Kazakhstan Fails to Reform as OSCE Chairmanship Nears
Kazakhstan is rushing to adopt legislation that falls short of the reforms it promised last year in its bid to chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2010. OSCE participating states should use this week's Ministerial Council meeting in Helsinki to urge Astana to reconsider and take steps to improve the deeply flawed draft bills that are now before the country’s parliament.
In a new report released today, Freedom House examines the proposed reforms to laws governing mass media, elections, political parties and local government and shows how they fail to meet international standards for democracy and civil and political rights. “Democratic Development and Rule of Law in Light of Kazakhstan’s Upcoming OSCE Chairmanship” is the third in a series of reports produced by Freedom House and leading Kazakhstani nongovernmental organizations.
"The Kazakhstani government’s unwillingness to consider the views of its own citizens in the process of drafting these bills explains why the content of the draft bills is so disappointing," said Vladimir Shkolnikov, Freedom House Europe director. "Freedom House urges Kazakhstan's government to open the upcoming parliamentary debate on these proposed reforms to the public, so that these draft laws can be significantly improved."
At last year's ministerial meeting, Kazakhstan's representative vowed to have the necessary reforms in place by the end of 2008. However, Freedom House is concerned that the proposed reforms will be adopted in the same hasty way that the new highly restrictive law on religion was passed in late November, which both the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Almaty Helsinki Committee say fails to meet international standards. Read a newly-released analysis of the religion law from Freedom House's Kazakhstani partners.
The government’s approach to amending the country's elections law also demonstrates its failure to use this opportunity to adopt wide-ranging reforms. Last year's flawed elections resulted in the ruling party winning every seat in parliament, leaving Kazakhstan with a one-party legislature for the first time since the Soviet era. However, the new draft bill on elections does not change the main legislative provisions that produced this result, instead calling for the party receiving the second highest vote total to be "allowed" a token representation in parliament.
"Kazakhstan's reform process should not be rushed just to meet an artificial deadline. It is far better that the bills be subject to serious open debate in order to produce sound laws that advance democracy and human rights in Kazakhstan," said Shkolnikov.
Kazakhstan is ranked Not Free in the 2008 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and in the 2008 version of Freedom of the Press.
Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Kazakhstan since 1990.
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