On Monday 16 October 2017 the Council adopted the EU Annual Report on Human Rights And Democracy in the World in 2016.
Extracts from the report on the situation in Kazakhstan

Republic of Kazakhstan

The overall human rights situation in the country has been deteriorating. Several legislative amendments have been adopted or are currently in the pipeline with the aim of tightening controls on society in order to counter radicalisation and violent extremism. The amendments threaten to significantly limit the scope for the functioning of civil society and violate a number of fundamental rights.

The EU’s priority is to strengthen the efficiency of the institutional framework that allows civil society to be included in the decision-making process and to support civil society capacity building, in particular to promote freedom of expression, and freedom of association and peaceful assembly.

Kazakhstan faced various human rights and democracy problems, especially in the fields of freedom of expression and freedom of association and peaceful assembly. Voices critical of the government were often silenced under the pretext of inciting social discord. Requests for authorisation to hold peaceful demonstrations were often refused. NGOs were subject to numerous and cumbersome reporting obligations hindering their activities.

The International Labour Conference examined shortcomings of Kazakhstan in the implementation of the ILO Fundamental Convention on Freedom of Association and Right to Organise for both workers’ and employers’ organisations. The ILC urged the government to amend the corresponding legislation. Actions against trade-unions at the end of 2016 raise serious concerns and the issue will be further scrutinized by the ILO supervisory bodies.

The parliamentary elections held in March 2016 were neither free nor democratic. The OSCE Election Observation Mission concluded that Kazakhstan still has a considerable way to go to meet its OSCE commitments for democratic elections.

Good progress was made on efforts to eradicate torture and ill-treatment. Efforts were also made to reform the judicial system (although so far the independence of the judiciary has continued to be significantly undermined). Human rights defender Vladimir Kozlov, who was detained following the Zhanaozen events of 2011, was released from prison.

The EU continued to engage in human rights and democracy discussions with Kazakhstan in various settings, including at the Cooperation Council (October) and the Cooperation Committee (March).

The annual human rights dialogue was held in November. The dialogue allowed for constructive exchanges on a wide range of issues, including freedom of association, women’s rights, the prevention of torture and ill-treatment of detainees, press freedom and freedom of religion and belief. The EU encouraged Kazakhstan to adopt as soon as possible the second national human rights action plan. The EU acknowledged the significant efforts made by Kazakhstan to prevent the mistreatment of detainees, including through the work of the national preventive mechanism, and encouraged implementation of the conclusions issued by the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture after its visit to Kazakhstan in September 2016. The EU raised concerns in relation to pressure on independent media outlets and the possible negative implications of the new law on payments, as well as the convictions of Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayan in relation to land demonstrations in the spring of 2016.

Representatives of the EU Delegation participated as observers in the meetings of the Consultative Advisory Body on Human Dimension (CAB), a platform for dialogue between the government and representatives of civil society under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The EU also participated in a number of meetings, seminars and roundtables concerning human rights issues organised by the government, and maintained regular contact with government interlocutors.

The EU Delegation hosted various meetings with representatives of civil society and representatives of the EU Member States’ missions in Astana to discuss current human rights issues, and in particular the planned legislative modifications to the law on payments, the law on the media and the law on religious associations.

The EU voiced concerns, through statements, speeches as well as other formal and informal steps, to encourage the Kazakhstani government to ensure respect for human rights. The EU Delegation, in close coordination with EU Member States and like-minded partners, conducted outreach initiatives in respect of the national authorities in support of human rights-related cases and monitored the court case of Max Bokayev and Talgat Ayan.

In 2016 the EU continued to provide financial support for projects funded through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR). The EU Delegation is currently managing three projects amounting to a total of EUR 803 715. The projects cover areas such as freedom of expression, civil society capacity building and protection of human rights defenders.

Two new projects will be implemented under the EIDHR as from 2017. The objective of the first project is to promote the institutionalisation of cooperation between civil society organisations and state authorities in the area of the human dimension and the legislative process. The objective of the second project is to strengthen the capacity of civil society stakeholders, including human rights defenders, activists, lawyers, public councils and media representatives, to hold the authorities accountable for implementing the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

The EU Delegation has also launched a call for a study to review the gender situation in the Central Asia region, including in Kazakhstan. The study will lead to a greater understanding of gender inequalities, identify causes for discrimination and make recommendations.

Kazakhstan is a party to the nine core UN human rights conventions except for the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, and has issued a standing invitation to all UN Special Rapporteurs.

Kazakhstan has not signed the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which aims to abolish the death penalty. The Kazakhstani constitution abolishes the death penalty for all crimes except terrorist acts that cause loss of human life and exceptionally grave crimes committed during wartime. A moratorium on the death penalty has however been in place since 2003. Kazakhstan played an active role during the UN negotiations leading to the establishment of the International Criminal Court, but has not yet joined the Rome Statute system.

Substantial progress needs to be made in the implementation of the various laws adopted to prevent radicalisation and violent extremism to ensure that the application of those laws does not have a negative impact on the functioning of civil society.

Respect for international standards needs to be demonstrated in the outcomes of the court cases, in particular those relating to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.