Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May 2016, 08:59 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Kazakstan

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Kazakstan, 30 January 1996, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Kazakstan is a constitutional republic with a strong presidency. In March, following a Constitutional Court decision that found the March 1994 parliamentary elections unconstitutional, the Parliament was dissolved. Throughout most of 1995, Kazakstan had no legislature; the country was governed through decree by the President and Cabinet of Ministers. President Nursultan Nazarbayev remained the country's central political figure, and his term was extended by referendum until the year 2000. A new Constitution was adopted, also by referendum, that concentrates power in the presidency, permitting it to dominate legislative and judicial institutions. International observers judged the conduct of the December parliamentary elections to have been an improvement over the March 1994 elections. However, the powers of the new Parliament are more limited than those of its predecessor. The Constitution does not provide adequately for some rights. The problem of corruption also hindered progress toward democracy and a free-market economy.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs supervises the criminal police, who are poorly paid and widely believed to be corrupt. The Committee for National Security (KNB, successor to the Soviet KGB) sought to legitimize its role by focusing on efforts to combat terrorism, organized crime, and official corruption. Attempts to build a small, modern army were impeded by severe financial problems, the flight of ethnic Russian officers, widespread draft-dodging, and the brutal hazing of conscripts. There were reports of human rights abuses by members of the security forces, including surveillance, break-ins, and the beating of an opposition figure.

Kazakstan is rich in natural resources, chiefly petroleum and minerals, but its state-dominated economy continued to decline in 1995. Although the Government achieved notable success (beginning in the latter half of 1994) in stabilizing the local currency (tenge) and slowing inflation, structural reforms lagged. Both the agricultural sector, traditionally accounting for over a third of national employment and production, and large-scale industrial complexes have been slow to privatize. The per capita gross domestic product was about $900.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens. In its fourth year of independence, despite a number of challenges, Kazakstan has in place important elements of participatory democracy. Citizens enjoy basic rights of freedom of religion, speech and assembly. Nonetheless, the establishment of democratic institutions suffered a number of setbacks. The legal structure, including the Constitution adopted in August, does not fully safeguard human rights. The judiciary remains under the control of the President and the executive branch, and corruption is deeply rooted. The right of citizens to change their Government was infringed. Members of the security forces sometimes beat or otherwise abused detainees, and prison conditions were harsh and continued to deteriorate. The Government generally respected freedom of speech and the press, although the media practiced self-censorship, and the Government maintained control of printing facilities and supplies. Freedom of assembly is sometimes restricted, and freedom of association and religion, while generally respected, were sometimes hindered by complicated registration requirements for organizations and political parties. The authorities sometimes infringed citizens' right to privacy. The Government practiced some positive discrimination in favor of ethnic Kazaks. Domestic violence against women remained a problem. There was some discrimination against women and the disabled. The Government tried to limit the influence of independent trade unions, both directly and through its support for state-sponsored unions.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution adopted in August states that "no one must be subject to torture, violence, or other treatment or punishment that is cruel or humiliating to human dignity." However, there were credible reports that police beat or treated detainees abusively to obtain confessions. Training standards for police are very low, and individual law enforcement officials are often poorly supervised. Even President Nazarbayev noted during a September speech to the Government anticrime task force that "in people's minds, the word 'police' is associated with cruelty, arbitrariness, and bribery." Human rights monitors alleged that a former parliamentary deputy (and prominent human rights activist) was badly beaten by security forces in April during the runup to the presidential referendum, and again in August, after he participated in a demonstration against the new Constitution.

Prison conditions were harsh and continued to deteriorate, due to diminishing resources and an increase in the number of persons imprisoned. The Kazakstan-American Human Rights

Bureau, an independent local human rights group, estimated that there were 91,000 prisoners in facilities designed for 60,000. This overcrowding, combined with an inadequate prison diet and a lack of medical supplies and personnel, contributed to the outbreak of tuberculosis, hepatitis, and other diseases. Eleven thousand prisoners are believed to suffer from major illnesses. There were press reports about the death of several prisoners in the north of Kazakstan due to extreme summer heat. Prison guards, who are poorly paid, steal food and medicines intended for prisoners. Violent crime among prisoners is routine.

