B Explanatory memorandum
by Mr Axel Fischer, rapporteur
1 The Republic of Kazakhstan
is one of five Central-Asian States which were parts of the former
Soviet Union. Since its independence in 1991, it has been an active
actor in the post-Soviet space and on the wider international scene.
2 Although the territory of the country is mainly situated in
Asia, a part of it lies within the boundaries of geographical Europe.
Also in political terms, Kazakhstan has much insisted on its Euro-Asian
nature, and has sought to develop co-operation with Europe, including
with the Council of Europe.
In November 2006, the Parliamentary Assembly adopted Resolution 1526 (2006)
on the situation in Kazakhstan and its relations with
the Council of Europe, whereby it stressed that it attached “great
importance to furthering democracy in Kazakhstan, which it considers
to be one of the pillars of stability in the Euro-Asian region”.
Ten years later, it is timely to take stock of major developments
in the country and its co-operation with our Organisation.
4 My main purpose as rapporteur is to analyse the development
of co-operation between the Council of Europe and Kazakhstan over
the last few years, identify possible shortcomings and difficulties
in the implementation of ongoing programmes, and make proposals
for further enhancing it for the years to come in such a way that
Kazakhstan can rely on the Council of Europe’s experience on its
way to introducing democratic standards.
5 I also intend to assess whether there are enough reasons for
the Council of Europe to “break stereotypes” in how we view that
country, as the Kazakhstani officials have urged us to do, and whether
there are positive trends in the political development of the country
to which the Council of Europe could possibly contribute.
6 From 31 May to 2 June 2016, I carried out a fact-finding visit
to Astana and Almaty and had an opportunity to discuss relations
between the Council of Europe and Kazakhstan with a number of Kazakhstani officials.
My feeling was that these relations were on the right track but
that further efforts were needed from both sides to make them more
meaningful. A hearing held in Strasbourg in June 2016 with the participation
of key Council of Europe officials responsible for the implementation
of co-operation with Kazakhstan confirmed this impression.
2 General information
7 Kazakhstan is the 9th largest
country in the world by territory (2 724 000 km2) and
the world’s largest landlocked country.
It shares borders with Russia (6 846 km, the world’s second longest
border), Uzbekistan, China, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan, and it
also has a large portion of the Caspian Sea shore. While the country
is mainly situated in Asia, about 4% of its territory lies to the
west of the Ural River, considered as the geographical limit of
the European continent.
8 Kazakhstan has a population of 18 million and is a multi-ethnic
country with more than 130 ethnic groups. The Kazakhs make up more
than 60% of its population. The Russians are the second largest
group (about 23%), followed by the Uzbeks (2.8%) and the Ukrainians
(2%). There are also sizeable German and Polish communities. This
ethnic diversity results both from labour force migration and forceful
displacements of ethnic groups in the former Soviet Union. The country
has so far managed to maintain inter-ethnic concord.
9 70% of the population are Sunni Muslims and 25% are Christians
(mainly followers of the Russian Orthodox Church, but also Roman
Catholics and Protestants). The Constitution of Kazakhstan defines
it as a secular State and guarantees freedom of religion. Currently,
there are 18 registered confessions. At the same time, some small
religious communities and sects complain of harassment by the authorities.
10 Since 1997, Astana is the capital city of Kazakhstan. It is
a modern, dynamic and fast-growing city with over 1 million inhabitants.
The former capital Almaty (1.7 million) continues to play an important
role in Kazakhstan’s economic, financial, political, cultural and
Kazakhstan has the largest economy in Central Asia, mainly
based on the country’s wealth of natural resources (oil, gas and
vast mineral resources). Prior to the 2014 fall in oil prices, Kazakhstan’s
economy grew at an average of 8% per year. It has continued to grow
after 2014, but at a lower rate. Although the gross domestic product
per capita in current prices fell from US$13 000 (2014) to 7 140
(2016, International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimate), it has remained
stable if calculated on the basis of purchasing power parity (about US$25 700).Note
The slowdown of growth prompted Kazakhstan
to engage in a broad programme of diversification of its economy.
In November 2015, Kazakhstan became a member of the World
Trade Organization. The main trade partners for Kazakhstan exports
are Italy (17.7% of all exports), China (11.9%), the Netherlands
(10.8%), Russia (9.9%) and France (5.8%). The top import origins
are Russia (34.5% of all imports), China (16.6%), Germany (6.5%),
the United States (4.8%) and Italy (3.8%).Note
13 The Constitution of Kazakhstan was adopted by referendum in
1995 and was amended in 1998, 2007, 2011 and 2017. It defines Kazakhstan
as a unitary presidential republic. The President is elected by
universal direct vote for a five-year renewable term. The current
President, Mr Nursultan Nazarbayev, has been in power since June
1989 – at that time he was the leader of the Kazakhstan branch of
the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He was first elected as
President in April 1990, i.e. before the break-up of the USSR, and
was re-elected in 1991, 1999, 2005, 2011 and 2015.
