Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 May 2016, 11:51 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Kazakstan

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1997
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Kazakstan, 30 January 1997, available at: [accessed 24 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.
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1997


The Constitution of Kazakstan concentrates power in the Presidency. President Nursultan Nazarbayev is the dominant political figure. The Constitution, adopted in 1995 in a referendum marred by irregularities, permits the President to legislate by decree and dominate the legislature and judiciary; it cannot be changed or amended without the President's consent. Presidential elections originally scheduled for 1996 did not take place, as President Nazarbayev's term in office was extended to 2000 in a separate 1995 referendum, also marred by irregularities. Under the new Constitution, Parliament's powers are more limited than before. However, members of Parliament have the right to introduce legislation and several bills were drafted for submission to the full Parliament. The judiciary remained under the control of the President and the executive branch. The lack of an independent judiciary made it difficult to root out corruption, which was pervasive throughout the Government.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs supervises the criminal police, who are poorly paid and widely believed to be corrupt. A new institution established in October 1995, the State Committee for Investigations (GSK), is a federal investigative and law enforcement agency. The Committee for National Security (KNB, successor to the KGB) continued efforts to legitimize its role by focusing on activities to combat terrorism, organized crime, and official corruption.

Kazakstan is rich in natural resources, chiefly petroleum and minerals, but its state-dominated economy continued to decline. Although the Government has been successful in stabilizing the local currency (tenge) and slowing inflation, structural reforms continue to lag. The agricultural sector, traditionally accounting for over one-third of national employment and production, has been slow to privatize. The Government successfully privatized most small- and medium-sized firms, and is working to privatize large-scale industrial complexes, particularly in the oil and gas sector.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens. Citizens enjoy basic rights of freedom of religion, speech, and assembly. Nonetheless, democratic institutions are weak. The Government infringed on citizens' right to change their government. The legal structure, including the Constitution adopted in 1995, does not fully safeguard human rights. Members of the security forces often beat or otherwise abused detainees, and already harsh prison conditions continued to deteriorate. There were allegations of arbitrary arrest, and prolonged detention is a problem. The judiciary remains under the control of the President and the executive branch, and corruption is deeply rooted. The Government infringed on citizens' right to privacy. The Government generally tolerates independent media, although the media practiced self-censorship, and the Government maintained control of most printing facilities and supplies. Freedom of assembly was sometimes restricted, and freedom of association, while generally respected, was sometimes hindered by complicated registration requirements for organizations and political parties. The Government regulates the activities of foreign religious associations. The Government discriminated in favor of ethnic Kazaks. Domestic violence against women remained a problem. There was discrimination against women, the disabled, and ethnic minorities. The Government tried to limit the influence of independent trade unions, both directly and through its support for state-sponsored unions, and members of independent unions were harassed.

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. There were credible reports that a few detainees died due to mistreatment during interrogation by the security forces (see Section 1.c.).

Human rights organizations reported that there were several cases of detainees being killed while in custody during interrogations. In December the Chief of Criminal Investigations in the Moinkum Department of the State Committee for Investigations in Zhambyl was arrested on the charge that a detainee died due to mistreatment during interrogation while under his authority in December 1995. According to the press, the victim's death was due to serious bodily injuries and a lack of oxygen caused by the use of a gas mask to obtain a confession. The Prosecutor General's office confirmed that the investigation is continuing.

The Government reported that as of June, over 500 inmates imprisoned under harsh conditions with inadequate medical treatment had died of disease. Human rights monitors agreed, but estimated that 2500 prisoners had died by year's end.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

The Constitution states that "no one must be subject to torture, violence or other treatment and punishment that is cruel or humiliating to human dignity." However, there were credible reports that police beat or treated detainees abusively to obtain confessions. Human rights observers report that detainees are sometimes choked, handcuffed to radiators, or have plastic bags placed over their heads to force them to divulge information. Training standards for police are very low and individual law enforcement officials are often poorly supervised.

