2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Kazakhstan
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Author||Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor|
|Publication Date||25 February 2009|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - Kazakhstan, 25 February 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/49a8f17dc.html [accessed 3 July 2015]|
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
February 25, 2009
The Republic of Kazakhstan, with a population of approximately 15.6 million, had a parliamentary system dominated by President Nazarbayev's Nur Otan Party. According to official results, Nur Otan received 88 percent of the vote in the 2007 national elections for the lower house of parliament, winning every seat in the chamber. Local and international observers noted some improvements in the electoral process over past national elections but criticized the elections as falling short of a number of international standards, particularly with respect to the legislative framework and the integrity of the vote counting and tabulation process. The constitution concentrates power in the presidency, permitting the president to control regional and local governments and to exercise significant influence over the legislature and judiciary. Changes or amendments to the constitution require presidential consent. The civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
The following human rights problems were reported: severe limits on citizens' rights to change their government; military hazing that led to deaths; detainee and prisoner abuse; unhealthy prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; lack of an independent judiciary; restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and association; pervasive corruption, especially in law enforcement and the judicial system; prohibitive political party registration requirements; restrictions on the activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); discrimination and violence against women; trafficking in persons; and societal discrimination.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
There were no developments in the case of the 2006 killing of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbayuly and his two associates, in which evidence strongly indicated high level government involvement.
Abuse was common in detention facilities and other institutions. On May 10, police severely beat Valery Issayev while he was in a holding cell. He died from injuries the next day. Authorities charged the supervising officer with abuse. In September the officer was sentenced to seven years in jail.
On August 14, a marine border guard patrol boat opened fire on a fishing boat on the Caspian Sea, killing two civilians. Border authorities claimed that the patrol opened fire as a response to shooting from the boat. The local community and media alleged that there was no need to open fire. An investigation was under way at year's end.
Military hazing led to deaths, suicides, and serious injuries. The government reported 115 incidents of nonlethal military hazing during the year, compared to 97 in 2007. Three deaths were linked directly to the hazing, as opposed to four in 2007. Seven soldiers committed suicide.
On June 21, Sergeant Yermakhambet Absattarov of the Kapchagai-based Air-Mobile Troops beat and killed conscript Umid Shaiusupov. On November 5, the Almaty Military Court found junior sergeant Absattarov guilty and sentenced him to four years in jail. On August 28, Alexander Nagayev, a conscript from military unit 5451, died in the hospital after another soldier brutally beat him. On December 9, the Karaganda military court sentenced conscript Tleubergenov to seven years in jail.
In February the Pavlodar military court sentenced three soldiers to terms ranging from 18 months to 7 and half years for their involvement in the September 2007 death of military conscript Bek Bashirov.
The number of suicides in the army increased from the previous year. Authorities reported 15 suicides during the first five months of the year, up from seven in 2007. According to Deputy Minister Bolat Sembinov, hazing was the primary reason for the increase in suicides. Authorities suspected that a soldier from unit 78460 killed himself on August 12 after another soldier beat him. Authorities detained a suspect and opened a criminal investigation, which was pending at year's end.
There were no further developments in the case of the March 2007 disappearance of journalist Oralgaisha Zhabaktai-kyzy. In September 2007 the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) concluded that her disappearance was unrelated to her ongoing reporting on official corruption, inter-ethnic clashes, and criminal activity in the Almaty region.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits such practices, but police and prison officials at times beat and abused detainees, often to obtain confessions. The procurator general's office (PGO) and the human rights ombudsman acknowledged that torture and other illegal methods of investigation were used by some law enforcement officers. Human rights and international legal observers noted investigative and prosecutorial practices that overemphasized a defendant's confession of guilt over collecting other types of evidence in building a criminal case against a defendant. Courts generally ignored allegations by defendants that their confessions were obtained by torture or duress.
The ombudsman's office reported 1,800citizen complaints during the first 11 months of the year, 189 of which were allegations of abuse or misconduct by law enforcement.
On April 13, three police officers beat and subsequently detained police sergeant Rasul Zhumaliyev, accusing him of extortion. The beating, allegedly an attempt to extract a confession, was caught on tape by security cameras. The police have not opened a formal investigation.
On May 19, Dmitry Chechil was admitted to the hospital with severe injuries suffered during a three-day detention at a police station. According to Chechil, the police beat him severely and refused his requests for medical attention. The investigation against the police officers was closed for lack of evidence.
On February 1, the investigation into the March 2007 police beating of Alexander Gerasimov concluded. Authorities fired investigator Matashev and gave disciplinary warnings to investigators Barakatov and Almukhambetov but did not pursue criminal cases against the officers.
The PGO reported 115 crimes related to military hazing and abuse of power during the year, compared to 105 in 2007.
A few army personnel continued to subject conscripts to physical and verbal abuse. The government investigated allegations of conscript hazing and prosecuted soldiers who engaged in this abuse, convicting 75 soldiers during the year. The Ministry of Defense continued ad hoc inspections and required systematic reports from senior officers concerning the hazing situation in their units.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
NGOs and international observers reported that prison and detention center conditions did not improve during the year. Observers cited poor treatment of inmates and detainees, and lack of professional training for administrators. In February the Constitutional Council invalidated April 2007 legislative changes that criminalized prisoner protests and self-mutilation.
Prison conditions remained harsh and facilities did not meet international health standards, although the government renovated three prisons and two detention facilities during the year as part of a penitentiary development program. Scarcity of medical care continued to be a problem. NGOs reported that about half of the inmate population was in need of professional treatment, especially for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases. Mistreatment occurred in police cells, pretrial detention facilities, and prisons. The government took steps to address systemic patterns that encouraged prisoner abuse, including continued operation of and increased access for regional penitentiary oversight commissions, training of prison officials, and seminars for MIA police. By year's end, authorities had prosecuted two prison officials for abuses, and they opened 36 investigations for corruption-related offenses, resulting in 24 convictions.
During the first 11 months of the year, the government reported 48 detainee deaths, including 10 suicides, at pretrial detention facilities, and 44 suicides in prisons.
Incidents of inmates' self-mutilation as a protest against harsh prison conditions and abuse continued, with 66 cases involving 109 inmates reported in 11 months of the year. Of the 66 cases, 16 were group self-mutilation cases.
In January approximately a dozen Karaganda prison inmates went on a hunger strike to protest harsh prison conditions. In April Arshaly prison inmate Yevgeny Futko died after allegedly being beaten by prison guards for his protest against abuse. According to media reports, other prisoners also were beaten severely and hospitalized after they tried to protest against brutality by guards. Prison officials denied any wrongdoing and alleged that Futko died of natural causes.
Civil society activists worked with the Councils for Public Oversight of the Ministries of Justice and of Internal Affairs, as well as the human rights ombudsman's counter-torture working group, to monitor the situation in prisons and detention facilities. However, many observers criticized the councils for lacking independence or any clearly defined authority or power.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but problems remained.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The MIA supervises the national police force, which has primary responsibility for internal security, including the investigation and prevention of crimes and administrative offenses and the maintenance of public order and security. The Agency for Combating Economic and Corruption Crimes (financial police) has administrative and criminal investigative powers. The Committee for National Security (KNB) plays a law enforcement role in border security, internal security, antiterrorism efforts, and the investigation and prevention of illegal or unregistered groups such as extremist groups, military groups, political parties, religious groups, and trade unions. The KNB also oversees the external intelligence service, Barlau. The financial police and the KNB report directly to the president.
According to a poll released by the PGO's Crime Statistics Committee, 35 percent of the population did not believe that the government can protect them from infringement of their civil rights and freedoms, specifically infringement by the police and the courts. Public perception of police effectiveness was low, and corruption among law enforcement officers was believed to be high. Authorities fired 183 officers for abuse of power and corruption during the year; 69 of them were fired for corruption. Authorities gave disciplinary penalties to 1,399 police officers.