Prisoners are allowed only one visit every 6 months, but additional visits may be granted in emergency situations. Juveniles are kept in separate facilities. The Government permits monitoring of prison conditions by local media and human rights groups.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Government was in the process of reforming the legal system throughout 1995. Much of the old Soviet legal system remained in force while new laws were being prepared to bring the legal system into accord with the Constitution adopted in August. The law sanctions pretrial detention. According to the Constitution, police may hold a detainee for 72 hours before bringing charges. After 72 hours, police may continue to hold the detainee for 10 days with the approval of a prosecutor. In practice, police routinely hold detainees, with the sanction of a prosecutor, for weeks or even months without bringing charges.

There is no legal provision for bail; defendants remain in detention until trial. The maximum length of pretrial detention is 1 year. According to the Constitution, persons detained, arrested, or accused of committing a crime have the right to the assistance of a defense lawyer from the moment of detention, arrest, or accusation--a right generally respected in practice. Detainees may also appeal the legality of detention or arrest to the prosecutor before trial. If defendants cannot afford an attorney, the Constitution stipulates that the State will provide one free of charge. Although some lawyers are reluctant to defend clients unpopular with the Government, there were no reports of Government reprisals against attorneys.

The Government does not employ forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Government interference and pressure compromised the court system's independence throughout 1995--a situation codified in the new Constitution's creation of a judiciary under the control of the President and the executive branch. At year's end, the judicial system was in the process of being restructured to bring it into line with provisions of the Constitution. In December the President issued a decree, with the force of constitutional law, "On Courts and the Status of Judges in the Republic of Kazakstan."

There are three levels in the court system: the local level, the oblast (provincial) level, and the Supreme Court. According to the Constitution, the President proposes to the upper house of Parliament (the Senate) nominees for the Supreme Court (recommended by the "Highest Judicial Council," a body chaired by the President, which includes the chairperson of the Constitutional Council, the chairperson of the Supreme Court, the Procurator General, the Minister of Justice, senators, judges and other persons appointed by the President). The President appoints oblast judges (nominated by the Highest Judicial Council) and local level judges from a list presented by the Ministry of Justice, based on recommendations from the "Qualification Collegium of Justice," an autonomous institution made up of deputies from the lower house of Parliament (the Majilis), judges, public prosecutors, and others appointed by the President. Judges are appointed for 10-year terms. The Constitution abolished the Constitutional Court and established a Constitutional Council--three of its seven members, including the chairman, are directly appointed by the President. The council rules on election and referendum challenges, interprets the Constitution, and determines the constitutionality of laws adopted by Parliament.

Local courts try less serious crimes, such as petty theft and vandalism. Oblast courts handle more serious crimes, such as murder, grand theft, and organized criminal activities. The oblast courts may also handle cases in rural areas where no local courts are organized. Judgments of the local courts may be appealed to the oblast-level courts, while those of the oblast courts may be appealed to the Supreme Court. A special Arbitration Court handles disputes between state enterprises. There is also a military court. According to the December decree, specialized and extraordinary courts can also be created--for example, economic, taxation, family, juvenile, and administrative courts--which have the status of oblast and local courts. The Constitution and existing law establish the necessary procedures for a fair trial. Trials are public, with the exception of instances in which an open hearing could result in secrets being divulged, or when the private life or personal family secrets of a citizen have to be protected.

According to the Constitution, defendants have the right to be present, the right to counsel (at public expense if needed), and the right to be heard in court and call witnesses for the defense. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, are protected from self-incrimination, and have the right to appeal a decision to a higher court. According to the December decree, legal proceedings are to be conducted in the state language, Kazak, although Russian can also be used officially in the courts. Proceedings can also be held in the language of the majority of the population in a particular area.

However, the problem of corruption is evident at every stage and level of the judicial process. Judges are poorly paid; the Government has not made a vigorous effort to root out corruption in the judiciary. Anecdotal evidence stemming from individual cases suggests that judges solicit bribes from participants in trials and rule accordingly.