There are credible reports that a few detainees died as a result of mistreatment during interrogation. There is evidence that one detainee was killed during interrogation in December 1995 in Zhambyl province (see Section 1.a.).

In August security forces arrested and beat Nina Sidorova, the leader of an ethnic Russian political movement. The Prosecutor General's office admitted that Sidorova had been mistreated and ordered an internal investigation.

Army personnel subjected conscripts to brutal hazing, including beatings and verbal abuse.

Prison conditions were harsh and continued to deteriorate, due to diminishing resources. In June, while testifying before the Senate, the Minister of Interior noted that about $64.3 million (4.5 billion tenge) was needed to support the prison population, however, the Government allocated only about $37.1 million (1.9 billion tenge). In December the Ministry of Interior reported that, as of November 1, there were 72,305 prisoners in facilities designed for 60,000. Local human rights activists allege that there are 97,000 prisoners (including 20,000 in pretrial detention) in these facilities.

Overcrowding, combined with an inadequate prison diet and a lack of medical supplies and personnel, contributed to tuberculosis, hepatitis, and other diseases. In December the Government reported that more than 16,000 inmates suffered from tuberculosis with over 12,000 having the active form of the disease. The Kazakstan-American Human Rights Bureau estimated that 2,500 inmates had died of tuberculosis and other diseases as of June.

According to the Government, 2,531 inmates died. Tuberculosis was the cause of death in 56.7 percent of all cases; malnutrition accounted for 10.2 percent of deaths. The incidence of malnutrition doubled from 2,000 cases in 1995 to 4,000. According to the Government, budget cuts (penitentiaries received less than 50 percent of requested funds last year) have reduced the quality of food and the stocks of medicine. In virtually all prisons, medications are available for emergency care only; only 1 in 10 tuberculosis patients in prison receives medication.

Prison guards, who are poorly paid, steal food and medicines intended for prisoners. Violent crime among prisoners is routine.

To reduce prison overcrowding, President Nazarbayev announced in July an amnesty for 20,000 prisoners convicted of minor offenses. This number was later changed to 8,500 after concerns were expressed that the amnesty would lead to a resurgence in the crime rate, which had been falling. However, in December the Ministry of Interior noted that more than 10,000 prisoners were able to take advantage of the amnesty offer. The first beneficiaries of the amnesty program were teenage offenders, war veterans, and the widows of war veterans. In August a similar amnesty law for the military came into force stipulating that all deserters who returned voluntarily to their army units before October 15 would not be tried by a military tribunal. Servicemen penalized for other offenses were also eligible for the amnesty. The press reported that about 3,000 soldiers were affected. No additional information about the amnesty was available from the Government.

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 worked with local human rights groups to improve prison conditions, but unlike the previous year did not permit monitoring of prison conditions by local media and human rights groups in 1996. However, in December, a visiting United Nations delegation was permitted to visit several penal institutions in Almaty.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Government continued the process of reforming the legal system throughout 1996. 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. Local human rights organizations alleged that the Government used minor infractions of the law or manufactured charges to arrest and detain Government opponents arbitrarily, including leaders of ethnic Russian and Cossack organizations like Nina Sidorova, and opposition politicians like the leaders of the Azamat political movement who were arrested and fined for organizing an illegal demonstration in November in Almaty. In addition after a government-sanctioned opposition rally in December called for the resignation of the President and Prime Minister, one of the rally's organizers, Petr Svoik, was summoned by the State Committee for Investigations to discuss possible charges in connection with alleged wrongdoing during his tenure as the head of the State Antimonopoly Committee. In August, according to press reports, the Government responded to allegations that the arrests of two Cossacks in Kokshetau were politically motivated by asserting that the two were involved in a "terrorist plot".

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.

Defendants accused of serious crimes remain incarcerated until trial. Those accused of less serious crimes can be eligible for a "podpiska" – a system similar to bail. With the agreement of the Prosecutor General, the accused can be released from jail until trial if two persons make sworn written statements that the accused will not leave the locality. The law stipulates that the length of pretrial detention is 2 months, although the length of pretrial detention can be extended up to 1 year, with the approval of the Prosecutor General. The Prosecutor General stated that between 70 and 80 percent of those accused of a crime are considered to be eligible for bail; however, the Kazakstan-American Human Rights Bureau believes that the percentage of accused persons who actually obtain bail is small.

