Response to Ambassador Natalia Zarudna, Head of the OSCE Center in Astana

As prepared for delivery by Ambassador Ian Kelly
to the Permanent Council, Vienna
June 21, 2012

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The United States welcomes Ambassador Zarudna in her first appearance before the Permanent Council as Head of the OSCE Center in Astana.  Ambassador Zarudna, we thank you and your staff for the detailed report you have provided today.  It reflects an extraordinary  compendium of the cooperation between OSCE and Kazakhstan’s government and civil society, as well as the active partnership OSCE fosters with the international community.  The OSCE is clearly making a positive and lasting difference in Kazakhstan.

In the First Dimension, the United States supports and wishes to congratulate OSCE staff and the government of Kazakhstan on their active cooperation to address security and law enforcement challenges, including organized crime, terrorism, trafficking in human beings, drugs, and illegal weapons trafficking.  We recognize the importance of all of these efforts and urge the Center to continue to engage with the international community as it works with the government of Kazakhstan to addresses these pressing challenges in a manner that is both effective and consistent with Kazakhstan’s commitments to the fundamental freedoms of expression, association, assembly, and religion or belief to which all are entitled, including those with minority views or religious beliefs.

The Center’s efforts to develop confidence and security building measures with the Ministry of Defense are noteworthy, as are Kazakhstan’s efforts to implement the 2007 and 2011 Ministerial Decisions on enhancing engagement with Afghanistan.  We warmly welcome Kazakhstan’s decision to host the next ministerial in the Istanbul process, to contribute to the sustainment of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), to provide training for Afghanistan officials and experts in Kazakhstani institutes of higher education and to invest in schools, hospitals, and roads in Afghanistan.   The United States sees Kazakhstan as a trusted ally and strategic partner and welcomes Kazakhstan’s important contributions to peace and stability in Afghanistan, in the region, and beyond.

In the Second Dimension, we agree with the Center’s focus on good governance and combating corruption in coordination with both the government of Kazakhstan and civil society.  We wholeheartedly support the Center’s advocacy for transparency, accountability, and inclusiveness in the management of extractive industries’ revenues, including efforts to assist Kazakhstan in moving forward on demonstrating compliance with the rules of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).  We also congratulate the Center and the government of Kazakhstan on their support to the four new Aarhus Centers in Kazakhstan.

Unfortunately, the last six months have not brought progress on many of the core Human Dimension issues and fundamental freedoms central to the Helsinki Final Act and recently affirmed in the Astana Declaration.  Recalling Kazakhstan’s accomplishments during its 2010 chairmanship, including hosting the Astana Summit, we urge Kazakhstan to reaffirm its commitment to advance media freedom, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and freedom of religion.

We recognize that Kazakhstan has faced unprecedented challenges over the past six months, beginning with the violent protests in western Kazakhstan in December last year.  We appreciate the efforts of the Center, the government of Kazakhstan, and civil society to understand the full truth about both the underlying causes of the unrest and specific actions taken during these events, as well as all parties’ willingness to share their findings with participating States.  We are heartened by the transparency of the trials in Aktau, as well as media access.  We welcome the government’s attempts to bring to justice, not only private persons who broke the law by engaging in violent acts, but also police and other officials who abused or over-stepped their authority.  We believe that many questions remain unanswered, however, and therefore urge continued full investigation into events, including allegations of torture or abuse of defendants.

We are also concerned by other events over the past six months. While each case is different, the cumulative trend formed by the arrests and incarcerations of persons such as Vladimir Kozlov, leader of the unregistered Alga party, Kanat Ibragimov, Bakhytzhan Toregozhina, Larissa Boyar, Kairat Erdybayev, Rakhim Auganbayev, Bulat Abilov, and Zharmakhan Tuyakbai raise troubling questions about the level of respect for freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in Kazakhstan.  We continue to monitor Mr. Kozlov’s prolonged detainment on ill-defined charges such as “inciting of social discord.”  We encourage the government of Kazakhstan to consider carefully the delicate balance between freedom of expression and security and to demonstrate its continued commitment to openness and transparency in judicial proceedings as this investigation moves forward.

The election this year of a multi-party parliament is a step in the process of developing democratic institutions and a tolerant, pluralistic society.  At the same time, we urge the government of Kazakhstan to give full and serious consideration to ODIHR’s recommendations for further improving the electoral system in Kazakhstan in order to address those areas in which the January elections fell short of international standards.

As your report indicates, “the harassment of and attacks on journalists, the fining of media outlets, the blocking of websites, legislation that is not fully compliant with international freedom of expression and the free flow of information standards, and libel and defamation cases that impose disproportionately large penalties for the plaintiff” are serious issues in Kazakhstan.  In this regard, we remain deeply concerned by the brutal attack in April on journalist Lukpan Akhmedyarov.  We commend Kazakhstan’s efforts to pursue this case aggressively and urge Kazakhstan to implement additional, systematic steps to ensure the safety of journalists.

We are concerned that some developments over the past six months related to the implementation of Kazakhstan’s amended law on religion appear to have weakened Kazakhstan’s long history of religious tolerance.  We are aware of instances in which ministers were jailed or fined for distributing religious literature, of some religious groups being stopped from spreading their faith, and of religious communities that use private homes for religious worship being subject to additional pressure.  We also remain concerned about the impact on religious freedom, particularly for smaller religious groups, of the re-registration process and criteria mandated by the amended law on religion.

Ambassador Zarudna, we are grateful for your efforts, and those of your staff, to assist the government of Kazakhstan in strengthening the institutions it has created to protect human rights. We also want to commend the government of Kazakhstan for its exemplary efforts to contribute to regional and world security through active participation in efforts ranging from bringing peace to Afghanistan to stemming the spread of weapons of mass destruction.  At the same time, we urge the government to take full advantage of broad OSCE expertise in the areas of human rights and democracy and to work closely with the Center in the coming year as the government continues to address difficult issues related to extremism and national security. We wish Ambassador Zarudna every success as you enter your second year in Astana and pledge our support in achieving the important goals you have set out.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.