There was one known political prisoner. In Petropavlosk in May, journalist Boris Suprynuk, a Russian citizen, was sentenced to 2 years' imprisonment for "insulting" a public prosecutor. The alleged "insulting" and "use of bad language" occurred during a previous trial in which Suprynuk was sentenced to 2 years' imprisonment for inciting interethnic hostility, a decision later overturned by the Supreme Court. Suprynuk appealed the verdict and the sentence and is imprisoned in Kokshetau.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution guarantees that everyone has the right to "confidentiality of personal deposits and savings, correspondence, telephone conversations, postal, telegraph, and other messages." Limitation of this right is allowed "only in the cases and according to the procedure directly established by law." However, the KNB and Ministry of Internal Affairs, with the concurrence of the procuracy, can and do arbitrarily interfere with privacy, family, home, and correspondence. The law requires criminal police, who remain part of the internal security structure, to obtain a search warrant from a prosecutor before conducting a search, but they sometimes search without a warrant. The KNB has the right to monitor telephone calls and mail, but under the law it must inform the procuracy within 24 hours of such activity.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution and the 1991 Press Law provide for freedom of the press. The Government continued to own and control printing and distribution facilities and to subsidize periodicals, including many which were supposedly independent. The potential for government control, as well as reports of specific instances of government officials making suggestions about what a journalist should and should not cover, resulted in widespread media self-censorship.

One such instance involved Karavan, the most independent newspaper in Kazakstan. The Karavan Publishing Corporation owns a printing press and runs its own distribution network. In March, after Karavan ran critical stories about the dissolution of Parliament, a Karavan-owned warehouse burned down, destroying 1 million dollars worth of newsprint. The official investigation of the fire blamed a drunken welder, but Karavan's independent investigation found evidence of arson. After the fire, Karavan gradually reduced its coverage of political topics.

Despite occasional heavyhandedness, the press was generally permitted to criticize government decisions. For example, many newspapers ran critical analyses of the draft Constitution during the officially-designated "discussion period" in July. During the run-up to the December parliamentary elections, the press also questioned the value of establishing a new Parliament with only limited powers. Official corruption remained an acceptable topic for critical coverage.

Most political opposition groups freely issued their own publications. One such paper, the Kazak nationalist Kazakhskaya Pravda, was shut down by the General Prosecutor's office in April under the charge of "inciting ethnic tension." By September, according to the Minister of Press and Mass Media, the paper was allowed to resume publication. Several independent newspapers emerged as new voices for the opposition, particularly Delovaya Nedelya (Business Week) and Novoye Pokoleniye (New Generation).

There are many radio and television companies, both public and private, but the Government controls all broadcasting facilities. An association of independent broadcasters of Central Asia exists. However, government officials and representatives of the state television corporation continued to call for a state-sponsored union of independent television stations. In the fall, a government decision to reduce the number of hours of television broadcasting from Russia was criticized by human rights activists, especially in the majority Russian-speaking regions of northern Kazakstan. The Government reversed its decision, and by the end of the year, much of the television broadcasting from Russia had been restored.

The law against insulting the President and other officials remained on the books, and the new Constitution provides for the protection of the dignity of the President. Russian journalist Boris Suprynuk was convicted of insulting a public prosecutor and sentenced to 2 years' imprisonment (see Section l.e.) in May.

Several laws controlling advertising in the mass media were passed. One law restricts alcohol and tobacco advertising on television, as well as "pornography" and "violence" during prime viewing hours. Another law, whose interpretation was still in question, restricted the amount of advertising in newspapers to 20 percent of each issue. The Minister of Justice and the Minister of Press and Mass Media interpreted this law as restricting paid articles, not commercial advertisements.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for peaceful assembly and association, but there are significant restrictions. According to a law issued by the President in March, organizations must apply to the local authorities for a permit to hold a demonstration or public meeting at least 10 days in advance, or the activity will be considered illegal. In August, on the grounds that it was an illegal assembly, Almaty authorities broke up a demonstration organized to oppose adoption of a new constitution by referendum. Nineteen participants were arrested and fined for demonstrating without a proper permit. In most cases, local officials routinely issued necessary permits. However, human rights activists complained that complicated procedures and the 10 day notice period have made it more difficult to organize public meetings. There have been complaints that local authorities have insisted on approving the slogans on banners before allowing demonstrations to take place. In addition, one human rights activist complained that local authorities agreed to issue a permit for a demonstration only if the activity was held in a remote location, far from the center of town.

To participate in elections, a political party must register with the Government. There were no major changes regarding the registration of political parties in a new electoral code issued prior to the December parliamentary elections. Under current law, a party must submit a list of at least 3,000 members from a minimum of 11 (out of 19) oblasts. The list must provide personal information about the members, including date and place of birth, address, and place of employment. For many citizens, submitting such personal data to the Government recalls KGB tactics and inhibits them from joining parties. The nationalist Alash Party and the Social Democratic Party have refused to register on the principle that they should not have to submit personal information about their members to the Government. Under current law, members of unregistered parties may run for elected office as individuals but not as party members.