According to the Constitution, every person detained, arrested, or accused of committing a crime has the right to the assistance of a defense lawyer from the moment of detention, arrest, or accusation – a right generally respected in practice. However, human rights activists allege that members of the security forces have pressured prisoners to refuse the assistance of an attorney, sometimes resulting in a delay before the accused sees a lawyer. Detainees may also appeal the legality of detention or arrest to the prosecutor before trial; previously, detainees could appeal the legality of detention or arrest to the court. If the defendant cannot afford an attorney, the Constitution provides that the State must provide one free of charge. Human rights organizations allege that many prisoners are unaware of this provision of the law. Although some lawyers are reluctant to defend clients unpopular with the Government, there were no reports of government reprisals against attorneys. However, there were reports that several lawyers defending opposition figures were attacked and beaten by "unknown assailants."

The Government does not use forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Government interference and pressure compromised the court system's independence throughout 1996 – a situation codified in the Constitution's establishment of a judiciary fully under the control of the President and the executive branch. At year's end, the Government was still in the process of restructuring the judicial system to bring it into line with provisions of the Constitution.

There are three levels in the court system: local; oblast (provincial); 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, although a new draft law on judges will reportedly give the President the power to appoint judges for life. The Constitution abolished the earlier 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. Under the Constitution, citizens no longer have the right to appeal directly to a court that a government action is unconstitutional; this action is now the sole prerogative of the courts themselves.

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. There is also a military court. 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. Legal proceedings are to be conducted in the state language, Kazak, although Russian may also be used officially in the courts. Proceedings may also be held in the language of the majority of the population in a particular area.

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. According to press reports, judicial positions can be purchased: A seat on the bench in a municipal district court, for example, reportedly costs $6,000. Anecdotal evidence stemming from individual cases suggests that judges solicit bribes from participants in trials and rule accordingly. In June the Chief Justice and another member of the Supreme Court were dismissed for taking bribes.

There were no reports of political prisoners. A few people were tried and convicted of violating laws on conducting rallies or demonstrations, or for slandering officials. None was incarcerated at year's end. According to local human rights monitors, journalist Boris Suprynuk, who was tried, sentenced, and imprisoned for "insulting" a public prosecutor in May 1995, was released from prison in the spring. He now lives and works in the Russian Federation.

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

The Constitution provides 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 General Prosecutor's office, 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 General Prosecutor's office 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, and the Government generally tolerates independent media; however, the media practices self-censorship. The Government continued to own and control most 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. The key subject considered to be "off limits" by journalists was personal criticism of the President and government officials.

In April the Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda printed an article in which Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn called for the reintegration of northern Kazakstan with Russia. The Prosecutor General's Office charged the newspaper with stirring up ethnic discord (a violation of Article 39 of the Constitution) and calling for the violation of Kazakstan's territorial integrity. The Prosecutor General demanded that the newspaper be suspended from publishing in Kazakstan for 6 months and its circulation throughout the country banned. Independent journalists quickly called on the Medeo district court of Almaty to reject the suit as contradictory to democratic ideals. The suit was dropped in July after the newspaper published a statement disassociating itself from Solzhenitsyn's remarks. Circulation of the newspaper was not affected.

In July a journalist for the Kazak-language service of Radio Liberty was detained for several hours after he admitted to police that he was on his way to cover an "illegal demonstration" against Chinese nuclear testing. The journalist was not charged. He then sued the government for about $85,000 (6 million tenge) in "moral damages." In September the court awarded him about $140 (10,000 tenge).