During the year the government maintained MIA hot lines and received over 11,000 complaints about police corruption and abuse.
The procurator general chairs a council for coordination of law enforcement operations. Staff includes heads of other law enforcement agencies. Among many things, the council reviews complaints against law enforcement.
The MIA cooperated with NGOs to provide human rights training seminars for police at the local level. The government cooperated with international organizations to provide limited law enforcement training aimed at decreasing abuse by emphasizing investigative skill development.
Arrest and Detention
On August 30, legislation implementing a May 2007 constitutional amendment went into effect transferring the power to sanction arrest from the procurators to the judiciary. Procurators continued to have the power to authorize investigative actions such as searches and seizures. The law allows police to hold a detainee for 72 hours before bringing charges. Human rights observers criticized this time period as too lengthy and said that authorities often used this detention to exert pressure and extract confessions. A bail system exists but was not widely used, and many individuals remained in pretrial detention until their trial.
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; however, police were not required under the law and in practice did not inform detainees that they had the right to an attorney. Human rights observers alleged that law enforcement officials dissuaded detainees from seeing an attorney, gathered evidence through preliminary questioning before the person's attorney arrived, and in some cases used corrupt defense attorneys to gather evidence. The law states that the government must provide an attorney for an indigent suspect or defendant when the suspect is a minor, has physical or mental disabilities, or is facing serious criminal charges. In practice, public defenders were often poorly equipped to assist defendants.
Procurators reported on continuing problems with arbitrary arrest and detention of citizens. During the first nine months of the year, authorities released 17 persons from illegal pre-trial detention and 675 persons from illegal custody in police offices.
The government occasionally arrested and detained government opponents and critics, sometimes for minor infractions such as unsanctioned assembly. However, there were no allegations of prolonged detention for political offenses.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law does not provide adequately for an independent judiciary. The executive branch limited judicial independence. Procurators enjoyed a quasi-judicial role and were permitted to suspend court decisions.
Corruption was evident at every stage of the judicial process. Although judges were among the most highly paid government employees, lawyers and human rights monitors alleged that judges, procurators, and other officials solicited bribes in exchange for favorable rulings in the majority of criminal cases.
There are three levels in the court system: district, oblast (regional), and the Supreme Court. District courts are the court of first instance in nearly all criminal cases. Regional courts hear cases involving more serious crimes, and may handle cases in rural areas with no local courts. District court decisions may be appealed to the regional courts, and regional court decisions may be appealed to the Supreme Court. There are also military courts. Military courts have jurisdiction over civilian criminal defendants who were alleged to be connected to military personnel undergoing a criminal trial. Military courts use the same criminal code as civilian courts.
The constitutional council rules on election and referendum challenges, interprets the constitution, and determines the constitutionality of laws adopted by parliament. Citizens have no right of direct appeal to the constitutional council.
The presidentially appointed High Judicial Council recommends nominees for the Supreme Court to the president, who in turn recommends them to the senate for approval. The council makes recommendations to the president for all lower-level judges, but these appointments are made directly by the president. Judges are appointed for life. The parliament may remove Supreme Court judges upon recommendation by the president, and the president may remove lower court judges.
Courts continued conducting jury trials for aggravated murder cases during the year, pursuant to legislation enacted in 2006. Observers noted that the juror selection process was inconsistent, that trial participants lacked knowledge of the new system, and that judges, who deliberate with the jurors, tended to dominate the process. In its report on the monitoring of jury trials, Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) made a number of recommendations on improvement of the jury trial system, including more impartial selection of jurors, free and open access to trials, standard requirements for equipment in courtrooms to record the proceedings, and development of procedures through which jurors could exclude evidence obtained through torture or cruel or humiliating treatment. During the year courts conducted 30 jury trials involving 46 defendants; jurors convicted 41 defendants and acquitted three.
Trials were public, except in instances that could compromise state secrets, or to protect the private life or personal family concerns of a citizen. However, there were several reports of journalists and observers being denied access to open court hearings. Defendants in criminal cases have the right to counsel and to a government-provided attorney if they cannot afford one. Under the criminal procedure code, defendants must be represented by an attorney when the defendant is a minor, has mental or physical disabilities, does not speak the language of the court, or faces 10 or more years of imprisonment. In practice defense attorneys reportedly participated in only half of all criminal cases, in part because the government did not have sufficient funds to pay them. The law also provides defendants the right to be present at their trials, to be heard in court, and to 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. Human rights activists reported that there were numerous problems in the judicial system, including lack of access to court proceedings, frequent procedural violations, lack of a presumption of innocence, poor explanation of rights to defendants, and the failure of judges to investigate allegations that confessions were extracted through torture or duress. Lack of due process was a problem, particularly in politically motivated trials and in cases where improper political or financial influence was alleged.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners. There were no reports of individuals imprisoned following politically motivated criminal prosecutions based on nonpolitical offenses.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Civil cases are handled by economic and administrative court judges under a court structure that largely mirrors the criminal court structure. The law and constitution provide for the resolution of civil disputes in court. In practice, observers viewed civil courts as corrupt and unreliable. Observers noted that litigants experienced great difficulty in enforcing judgments, particularly if they did not agree to pay a percentage to the court administrator.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution and law prohibit such actions; however, the government at times infringed on these rights.
The law provides procurators with extensive authority to limit citizens' constitutional rights. The KNB, MIA, financial police, and other agencies, with the concurrence of the PGO, may infringe on the secrecy of private communications and financial records, as well as on the inviolability of the home. Courts may hear an appeal on procurators' decisions but cannot issue an immediate injunction to cease the infringement. The criminal procedure code allows wiretapping and recording of communications, including e-mail and electronic communications, without a warrant only in urgent cases.
Government opponents and their family members continued to report that the government occasionally monitored their movements and telephone calls.
2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution and the law provide for freedom of speech and of the press; however, the government used a variety of means, including laws, harassment, licensing regulations, 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 government officials, contributed to suspension of media outlets and self-censorship.
The government limited individuals' ability to criticize the country's leadership, and regional leaders attempted to limit local media outlets' criticism of them. The law prohibits insulting the president and other senior officials. The government continued to characterize the distribution of pamphlets by Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), a banned extremist political organization, as incitement for political and terrorist purposes and beyond the bounds of constitutionally protected free speech.
According to government statistics, approximately 21 percent of the 2,810 media outlets were government-owned. Many privately owned newspapers and television stations received government subsidies. The overwhelming majority of broadcast media not owned by the government, including the larger outlets, were nonetheless owned by holding companies believed to be controlled by members of the president's family or loyal associates. The government controlled nearly all broadcast transmission facilities. Media observers believed that most of the seven nationwide television broadcasters were owned wholly or partly by the government. Regional governments owned several frequencies; independent broadcasters arranged to use the majority of these.
All media were required to register with the Ministry of Culture and Information, although Web sites were exempt from this requirement.
The licensing system is not transparent. On January 15, the government conducted a tender for new licenses, but media watchdogs charged that the government predetermined the results of the tender and awarded all new television frequencies to companies favored by the government. On March 21, government-owned Samgau holding bought 49.9 percent of Khabar stock in an auction where neither the names of the bidders nor the prices were orchestrated. Nevertheless, public activists and several politicians criticized the deal as unfair and alleged that the government orchestrated the process to consolidate its control of the media.
The law limits the rebroadcast of foreign-produced programming to 20 percent of a station's total airtime. This provision burdened smaller, less-developed regional television stations that lacked resources to develop their own programs, although the government did not sanction any media outlet under this provision.
Harassment of and violence against journalists remained a problem. Press advocacy NGO Adil Soz reported 226 incidents of harassment and violence against journalists during the first 11 months of the year, compared to 227 such incidents during the first 11 months of 2007. Journalists covering organized crime and corruption reported harassment and intimidation by government officials and private actors.
