after the UN agreement was signed, for example, Kazakhstan’s prosecutor general reiterated his determination to keep unsanctioned meetings under control. (Russian agencies, February 5) — SC
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