In the summer, a Russian citizen correspondent of the newspaper Izvestia, Vladimir Ardayev, was warned "unofficially" by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that foreign correspondents should not interfere in internal Kazakstani affairs after he appeared on a local talk show. In September President Nazarbayev was angered by Ardayev's publication of a "confidential" letter from Uzbekistani President Karimov regarding integration within the Commonwealth of Independent States. Nazarbayev told the press that "Ardayev was already once driven out of Kazakstan, and if we drive him out again, he will never return." However, no official action was taken against Ardayev and he continued to live and work in Kazakstan.

Despite these examples of official heavy-handedness, the press was generally permitted to criticize government decisions. Official corruption remained an acceptable topic for critical coverage. Many journalists have criticized the new bicameral Parliament as a "tame parliament in the President's pocket."

Most political opposition groups freely issued their own publications. However, according to press reports, in December 1995, the editor of the Republican Party newspaper in Kokshetau oblast (province) was arrested and sent to a mental hospital after he criticized the akim (governor). In addition human rights activists reported that Yuri-Buravlyov, editor of the newspaper Era of Mercy, was detained by local authorities after publishing an article critical of the head of the north Kazakstan province administration. There are several independent newspapers that act as 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 October and November, several independent television and radio stations in Almaty had their broadcasting frequencies temporarily turned off, were told to prepare to vacate their technical offices in the state television tower, and were told that the frequencies they utilized would be sold to the highest bidder. The stations have independent news and political commentary as well as standard programming. With one exception, all of the independent electronic media continued to broadcast after brief interruptions. A government tender for the frequencies was announced in December. Bids will be accepted until January 14, 1997 and results will be announced on January 24, 1997. Bidders were required to pay $500 to bid. No minimum bid price was established. The "M" broadcasting company's television transmission from the television tower continued to be suspended because of allegations that its signal was interfering with another independent station; Radio M continued to broadcast on a radio cable network. Human rights activists and several media outlets claimed that these actions were part of a concerted government effort to harass and even eliminate independent media. The Government denied any intent to limit free speech and asserted that it was acting in its own fiscal interest.

In December the Government decided to suspend the broadcasting of the All-Russian Television and Radio Company (RTR) into Kazakstan. Although an independent station alleged that the decision was related to frequencies problems, the Government reported that RTR's broadcasting was suspended because of a $480 million debt to Kazakstan.

The law against insulting the President and other officials remained on the books and the Constitution provides for the protection of the dignity of the President. In August Nina Sidorova, the leader of an ethnic Russian political movement, was arrested and charged with insulting a prosecutor. In December Sidorova was sentenced to 2 years in prison after being found guilty of insulting officials of the court, insulting government officials, and assault and battery of court representatives. Sidorova's sentence was immediately suspended under a general amnesty declared earlier this year in conjunction with the fifth anniversary of independence.

Several laws control advertising in the mass media. One law restricts alcohol and tobacco advertising on television, as well as "pornography" and "violence" during prime viewing hours. Another law restricts the amount of advertising in newspapers to 20 percent of the total material in each issue. The Minister of Justice and the Minister of Press and Mass Media have interpreted this law as restricting paid articles, but not commercial advertisements.

The Government respects academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for peaceful assembly and association, but there are significant restrictions. According to the law, 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 some cases, local officials routinely issued necessary permits. However, human rights activists complained that complicated procedures and the 10-day notification period made it difficult to for all groups to organize public meetings and demonstrations. They argue that local authorities, especially those outside of the capital, turned down the majority of applications submitted. The press reported that there were numerous unsanctioned rallies of workers and pensioners protesting against difficult economic conditions and the nonpayment of wages and pensions. For the most part, no action was taken against these individuals. However, in November the leader of Azamat, a political opposition movement, and the leader of an independent trade union were arrested and fined for organizing an unsanctioned rally intended to protest the nonpayment of wages to workers. No government action was taken against the participants in the rally.