14 The Constitution attributes to the President very large powers.
Moreover, Mr Nazarbayev has a special constitutional status as “the
first President” and “the leader of the nation” with some supplementary
powers. In addition, Mr Nazarbayev enjoys broad support and high
esteem in society and, as a result, plays the central role in political
life. Thus, the political system of the country is often qualified
as authoritarian rule. However, the constitutional amendments initiated
by President Nazarbayev in December 2016 and adopted in March 2017
tend to redistribute some presidential powers and in particular
strengthen the role of parliament.
15 The Parliament of Kazakhstan consists of the Majilis (Lower
House, 107 seats elected by popular vote) and the Senate (47 seats
partly appointed by regional assemblies and partly by the President).
The Parliamentary Assembly has observed all parliamentary elections
since 2004, including the last ones held in March 2016 (see section 3.4
16 Kazakhstan introduced a moratorium on the death penalty in
2003 but its new Criminal Code enacted in 2015 maintains the death
penalty for 17 types of crime (mainly terrorism-related offences
and war crimes). Since the proclamation of the moratorium, six people
were sentenced to death (the latest case was in November 2016) but
all sentences were commuted to life imprisonment. Kazakhstan supports
international efforts to introduce a worldwide moratorium on the
death penalty and has voted in favour of United Nations General
Assembly resolutions on the matter.
Kazakhstan’s human rights record remains poor. While welcoming
some improvements, the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s second
periodic report under the International Covenant on Civil and Political
released in August 2016, identified
a number of matters of concern, including with regard to equality
and non-discrimination, violence against women, combating extremism
and terrorism, torture and ill-treatment, treatment of prisoners,
trafficking in human beings, independence of the judiciary and fair
trial, freedom of conscience and religious belief, freedom of expression,
peaceful assembly and freedom of association and participation in
18 Since independence in 1991, Kazakhstan has developed a multi-vector
foreign policy and built good relations with Europe, the United
States and the Arab World. At the same time, Kazakhstan has equally
good relations with two of its largest neighbours, Russia and China,
with whom Kazakhstan is a member of organisations such as the Eurasian
Economic Union, the Collective Security Treaty Organization and
the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
19 Kazakhstan is situated in the challenging region that borders
Afghanistan and Iran, and it has shown itself to be a willing and
active partner of the international community, including Europe,
in tackling these challenges.
20 In particular, the country has played a notable role in international
efforts to bring peace to Afghanistan, including by sending humanitarian
assistance, initiating an education programme for teaching 1 000
Afghans and facilitating overflights for International Security
Assistance Force (ISAF) coalition aircraft.
21 Kazakhstan has played an even more substantial role in bringing
about the resolution of the standoff over the Iranian nuclear programme,
notably by hosting two rounds of international talks in Almaty and supplying
Iran with natural uranium in exchange for it giving up enriched
22 In the same spirit, Kazakhstan offered to host an international
low-enriched uranium bank managed by the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA). The facility was inaugurated on 29 August 2017 in
Ust-Kamenogorsk (Eastern Kazakhstan). It is designed to store up
to 90 metric tons of low-enriched uranium and would serve as supply
mechanism of last resort for IAEA member States which experience
a supply disruption due to exceptional circumstances, and which
are unable to secure nuclear power fuel from the commercial market,
State-to-State arrangements or by any other means.
23 Recently, Kazakhstan’s capital Astana came under the international
spotlight again as it hosted several rounds of international talks
on Syria – co-sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran and involving
representatives of the Syrian Government and the armed opposition
groups – which resulted in the signature of the Astana Agreement
on 4 May 2017 and the establishment of several de-escalation zones
in Syria. A new round of the “Astana process” took place in mid-September
24 Kazakhstan seeks to promote its role as an active player on
the international scene, in particular through its involvement in
multilateral diplomacy. The country’s capital Astana was chosen
to host the 2017 International EXPO. In 2010, Kazakhstan chaired
the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
25 For the first time in its history, Kazakhstan holds a non-permanent
seat on the United Nations Security Council for 2017-2018. Kazakhstan's
officially declared priorities in this capacity include building
a nuclear weapon-free world, eliminating the threat of a global
war, promoting peace in Afghanistan, creating a regional peace zone
in Central Asia and the Global Antiterrorist Coalition under the
auspices of the United Nations, fostering peace in Africa, promoting
the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the strong connection
between peace, security and development, adapting the United Nations
to the needs of the 21st century and holding regular Security Council
meetings at the level of Heads of State and Government in order to
strengthen the collective political will to address global challenges.