There were no developments in the 2006 beating of Aina Plyus journalist Kenzhegali Aitbakiyev, an attack allegedly connected to the paper's reporting on Kazakhgate, a bribery scandal involving possible illicit payments from foreign companies to senior government officials, including, allegedly, President Nazarbayev.
On September 17, unknown assailants attacked the driver of Dulat Abish, director of the media holding company Aigak, and set his car on fire. Abish told the press that the attack was directly related to his paper's recent critical coverage of a local akim (governor).
On November 28, the KNB searched the home and office of Ramazan Yesergepov, Editor in Chief of the newspaper Alma-Ata Info, after his paper published an article containing ostensibly classified KNB documents. On December 1, KNB agents attempted to take Yesergepov for questioning to Taraz, but he refused to go. The courts ordered Alma-Ata Info to shut down on December 4. The decision was overturned by the court of higher instance, but at year's end the paper was not publishing because its computers were confiscated in the search.
Incidents of government pressure on the media continued. In March the Minister of Culture and Information met with directors of independent media outlets and purportedly instructed them to abstain from publishing stories about President Nazarbayev's former son-in-law Rakhat Aliyev. NGO Adil Soz reported that on March 13, the KNB inspected the opposition newspaper Respublika's printing house allegedly to check if there were any articles being published on Aliyev's case. On May 8, Gulzhan Yergaliyeva, the chief editor of the opposition newspaper Svodoba Slova, received an e-mail with threats that she should stop publishing pieces about Aliyev.
In June the director of the Aktobe oblast's department of internal policy called the editor in chief of the independent newspaper Diapason and recommended that the newspaper not cover the visit of opposition activist Peter Svoik. Raushan Akhan, a reporter from Karaganda's Ortalyk Kazakhstan newspaper, was fired for criticizing the government. She successfully sued the newspaper and received material compensation, but did not get her job back.
There were no reports of forced outlet closures under the restrictive media law enacted in 2006. Included in the amendment to the media law were tightened government control, requiring media owners to re-register upon any change in editor, address, or frequency of publishing; a ban on those convicted of libel from holding a managing editor position at another media outlet; prohibition on registering an outlet under a name similar to one that was shut down by court action; and imposition of fines against broadcasters for failing to offer the required 50-50 mix of Kazakh- and Russian-language programming time.
The law enables the government to restrict media content under amendments that prohibit undermining state security or advocating class, social, race, national, or religious superiority, or cruelty and violence. Owners, editors, distributors, and journalists may be held civilly and criminally responsible for content, regardless of the source of information, unless it came from an official source. The government used this provision to limit freedom of the press. The law prohibits publication of any statement that promotes or glorifies "extremism," a term that international legal experts considered vague and necessary for the government to define.
The government subjected media outlets willing to criticize the president directly to intimidation such as law enforcement actions or civil suits. While these events continued to cast a chilling effect on all media outlets, criticism of government policies continued.
The law on state secrets makes it a criminal offense to release information about the health, finances, or private life of the president, as well as economic information such as mineral reserves and government debt owed to foreign creditors. To avoid possible legal problems, media outlets often practiced self-censorship regarding information on the president or his family.
Criminal libel suits could be initiated by private parties on behalf of the government, and an individual filing such a suit would be able to file a civil suit as well, based upon the same allegations. Officials used the law's restrictive libel and defamation provisions to constrain media outlets from publishing unflattering information. Both the criminal and civil codes contain articles establishing broad libel liability. The fact that owners, editors, distributors, publishing houses, and journalists were held responsible for proving the veracity of published information, regardless of its source, promoted self-censorship at each level. At times fines for libel were exorbitant.
In contrast to previous years, watchdog NGOs reported fewer libel cases, although some government officials still sued journalists for defamation of character. On September 18, a Petropavlovsk court began hearings on a libel suit initiated by the deputy director of the regional police department against Vremya newspaper reporter Victor Miroshnichenko. In a July 10 article, Miroschnichenko claimed the police official was accepting bribes. The trial was ongoing at year's end.
There were no formal government restrictions on access to the Internet, but observers reported that the government monitored e-mail and Internet activity, blocked or slowed access to opposition Web sites, and planted progovernment propaganda in Internet chat rooms. The country's only Internet service providers, state-owned Kaztelecom and privately owned Nursat, were regulated by the state. Nevertheless, Web sites expressed a wide variety of views, including viewpoints critical of the government. According to government statistics, there are 600,000 regular Internet users in the country (4 percent of the population). Internet users were primarily urban.
The Agency for Information and Communication (AIC) controlled the registration of .kz domains. The AIC may suspend or revoke registration for failure to locate servers in the country. Observers criticized the registration process as unduly restrictive and vulnerable to abuse.
Media watchdog group Adil Soz and two independent Internet publishers reported that the government blocking of four opposition-oriented Web sites continued intermittently throughout the year, although three of the four sites remained accessible through servers based outside the country. The blocking began in October 2007 in connection with the publication of audio recordings and transcripts of telephone conversations between high-level government officials.
On July 1, the Almaty courts suspended the Web site posit.kz for three months for allegedly publishing comments that promoted racial, ethnic, or inter-clan discord. The site resumed operation after three months.
Opposition Web site kub.info reported two coordinated cyber attacks against the site on June 30 and July 2. The site's owner, Rashid Nugmanov, alleged that hundreds of computers from locations outside of the country were used to block access to the site. He ascribed the attacks directly to the site's critical reporting concerning the government.
On August 19, the Shymkent district court ruled that self-described writer and political analyst Nurlan Alimbekov was not competent to stand trial because of a mental illness and ordered the case suspended until his capacity improved. Alimbekov was arrested in August 2007 for inciting religious and ethnic hatred and insulting the president. The charges were based on e-mails sent by Alimbekov. A KNB spokesman had said the government did not violate privacy laws in obtaining his e-mails because Alimbekov sent them to multiple parties, including foreign diplomatic representatives, and they were eventually forwarded to the government.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
The government generally did not restrict academic freedom, although academics, like all citizens, were prohibited from infringing on the dignity and honor of the president.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of Assembly
The law provides for limited freedom of assembly; however, there were significant restrictions on this right in practice, and police used force to disrupt peaceful demonstrations. The law defines unsanctioned gatherings, public meetings, marches, demonstrations, illegal picketing, and strikes that upset social and political stability as national security threats.
Under the laws governing public assembly, 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 is considered illegal. Opposition and human rights monitors complained that complicated and vague procedures and the 10-day notification period made it difficult for groups to organize public meetings and demonstrations and reported that local authorities turned down most applications for demonstrations. The government's 2007 Baseline Report on Human Rights in Kazakhstan acknowledged that the laws governing public assembly were vague and agreed that they fell short of international standards. Authorities often detained briefly and fined organizers of unsanctioned gatherings, including political party gatherings.
During the year the authorities dispersed several gatherings organized without preliminary authorization. On March 1, the police detained eight participants in a rally to protest the construction of a new shopping mall on Almaty's Independence Square; local authorities subsequently issued a permit for the rally, but relegated it to the city's outskirts. In April a group of Almaty residents went on a hunger strike after the city administration twice denied their application to hold a rally to protest the seizure of their land plots by the government. On September 4, Almaty courts sentenced one activist, Aynur Kurmanov, to 15 days in jail and fined three others for holding an unsanctioned political demonstration in Almaty on August 30.
On July 10, an Astana court ruled that the city administration had the right to deny the request of a group of citizens to hold a rally in protest against the demolition of their property. The city denied the request because the proposed location for the protest was allegedly too close to a construction site and thus unsafe.
