Country Description


Kazakhstan, the world largest landlocked country, has experienced significant economic growth in recent years thanks to its abundant natural resources such as oil, gas and coal. In 2010, Kazakhstan became the first former Soviet republic to assume the rotating one-year chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The position as OSCE chair was a recognition of Kazakhstan's key economic position and an opportunity to encourage democratization and human rights reforms. Amendments were made to the laws on the media, political parties and elections, but they were largely considered insufficient to meet the commitments made when the country was campaigning to obtain the chairmanship1.


The implementation of many international human rights commitments in the country remains poor and has recently suffered further setbacks2. The authorities' response to the oil workers protests in 2011 has highlighted long-standing challegens for fundamental freedoms. In the southwestern town of Zhanaozen, at least 17 striking oil workers were shot dead by police and around 100 people were injured. Authorities are using protests as an argument for a new crackdown on labor movements, media and political opposition.3


Political Situation

Kazakhstan is a constitutional republic with a strong presidency. The president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, has been in power since indepence from the Soviet Union in 1991. In 1995, President Nazarbayev called for a referendum that expanded his presidential powers: only he can initiate constitutional amendments, appoint and dismiss the government, dissolve Parliament, call referenda, and appoint administrative heads of regions.4 Under a 2007 constitutional amendment there is no limit on the number of terms the president may serve in office. His current term was to have ended in 2012, but Nazarbayev called early polls after a proposal to cancel the next two elections was ruled unconstitutional. In 2011 Nazarbayev was re-elected with more then 96% of the votes. The presidential elections were criticized by local and OSCE observers for the lack of a real alternative5. Although in Kazakhstan presidential and parliamentary elections take place on a regular basis, none of the polls have been qualified as free or fair by international observers. The goal of preventing and fighting corruption is mentioned in may state policy documents, but the level of corrution remains very high especially in the spending of public funds.6


Rule of law7


The judiciary remains, both institutionally and in practice, highly dependent upon the will of the executive and the economically powerful. An increase in funding has led to an improvement in professionalism and technical infrastructure. At the same time Kazakhstan's crimincal justice system is undergoing incremental reforms. However, this has not been effective in enshrining the principles of independence and impartiality. Judicial corruption remains a source of concer and a real challenge that has to be addressed urgently.




Control of the penitentiary systems moved in 2011 from the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, putting prisons back in police control. The detention rate in Kazakhstan is three times the European average and well above that of other Central Asian countries.8 Although conditions in penitentiary institutions and police custody have improved over recent years, the UN-special rapporteur on torture and ill-treatment recieved during his assessment in 2009 numerous credible allegations of beatings and asphyxiatiobn with plastic bags or masks in order to obtain confessions from suspects. In several cases, these allegations were supported by forensic medical evidence. Confessions obtained through these kinds of methods are used as a basis for conviction.9


Civil Liberties

Kazakhstan has ratified both the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The constitution and the law provide for freedom of speech of the press. However, environment for freedom of expression remains restrictive and marked by harassment of journalists, internet restrictions and criminal and administrative charges to control the media and limit freedom of expression. Judicial actions against journalists and media outlets, including civil and criminal libel suits filed by governement officials, contribute to the suspension of media outlets and self-censorship.10 Freedom of assembly is severely curtailed. The authorities have considerable power to monitor religious groups, opposition parties and independent NGOs, all of which are required to register with the Ministry of Justice, as well as with ministry branches in every region in which the organization conducts activities. The law requires associations to define their specific activities, and an association that acts outside the scope of its charter may be warned, fined, suspended, or prohibited. Participation in unregistered public organizationbs may result in administrative or criminal liability, such as fines, dissolution, probation, or imprisonment.11 In 2011, the president approved a bill further tightening registration rules for religious groups, claiming it will help combat religioug extremism.12


Position of migrant workers

As a strong regional economic power, Kazakhstan is a major destination country for migrant workers from throughout the region. Current migration policy in Kazakhstan severely limits opportunities for legal employment and thus increases the vulnerability of migrants.13 Children of migrant workers are denied access to education as they are prevented from registering in state schools. Abuses such as child labour, forced labour, and passport confiscation are common. In addition, migrants are at constant risk of extortion and deportation.14


Position of minorities

Kazakhstan's population is ethnically diverse. There are more than 130 ethnic groups living in Kazakhstan. Kazakhs make the largest part of the population (63,1%), followed by Russians, (23,7%), Uzbeks (2.8%), Ukrainians (2.1%), Uighurs (1.4%), Tatars (1.3%), Germans (1.1%) and other minorities (4,5%).15 There is a high degree of inter-ethnic and inter-religious cooperation and tolerance in the society. Initiatives taken by the Government, such as preservation of ethnic cultures and minority languages, have undoubtedly helped to ensure stability and respect for minorities defined by the Kazakh government as 'non-traditional' or 'sects' describe an environment of increasing oppression, intimidation and increasingly negative coverage in the media.17