Kazakhstan will hold the presidency of the Security Council in January
26 The threat of terrorism is a growing concern for the authorities
of the country. Hundreds of Kazakhstani nationals are believed to
have fought in Syria and Iraq in the ranks of Daesh. A series of
terrorist attacks hit the country in June 2016 (see section 3.6
below). They were attributed to “radical non-traditional religious movements”.
27 The country is also faced with serious challenges resulting
from its situation at the crossroads of major international routes
for migration and drugs trafficking (the “Northern route” from Afghanistan
to Europe via Central Asia and Russia).
28 Kazakhstan is one of the former republics of the Soviet Union.
Its development in the 25 years of independence should be judged
against its own history and Soviet legacy but also against the development
in other post-Soviet countries, notably Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan
29 The geopolitical situation of Kazakhstan has a strong impact
on the political choices of the country. Kazakhstan’s neighbourhood,
its proximity to Afghanistan, as well as many other historical and
geopolitical factors influence the pace of reforms and should be
taken into account when assessing Kazakhstan’s results in implementing
transformations and in respecting universal rights and freedoms.
political developments in Kazakhstan
30 In December 2012, President
Nazarbayev announced the Strategy “Kazakhstan 2050: New Political Course
of the Established State”, a programme of economic, social and political
reforms aiming to promote the country in order for it to become
one of the top 30 global economies by 2050. It aims to transform
the country into a knowledge-based diversified economy.
31 In addition to measures to improve the business climate, facilitate
investment and develop a new social policy, the Strategy contains
an important chapter on strengthening statehood and the development
of the Kazakhstani democracy, including decentralisation, enhancing
local self-government, modernisation of the State apparatus, fighting
corruption and reforming law-enforcement agencies.
32 Co-operation with the Council of Europe may play an important
role in achieving these priorities, which should be taken into account
when reviewing and updating future programmes.
presidential election, 26 April 2015
33 The latest early presidential
election (originally scheduled for 2016) was held in Kazakhstan
on 26 April 2015. Although the Assembly was invited to observe this
election, the Bureau decided on 5 March 2015 that it would not be
possible for the Assembly to observe it, given the heavy schedule
of the Assembly.
34 Out of 27 nominees, three candidates were registered to run
for the office of President: the incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbayev
(Nur Otan Party), Turgun Syzdykov
(Communist People's Party of Kazakhstan) and Abelgazi Kusainov (independent
candidate, former Chairperson of the Federation of Labour Unions).
According to the official results, President Nazarbayev obtained
97.75% of the votes, with a 95% turnout.
In its Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions issued
on 27 April 2015, the OSCE’s observation mission concluded that
“[p]reparations for the 26 April election were efficiently administered; however,
necessary reforms for holding genuine democratic elections still
have to materialise. The predominant position of the incumbent and
the lack of genuine opposition limited voter choice. A restricted media
environment stifled public debate and freedom of expression. Election
Day generally proceeded in an orderly manner, but serious procedural
deficiencies and irregularities were noted throughout the voting, counting
and tabulation processes”.Note
Concrete Steps to Implement Five Institutional Reforms
36 When assuming office after
his re-election in 2015, President Nazarbayev announced a new national plan
“100 Concrete Steps to Implement Five Institutional Reforms” to
speed up transformations foreseen under the 2050 Strategy.
37 The plan put forward institutional reforms in five key areas:
establishing a modern, professional, self-sustainable and autonomous
State apparatus capable of effectively implementing economic programmes
and public services; consolidating the rule of law, including an
increased transparency of law-enforcement bodies, a new system of
selection of police officers and raising professional requirements
for judges; achieving industrialisation and economic growth based
on diversification; unifying as a single nation for the future;
and functioning as a transparent, liberal and accountable government.
38 As mentioned above, the Council of Europe could make a substantial
contribution in assisting Kazakhstan to make progress on some of
these priorities, in particular those which relate to the rule of
law and the reform of the justice system.
parliamentary elections, 20 March 2016
39 On 20 January 2016, President
Nazarbayev dissolved the Majilis (lower
house of the parliament) and called for early parliamentary elections,
arguing the need for renewed support to face the economic crisis resulting
from the drop in oil prices.
40 The elections were held on 20 March 2016. Six political parties
registered lists and took part in the elections, three of them passed
the 7% threshold: Nur Otan (82.20%
of votes, 84 seats), Ak Zhol (7.18%, 7 seats)
and the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan (7.14%, 7 seats).
