Last Updated: Thursday, 30 July 2015, 14:54 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Kazakhstan

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 16 July 2009
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Kazakhstan, 16 July 2009, available at: [accessed 2 August 2015]
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.

In November, the Kazakh parliament approved amendments which tightened the already restrictive law on religion. International and local human rights groups argue that the new legislation is not compatible with the international conventions Kazakhstan has signed, undermining Kazakhstan's credibility as it readies itself to take over the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2010. The changes mean that, for the first time, faith 'associations' – defined as formal groups with over 50 members – are legally bound to register with the authorities and banned from operating if they fail to do so. Groups which have already registered will need to re-submit their documents. President Nazarbayev publicly criticized foreign missionaries and minority religious groups in a public speech, saying they pose a 'threat' to society. Before signing the law, the president can send the law to the Constitutional Council for review.

A solution to the problem of minority underrepresentation in the parliament was attempted by the adoption of the Law on the Assembly of the People of Kazakhstan in October 2008. The law provided for nine reserved seats for minorities. This positive initiative was however compromised by the essentially undemocratic and non-transparent way in which the MPs were elected. The arrangement has been criticized by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities.

The government is reported to have continued to discriminate in favour of ethnic Kazakhs in senior government employment, although the number of non-Kazakhs in ministerial positions increased. According to a survey, 23.7 per cent of minorities reported that they experienced ethnic prejudice and hostility; 14.4 per cent experienced insult and humiliation, while 11.8 per cent were discriminated against in employment or dismissed from jobs.

The government's public expressions of support for religious tolerance and diversity were not matched in practice. Although Russian language enjoys equality with Kazakh in official use, the effective switch to the exclusive use of Kazakh has in effect curtailed the right to participation in the public sphere of non-Kazakh-speakers. Moreover, the number of Russian-language schools is reported to have decreased.

The Kazakh authorities have been promoting the return of ethnic Kazakhs from a number of countries, including Afghanistan, China, Iran, Mongolia, Pakistan and Turkey. The integration of the returnees is hampered by societal prejudice, the lack of jobs and housing, as well as cultural barriers. Communication is rendered difficult by the fact that Russian rather than Kazakh is in widespread use. Even the written Kazakh language is inaccessible to returnees since it uses the Cyrillic script, while some Kazakhs living in other countries still use the old Arabic alphabet. In order to provide accommodation for the returnees, the government announced a plan to create townships in the vicinity of major cities, together with some kind of industry or other economic activity to provide a ready-made source of jobs. Critics say that this will create ghettos, which will make it even harder for Kazakhs to integrate. Some returnees have gone back to their home countries after finding they were worse off than before.

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