Freedom of Association
The law provides for limited freedom of association; however, there were significant restrictions on this right in practice. Any public organization set up by citizens, including religious groups, must be registered with the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), as well as with MOJ branches in every region in which the organization conducts activities. The law requires public or religious associations to specifically define their activities, and associations that act outside the scope of their charter may be warned, fined, suspended, or ultimately banned. Participation in unregistered public organizations may result in administrative or criminal liability, such as fines, dissolution, probation, or imprisonment.
The prohibition on unregistered organizations often provided a pretext for authorities to interfere with the activities of organizations. Membership organizations, including religious groups, must have 10 members to register at the local level and must have branches in over half of the regions for national registration. Political parties and labor unions were considered member organizations but had additional specific registration requirements. The law requires political parties to have 50,000 signatures, including 700 in each region, and prohibits parties established on an ethnic, gender or religious basis. The law prohibits members of the armed forces, employees of national security and law enforcement organizations and judges from participating in trade unions or political parties.
NGOs reported that the registration process was fairly regularized, although corruption in the registration process was common. NGOs involved in human rights advocacy and political activities faced greater administrative delays and obstacles, although there were no reports that the government denied registration or shut down organizations.
The 2005 extremism law criminalizes membership in certain prohibited organizations. HT was the only one banned under this law. Although it maintained that it was committed to nonviolence, HT promoted hate and praised acts of terrorism. The party's virulently anti-Semitic and anti-Western literature called for the overthrow of secular governments, including those in Central Asia, to be replaced with a worldwide Islamic government.
c. Freedom of Religion
The constitution and law provide for freedom of religion, and the various religious groups worshiped largely without government interference; however, local and regional officials attempted on occasion to limit or control the practice of religion by several groups, especially religious communities defined as "nontraditional" by the government. The constitution defines the country as a secular state and provides the right to decline religious affiliation.
The government continued to express publicly its support for religious tolerance and diversity; however, the government publicly criticized "nontraditional" religious groups and called for new legislation to increase its control over missionaries and the dissemination of religious materials. On January 17, President Nazarbayev criticized foreign missionaries and minority religious groups in a public speech, saying they pose a "threat" to society. On November 26, parliament passed a package of amendments to the religion law that would restrict religious freedom. At the year's end, the draft law was awaiting the President's action, which could entail signing the legislation, vetoing it, or sending it to the Constitutional Council for a review of its constitutionality. The government's enforcement of current laws led to continuing problems for some unregistered groups, since the law imposes mandatory registration requirements on missionaries and religious organizations. While the majority of religious communities worshipped largely without government interference, local officials attempted on occasion to limit the practice of religion by some minority groups.
The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. The country is multiethnic, with a long tradition of tolerance and secularism. In particular, Muslim, Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Jewish leaders reported high levels of acceptance in society. The population, particularly in rural areas, is sometimes wary of religions deemed to be "nontraditional" by the government. The number of registered religious groups and places of worship increased during the year for virtually all religious groups, except for minority and nontraditional groups.
The religion laws narrow the legal protections for religious freedom found in the constitution. Under the law, religious groups must register both with the central government and in the individual regions in which they have congregations. Missionaries must register annually and be sponsored by a registered religious organization. All supporting materials must be provided with the registration applications; use of materials not vetted during the registration process is illegal. Only registered organizations may act as a legal entity to buy or rent real property, hire employees, or engage in other legal transactions.
In practice most religious communities chose to register with the government and were successful ultimately in obtaining registration. Minority religious groups sometimes reported long delays in the process. Unregistered religious groups reported an increase in court actions against them and an increase in the level of fines imposed for non-registration. Some religious groups also criticized the intrusive nature of the registration process, which required them to provide information about ethnicity, family status, religious education, employment, and political affiliation.
Minority religious groups reported increased government pressure against their communities. During the year, the Baptist Council of Churches, which has a policy of not seeking registration in former Soviet countries, continued to report new cases against churchgoers for participating in the activities of an unregistered group. According to government statistics, in the first nine months of the year 37 persons were administratively sanctioned for non-registration and other violations of the law. In August the Shymkent administrative court suspended the activities of three chapters of the Jehovah's Witnesses in the south because the chapters allegedly held religious services at venues other than their registered addresses. The decision was overturned by the higher instance court on November 21. The group's Atyrau chapter remained unregistered, as it has been since 2001. Protestant groups reported an increase in intrusive inspections from the financial police.
On December 25, the Almaty district court began hearing the criminal case against Yelizaveta Drencheva, a Russian citizen and Unification Church member, for allegedly promoting the superiority of a group of citizens based on their religion. The case stems from several religious lectures Drencheva gave in April based on the teachings of Sun Myung Moon. The trial was ongoing at year's end.
Observers believed that security officials informally monitored some religious activity, particularly Muslim imams' sermons; however, there were no reports that any monitoring manifested itself in interference or harassment.
The Karasai district government near Almaty continued a campaign to seize title to land used by the Hare Krishna movement. On September 10, Karasai officials filed suit requesting that a court close down the Hare Krishna compound. The Hare Krishna community had been engaged with local authorities on finding appropriate compensation for their land plot. The Hare Krishnas rejected five land plots offered by local authorities because the plots were too far from Almaty, lacked basic utilities, or were unusable for other reasons.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
In January government-run media outlets launched a broad campaign against "non-traditional" religious groups, which included biased coverage of Jehovah's Witnesses, Hare Krishnas, and Scientologists. Progovernment newspaper Liter reported that the KNB was investigating the Grace Church for alleged espionage and drug-trafficking. In February the Jehovah's Witnesses reported that local television in Semey ran a negative piece depicting the group's followers as extremists. NGO observers ascribed the campaign to the government's efforts to build support for stricter legislation on religion.
There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts apart from the distribution of anti-Semitic literature by HT. Leaders of the Jewish community reported no cases of anti-Semitism either by the government or in society.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2008 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for these rights, but there were some regulatory restrictions. The government required citizens and foreigners who remained in the country for more than five days to register with the migration police. Foreigners entering the country may register at certain border posts. Registration in most of the country generally was routine; nonetheless, some foreign citizens reported that local authorities regularly requested bribes before completing registration. During the first 11 months of the year the MIA deported 15,795 foreigners for gross violations of the rules of stay; the vast majority of the foreigners were citizens of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
The government required persons who were suspects in criminal investigations to sign statements that they would not leave their place of residence, and detained individuals routinely for identity checks without suspicion of a criminal offense.
Although the government did not require exit visas for temporary travel of citizens, there were certain instances in which exit from the country could be denied, including for travelers subject to pending criminal or civil legal proceedings, unfulfilled prison sentences, or compulsory military duty. Travelers who presented false documentation during the exit process could be denied exit, and authorities controlled travel by active-duty military. The law on national security requires that persons who had access to state secrets obtain permission from their employing government agency for temporary exit from the country.
The law prohibits forced exile and the government did not employ it.
The law provides for the right to emigrate and the right to repatriate, and the government generally respected these rights in practice. An exception is the law on national security, which prohibits persons who had access to state secrets from taking up permanent residence abroad for five years after leaving government service. The government required a permanent exit visa for emigration; obtaining this visa required criminal checks, credit checks, and letters from parents and any dependents expressing no objection to exit visa issuance.
The authorities required foreigners to obtain prior permission to travel to certain border areas with China and cities in close proximity to military installations. The government continued to declare particular areas closed to foreigners due to their proximity to military bases and the space launch center at Baikonur. In practice foreigners could visit these areas with prior permission from the MIA.
Protection of Refugees
The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol, but the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The absence of legislation to implement fully the convention allowed for the selective treatment of refugees, and left many aspects of refugee status unclear, such as whether refugees have a right to work. In practice, the government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened. As in 2007, the government did not forcibly return any refugees to Uzbekistan during the year.
In practice, the government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened. On April 23, MIA officers detained Rafik Rakhmonov, a citizen of Uzbekistan wanted by Uzbekistani law enforcement for alleged acts of terrorism during the 2005 events in Andijon. UNHCR maintained regular access to him and was able to determine his refugee status during his detention. Rakhmonov was recognized as a refugee under the mandate of UNHCR in June and subsequently released.