The Assembly was invited to observe the elections and appointed
an ad hoc committee chaired by Mr Jordi Xuclà. The committee presented
on the elections at the meeting
of the Standing Committee in Tallinn on 27 May 2016. According to
this report, the elections “were efficiently organised, with some progress
noted”, but the country still had “a considerable way to go in meeting
its international commitments for democratic elections”.Note
Furthermore, the ad hoc committee pointed out that “the political
parties could compete relatively freely. While the participation
of six parties seems to provide for some political choice, political
life in Kazakhstan needs a more open and more competitive environment
for the efficient functioning of a real multiparty system which
is a key condition for the long term democratic stability of Kazakhstan”.Note
The election observation report concluded that “the invitation
by the authorities of Kazakhstan to observe the 2016 early parliamentary
elections was an indication that electoral legislation and practice
could be one of the important fields for future co-operation between
Kazakhstan and the Council of Europe”.Note
my capacity as rapporteur, I fully share this conclusion and I intend
to put an emphasis on the need for further co-operation with the
Council of Europe, and in particular with the European Commission
for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission), in my upcoming contacts
with the authorities of Kazakhstan.
against land code reform, April-May 2016
44 In November 2015, the parliament
passed draft legislation on amendments to the 2003 Land Code of Kazakhstan.
Under the new legislation, entities with foreign ownership would
be eligible to lease agricultural land for 25 years, whereas the
previous Land Code only allowed for a 10-year lease. At the same
time, the local residents could no longer lease agricultural land
but would be allowed to purchase it through a competition-based
45 The announcement of the government’s decision to implement
new legislation, made on 31 March 2016, prompted mass protects against
the reform in many cities in the country. The public was misinformed
about the content of the new law and was made to believe that foreigners
would be granted the right to buy land. In a country where over
40% of the workforce resides in rural areas and 18% work in agriculture,
the issue is extremely sensitive. Rumours that Chinese investors
would buy out Kazakhstan’s land led to public outcry and mass unauthorised
rallies. The police detained a number of protesters but no violence
46 In response to these protests, two ministers resigned. President
Nazarbayev introduced a moratorium on land reform until the end
of 2016. He also set up a Presidential Commission on Land Reform,
a 75-member body that includes politicians, businessmen and members
of civil society, to explore questions related to land reform, and
to draft a new bill to submit to the parliament.
47 The political crisis over the land reform was mainly a result
of the failure of the Government to provide full and clear information
on a reform which could potentially bring about positive results
to Kazakhstan’s agriculture, attract investment and introduce a
modern and transparent system of land management. It also revealed
a lack of public trust in the government and its statements.
48 At the same time, the crisis showed the need for a better
dialogue between the authorities and society. During my first visit
to Kazakhstan in May-June 2016, I witnessed the discussion on the
land reform crisis in the framework of a co-ordination body which
included representatives of various State authorities and civil society.
This practice is welcome and should be further encouraged.
attacks, June-July 2016
49 On 5 June 2016, a group of
at least 16 people attacked and robbed two gun shops and stormed
a military unit of the National Guard of Kazakhstan in Aktobe (north-west
of Kazakhstan near the border with Russia). Further attacks and
shootings occurred in Aktobe on 8 and 10 June. The shootings left
seven victims dead and 37 injured. Eighteen attackers were killed
and nine were arrested. President Nazarbayev declared 9 June 2016 a
day of national mourning.
50 The perpetrators of the shootings were described by the police
as “followers of radical, non-traditional religious movements”,
a term that is commonly used by the authorities in Kazakhstan to
designate Islamic extremists. On 10 June, President Nazarbayev stated
that the attackers were Salafists and probably included Daesh militants
who had returned to Kazakhstan from Syria.
51 Another deadly terrorist attack occurred on 18 July 2016:
at least 10 people, including eight police officers, were killed
in an attack on a police station in the former capital city Almaty.
The perpetrator of the attack, a 26-year-old Salafi Jihadist Ruslan
Kulekbaev, was arrested, convicted of terrorism and murder and sentenced
to death. Five of his accomplices were also arrested and sentenced
to prison terms ranging from 3 to 10 and a half years.
52 In a statement released in September 2016, the Committee on
National Security of Kazakhstan announced that, since January of
that year, it had disrupted and arrested eight separate Islamist
groups which were preparing terrorist attacks on various installations
in the country.
53 Following the attacks in Aktobe and Almaty, the parliament
adopted, in December 2016, a series of amendments to the legislation
on combating terrorism and extremism, arms sales, migration and
reform, December 2016-March 2017
54 On 15 December 2016, speaking
at a solemn meeting celebrating the 25th anniversary of the independence
of Kazakhstan, President Nazarbayev announced his intention to propose
new reforms aimed at modernising the system of government in the
country. While the presidential system was not put into question,
there would be some redistribution of powers with a view to strengthening
the respective roles and responsibility of parliament and government,
and bringing more democracy and flexibility to the system as a whole.
55 A working group “on the redistribution of powers” composed
of the members of the government, the parliament, the Supreme Court,
the Constitutional Council, academia and civil society prepared
concrete proposals for constitutional amendments, which were presented
to the country by the President on 25 January 2017. These initial
proposals were submitted to a month-long nationwide discussion.
56 At a joint sitting on 6 March 2017, the Majilis and the Senate
approved the final draft law which also included input from the
public discussion. The President signed the law “On amendments and
changes to the Constitution of Kazakhstan” on 10 March 2017.