Organizations or movements that conduct public activities, hold public meetings, participate in conferences, or have bank accounts must also register with the Government. Registration on the local level requires a minimum of 10 members and on the national level, a minimum of 10 members in each of at least 11 oblasts. In addition, a registration fee is required, which many groups consider to be a deterrent to registration. Parties established on a religious basis are prohibited by the Constitution. Government decisions not to register ethnic-based parties have been based on the grounds that their activities could spark ethnic violence. The Constitution bans "public associations"--including political parties--whose "goals or actions are directed at a violent change of the constitutional system, violation of the integrity of the Republic, undermining of the security of the State (and), fanning of social, racial, national, religious, class and tribal enmity." Unregistered parties and movements are, nonetheless, able to hold meetings and publish newspapers. However, in October the Prosecutor General took steps against an unregistered ethnic Uighyr organization for "illegal organizational and publishing activity." All of the major religious and ethnic groups in Kazakstan have independently functioning cultural centers.

In October Nikolai Gunkin, the "chieftan" of the Semirechie (Southern Kazakstan) Cossacks, was detained by Almaty police. According to the Government, Gunkin had been convicted of organizing two illegal demonstrations and was sentenced in January by a local court to 6 months in prison. Gunkin reportedly fled to Russia after the sentence was handed down by the court. In November Gunkin was sentenced to an additional 3 months in a correctional labor colony for organizing these unauthorized rallies. Human rights monitors argued that the prison sentences were excessive for the offense of organizing illegal demonstrations (described by some Gunkin supporters as Orthodox prayer meetings). Activists also alleged that Gunkin was taken into custody because he was considering registering as a candidate for a seat in the lower house of Parliament.

The Constitution prohibits foreign political parties and foreign trade unions from operating in Kazakstan. In addition, the Constitution prohibits the financing of political parties and trade unions by foreign legal entities and citizens, foreign states, or international organizations.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. Various denominations worship without government interference. However, the Constitution also requires that the appointment by foreign religious centers of the heads of religious associations must be carried out "in coordination with the Government," as must the activities of foreign religious associations. Foreign missionaries, unwelcome to some Orthodox and Muslim Kazakstanis, have complained of occasional harassment by low-level government bureaucrats.

In April the main Orthodox church in Almaty, during Soviet times a museum of atheism, was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church and again holds regular services. The Islamic mufti and the Russian Orthodox archbishop have appeared together publicly to promote religious and ethnic harmony.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution provides for the right to emigrate and the right of repatriation; both are respected in practice. Kazakstanis have the right to change their citizenship, but are not permitted to hold dual citizenship.

According to the Constitution, everyone who is legally present on the territory of the Republic of Kazakstan has the right to move freely on its territory and freely choose a place of residence except in cases stipulated by law. This provision formally abolishes the "propiska" system of residence permits, a holdover from the Soviet era. However, in the absence of a law to bring legal practice into line with the Constitution, citizens were still required to have a "propiska" in order to prove legal residence and obtain city services. Obtaining a "propiska" for most of the country was generally routine. However, according to human rights activists, a bribery market in "propiskas" to live in Almaty continued to exist, because of Almaty's greater affluence.

There were numerous reports of government efforts to restrict the movement of foreigners around the country.

An exit visa is required for travel abroad, although refusals are exceptional. There have been reports of some officials demanding bribes for exit visas. The Government accords special treatment to ethnic Kazaks and their families who fled Kazakstan during Stalin's time and wish to return. Kazaks in this category are entitled to citizenship and a host of other privileges. Anyone else, including ethnic Kazaks who are not considered refugees from the Stalin era of political repression, such as the descendants of Kazaks who moved to Mongolia during the previous century, must apply for permission to return.

The Government cooperates with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees, especially with the resettlement in Kazakstan of ethnic Kazaks from Afghanistan now living as refugees in Iran. There were no reports of forced expulsion of those having a valid claim to refugee status.

In January 1995, Kazakstan and Russia initialed agreements that established broad legal rights for the citizens of one country living on the territory of the other, and provided for expeditious naturalization for citizens of one country who moved to the other. These agreements still require ratification by both Governments.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Although both Constitutions in force in 1995 provided for a democratic government, in practice the Government infringed the right of citizens to change their Government. The Government operated for most of the year without a legislature; it extended the term of the President by referendum, without an open presidential election; and it promulgated a new Constitution, also by referendum, that concentrates power in the presidency, permitting it to dominate legislative and judicial institutions.

