Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
c. Freedom of Religion
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes sexual abuse and rape, and imposes penalties up to eight years of imprisonment, or life imprisonment if the crime was committed against a minor. There were reports of police and judicial reluctance to act on reports of rape, particularly in spousal rape cases. According to human rights defenders, fewer than 1 percent of rape complaints made it to court.
On February 9, a court in Almaty sentenced both a former prosecutor and a former manager of a local bank to eight years of imprisonment for committing a rape in 2019. Police initially refused to record the complaint when the victim first reported the crime but later officially registered the case due to her lawyer’s persistence. Police resistance, procrastination, attempts to hush up the complainant, and other hurdles delayed the investigation. The victim faced pressure and intimidation from the assailants’ relatives who tried to force her to withdraw the complaint.
On August 10, a court in Almaty convicted former KNB captain Sabyrzhan Narynbayev for attempted rape and sentenced him to eight years of imprisonment. In September 2020 Narynbayev gave a ride to Aiya Umurzakova and on the way to her village he assaulted and beat her, tried to rape her, and threatened her life. Lawyers persuaded her to file a complaint with police. Before and during the court proceedings, Umurzakova reported pressure and threats from the assailant and his family and attempts to persuade her to drop the case by offering money. A fraud case was launched against her for allegedly taking money from the defendant to withdraw her complaint but afterwards refusing to do so. The court found Umurzakova not guilty of fraud.
NGOs estimated that more than 400 women died annually from spousal violence. The law specifies various types of domestic violence, such as physical, psychological, sexual, and economic violence. It outlines the responsibilities of local and national governments and NGOs in supporting victims of domestic violence. The law has mechanisms for issuing restraining orders and provides for administrative detention of alleged abusers for 24 hours. The law sets the maximum sentence for conviction of spousal assault and battery at 10 years in prison, the same as for assault. The law permits prohibiting offenders from living with the victim if the offender has alternatives. It allows victims of domestic violence to receive appropriate care regardless of the place of residence. The law replaces financial penalties with administrative arrest if having the perpetrator pay fines damages the victim’s interests.
Research conducted by the Ministry of National Economy indicated that most victims of partner abuse never tell anyone of their abuse, due in part to social stigma. Police intervened in family disputes only when they believed the abuse was life threatening. Police often encouraged the two parties to reconcile. NGOs also noted that the lenient penalty for conviction of domestic violence – an administrative offense with a maximum sentence of 15 days’ imprisonment – did not deter even previously convicted offenders.
Police reported that the number of domestic violence offenses decreased 8 percent following a significant increase in 2020. The law was changed to shift the responsibility to police for collecting evidence for these offenses; previously it was the responsibility of victims. Penalties were increased and reconciliation procedures were reformed.
The government maintained domestic violence shelters in each region. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, there were 49 crisis centers, 39 of which had shelters.
Activists criticized the government for failing to ensure that all persons in vulnerable situations were protected against domestic violence. Even when victims reported violence, activists stated police were reluctant to act. Police sometimes did not issue restraining orders to assailants and tried to dissuade the victim from filing a complaint, creating an environment of impunity for aggressors. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, reforms included a formal training for police and judges on domestic violence and a repeat-offender plan that increased the use of restraining orders and expanded penalties to include imprisonment.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Although prohibited by law, the practice of kidnapping women and girls for forced marriage continued in some remote areas. The law prescribes a prison sentence of seven to 12 years for conviction of kidnapping. A person who voluntarily releases an abductee is absolved of criminal responsibility; consequently, a typical bride-kidnapper is not necessarily held criminally responsible. Law enforcement agencies often advised abductees to resolve their situations themselves. According to civil society organizations, making a complaint to police could be a very complex process and often subjected families and victims to humiliation.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment remained a problem. No law protects women from sexual harassment, and only the use of force or taking advantage of a victim’s physical helplessness during sexual assault carries criminal liability. There were no reports of any prosecutions. Victims of sexual harassment in the workplace were hesitant to file complaints due to shame or fear of job loss.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. There were no reports of educational problems related to women’s reproductive health and hygiene. Access to government-provided sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors was limited. Women were able to access emergency contraception as part of clinical rape management, but most women privately procured such treatment at their own expense to avoid state-run clinics’ bureaucratic examination requirements.