57 The reform amends 19 articles of the Constitution. Contrary
to the previous three constitutional reforms, which essentially
strengthened presidential powers, the new reform aims at expanding
the powers of the government and the parliament by redistributing
some 30 presidential powers to other branches of government. In
particular, the role of the parliament is increased in two key areas:
the formation of the government and the vote of no-confidence. The
supervisory powers of the parliament over government activities
are strengthened as the Prime Minister has to report not only to
the President but also to the parliament.
58 Furthermore, the reform abolishes the right of the President
to issue decrees having the force of law. A number of important
powers of the President are transferred to the government. The President
would mainly focus on strategic matters, foreign policy and national
security, as well as serve as supreme arbiter between the different
branches of power. There are also some changes in the functioning
of the judicial system, in particular as regards supervisory functions
of the Supreme Court over local courts and the increased powers of
the Constitutional Council. Finally, some changes are introduced
in the functioning of local government.
The authorities of Kazakhstan requested an opinion of the
Venice Commission on the draft law on the constitutional reform.
In its OpinionNote
adopted on 11 March 2017, the Venice
Commission concluded as follows (paragraph 51):
“The proposed constitutional amendments submitted for
review represent a step forward in the process of democratisation
of the state. Revision of the competences of the branches of power
and setting up a system of checks and balances is a difficult task.
Many aspects of these efforts can only be assessed over time, when
practical experience has revealed the most appropriate approach,
taking into account historical development and traditions, societal
development, the society’s attitude towards the processes around,
as well as international developments. But there can be no doubt
that the reform goes in the right direction and constitutes a clear
step forward. Other steps should follow in the future.”
with the Council of Europe
60 The authorities of Kazakhstan
constantly underline the double Euro-Asian identity of the country.
As shown above, they have built multi-faceted and dynamic co-operation
with their eastern neighbour China, and have developed close business
relations with a range of countries of South and East Asia and the
61 At the same time, both the representatives of the political
establishment and of society at large openly take Europe as a model
and a reference point when it comes to defining the desirable future
for the country in terms of political, legal, institutional and
cultural development, and the way of life in general.
62 This sensitivity needs to be borne in mind in order to understand
the reasons for Kazakhstan’s interest in the Council of Europe,
which is considered as an entry gate to European political, legal
and cultural space.
63 While the European Union is Kazakhstan’s first trade partner
and has established a political dialogue with the country, it does
not have the appropriate framework to accommodate Kazakhstan’s aspiration
to get closer to Europe more substantially than by means of classical
bilateral relations. Our Organisation does have such a framework:
the policy towards neighbouring regions.
64 Secretary General Jagland conducted
the first official visit to Kazakhstan in October 2011. On that occasion,
he met President Nazarbayev and held working meetings with a number
of high officials. In a joint statement issued at the end of the
visit, the Secretary General and Foreign Minister Kazykhanov expressed commitment
to intensify co-operation. The visit gave an impetus to the drafting
of a co-operation programme which was eventually launched in 2014.
65 Secretary General Jagland further met with the Foreign Minister
of Kazakhstan in Brussels (January 2013) and New York (September
2013 and September 2014).
66 Kazakhstan took part in the high-level conference on the Council
of Europe neighbourhood policy (Baku, November 2014).
67 Kazakhstan has been co-operating
with the Council of Europe and its various bodies since 1997. The starting
point of this process was a request by the Parliament of Kazakhstan
to be granted special guest status with the Parliamentary Assembly.
However, it was not granted since the common understanding was that special
guest status was designed for the parliaments of countries which
intended and were eligible to become full members of the Council
68 In 1999, the speakers of the two chambers of the Parliament
of Kazakhstan officially requested observer status with the Parliamentary
Assembly. Following lengthy discussions, the Assembly’s Political
Affairs Committee decided not to recommend it.
69 Instead, in April 2004, the Parliamentary Assembly and the
Parliament of Kazakhstan signed a co-operation agreement to establish
a political dialogue with a view to promoting the principles of
parliamentary democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights
and fundamental freedoms in Kazakhstan. This agreement remains the
basis for our relations. Members from both chambers regularly attend
the Parliamentary Assembly sessions in Strasbourg.
70 However, the interest and the involvement of the Kazakh parliamentarians
have decreased over the years. Furthermore, some practices introduced
at the beginning of the implementation of the agreement (e.g. the
annual presentation of a report by the Parliament to the Bureau
relating to democratic reforms in the country) have proven to be
too burdensome and were gradually abandoned.
71 A new request for observer status with the Assembly was introduced
in 2006. The Political Affairs Committee was asked to report on
the matter. After thorough discussions, the committee concluded
that it would be more appropriate if future co-operation between
the Assembly and the Parliament of Kazakhstan took the form of a
partnership for democracy, on the basis of the new status and provided
that there is a specific request for it by the Parliament of Kazakhstan
and subject to the conditions foreseen therein.
