The Republic of Kazakhstan’s government and constitution concentrate power in the presidency. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev became president after June 2019 elections that were marked, according to an observation mission by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, by election day violations, including ballot stuffing and falsification of vote counts; restrictions on the freedoms of assembly, expression, and association; and “scant respect for democratic standards” overall. Former president Nursultan Nazarbayev enjoys broad, lifetime legal authority over a range of government functions. The executive branch controls the legislature and the judiciary, as well as regional and local governments. Changes or amendments to the constitution require presidential consent. On August 12, in the country’s only national election during the year, the legislatures of oblasts and cities of national significance chose 17 of 49 senators for parliament’s upper house in an indirect election tightly controlled by local governors working in coordination with the presidential administration.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs supervises the national police force, which has primary responsibility for internal security. The Committee for National Security also oversees internal and border security, as well as national security, antiterrorism efforts, and the investigation and interdiction of illegal or unregistered groups, such as extremist groups, military groups, political parties, religious groups, and trade unions. The committee reports directly to the president, and its chairman sits on the Security Council, chaired by former president Nazarbayev. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Security forces committed abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killing by or on behalf of the government; torture by and on behalf of the government; political prisoners; problems with the independence of the judiciary; restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on political participation; corruption; trafficking in persons; and restrictions on workers’ freedom of association.
The government selectively prosecuted officials who committed abuses, especially in high-profile corruption cases. Nonetheless, corruption remained widespread, and impunity existed for many in positions of authority as well as for those connected to law enforcement entities.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups
The official policy for languages in the country is termed trilingualism. Kazakh is the official state language, Russian has equal status as the language of interethnic communication, and English is the language of successful integration into global economics. The law requires that presidential candidates are fluent in Kazakh. The constitution prohibits discrimination based on language, but all prospective civil servants are required to pass a Kazakh language exam.
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on race or ethnic origin. Ethnic minorities, however, faced problems in various areas of life. In May the government set up a Committee on Development of Interethnic Relations as part of the Ministry of Information and Social Development. The new committee is responsible for implementation of the government policy on interethnic relations, and the Institute of Ethnic-Political Studies under the ministry performs analysis and research and provides expert professional recommendations on government policy.
At the high levels of national government, three of the 23 cabinet members were non-Kazakhs. Ethnic minorities were underrepresented in other government bodies as well. Human rights observers noted that ethnic minorities were not incorporated into the country’s social and political mechanisms and their role was shrinking. They also noted that the government should–but did not–provide minorities equal participation in social life, equal access to government service, equal business opportunities, and most importantly, equal treatment before the law. Observers further noted that pushing a significant part of the population out from the country’s social and political field (marginalizing) would likely result in social tension.
On February 8, riots broke out in Masanchi, Sortobe, Bular Batyr, and Aukhatty villages in Qorday district. The riots were provoked by the following two incidents the day before the riots: a road traffic incident in which an elderly man was beaten by men of Dungan origin, and a fight between local Dungans and ethnic Kazakh police officers. Information about the incidents was shared in the community and on social media, and as a result rioting began and led to looting and the destruction of homes. Thousands of Dungans fled to the neighboring Kyrgyz Republic. Authorities declared an emergency situation in the Qorday district, deployed police special forces, and established police checkpoints around the four villages. Authorities launched more than 120 criminal investigations, 11 of them on homicide charges. Prosecutors reported that 11 victims died and dozens of rioters were arrested. There were 192 individuals, including 19 policemen, injured, and 168 houses and 122 vehicles were damaged. The province governor, his deputy, several other senior government officials, and police officers were dismissed. On March 1, President Tokayev visited the region and met with local residents. He stated that the riots were a result of a conflict between two organized criminal groups that were fighting for control over illegal economic activities.
On April 24, the Qorday local court convicted two participants of the February riots. Ersman Yunhu was sentenced to 2.5 years of restriction of freedom and six months of correction works. His son, Marat Yunhu, received 2.5 years of imprisonment.
Observers criticized authorities for failing to admit that the violence was primarily aimed against Dungans, since the majority of the destroyed property was owned by Dungans, and 10 ethnic-Dungan citizens were killed, compared with a single ethnic-Kazakh citizen. On May 14, the Association of Dungans in Kazakhstan appealed to the UN and other international organizations to urge the country’s authorities to stop persecution, stop violations of the rights of Dungans, and hold accountable those who were responsible for torture and abuse. The association also called for an independent investigation of the February 8 incident, for restitution of the damage inflicted during the riots, and for punishment of those who disseminate anti-Dungan, offensive, and hateful statements in media and social media.
In May prosecutors reported that they were investigating 29 criminal cases with 59 suspects charged for homicide, mass disorder, attempts on lives of law enforcement officers, theft, and looting.
In August the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination reviewed information about the Qorday incident and requested that the government provide a response before October 30; “conduct [an] effective, impartial and transparent investigation of the events;” ensure effective protection of the Dungan minority; provide reparation, including health and psychological support; and guarantee access by independent observers to the Qorday district. By year’s end there was no publicly released response from the government.