In March, following a Constitutional Court decision that found the March 1994 parliamentary elections unconstitutional, the Parliament was dissolved. Governing by decree in the absence of a parliament, President Nazarbayev called a referendum in April to extend his term of office to the year 2000 without a contested presidential election (which, according to the Constitution then in force, should have been held in 1996). The referendum was easily approved. Government officials and institutions campaigned openly for the extension of President Nazarbayev's term; voting instructions showed voters only how to vote "yes," and officials manipulated election returns to indicate massive (more than 90 percent) voter turnout and a massively favorable (more than 93 percent) vote.

The President then drew up a new constitution for approval by referendum. While theoretically open to changes during a 30-day period of public discussion, the final draft did not reflect the suggestions of democracy and human rights advocates. The new Constitution, approved overwhelmingly in August--again with voting turnout and results exaggerated by the Government--concentrates power in the presidency, allowing the President considerable control over the legislature, the judiciary, and local government.

There was no legislature after Parliament was dissolved in March until elections took place in December for a new, bicameral legislature, which took office in January 1996. The lower house (the Majilis), consisting of 67 members, was elected directly. The upper house (the Senate), with 47 members, was elected indirectly, by members of oblast and city parliaments, with 7 of its members appointed directly by the President. The election law required candidates for both houses to meet minimum age and education requirements, and to pay a nonrefundable fee of 30,000 tenge, 50 times the minimum monthly wage or about $500. The new election law did not require Majilis candidates to collect a certain number of signatures in order to be placed on the ballot. Senate candidates were required to obtain signatures from 10 percent of the members of their local assemblies in order to be placed on the ballot. The Central Election Commission registered 49 candidates for the Senate and 285 candidates for the Majilis. Some activists considered the election requirements to be a barrier to participation.

A number of candidate registrations were canceled during the weeks prior to the elections, either at the request of candidates or for specific campaign violations. One candidate, an ethnic Russian, was removed from the ballot after her electoral platform was judged to contain planks "inciting ethnic hatred."

Prior to the election, the Central Election Commission accepted foreign technical electoral assistance, welcomed international monitors, and agreed to modify the election law to allow nonpartisan domestic observers to serve as monitors. Observers noted that some technical improvements had been made since the March 1994 parliamentary elections. In many districts, officials and citizens made sincere and conscientious efforts to carry out fair and transparent elections. Observers nonetheless pointed to flaws in the conduct of the December 9 election. Concern was expressed about possible inflation of official voter turnout figures; "family voting" (the practice of one individual casting multiple ballots on behalf of family members), which violates the law; and isolated problems of access for observers.

Unless the Parliament can become an active, autonomous institution in Kazakstani politics, the elections will have formed a national legislature that exercises only limited meaningful power. The Constitution does not empower the legislature to control the budget, initiate changes in the Constitution, or exercise oversight of the executive branch. For instance, should the Parliament fail to pass within 30 days an "urgent" bill brought by the President, the President may issue the bill by decree. While the President has broad powers to dissolve the Parliament, Parliament can only remove the President for disability or high treason, and only with the consent of the Constitutional Council, which is largely controlled by the President.

The Constitution significantly constrains the independence of the judiciary. The Constitutional Court has been abolished and replaced by a Constitutional Council. Three of its seven members, including its chairman, are directly appointed by the President. A two-thirds majority of the Council is required to overrule a presidential veto of its decisions.

The governors of oblasts (the "akims") are selected by the Prime Minister but serve at the discretion of the President, who may also annul their decisions. All male and female adult citizens have the right to vote. Membership in political parties or trade unions is forbidden to members of the military, employees of national security and law enforcement organizations, and judges.

There are no legal restrictions on the participation of women in politics, but the persistence of traditional attitudes means that few women hold high office or play active parts in political life. Of 45 Senate members, 3 are women, and of 67 Majlis members, 9 are women.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Helsinki Watch/Almaty and the Kazakstan-American Human Rights Association are the most active of several local human rights organizations. The two cooperate on human rights issues. Although these groups operated largely without government interference, they were subject to restrictions on assembly, and limited financial means hampered their ability to monitor and report human rights violations. Some human rights observers complained that the Government monitored their movements and telephone calls. During the presidential and constitutional referendums, local election monitors were often denied access to polling places. Observers also reported some isolated problems with access during the December parliamentary elections.