The government generally registered asylum seekers and determined their status, in consultation with the UNHCR, with the exceptions of citizens from the CIS countries or China. Only the president could grant political asylum, and he did not do so during the year. In some cases, the government allowed asylum seekers and refugees to stay in the country while the UNHCR found third countries that would accept them. Although the government did register refugees already present in the country, it did not accept any refugees for resettlement. The government also provided temporary protection to individuals, including some Afghan refugees who may not qualify as refugees under the 1951 convention and the 1967 protocol.
In practice the government does not grant refugee or asylum status to citizens of CIS countries or China. The government maintained that citizens of CIS countries cannot by definition need refugee status because of the freedom of movement provided by the visa-free regime in the CIS. CIS citizens are processed under migration laws that give them some renewable temporary status, although not the full protection of refugee status. Citizens from China are not granted any legal status, but they are tolerated informally. Activists reported that, in practice, many refugees from CIS countries and China did not seek formal status. Those who sought protection from UNHCR generally had access to such processes, and the government generally respected UNHCR refugee certificates.
During the year, UNHCR reported generally good cooperation from the government in assisting refugees and asylum seekers. The government usually allowed the UNHCR access to detained foreigners to determine if they qualified for refugee status. The government was generally tolerant in its treatment of local refugee populations, except for a few citizens from former Soviet republics. The government often did not allow refugees without passports or those who had entered the country illegally to register, although the UNHCR intervened on behalf of those judged to be asylum seekers under the UNHCR mandate.
The Committee on Migration in the Ministry of Labor continued to work with the UNHCR and a local NGO, Kazakhstan Refugee Legal Support, to review refugee claims. Consistent with the Minsk Convention on Migration within the CIS, the government did not recognize Chechens as refugees. Chechens were eligible for temporary legal resident status for up to 180 days, like any other CIS citizen. This temporary registration was renewable, but local migration officials have discretion over the renewal process. In some cases, they solicited bribes, exploiting the vulnerability of Chechens arising from their inability to return safely to Chechnya. The government had an agreement with China not to tolerate the presence of ethnic separatists from one country on the territory of the other. Human rights monitors remained concerned about the impact of this agreement on Uighurs from China living in the country, and there were reports of the government forcibly returning Uighurs to China during the year.
3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The constitution and law provide for a democratic government with universal suffrage for those over 18 years of age; in practice the government severely limited the right of citizens to change their government.
Although the 2007 constitutional amendments increased legislative authority in some spheres, the constitution continues to concentrate power in the presidency, granting the president considerable control over the legislature, judiciary, and local government. The president appoints and dismisses most high-level government officials, including the prime minister, the cabinet, the procuratorgeneral, the KNB chief, Supreme Court and lower-level judges, regional governors, and the chairman and two members of the Central Election Commission (CEC), who oversee presidential and parliamentary elections. The lower house of parliament must confirm the president's choice of prime minister, and the senate must confirm the president's choice of procurator general, chairperson of the KNB, Supreme Court judges, and chairperson of the national bank. The parliament has never failed to confirm a presidential nomination. Modifying or amending the constitution effectively requires the president's consent. The May 2007 constitutional amendments exempted President Nazarbayev from the two-term limit on presidential terms.
The government took steps toward meeting democratic reform commitments it made at the OSCE Ministerial in November 2007. Throughout the year NGOs and political parties provided constructive criticism of draft amendments to laws on political parties, parliamentary elections, and the media. On November 11, the cabinet presented a package of the draft laws to parliament. Some civil society representatives and opposition party members were critical of the proposed legislation and claimed that the legislative process lacked transparency. At year's end the parliament was considering the draft amendments.
Elections and Political Participation
Elections for the lower house of parliament, the Mazhilis, were held in August 2007. President Nazarbayev's Nur Otan party, the country's dominant political force, received 88 percent of the vote according to official results, winning every seat in the chamber. No other party received the necessary seven percent of the vote to obtain parliamentary seats.
An OSCE election assessment noted several areas of improvement over the conduct of previous national elections, including the participation of multiple parties, increased transparency on the part of the CEC, and greater freedom to campaign. However, the assessment criticized a number of legal provisions related to the election, including excessive requirements for registration of political parties, limitations on the right to seek public office such as 10-year residency and party membership requirements, and a provision allowing the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan – an unelected body whose members are appointed by President Nazarbayev – to choose nine of the 107 members of the lower chamber. In addition, the assessment noted the preferential treatment local authorities and the state media paid to the Nur Otan party and the lack of opposition representatives on election commissions. The assessment also concluded that the vote counting process was not transparent. Opposition leaders said that the campaign environment was better than in previous years, although they reported government interference with their campaigns, including insufficient access to advertising space and unequal access to media and public meeting venues. Opposition leaders filed 400 court cases alleging violations, the overwhelming majority of which were dismissed or denied by the courts.
All registered parties that sought to compete in the August 2007 elections were permitted to do so, although the system introduced by the May 2007 constitutional amendments makes no provision for independent candidates. Political parties must register members' personal information, including date and place of birth, address, and place of employment. This requirement discouraged many citizens from joining political parties. There were credible allegations that persons entering government service were pressured to join the Nur Otan party.
At year's end there were 10 registered political parties, including opposition parties Ak Zhol, Azat (formerly "True Ak Zhol"), the National Social Democratic Party, and the Communist Party of Kazakhstan.
In order to register, a political party must hold a founding congress with minimum attendance of 1,000 delegates from two thirds of the oblasts and the cities of Astana and Almaty. Additionally, parties must obtain 50,000 verified signatures with at least 700 from each oblast and the cities of Astana and Almaty; registration from the CEC; and registration from each oblast-level election commission. The MOJ maintained that even if the number of signatures exceeded the required 50,000, a single error would be grounds for rejecting an application. At year's end registrations were pending for the opposition Alga and Atameken parties, although both parties submitted their applications in 2006. In response to criticism about the non-registration of Alga and Atameken, the government maintained that it was investigating numerous complaints from citizens about being added to the party lists without their consent.
The law prohibits parties established on an ethnic, gender, or religious basis.
On December 1, the MIA announced that it was formally pressing criminal charges against three opposition figures – Azat's Bulat Abilov, Shanyrak movement's Asylbek Kazhakhmetov, and Tolen Tokhtasynov – for allegedly concealing the whereabouts of a suspect in a murder investigation. The three denied the charges and claimed the allegations were politically motivated. They further maintained that, if convicted, they would be unable to stand for election until the conclusion of their sentences. At year's end, the cases were under consideration by the PGO.
Azat chairman Abilov remained ineligible to register as an electoral candidate due to his 2006 conviction by the Temirtau City Court for attacking a police lieutenant and insulting a government official during the 2005 presidential election. Abilov and his supporters claimed the charges were politically motivated. In a separate case, authorities charged him with fraud and tax evasion in connection with earlier business activities. A trial started in 2006, but was adjourned numerous times, and the judge eventually returned the case to the procurators for additional investigation. The trial had not resumed at year's end.
There were two women in the 47-seat senate and 17 women in the 107-member lower house of parliament. There was one woman in the cabinet and one chaired a national agency. Traditional attitudes sometimes hindered women from holding high office or playing active roles in political life, although there were no legal restrictions on the participation of women and minorities in politics. There were 10 non-Kazakhs in the senate, and 27 in the lower house of parliament. There were two non-Kazakh cabinet members. Under the May 2007 constitutional amendments the president gained the ability to appoint 15 members of the senate, with the requirement that the appointments help facilitate representation of different ethnic and cultural groups.