72 Several Presidents of the Assembly carried out visits to Kazakhstan
and also met with the Speakers of the two Houses of the Parliament
at various international parliamentary fora (e.g. sessions of the Interparliamentary
Union and conferences organised by the Interparliamentary Assembly
of the Commonwealth of Independent States).
73 As mentioned above, the Assembly has been invited to observe
all nation-wide elections in Kazakhstan since 2004, and has, in
most cases, participated in the observation.
74 In September 2005, the Assembly’s Committee on Migration,
Refugees and Population organised in Almaty, in co-operation with
the Senate of the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the
Euro-Asian parliamentary forum on migration.
75 The Political Affairs Committee considered organising its
meeting in Astana in May 2009 but it had to be postponed sine die at the initiative of the
Parliament of Kazakhstan which referred to a number of conflicting commitments.
76 In my view, the current state of relations between the Assembly
and the Parliament of Kazakhstan is insufficient and needs to be
upgraded. Parliamentarians from Kazakhstan do not often take part
in the work of Assembly committees. Instead, they prefer to arrange
bilateral meetings with some Assembly members, in particular the
President, leaders of political groups and chairpersons of committees.
77 I encourage them to address this lacuna and to participate
more actively in our activities. Their contribution to our discussions
on major international problems would certainly enrich the debate.
The existing bilateral Agreement allows for it. Whether or not a
different institutional framework would be needed remains to be
decided, but I am confident that at this stage the continuity of
dialogue and its content are more important than its form.
78 During my visit to Kazakhstan in May 2016, I conveyed this
position to Mr Tokayev, Speaker of the Senate. While stating that
an active participation in the work of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly
was a priority for the Parliament of Kazakhstan, Speaker Tokayev
acknowledged the importance of the dialogue with our Assembly and
promised to see to it that the parliamentarians who attend our sessions
play a more active role in our discussions.
of Europe conventions, partial and enlarged agreements and intergovernmental committees
79 Kazakhstan is Party to the
Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher
Education in the European Region (ETS No. 165, since 1999), the
European Cultural Convention (ETS No. 18, since 2010), the European
Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure and Confiscation of the
Proceeds from Crime (ETS No. 141, since 2015), and the Convention
on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters (ETS No. 127,
Furthermore, Kazakhstan has requested several times to become
Party to a number of Council of Europe conventions in the fields
of criminal justiceNote
and the fight against
So far, the Committee of
Ministers has been reluctant to agree on inviting Kazakhstan to
become Party to these instruments as there were doubts on the conformity
of the legal order of Kazakhstan with European standards and the
capacity of the country to ensure appropriate implementation of
81 In 2014, Kazakhstan requested to join the Council of Europe
Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure and Confiscation of the
Proceeds from Crime and on the Financing of Terrorism (CETS No.
82 Recently, Kazakhstan has shown some interest in the Convention
on Cybercrime (ETS No. 185).
83 Moreover, as a State Party to the European Cultural Convention,
Kazakhstan is eligible to sign a whole number of sectorial conventions
in the fields of education, sports, audiovisual co-operation, etc.
Kazakhstan has been a full member of the Venice Commission
since 2011. Prior to obtaining full membership, the country had
held observer status since 1998. The Venice Commission has adopted
several Opinions on various pieces of legislation of Kazakhstan,
all of them at the request of the authorities of the country.Note
85 In 2013, Kazakhstan requested to join GRECO, but the procedures
have yet to be finalised. It also enjoys observer status in the
Convention on the Elaboration of a European Pharmacopoeia (ETS No.
50) since 2006.
As Kazakhstan is a State Party to Council of Europe conventions,
government experts from the country take part as members, participants
and observers in a number of steering committees, ad hoc committees
and committees established by a Convention.Note
87 Since 2011, the Council of
Europe has developed a comprehensive policy towards its immediate neighbourhood,
including the countries of Central Asia, based on developing political
dialogue and demand-driven co-operation.
88 In 2011, Kazakhstan expressed interest in co-operation with
the Council of Europe, and in particular in the conclusion of a
Neighbourhood Co-operation Priorities (NCP) framework. An intensive
dialogue between the Council of Europe and Kazakh authorities resulted
in the drafting of a wide-ranging document entitled “The Council
of Europe’s Neighbourhood Co-operation Priorities for Kazakhstan
2012-2014” which was presented to the Kazakh authorities in July
2012, after discussion in the relevant Council of Europe bodies.
The initial draft covered the following priority areas:
- the rule of law, with emphasis
on the fight against corruption, and the criminal justice system;
- human rights, with emphasis on children’s rights, juvenile
justice and human rights education;
- democracy, with emphasis on cultural co-operation, inter-ethnic
and intercultural dialogue.