The Government tended to deny or ignore charges of specific human rights abuses, such as the beating of an opposition figure during the presidential and constitutional referendum campaigns.

The Government permitted international and foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) dealing with human rights issues to visit Kazakstan and meet with local human rights groups as well as government officials. However, the Constitution forbids "the financing of political parties and trade unions by foreign legal entities and citizens, foreign states and international organizations." Further, although a civil code introduced this year allowed the registration of NGO's, requirements for registration were burdensome and changed frequently. As a result, few NGO's were registered, leaving them without legal standing. Some government officials continued to assert that foreign NGO's promote instability.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution states that "everyone is equal before law and court. No one may be subjected to any discrimination for reasons of origin, social position, occupation, property status, sex, race, nationality, language, attitude to religion, convictions, place of residence, or any other circumstances." However, the Government has practiced positive discrimination in favor of ethnic Kazaks in government employment and, according to many citizens, in the economic privatization process.


According to human rights groups, there is considerable domestic violence against women. Police are often reluctant to intervene in cases of spousal abuse, considering it to be the family's business, unless they believe the abuse is life threatening. The maximum sentence for wife beating is 3 years, but few such cases are prosecuted. The Government has not specifically addressed the problem. Law enforcement authorities reported 5,829 cases of rape in 1995, about 9 percent of all crimes reported. The punishment for rape can range from 4 to 15 years. There is very little coverage of rape in the press, and it is generally believed that rapes often go unreported.

There is no legal discrimination against women, but women are severely underrepresented in higher positions in state enterprises and overrepresented in low-paying and some menial jobs. Women generally have unrestricted access to higher education.


The Government is committed in principle to children's rights, but, as in many other areas, budget stringencies and other priorities severely limit its effectiveness in dealing with children's issues. Although the law provides for free education and medical care for children, the lack of government resources means that many do not receive adequate medical care, and educational institutes do not have the money needed to pay teacher salaries and obtain necessary supplies. There is no established pattern of governmental or societal abuse against children. Rural children normally work during harvests (see Section 6.d.).

People with Disabilities

Citizens with disabilities are entitled by law to assistance from the State. There is no legal discrimination against people with disabilities, but in practice, employers do not give them equal consideration. Laws mandate the provision of accessibility to public buildings and commercial establishments for the disabled, but these laws are not enforced. Disabled persons are a low priority for the Government.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Kazakstan's population of about 17 million consists of approximately 44 percent Kazaks and 36 percent Russians, with many other ethnic groups represented.

The Government continued to discriminate in favor of ethnic Kazaks in government employment where ethnic Kazaks predominate, as well as in education, housing, and other areas. However, the Government has continued to back away from its "Kazakification" campaign of the first year of independence. President Nazarbayev has publicly emphasized that all nationalities are welcome in Kazakstan, but many non-Kazaks are anxious about what they perceive as expanding preferences for ethnic Kazaks. Many ethnic Kazaks, however, believe affirmative action is needed to reverse 200 years of Russian domination.

Most of the population speaks Russian; only about half of ethnic Kazaks speak Kazak fluently. The Constitution adopted in August states that the Kazak language is the state language of the republic. According to the Constitution, the Russian language is officially used on a basis equal with that of the Kazak language in organizations and bodies of local self-administration. This slight increase in the status of the Russian language (from its previous status as the republic's "language of interethnic communication") did not satisfy some ethnic Russian Kazakstanis who had hoped that Russian would be designated as a second state language. An article in the first draft of the Constitution (which was later dropped) prohibited limiting the rights and freedoms of citizens on account of not knowing the state or any other language. The Government is encouraging more education of children in the Kazak language, but has done little to provide Kazak-language education for adults.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution and the current Labor Code (the Ministry of Labor is drafting a new labor code, with input from labor) provide for basic workers' rights, including the right to organize and the right to strike. Kazakstan joined the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 1993, but the previous Parliament did not ratify any ILO conventions.

Most workers remained members of state-sponsored trade unions established during the Soviet period. Membership was obligatory. At most enterprises, the state-sponsored unions continued to deduct 1 percent of each worker's wage as dues. In addition, the government pension fund withholds 30.2 percent of each worker's wage, and the state unions, which have the authority to allocate funds for disability and sick pay, housing, and the use of vacation retreats, take 7.3 percent. The state unions under the Communist system were, and for the most part still are, organs of the Government and work with management to enforce labor discipline and to discourage workers from forming or joining independent unions.