Government Corruption and Transparency
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption was widespread, including in the executive branch, various law enforcement agencies, local government administrations, the education system, and the judiciary. The MIA, financial police, KNB, and Disciplinary State Service Commission are responsible for combating corruption. Opposition leaders and human rights NGOs accused the government of rampant corruption. According to the World Bank's Worldwide Governance Indicators, corruption in the country was a problem.
The government continued its campaign to address corruption and increased its attention to the problem through educational and public awareness efforts. On January 17, President Nazarbayev publicly initiated an anticorruption campaign, calling on Nur Otan party branches to pursue corruption allegations. The financial police and KNB conduct most corruption investigations under the supervision of the PGO.
Lower and middle-ranking officials and minor political figures were penalized on corruption charges. The government reported that 562 individuals were convicted on corruption charges during the first nine months of the year; 343 of them were government officials. On September 22, Tax Committee Chairman Nurlan Rakhmetov left his position after the press reported that several mid-ranking officials in his agency took bribes.
The law mandates the government, public associations, officials, and media outlets provide citizens with information that affects their rights and interests; in practice, citizens' requests for information were not fulfilled in a timely manner.
Although parliament published several draft laws, some parliamentary debates, and occasionally its voting record, many parliamentary activities remained outside public view. Accredited journalists and representatives of public associations may observe some parliamentary sessions via video link from a separate room. Transcripts of parliamentary sessions are not available to the public. Parliament closed to the public and the media its discussion of controversial legislation during the year.
4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated effectively, with relative freedom to investigate and publish their findings on human rights cases; however, the government restricted certain activities of most domestic and international human rights NGOs. International human rights groups reported that the government continued to monitor the work of NGOs that worked on sensitive issues and noted harassment, including police visits and surveillance of NGO offices and personnel.
The Kazakhstan International Bureau of Human Rights (KIBHR), the Almaty Helsinki Commission, the Republican Network of Independent Monitors, the Charter for Human Rights, Penal Reform International, and Adil Soz were among the most active local human rights NGOs and occasionally faced difficulties in registration and acquiring office space and technical facilities, confronted audits, and bore various legal constraints. The government subjected employees of local human rights NGOs to harassment and intimidation. In contrast with previous years, the government increased its cooperation with human rights NGOs on some problems and invited their participation in working groups on draft amendments to the country's media and election laws.
In general the government did not prevent international NGOs and multilateral institutions dealing with human rights from visiting the country and meeting with local human rights groups and government officials. The government cooperated with the OSCE and its field mission. The United Nations, International Organization for Migration, and International Red Crescent Society also operated freely in the country.
In August certain NGOs resumed nonpartisan political party training activities.
National security laws prohibit foreigners, international organizations, NGOs, and other nonprofit organizations from engaging in political activities. The law stipulates that a noncommercial organization must provide information to the tax authorities on its founders, activities, and foreign sources of funding, as well as income, property, expenses, and employee records. International organizations are prohibited from funding unregistered entities.
The Presidential Commission on Human Rights is a consultative and advisory body that includes members from the public appointed by the president. The commission reviews and investigates complaints, issues recommendations, monitors fulfillment of international human rights conventions, and publishes annual human rights reports. The commission does not have legal authority to remedy human rights violations or implement its recommendations. On November 21, the commission released a Human Rights Report for 2007. The report contains numerous recommendations for the government and provided criticism in several areas, including the provision of social and economic rights, political rights, access to fair trial, and right to free association.
The presidentially appointed human rights ombudsman investigated complaints by citizens of violations of their rights by state agencies, although the ombudsman was not authorized to investigate complaints concerning the president, heads of government agencies, parliament, the cabinet, constitutional council, procuratorgeneral, CEC, or courts. The ombudsman's office had the authority to appeal to the president, cabinet, or parliament to resolve citizens' complaints, to cooperate with international human rights organizations and NGOs, to meet with government officials concerning human rights violations, to access certain facilities such as military units and prisons, and to publicize results of investigations in the media. The ombudsman also publishes an annual human rights report. During the year the ombudsman occasionally briefed the press and issued reports discussing complaints investigated. The ombudsman received 1,800 complaints during the first 11 months of the year but did not report statistics on the number of cases in which the victims' rights were restored. Many of the complaints concerned court rulings over which the ombudsman had no jurisdiction.
Domestic human rights observers noted that while government human rights investigators did some laudable work, particularly with less controversial social problems and issues involving lower-level elements of the bureaucracy, the ombudsman's office and the human rights commission were limited in their ability to stop human rights abuses or punish perpetrators. In addition, observers noted that the commission and the ombudsman avoided addressing underlying structural problems that led to human rights violations.
5. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or social status; however, the government did not enforce this effectively. Violence against women, trafficking in persons, and discrimination against persons with disabilities, homosexuals, and non-ethnic Kazakhs in government were problems.
The law criminalizes rape; punishment, including for spousal rape, ranged from three to 15 years imprisonment. The government reported 489 convictions in criminal rape cases. Under the law procurators cannot initiate a rape case, absent aggravating circumstances such as gang rape, unless the victim files a complaint. Once a complaint is filed, the criminal investigation cannot be dismissed if the rape victim recants or refuses to cooperate further with the investigation. This provision is intended to protect victims from coercion. There were anecdotal reports of police and judicial reluctance to act on rape and spousal rape cases.
Violence against women, including domestic violence, was a problem. There is no specific domestic violence law, but it can be addressed under assault and battery provisions of the criminal code. The maximum sentence for spousal assault and battery was 10 years in prison, the same as for any beating.
The Commission on Gender Issues receives about 30,000 complaints a year from women suffering from domestic violence. According to NGOs, domestic violence was growing. Although official statistics were scarce, activists assessed that every fourth family experienced domestic violence incidents. The government reported that 11,000 domestic violence crimes were committed during the year. NGOs reported that the actual number of domestic abuse crimes far exceeded the number of cases reported to police and estimated that 40 percent of such crimes went unreported.
Police intervened in family disputes only when they believed that the abuse was life threatening. According to estimates offered by NGOs, the police investigated perhaps 10 percent of such cases.
NGOs reported that women often withdrew their complaints as a result of economic insecurity. When victims pressed charges for domestic violence or spousal rape, police sometimes tried to persuade them not to pursue a case. When domestic violence cases came to trial, the charge was most often for light battery, for which judges sentenced domestic abusers to incarceration at a minimum security labor colony and 120-180 hours of work. Sentences for more serious cases of battery, including spousal battery, ranged from three months to three years imprisonment; the maximum sentence for aggravated battery was 10 years' imprisonment.
According to the government, there were 25 crisis centers in the country providing assistance to women and two that provided assistance to men. All of the crisis centers were funded through grants to NGOs. In addition, a number of smaller NGOs provided some assistance to victims. Six of the crisis centers also provided shelter for victims of violence.
Prostitution is not prohibited by law, although forced prostitution, prostitution connected to organized crime, and acts facilitating prostitution, such as operating a brothel or prostitution ring, are illegal. During the year the government investigated 257 prostitution-related crimes; 177 investigations were completed; 172 cases were forwarded to courts and were pending further action at year's end.
Prostitution was a serious problem. NGOs reported that criminal prostitution rings often included local law enforcement officials.
Trafficking in women remained a problem.
Sexual harassment remained a problem. The law prohibits only some forms of sexual harassment, and legal and gender experts regarded the legislation as inadequate to address the problem. There were reports of incidents of harassment, but in no instance was the victim protected under the law, nor were there reports of any cases prosecuted.
The constitution and law provide for equal rights and freedoms for men and women. During the year, however, human rights groups publicly drew attention to the problem of discrimination against women. According to observers, women in rural areas faced greater discrimination than women in urban areas, and suffered from a greater incidence of domestic violence, limited education and employment opportunities, limited access to information, and discrimination in their land and property rights.
The government was committed to children's rights, although budget constraints and other priorities limited the government's effectiveness in dealing with child welfare. In 2006 the government established a Committee on Protection of Children's Rights within the Ministry of Education and Science.