The Kazakstani Communist Party came under government scrutiny in March after it sponsored unsanctioned rallies and demonstrations in support of the Russian Duma's vote to nullify the 1991 accords that disbanded the former Soviet Union and founded the Commonwealth of Independent States. A number of local Communist Party chapters were fined and the national organization had difficulty renewing its registration. The General Prosecutor's office called for the suspension of the activities of the Communist Party until the Party brought its charter (which calls for the reconstitution of the Soviet Union) into compliance with existing law by recognizing the sovereignty of Kazakstan. The Communist Party was not banned; however, the ethnic Russian organization "LAD" of Ust-Kamenogorsk was suspended for its part in organizing the rallies. In November the Party agreed to revise its charter to acknowledge Kazakstani sovereignty. Its application for reregistration was submitted to the Ministry of Justice in December.

Organizations, movements and political parties that conduct public activities, hold public meetings, participate in conferences, or have bank accounts must register with the Government. Activity by nonregistered organizations is illegal. Registration on the local level requires a minimum of 10 members and on the national level, a minimum of 10 members in at least 11 of the 19 provinces (oblasts). In addition, a registration fee is required, which many groups consider to be a deterrent to registration.

The Constitution prohibits political parties established on a religious basis. The Government has refused to register ethnic-based political parties 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, nonetheless, hold meetings and publish newspapers. All of the major religious and ethnic groups have independently functioning cultural centers.

To participate in elections, a political party must register with the Government. Under current law, a party must submit a list of at least 3,000 members from a minimum of 11 oblasts. The list must provide personal information about members, including date and place of birth, address, and place of employment. For many citizens, submitting such personal data to the Government is reminiscent of the former Soviet KGB's 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 the law, members of unregistered parties may run for elected office as individuals, but not as party members.

There are no public statistics available regarding the number of registered public parties; however, all parties asking to be registered have been successful. For the most part, political parties are very weak and, with the exception of the Communist Party and some of the ethnic-based political movements, have very little influence outside the capital. The majority of parliamentary deputies are independents; parties represented in the Parliament include several propresidential parties, the Communist Party, and the Socialist Party. Most opposition party members decided not to participate in the December 1995 elections and are, therefore, not represented in the 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, and international organizations. Some trade union associations have circumvented this prohibition by registering with the Government as "public organizations," in other words, nongovernmental organizations.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the 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. In practice the Government does not interfere with the appointment of religious leaders. Foreign missionaries, unwelcome to some Orthodox and Muslim Kazakstanis, have complained of occasional harassment by low-level government officials. In June the government- controlled television station complained that more than 2,000 Kazakstanis had been converted to other religions and proposed stopping foreign missionaries who were preaching "Christianity and Krishna ideas on our own soil." However, no action has been taken against foreign missionaries working in the country.

The Islamic mufti and the Russian Orthodox archbishop have appeared together 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 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 for most of the year 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. In August a new law replaced the propiska system with a system of registration for all citizens.

There were numerous reports of government efforts to restrict the movement of foreigners around the country. Internal visas were commonly required for foreigners traveling outside the capital.

An exit visa is required for both citizens and foreigners who wish to travel abroad, although refusals are rare. 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 during Stalin's time and wish to return. Kazaks in this category are entitled to citizenship and many 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 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees, especially with the resettlement of ethnic Kazaks from Afghanistan now living as refugees in Iran. In August President Nazarbayev estimated that about 200,000 ethnic Kazaks living abroad had returned over the past few years. In August representatives of the Association of Afghan Women Refugees appealed to the Government for financial assistance and protection, alleging that Afghan refugees had been assaulted. There were no reports of forced expulsion of refugees; however, there were complaints that the country had not yet adopted laws regularizing the status of refugees. The issue of the provision of first asylum has never arisen.

At the end of 1994, 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 were ratified by Parliament in January 1995 and by the Russian Duma in July.