90 In December 2012, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan
proposed to limit the scope of the initial project, and to start
practical co-operation with the implementation of one of the NCP
chapters, focusing on specific Council of Europe conventions. He
reconfirmed that Kazakhstan’s accession to these instruments meets
the long-term objectives for social and political modernisation
of the country, ensuring its security and stability.
91 It was therefore agreed to concentrate initially on building
the capacity of the Kazakhstan authorities in the criminal justice
field as a “first step” towards possible future accession to a number
of Council of Europe conventions in the criminal field, in particular
the European Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters
and its additional protocol; the European Convention on Extradition;
the European Convention on the Transfer of Proceedings in Criminal
Matters, and the European Convention on the International Validity
of Criminal Judgements.
92 As a result, the programme entitled “Neighbourhood Co-operation
Priorities for Kazakhstan 2014-2015: co-operation activities on
Council of Europe’s conventions in criminal matters” was adopted
by the Committee of Ministers in December 2013.
93 In addition, the Council of Europe and Kazakhstan signed,
in December 2013, a Joint Declaration on Enhancing Cooperation which
formally opened the implementation of the NCP 2014-2015.
94 The authorities of Kazakhstan expect that the successful implementation
of the NCP programme will create favourable conditions for the accession
of Kazakhstan to the target Council of Europe conventions in the
field of criminal procedure.
95 In the framework of the implementation of the NCP, the Council
of Europe has already provided substantial support to several ongoing
reforms in Kazakhstan, including the institutional reform of the Ombudsman
and the National Preventive Mechanism, the reform of the General
Prosecutor’s Office and its anti-torture project, the reform of
the High Judicial Council and the revision of the criminal legislation
in line with European standards.
96 Also as a part of the NCP, Kazakhstan acceded to three Council
of Europe legal instruments in the field of criminal justice (mentioned
in paragraph 77 above). Furthermore, in September 2015, Kazakhstan
was granted observer status with the Consultative Council of European
97 Following a broadly positive interim assessment in January
2016, the NCP programme was extended until 2017 and the Council
of Europe has recently proposed to the authorities of Kazakhstan
to further extend it until the end of 2018.
European Union–Council of Europe programmes
98 Co-operation priorities with
Kazakhstan have been implemented with the support of the European
Union and financed through Joint European Union–Council of Europe
99 On 25 July 2014, the Council of Europe and the European Union
launched a joint programme “Support to the Kazakh authorities in
improving the quality and efficiency of the Kazakh justice system”.
It aims at bringing Kazakhstan’s criminal justice framework and
institutional practice closer into line with European and international
standards and practices through a range of measures in support of
the ongoing efforts of the authorities of Kazakhstan to improve
the justice system. The programme is entirely financed by the European Union
and has a budget of 1.66 million euros.
100 The joint programme aims at achieving results in two particular
areas, namely “Criminal proceedings and trials based on fair trial
requirements for adversarial proceedings, publicity, and impartiality”
and “Expanded human rights and fundamental freedoms protection in
the criminal justice system”. It is carried out through specific
activities bringing together Council of Europe experts and officials
from various Kazakh institutions such as the Supreme Court, the
General Prosecutor’s Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Republican
Collegium of Advocates, the Ombudsman Office and the National Preventive
101 Activities carried out under the joint programme contributed
to promoting the reform of the justice system which is part of the
National Action Plan “100 Concrete Steps” (see section 3.3 above).
Legal expertise was provided as regards improving the system of
evaluation of judges’ performance and strengthening the role of the
High Judicial Council in this process. Council of Europe experts
also contributed to carrying out the institutional reform and capacity
building of the General Prosecutor’s Office and to improving the
existing system of the selection of prosecutors.
102 The programme involved legal professionals and members of
the National Preventive Mechanism from various regions of Kazakhstan.
This should help reduce discrepancies in legal practice between
the regions and harmonise jurisprudence throughout the country.
103 It is also foreseen that the joint programme will provide
support to the process of the comprehensive revision of the legislative
criminal framework aimed at addressing existing gaps in the Criminal
and Criminal Procedure Codes which may lead to violations of rights
of persons in criminal proceedings.
104 Council of Europe experts participated in projects carried
out by the General Prosecutor’s Office and the Supreme Court aimed
at improving national legislation and practice relating to the enhancement
of the rights of victims and witnesses in criminal proceedings and
child-friendly justice. Further projects are under preparation to
elaborate training programmes on effective investigation and prevention
of extremism and radicalism and on restorative justice. Some new
projects are under consideration, including on e-justice in criminal
proceedings, on sentencing policy and on acquittal rates.
105 The joint programme has contributed to better protection and
promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the criminal
justice system by assisting with raining programmes for legal professionals
on plea-bargaining and effective investigation of torture. It has
also supported the enhancement of the role of the Ombudsman in handling
complaints and helped to strengthen the capacity of the National Preventive
Mechanism to implement its functions effectively.