Discrimination: The constitution and law provide for equal rights and freedoms for men and women. The law prohibits discrimination based on gender, but discrimination remained a problem. Significant salary gaps between men and women remained. According to observers, women in rural areas faced greater discrimination than women in urban areas and suffered from a greater incidence of domestic violence, limited opportunities for education and employment, limited access to information, and discrimination in land rights and property rights.
Trafficking in Persons
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
There were reports of anti-LGBTQI+ violence, but there were no government statistics on discrimination or violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The most frequent forms of abuse were verbal insults, harassment, interference in private life, and physical assaults. Activists reported that beating, extortion, and harassment of LGBTQI+ individuals were not uncommon, although typically unreported.
Prosecutions of anti-LGBTQI+ violence were rare. NGOs reported members of the LGBTQI+ community seldom turned to law enforcement agencies to report violence against them because they feared hostility, ridicule, and further violence. They were reluctant to use mechanisms such as the national commissioner for human rights to seek remedies for harms inflicted because they did not trust these mechanisms to safeguard their identities, especially regarding employment.
On May 29 and July 29, training events related to LGBTQI+ rights conducted by the NGO Feminita were disrupted by aggressive groups of men in Shymkent and Karaganda, respectively. In both cases police removed the activists from their rented private meeting space, ostensibly to protect them from further violence. Feminita posted a video on social media of police pulling one Feminita member by the hair into an unmarked police car in Skymkent. In both cases Feminita activists reported that police treated them not as victims but as criminal suspects. No members of the mob that disrupted the training sessions were arrested or charged in either city.
Human rights activists reported that the COVID-19 pandemic situation also impacted LGBTQI+ communities negatively. At home more often due to public health restrictions, LGBTQI+ persons often endured stress and abuse from family members who disapproved of their status. Transgender persons were vulnerable to abuse during security checks by police patrols due to their lack of appropriate identification. Transgender persons were among the first whom employers dismissed from jobs because they often worked without official contracts. Due to their lack of appropriate documentation and contracts, transgender persons were often not eligible for relief programs offered by the government to support needy individuals.
Although a process for gender reassignment exists, the law requires a transgender person to fulfill psychiatric and physical requirements (such as undergoing gender reassignment surgery) before being able to receive identity documents that align with the person’s outward gender. Many individuals lived with nonconforming documents for years and reported problems with securing employment, housing, and health care. The law includes behavioral disorders as reasons for denial of gender reassignment, which expanded the categories of persons who could be denied such treatments.
Section 7. Worker Rights
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
Laws and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on gender, age, disability, race, ethnicity, language, place of residence, religion, political opinion, affiliation with tribe or class, public associations, or property, social, or official status. The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination with respect to sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV-positive status, or having other communicable diseases. Transgender individuals are effectively barred from working in law enforcement or serving in the military. The law prohibits persons with specific, listed medical conditions or diseases from working in law enforcement agencies or serving in the military.
The government did not effectively enforce the law and regulations on discrimination. NGOs reported no government body assumed responsibility for implementing antidiscrimination legislation. Most discrimination violations are an administrative offense punishable by a fine that is not commensurate with those for similar violations. Cases such as illegal termination of labor contracts due to pregnancy, disability, or minority status are considered criminal offenses and are punishable by penalties that are commensurate with violations related to civil rights, such as election interference.
Discrimination occurred with respect to employment and occupation for persons with disabilities, transgender persons, orphans, and former convicts. Transgender persons experienced workplace discrimination and were repeatedly fired for their gender identity. Disability NGOs reported that obtaining employment was difficult for persons with disabilities. The law does not require equal pay for equal work for women and men.