Education is mandatory through age 16, or secondary school; elementary schooling generally begins at age six. Primary and secondary education were free and universal. The law provides equal access to education for boys and girls. The Ministry of Education and Science estimated 98 percent enrollment of school-aged children. The law provides for access to public education for refugee and illegal migrant children. In some cases, these children were denied access to schools or their parents did not attempt to enroll them out of fear of discovery and deportation.
The law provides for medical care to be provided for all children irrespective of gender, and care was provided in practice.
There were reports of child abuse, although there was no societal pattern. NGOs estimated that more than half of all children under age 14 experienced at least one incident of physical or psychological abuse by adults. Abuse was more common in rural areas.
During the year the MIA permanently terminated custody rights of 855 abusive parents.
Minors aged 16 and older have the right to file petitions related to their interests directly with a court.
NGOs reported that a growing number of children in orphanages, boarding schools, and detention facilities for delinquent children were victims of violence, and there were increased media reports on abuses in orphanages and other institutions.
Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons, but it remained a problem. There were some investigations and prosecutions of law enforcement officials for complicity in trafficking, and one official was convicted.
The country was a source, transit, and destination country for victims of trafficking. Internal trafficking was also a problem. No reliable statistics were available on the number of victims each year. Many NGOs reported a continued increase in identification of victims, which may be attributed to greater awareness of the problem. In the first eight months of the year, the MIA registered 27 Kazakhstani and 85 foreign victims of trafficking. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated that for every case that is investigated, up to four others go unreported. Individuals were trafficked to the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Israel, South Korea, Greece, Russia, and Western Europe for purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation. Men and women were trafficked to and through the country and from the Kyrgyz Republic, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Ukraine and South Asia for purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation.
Traffickers targeted young women in their teens and twenties for sexual exploitation. According to the MIA, some women were recruited with promises of good jobs or marriage abroad. Travel, employment, and modeling agencies often recruited victims through advertisements promising lucrative jobs abroad. Previously trafficked women reportedly recruited new victims personally. Some trafficking victims appeared to be aware or at least suspected that they were going to work as prostitutes but they did not expect to work in slave-like conditions. Many trafficked persons were from Uzbekistan and traveled to their destinations on forged passports obtained abroad.
Adolescents raised in orphanages, regardless of gender, and residents of rural and economically disadvantaged areas were particularly vulnerable to being trafficked.
There was an increase in the number of men trafficked into the country for forced labor from neighboring countries. Officials often did not distinguish between illegal labor migrants and victims of trafficking. There were credible reports of organized criminal trafficking rings bringing construction laborers to Astana and other cities. Employers and trafficking accomplices usually held trafficked workers' passports. Victims reported traffickers used debt bondage, violence, or threats of violence to compel them to work.
NGOs suspected organized crime was involved in all forms of trafficking.
During the year the government ratified the 1926 League of Nations' Slavery Convention, the 1953 Amendments to the Convention, the 1956 Supplementary Convention, as well as the 2000 UN Convention Against Transnational Crime, including its protocols against human trafficking and smuggling. In 2006 the government enacted a comprehensive set of legislative amendments to strengthen its ability to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers. These amendments also included provisions to increase the amount of resources devoted to victim protection and prevention.
The Ministries of Justice, Internal Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Labor and Social Welfare, Education and Science, Culture, Information and Sports, the KNB, the National Commission on Family Issues and Gender Policy, and the procuratorgeneral all have some responsibility for combating trafficking.
Trafficking is punishable by a maximum seven-year prison term. If a minor is involved, the maximum penalty increases to 10 years' imprisonment. The maximum penalty increases to 10 years' imprisonment if a victim was trafficked abroad and to 12 years' if the victim was a minor. The maximum penalty is 15 years' imprisonment for cases involving an organized crime syndicate, the death of a victim, or other "grave consequences" incurred by the victim.
During the year the number of successful prosecutions for trafficking increased to 20, compared with 19 in 2007.
The government cooperated with authorities in both destination countries and source countries. Embassies assisted victims of trafficking. In the first nine months of the year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs assisted in the repatriation of eight citizens.
There was no evidence of a pattern of official complicity with trafficking, although corruption of law enforcement officials, including migration and border officials, contributed to trafficking.
The law provides trafficking victims with temporary resident status to ensure their safe repatriation or participation in trafficking prosecutions. Trafficking victims are not considered illegal immigrants under the law and generally were not deported or otherwise penalized. NGOs working with foreign trafficking victims reported government cooperation in providing administrative support for repatriation of identified trafficking victims.
The government provides some victim protection and assistance, although significant gaps remained in the level of assistance needed by victims. In the first nine months of the year, the government provided financial assistance to 24 trafficking victims who participated in 10 different criminal proceedings. The assistance included security, food, lodging, and medical services. NGOs ran two crisis support centers that provided legal and material assistance and counseling, under memoranda of understanding with the government. In some cases the government provided NGOs with reduced rate leases and other limited support. In general, NGOs reported good cooperation with government officials in coordinating assistance for trafficking victims.
IOM, in conjunction with 16 NGOs across the country, continued an information campaign on the dangers of trafficking and maintained victim hotlines. The MOJ continued to maintain separate national hot lines for trafficking victims to report crimes and to receive information. The government provided special training for law enforcement and other government officials to improve their abilities to recognize, investigate, and prosecute instances of trafficking. The MIA continued enrolling migration police and criminal police in a comprehensive antitrafficking training program at the Study Center for Specialists on Combating Illegal Migration and Human Trafficking.
The MIA conducted spot investigations at hotels, saunas, and employment agencies for trafficking activities. The PGO enforced mandatory licensing for tourist agencies and conducted inspections throughout the year to uncover agencies involved in trafficking.
The government encouraged media to publish and report on antitrafficking efforts. The government continued airing a series of public service announcements (PSAs) provided by international organizations in Russian and Kazakh. Public and private media were required to air these PSAs.
The Ministry of Education and Science reported that curriculum of all high schools and colleges included trafficking awareness segments. According to the ministry, most universities had information and analysis centers that dealt with trafficking awareness issues, among other topics. As part of the National Action Plan, a chapter on trafficking in persons was introduced in secondary school curricula.
See also the State Department's 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, access to healthcare, and in the provision of other state services and requires companies to set aside three percent of their jobs for persons with disabilities. International and local observers note some improvement in the situation regarding the rights of persons with disabilities. However, there were reports that discrimination was a problem, and persons with disabilities faced difficulty integrating into society and finding employment. The law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, and during the year several persons with disabilities successfully sued management of government and commercial buildings for lack of appropriate access. Persons with disabilities had difficulty accessing public transportation.
Citizens with mental disabilities could be committed to state-run institutions without their consent or judicial review. In practice, however, the government committed persons at a young age with permission of their families. Institutions were poorly managed and inadequately funded. NGOs reported orphanages for children with physical and mental disabilities to be overcrowded and unsanitary, with insufficient staff to care adequately for children's needs. Despite significant economic growth and government expenditure on construction and infrastructure projects, KIBHR observed that the government provided almost no care for persons with mental disabilities.
The government did not restrict the right of persons with disabilities to vote, and arranged home voting for individuals who could not travel to polling places as a result of their disability. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection was the primary government agency responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities; the Ministries of Health and Education also assisted in their protection.
The government continued to discriminate in favor of ethnic Kazakhs in senior government employment, although the number of non-Kazakhs in ministerial positions increased. According to a public poll during the year, 23.7 percent of self-reported minorities experienced ethnic prejudice and hostility; 14.4 percent encountered incidents of insult, humiliation or other offenses; and 11.8 percent were discriminated against regarding employment or job dismissal. There were fewer complaints of discrimination regarding school enrollment, and fewer concerns about the activities of nationalist organizations and nationalist propaganda in the media.