106 The joint programme was initially planned for a three-year
implementation period ending on 24 July 2017. At the meeting of
the Programme Steering Committee held in Astana on 30 June 2016,
the parties involved made a request for the programme to be extended
for another year. In December 2016, the Council of Europe and the
European Union agreed to extend the programme until 24 July 2018.
107 Some aspects of the NCP for Kazakhstan 2014-2015 were also
implemented through the regional European Union–Council of Europe
joint programme “Supporting Constitutional Justice, Access to Justice
and Electoral Reform in the Countries of Central Asia” which was
carried out from March 2013 until August 2015. The programme was
implemented by the Venice Commission and its budget of €525 000
was funded by the European Union and Finland. The purpose of the
programme was to improve the capacity of Central Asian countries
to conduct the reforms in the field of the judiciary in line with
applicable European and international human rights standards, including
the European Convention on Human Rights (ETS No. 5) and the case
law of the European Court of Human Rights.
108 Furthermore, a joint European Union–Council of Europe programme
“Supporting Education Policies in Democratic Citizenship and Human
Rights Education in Kazakhstan” was carried out in 2013-2014 with
a budget of €355 000. Designed as a follow-up to the ratification
by Kazakhstan of the European Cultural Convention, the project aimed
at supporting education reforms conducive to intercultural awareness
and understanding, based on the principles of human rights and democracy
and taking account of European standards and best practice.
109 Kazakhstan and the Council
of Europe have reached a good degree of co-operation on expert level
in implementing the NCP in the area which was chosen as a priority
by the Kazakh authorities. After some initial difficulties and delays
due to bureaucratic hurdles, the two parties now seem to have learned
to work together. Proof of this is the proposed extension of the
ongoing co-operation programme.
110 Focusing on one specific area of co-operation may have been
the right choice for the launching stage. But the time may have
come to reconsider this decision, and to design a broader NCP project
covering other areas that fit into the country’s reform agenda,
provided that the Kazakh authorities are ready and willing to broaden
the scope of co-operation and the Council of Europe and the European
Union have the capacity and the means to do it.
111 One should also consider whether it would be appropriate to
upgrade the current NCP framework and to complete it with political
dialogue, as it is already the case with neighbouring countries
under “second generation” neighbourhood documents (Jordan, Morocco
112 Kazakhstan should be encouraged to continue moving closer
to European legal space by joining key Council of Europe conventions.
In turn, Council of Europe member States should be invited to reconsider
their position and to lift objections to Kazakhstan becoming a Party
to those conventions that the country has long sought to adhere
to – if need be, after a thorough discussion on the implementation
of the current NCP.
113 Ongoing co-operation of Kazakhstan with the Venice Commission
is welcome and should be further encouraged, in particular in the
light of the forthcoming legislative process in the country arising
from the recent constitutional changes. This co-operation should
be extended to electoral matters.
114 Kazakhstan should finalise its internal procedures for becoming
a member of GRECO. It should also be encouraged to consider joining
other partial agreements which deal with issues of relevance for
the country, for instance the Co-operation Group to Combat Drug
Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in Drugs (Pompidou Group) and the
Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport (EPAS).
115 At the parliamentary level, the ball is in Kazakhstan’s court:
the existing co-operation agreement between the parliament and the
Assembly allows for a broad and active participation of Kazakh parliamentarians
in the work of the Assembly and its committees. Should the parliament
wish to move forward on the institutional level and apply for partner
for democracy status, the Assembly would be ready to consider it
in accordance with the Rules – but there must be a clear and well
thought-out decision on the matter by the parliament.
116 Kazakhstan is a country with
great interest in, and important potential for, developing further
co-operation with the Council of Europe, especially bearing in mind
the ambitious projects of political reform and the possible contribution
to this process which our Organisation can make. However, the practical implementation
of co-operation projects seems at times to be lagging behind.
117 At the same time, in some European countries, there has been
a degree of reluctance to go further ahead in enhancing relations
with Kazakhstan, and to look at it as just one country of the region
among others, without paying due attention to its particularities,
the role it plays in ensuring regional stability and its wish to move
closer to European standards in the process of modernisation.
118 As the then Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov put it in our
meeting on 1 June 2016, the time has come to “adjust the glasses”
through which Europe views Kazakhstan.
119 I am convinced that stronger relations and enhanced co-operation
between the Council of Europe and Kazakhstan would be beneficial
for both sides. Kazakhstan could take advantage of the Council of
Europe’s experience and expertise in accompanying countries on the
path to democratic transition. The Council would encourage Kazakhstan
to move further along the road of democratic reforms and contribute
to spreading principles of democracy, respect for human rights and
the rule of law in its neighbourhood, thus strengthening international
stability and facing common threats more efficiently.