Kazakhstan: Country Profile

Protest against the Nazarbayev Regime - London 2013

Protest against the Nazarbayev Regime - London 2013

Kazakhstan has an appalling human rights record. As Reporters Without Borders reports the state has control over independent media, NGOs, civil society, and, most critically, independent trade unions effectively crushing dissent.[1] The vast majority of the population lives in poverty and those who speak out against the state or organise mass resistance are harassed, jailed, or killed.

The Nazarbayev Regime

Kazakhstan is a police state. It is ruled by Nursultan Nazarbayev who, with the help of his close family, has looted the mineral and oil wealth of the country. Despite being oil rich and the world’s largest producer of uranium, its people do not share in the wealth.

The Nazarbayev regime is fearful of an explosion of anger and resistance along the lines of the popular revolutions which brought down dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011. The same year, there were protests from different sectors of society including striking oil workers. Protests were violently repressed and many political activists were arrested.

Originally scheduled for 2012, the regime rushed through presidential elections in April 2011 because of fear of a popular revolt. The OSCE, Europe's main poll-monitoring body, found irregularities, citing ballot-box stuffing, spurious rules for candidate registration, intimidation and media bias. Not surprisingly Nazarbayev received 95% of the vote.

The human rights situation in Kazakhstan continues to deteriorate. Nazarbayev has cracked down on protestors and journalists and has limited worker’s rights. The World Democracy Audit ranks Kazakhstan 129 out of 150 countries in its Democracy Ranking and 110th in the Corruption rank, and 131st in Press Freedom. 

The West and the Regime

Many governments in the West continue to support Nazarbayev. They see the business deals, especially for the extraction of oil, gas and precious minerals as a key priority. When it comes to a choice between business and human rights – multi-nationals companies are content to turn a blind eye to state abuse and human rights violations.  Despite strikes by oil workers which exposed their poor treatment and pay, many multi-national corporations continue to invest in the oil sector and other industries in Kazakhstan.

Human Rights Abuses

Oil Workers on Strike

In mid-2011, oil workers took industrial action - demanding better pay, better working conditions, and the right to organize. Industrial action was met with a vicious state attack and massacre. The oil workers dispute still reverberates in Kazakhstan which is a key oil producer.

On 16 December 2011, the state launched an unprovoked attack on a peaceful gathering in the central square of Zhenazoen. The BBC reported that 11 were killed, but workers in the area estimate that up to 70 strikers and supporters were actually killed. Numerous arrests were later made and trumped up charges were filed against workers.

The State refuses to investigate this massacre or bring state officials to account. Yet it has had no hesitation in pursuing workers who had organized the strike. Roza Tuletaevaa trade union activist was sentenced to seven years imprisonment on trumped up charges. This despite the fact that she was subjected to torture, threats and intimidation to ‘confess.’

The demands of oil workers continue. A key feature being the oil workers’ attempts to set up new unions, or to throw out union officials who are too close to management.

Justice for Vadim Kuramshin

Human rights defenders face constant persecution and harassment by the government in the course of their work. Vadim Kuramshin is a well-known lawyer and human rights defender who has worked for many years to expose the ill-treatment of prisoners in Kazakhstan. Vadim has faced consistent persecution under the Nazarbayev regime for his human rights related work. Vadim was awarded the prestigious 18th annual Ludovic-Trarieux Human Rights Prize for lawyers working in defense of human rights.

 In December 2012, Vadim was sent to prison for 12 years on charges on which he had first been acquitted. The trial has been condemned for breaching Kazhakstan’s own court procedures. This outrageous verdict was upheld by the Court of Taraz on 14 February 2013. We continue to protest his innocence.

Campaign for Social, Democratic, and Human Rights

Protests have been organised in many countries against the regime in Kazakhstan. These have been organized across Europe by Campaign Kazakhstan amongst many others. The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers aims to give maximum support to human rights defenders involved in highlighting human rights abuses in Kazakhstan and also supporting the struggle for human and workers rights.

In Kazakhstan we support the campaign for free speech, freedom of the media, freedom of public assembly, the right to establish trade unions and political parties independent of the government, to organise in the workplace and the community without interference from the state, to strike and demonstrate.


Human Rights Watch report on oil workers strike - http://www.hrw.org/reports/2012/09/10/striking-oil-striking-workers-0