Position of women

The constitution of Kazakhstan upholds the principle of legal equality for all citizens. In 2009 the president signed a new gender equality law that defines the terms 'gender,' 'gender equality,' 'sexual discrimination,' and 'equal opportunity' and prohibits discrimination based on gender.18 Nevertheless, women in senior positions are underrepresented. The Kazakh Family Code does not discriminate against women.19 The law sets the minimum legal age for marriage at 18 years, but when there are "legitimate grounds", a registry office can authorise marriages at 16 years. Religious and traditional marriages are not registered by the administration, a practice that can undermine women's rights.20 The government has paid particular attention to combating domestic violence. In 2009 a law was adopted which aims at preventing crimes and delinquencies in family relations. Unfourtunately, violence against women remains a problem. Many women are still reluctant to ask for help. This is largely related to insufficient training of police offices in handling domestic violence cases.21 Therefore, Kazakhstan has taken steps to improve policing in domestic violence cases, with special training for a policae subdivision charged with responding to domestic abuse cases.22


Kay international actors


Kazakhstan is committed to a foreign policy that seeks to maintain good relations with Russia, China, Japan, the United States, and the European Union. The Nazarbayev administration has tried to balace relations with its significant partners Russia and the United States by sending cheap petroleum and natural gas to its Russian neighbour while assisting Washington in the War on Terror.23 Kazakhstan is a memeber of the United Nations, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, North Atalantic Cooperation Council, Comminwealth of Independent States, the Shanghai Coorperation Organization, and NATO's Partnership for Peace program. Kazakhstan established a customs union with Russia and Belarus. It will be transformed into the COmmon Economic Space in 2012. In addition, Kazakhstan established the Eurasian Economic Community with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.


Projects NHC

  • A Coordinated Civil Society Campaign for Fundamental Rights in Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, 2011-2013)

Sources (




1 Kazakhstan's OSCE Chairmanship, Centre for Strategic International Studies, Washington DC, 2009,

2 A sobering reality: Fundamental freedoms in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan twenty years after the Soviet Collapse, March 2012, 5.

3 A sobering reality, 2.

4 U.S. Department of State, background note: Kazakhstan,

5 ODIHR assissment of presidential elections 3 April 2011,

6 OECD Anti-Corruption Network for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 'Kazakhstan monitoring report', September 2011, 11.

7 Uniited Nations economic and social council, Leandro Despouy, 'Report of the Special Parrorteur on the independence of judges and lawyer, addendum, mission to Kazakhstan, 11 January 2005

8 United Nations General Assembly, Manfred Nowak, 'Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment A/HRC/13/39/Add, '16 December 2009, 8.

9 United Nations General Assembly, 'Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment A/HRC/13/39/Add,' by Manfred Nowa, 16 December 2009, 1.

10 US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011, Kazakhstan, http://www.state.gove/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm?dynamic_load_id=186466

11 US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011, Kazakhstan,

12 'OSCE human rights chief expresses concern over restrictions in Kazakhstans's new religion law,' 9 September 2011.

13 International Federation for Human Rights, Kazakhstan/Kyrgyzstan, 'Exploitation of migrant workers, protection denied to asylum seekers and refugees', 23 July 2009.

14 Human Right Watch, 'World Report 2012: Kazakhstan', January 2012, 4.

15 The agency of statistics Kazakhstan, 'The results of the national population census in 2009' 12 November 2010

16 United Nations General Assemble, 'Report of the independent expert on minority issues A/HRC/13/23/Add.1', 1 February 2010, 1.

17 'Report of the independent expert on minority issues A/HRC/13/23/Add.1', 16.

18 US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011, Kazakhstan,

19 Social Institutions and Gender Index, 'Gender equality and social institutions in Kazakhstan.'

20 UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), 'UN Committee on the Elimination of Deiscrimination against Women: Concluding Comments, Kazakhstan CEDAW/C/KAZ/CCO/2,' 2 February 2007, 6.,CEDAW,,KAZ,45f6cddb2,0.html

21 Online Women in Politics, 'Women in Kazakhstan', 229. http://www.onlinewomen

22 Information on the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome of the twenty-third UN General Assembly Special Session

23 European Dialogue, Kazakhstan's balancing act, by Daniel Wagner and Luca Costa.