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

Although the Constitution provides for a democratic government, in practice the Government infringed on the right of citizens to change their government. The Constitution concentrates power in the presidency, granting the President considerable control over the legislature, judiciary, and local government. The Constitution cannot be modified or amended without the consent of the President. In 1995 President Nazarbayev extended his term of office to the year 2000 by referendum without a contested presidential election (which, according to the Constitution then in force, should have been held in 1996). A new, bicameral legislature took office in January (members were elected in December 1995). 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, 7 of its members are appointed by the President. The election law requires candidates for both houses to meet minimum age and education requirements, and to pay a nonrefundable registration fee of 50 times the minimum monthly wage (in December 1995 this fee was about $500 (30,000 tenge). The law does not require Majilis candidates to collect signatures in order to be placed on the ballot. Senate candidates are required to obtain signatures from 10 percent of the members of the local assemblies in their oblasts in order to be placed on the ballot. Some consider the election requirements, especially the registration fee, to be a barrier to participation.

The legislature cannot control the budget, initiate changes in the Constitution, or exercise oversight over the executive branch. Should 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 Parliament, Parliament can remove the President only for disability or high treason, and only with the consent of the Constitutional Council, which is largely controlled by the President.

Although the President maintained the right to legislate by decree, he respected the parliamentary procedures laid out in the Constitution. During its first session, Parliament passed a large number of bills and ratified several international agreements. However, the Parliament fell short in several areas. No parliamentarian exercised the right of legislative initiative (all legislation considered by the Parliament was introduced by the executive), parliamentary procedures were weak and constituent relations were nonexistent. Most parliamentary activities continued to be conducted behind closed doors. Sessions were neither open to the public nor televised. During the Parliament's second session beginning in September, individual deputies drafted and introduced several bills for consideration.

In June the Parliament twice rejected the Government's pension reform legislation, arguing that its constituents opposed the bill. The Government called for a vote of confidence. According to the Constitution, if the Government receives a vote of no confidence, the President can dissolve either the Government or the Parliament. In this case, the parliamentarians realized that, if forced to make a choice, the President would have chosen to dissolve the Parliament, not the Government. The Parliament gave the Government its vote of confidence and passed the bill.

The Constitution significantly constrains the independence of the judiciary. The Constitutional Court was 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. All judges are appointed by the President.

According to the Constitution, 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.

Two national political opposition movements were established in 1996, both calling for the election of provincial governors and changes in the Government's economic reform policies. Azamat is a movement of intellectuals dedicated to constructive opposition. Republic is a popular front led by the Kazakstani Communist Party representing 20 political parties, public associations, and movements. The Government did not interfere with the development of either movement. However, the leaders of Azamat alleged that they were harassed by local officials while traveling through the countryside in the summer.

All 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 and minorities in politics, but the persistence of traditional attitudes means that few women hold high office or play active parts in political life. There are no female federal ministers or provincial governors. Of 45 Senate members (2 seats were vacant in 1996), 3 are women; of 67 Majilis members, 9 are women.

Although minority ethnic groups are represented in the Government, Kazaks hold the majority of leadership positions.

Of the 21 Government ministries, 8 are headed by non-Kazaks. Non-Kazaks are well-represented in the Majilis and the Senate.

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

Helsinki Watch, the Kazakstan-American Human Rights Association, and Legal Development of Kazakstan are the most active of a small number of local human rights organizations. They cooperate on human rights and legal reform 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.

There is a presidential commission on human rights in the Government. In February the Prosecutor General's Office established a "Department for Supervising the Protection of Human and Civil Rights." In September the Prosecutor General's Office acknowledged that the jailed leader of an ethnic Russian political movement had been beaten and ordered an official investigation. However, the Government tended to deny or ignore charges of specific human rights abuses.

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. The International Labor Organization, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees have permanent offices in Kazakstan. 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 the Civil Code allows the registration of NGO's, requirements for registration were burdensome and changed frequently. As a result, few NGO's were registered, leaving many without legal standing. Although some government officials made an effort to work with domestic and foreign NGO's, others 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 "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 does not effectively enforce this on a consistent basis. The Government has favored ethnic Kazaks in government employment and, according to many citizens, in the process of privatizing state enterprises.