The law gives workers the right to join or form unions of their own choosing and to stop the automatic dues deductions for the state unions. However, enterprises often continue to withhold dues for the state-sponsored union in spite of requests from individual workers to stop the deduction. The Independent Trade Union Center of Kazakstan claims membership of about 500,000 out of a total work force of about 5,600,000; however, the actual number of Independent Trade Union members is estimated to be closer to 70,000. To obtain legal status, an independent union must apply for registration with the local judicial authority at the oblast level and with the Ministry of Justice. Registration is generally lengthy, difficult, and expensive. The decision to register a union appears to be arbitrary, with no published criteria. Judicial authorities and the Ministry of Justice have the authority to cancel a union's registration.

The law does not provide mechanisms to protect workers who join independent unions from threats or harassment by enterprise management or state-run unions. Members of independent unions have been dismissed, transferred to lower paying or lower status jobs, threatened, and intimidated. According to union leaders, state unions work closely with management to ensure that independent trade union members are the first fired in times of economic downturn. In one factory, management allegedly fostered the creation of a "state union" to challenge an independent union which had organized the majority of the work force.

A tripartite agreement between labor, management, and the Government was concluded in May, but has had little success in resolving labor problems. Within a few months of signing the tripartite agreement, management representatives no longer attended the meetings of the tripartite commission.

Unions and individual workers exercised their right to strike in 1995, primarily in an effort to recover back wages owed to workers. Miners' strikes in the coal mining region of Karaganda continued throughout the year.

Many enterprises continued to pay wages in scrip rather than in cash, a practice at odds with Article 3 of ILO Convention 95 on the protection of wages other than in the legal currency without the express consent of the workers. Enterprise directors claimed that the enterprises were not being paid in cash by their traditional trading partners in other parts of the former Soviet Union, which were also experiencing cash flow difficulties as a result of the general economic crisis. The scrip was often not accepted at stores or was accepted only at devalued levels.

By law, unions may freely join federations or confederations and affiliate with international bodies. Most independent trade unions in Kazakstan belong to the Independent Trade Union Center (ITUC) headquartered in Almaty. The Independent Miners' Federation of Kazakstan, along with the State Miners' Union of Karaganda, are members of the Miners' International Federation. The unions belonging to the ITUC are not members of international federations but do maintain contacts with European and U.S. trade union federations. Independent unions were particularly concerned about a provision in the Constitution which forbids the financing of trade unions by foreign legal entities and citizens, foreign states, and international organizations.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

There are significant limits on the right to organize and bargain collectively. Most industry remained state owned and was subject to the State's production orders. Although collective bargaining rights are not spelled out in the current law, in some instances unions successfully negotiated agreements with management. If a union's demands are not acceptable to management, it may present those demands to an arbitration commission comprised of management, union officials, and independent technical experts. There is no legal protection against antiunion discrimination.

There are no export processing zones. Several free economic zones enjoy all the privileges of export processing zones, as well as other tax privileges and abatements, but labor conditions there appear to be no different than elsewhere in Kazakstan.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced labor except "at the sentence of the court or in the conditions of a state of emergency or martial law." However, some persons were required to provide labor or the use of privately owned equipment with no, or very low, compensation to help gather the annual grain harvest.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age for employment is 16. A child under age 16 may work only with the permission of the local administration and the trade union in the enterprise in which the child would work. Such permission is rarely granted. Abuse of child labor is generally not a problem, although child labor is routinely used in agricultural areas, especially during harvest season.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The official minimum wage was set by the Government at approximately $5.00 (300 tenge) per month effective in October. It is far from sufficient to provide a decent living for a worker and family.

The legal maximum workweek is 48 hours, although most enterprises maintain a 40-hour workweek, with at least a 24-hour rest period. The Constitution states that labor agreements will stipulate the length of working time, vacation days, holidays, and paid annual leave for each worker.

Although the Constitution provides for the right to "safe and hygienic working conditions," working and safety conditions in the industrial sector are substandard. Safety consciousness is low. Workers in factories usually do not wear protective clothing, such as goggles and hard hats, and work in conditions of poor visibility and ventilation. Management largely ignores regulations concerning occupational health and safety, enforceable by the Ministry of Labor and the state-sponsored unions. Workers, including miners, have no legal right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment.

Search Refworld