Kazakh is the official state language, although organizations and bodies of local self-administration may officially use Russian on an equal basis with Kazakh. The language law is intended to strengthen the use of Kazakh without infringing on the rights of citizens to use other languages. By law the ability to speak Kazakh is not required for entry into the civil service; however, the majority of government agencies have technically switched to conducting business in Kazakh, which elicited protests from non-Kazakh speakers about language discrimination. Among other forms of discrimination, critics mentioned a scarcity of representatives of non-Kazakh ethnicities in the government and a reduction in the number of Russian-language schools.
Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
Although there were no official statistics on discrimination based on sexual orientation, there were reports of such discrimination. Representatives of international organizations reported that negative social attitudes towards marginalized groups, including homosexuals, impeded these groups' willingness to come forward and, consequently, hindered their access to HIV/AIDS programs.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS; however, observers reported that cultural stigmas against drug users and other at-risk groups continued to affect general access to information, services, treatment, and care.
6. Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The law provides for the right to organize and form unions freely. Following a widely publicized mining accident in Satpayev and subsequent strike in January, the government launched a pro-union campaign intended to empower workers to more effectively protect their workplace rights. Independent union organizers saw this as a significant change in policy. However, organizers reported that the government continued to restrict the right to organize and that most workers were not able to join or form trade unions of their choice. The government exercised considerable influence over organized labor and favored state-affiliated unions over independent unions. The largest trade union association, the Federation of Trade Unions, successor to formerly state-sponsored Soviet era labor organizations, remained affiliated with the government in practice. At least one-third of the workforce was unionized.
To obtain legal status, a trade union must apply for registration with the MOJ. The registration procedure is broadly similar to that of other membership organizations.
The law prohibits the operation of foreign unions and prohibits the financing of unions by foreign legal entities and citizens, foreign states, and international organizations.
Workers are protected by law against antiunion discrimination, but in practice there were violations of this right. Union activists reported a case of an independent miners' union that was forced to close based on a legal technicality. Its members were warned not to regroup on the risk of losing their jobs and extensive social benefits. According to union activists, the group has since participated in collective bargaining, and has since formed an NGO that remains unrecognized by local authorities. Union leaders also reported cases of large employers creating conditions unfavorable to union formation and collective bargaining.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law protects the rights of unions to conduct their activities without interference. The law permits collective bargaining and collective agreements; unions and associations engaged in collective bargaining in practice. The government increased efforts to encourage collective bargaining, although union leaders still reported government pressure in labor negotiations. According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, as of July 31, collective bargaining agreements were concluded with 83.2 percent of large enterprises, 84.1 percent of medium-sized enterprises, and 14.3 percent of small enterprises. While noting the promising trend, activists stressed that political pressure was driving the rapid conclusion of such agreements.
Union demands unacceptable to management couldbe presented to a tripartite commission, composed of the government, employer associations, and labor union representatives. The tripartite commission is responsible for developing and signing annual agreements governing most aspects of labor relations. The labor law provides for an individual contract between employers and each employee.
The law provides for the right to strike, but exercising this right is subject to numerous legal limitations; the government maintained a list of industries and enterprises providing essential services where strikes were permitted only under limited conditions. In general, workers may strike only if a labor dispute has not been resolved through existing compulsory arbitration procedures. Striking workers must give a mandatory 15-day advance notice to employers. The law neither sanctions nor prohibits the firing of employees for participation in an illegal strike. In practice there were reports of employers providing arbitrary justifications when firing employees attempting to organize strikes.
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children, except at the sentence of the court or in conditions of a state of emergency or martial law, but there were reports that such practices occurred. Increasingly a destination country for migrant workers, there were reports that some employers abused migrant workers by confiscating their passports or using debt bondage, violence, or threats of violence to compel them to work.
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law protects children from exploitation in the workplace. The minimum age for employment is 16 years; children between 14 and 16 years can perform, with parental permission, light work that does not interfere with their health or education. The law also restricts the length of the work day for employees under the age of 18. The government conducted labor inspections to enforce the minimum age for employment, but enforcement was uneven.
The government concluded an agreement with national employer associations that committed to eradicate the use of forced labor and the worst forms of child labor, and to develop alternative employment opportunities for children and their families. The Ministry of Education's 2007-11 "Children of Kazakhstan" program addressed child labor issues. However, NGOs contended that the government's efforts were insufficient to address fully the use of child labor, specifically in cotton production.
The government did not maintain statistics on child labor. NGOs and activists reported child labor occurred routinely in agriculture, especially during harvest season. Children were involved in cotton growing and tobacco growing. Labor conditions frequently presented a physical health risk. Many child workers lacked the proper clothing to protect them from harmful chemicals used in agriculture and harsh weather conditions. In urban areas, the country's increasingly formalized labor market led to a decrease in many forms of child labor. However, there were reports of children begging, unloading freight, delivering goods in markets, washing cars, and working at gas stations. There were also reports of children exploited in prostitution and pornography. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcement of child labor laws and for administrative offenses punishable by fines; the MIA is responsible for investigating criminal offenses. In the first 10 months of the year the government reported that there were no crimes related to illegal child labor. In 2005 the government began implementing a three-year International Labor Organization program to eliminate child labor. As part of the program, the government worked actively with NGOs to conduct a 12-day national campaign in June to raise awareness of child labor and focus attention on preventing it. The government also cooperated with trade unions, employers, and NGOs during the year to raise awareness and promote interagency cooperation in eliminating child labor.
Trafficking in children was a problem.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The national monthly minimum wage of 10,515 tenge (approximately $87) did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family; however, it was common for working class families to have more than one wage earner, and most workers earned above minimum wage in urban areas. Although the minimum monthly subsistence during the first part of the year was lower than the monthly minimum wage, the minimum monthly subsistence averaged 11,270 tenge (approximately $93) during the same period.
The law stipulates the normal workweek should not exceed 40 hours and limits heavy manual labor or hazardous work to no more than 36 hours a week. The law requires that overtime not exceed two hours in a calendar day or one hour a day for heavy manual labor, and requires overtime to be paid at a rate of no less than one and a half times normal wages for hours over the normal workweek. Overtime is prohibited for work in hazardous conditions. The law provides that labor agreements may stipulate the length of working time, holidays, and paid annual leave for each worker.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection enforced minimum wages, work hour restrictions, and on overtime established bythe labor law. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection inspectors conducted random inspections of employers in an effort to enforce the laws and regulations under their purview. Labor advocates reported that some employers regularly violated these laws.
The law provides for the right to safe and hygienic working conditions, but working and safety conditions in the industrial, agricultural, and construction sectors were often substandard. Workers in factories usually lacked protective clothing and worked in conditions of poor visibility and ventilation.
There were reports of management ignoring regulations concerning occupational health and safety which were not well enforced by the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection. In the first 11 months of the year, the ministry reported making 13,057 inspections and identifying 104,228 violations. Most of the violations were relatively minor, although the government imposed fines totaling 118,837,000 tenge (approximately $987,018). In addition to the inspections by the Ministry, unions conducted inspections of unionized enterprises and reported their findings to authorities for investigation. The law requires employers to suspend work that could endanger the life or health of workers and to warn workers about any harmful and dangerous work conditions and about the possibility of any occupational disease. The law specifically grants workers the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without losing their job. In practice some workers, particularly in the construction industry, were not free to exercise this right without jeopardizing their employment.
During the first 11 months of the year, the government reported 2,184 workplace injuries, in comparison with 1,552 during the same period in the previous year. The government reported 370 workplace deaths during the first 11 months of the year, marking an increase over 2007 when a total of 217 deaths were reported. According to officials at the Federation of Trade Unions, many of these deaths are due to antiquated equipment, Soviet-era infrastructure, and disregard for safety regulations in the mining and metallurgy sectors.