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 that the abuse is life threatening. The maximum sentence for wife beating is 3 years, but few cases are prosecuted. The Government has not specifically addressed the problem. Law enforcement authorities reported 1,905 cases of rape and adjusted 1995 figures to report 1,641 cases. 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 government and state enterprises and overrepresented in low-paying and some menial jobs. Women 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. 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. There are laws mandating the provision of accessibility to public buildings and commercial establishments for the disabled, but the Government does not enforce these laws. Disabled persons are a low priority for the Government.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The 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, but many non-Kazaks are anxious about what they perceive as expanding preferences for ethnic Kazaks. Many ethnic Kazaks, however, believe that such affirmative action is needed to reverse 200 years of discrimination.

Most of the population speaks Russian; only about half of ethnic Kazaks speak Kazak fluently. According to the Constitution, the Kazak language is the state language. The Constitution states that 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. The Government is encouraging more education of children in the Kazak language, but has done little to provide Kazak-language education for adults.

A new language law passed by the lower house of Parliament in November and forwarded to the Senate for consideration actively sought to further the use of the Kazak language. However, the draft bill does not appropriate any funding to improve Kazak language training. Its most controversial provision authorizes the Government to establish a list of government positions that could be held only by individuals fluent in Kazak. Ethnic Kazaks would have until 2001 to attain the necessary Kazak fluency; non-Kazaks would have until 2006.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution and the current Labor Code ( since 1995 the Ministry of Labor has been in the process of drafting a new labor code, with input from labor representatives) provide for basic worker rights, including the right to organize and the right to strike. Kazakstan joined the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 1993.

Most workers remained members of state-sponsored trade unions established during the Soviet period, when 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 withholds 30 percent of each worker's wage – 85 percent of which is for the pension fund, 5 percent for social insurance, and 10 percent for health care. An additional 2 percent of each worker's wage is withheld for the unemployment fund. 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, however, there is no evidence that the Ministry of Justice has ever exercised this authority.

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.

A 1995 tripartite agreement between labor, management, and the Government, designed to help resolve labor issues and disputes, was moribund. However, in December a new tripartite agreement was signed by the Prime Minister, business representatives, the leaders of the state-sponsored trade unions, and the independent trade union center. According to press reports, the agreement is to support the Government's economic reform program. It is unclear whether this new agreement will be more successful that its predecessor.

Unions and individual workers exercised their right to strike in 1996, primarily in an effort to recover back wages owed to workers. Nonpayment of wages continued to be the priority issue for workers. Miners' strikes in the coal mining region of Karaganda continued throughout the year. According to legislation passed by the Parliament in June, workers may exercise the right to strike only if a labor dispute has not been resolved by means of existing conciliation procedures. In addition, the law requires that employers be notified that a strike will take place no less than 15 days before its commencement.

As a result of their inability to pay salaries, many enterprises continued to pay wages in script rather than in cash, a practice at odds with 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 script 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 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 that forbids the financing of trade unions by foreign legal entities and citizens, foreign states, and international organizations. Since independence, independent trade unions have received financial assistance from a foreign trade union institute. However, most of this assistance terminated at the end of September when funding was reduced. Independent trade unions are now searching for new means of support. Some associations of trade unions were able to receive financing from foreign sources by registering as "public organizations" rather than labor unions.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

There are significant limits on the right to organize and bargain collectively. Most large-scale enterprises remained state owned and were 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 composed 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, in northern Kazakstan 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 years. 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

This year the Government stopped publishing an official minimum wage. However, the Government used a base minimum monthly wage of $7.35 (550 tenge) in the 1997 budget that was presented to the Parliament in November. The Government multiplies this base minimum wage by set coefficients to determine monthly payments for pensions, student stipends, and wages. Minimum wages vary by industrial sector and slowly increased throughout 1996. However, the minimum wage was far from sufficient to provide a decent living for a worker and family.

In June the Parliament ratified two ILO conventions: Number 14b regarding the protection of workers from professional risks caused by the pollution of the air, noise and vibrations in the workplace; and Number 155 regarding safety and hygiene of the labor and industrial environment.

The legal maximum workweek is 48 hours, although most enterprises maintained a 40-hour workweek, with at least a 24-hour rest period. The Constitution provides that labor agreements must 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