On October 12, the president signed into law amendments that removed prohibitions on women from performing work in difficult, harmful, and hazardous working conditions. The list previously had prohibited women from working in 213 professions and jobs.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Wage and Hour Laws: The national monthly minimum wage was above the poverty line. Every region estimated its own poverty line. The law stipulates the normal workweek should not exceed 40 hours. It limits heavy manual labor or hazardous work to 36 hours per week. The law limits overtime to two hours per day, or one hour per day for heavy manual labor, and requires overtime to be paid at least at a 50 percent premium. The law prohibits compulsory overtime and any overtime for work in hazardous conditions. The law provides that labor agreements may stipulate the length of working time, holidays, and paid annual leave for each worker. By law employees are entitled to 24 days of paid annual leave per year.
During the summer multiple strikes took place in the oil services sector in Mangystau Region regarding wage discrepancies among direct employees of oil companies, prime contractors, and subcontractors. The strikes followed changes made in December 2020 to the contract of the state-owned oil company KazMunaiGaz that stated contracted employees’ wages should not be lower than the wages of the host company’s employees with similar job responsibilities and qualifications. In September, KazMunaiGaz CEO Alike Aidarbayev stated subcontractors misinterpreted the changes, which do not apply to all subcontracted companies.
Occupational Safety and Health: The government set occupational health and safety standards that were appropriate to the main industries. The law requires employers to suspend work that could endanger the life or health of workers and to warn workers of any harmful or dangerous work conditions or the possibility of any occupational disease. Occupational safety and health standards were set and conditions were inspected by government experts. The law specifically grants workers the right to remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without suffering adverse employment action. In June the government approved the Occupational Health and Safety Action Plan, effective until 2025. The plan aims to achieve a 10 percent reduction of industrial injuries and a 20 percent decrease in the number of workers laboring in hazardous conditions.
In some regions doctors complained of a shortage of medical equipment, test kits, and health specialists in rural hospitals. A doctor from Jambyl Province reportedly stated she was the only infectious disease specialist on hand to deal with COVID-19 patients at the main hospital in the Merki District, which has an estimated 85,000 inhabitants.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection enforced standards for minimum wages, workhour restrictions, overtime, and occupational safety and health. By law labor inspectors have the right to conduct announced and unannounced inspections of workplaces to detect violations. Both types of inspections take place only after written notification, except in cases where the inspection is conducted based on a request from law enforcement authorities or a complaint related to certain extreme health and safety hazards. From January to June, inspectors conducted 1,900 inspections and detected 3,000 violations of the law. An FTUK analysis concluded that violations centered on wage arrears or delays, illegal or forced layoffs, labor safety, violations of collective agreements, unequal payments, work conditions of local and foreign workers, and incorrect indexation of wages. The absence of local labor unions contributed to some of these violations.
The law provides for so-called employer’s declarations. Under this system, labor inspectors may extend a certificate of trust to enterprises that complied with labor legislation requirements. Certified enterprises are exempt from labor inspections for three years. In the opinion of labor rights activists, the practice may worsen labor conditions and conceal problems.
By law any enterprise or company may form a production council to address labor safety problems between representatives of an employer and employees. These councils are eligible to assign technical labor inspectors to conduct their own inspections of the employees’ work conditions, and their resolutions are mandatory for both employers and employees. In April there were 15,575 production councils and 17,595 volunteer labor inspectors, according to the government.
The government did not consistently enforce the law. Violations of law are considered administrative offenses, not criminal ones, and penalties for violations of minimum wage and overtime law were not commensurate with crimes such as fraud. For example a minimal punishment for conviction of fraud is a substantial fine or imprisonment for up to two years, while violations of wage or overtime payment provisions result in fines. Penalties for violations of occupational health and safety law were also not commensurate with crimes such as negligence. There were reports some employers ignored regulations concerning occupational health and safety.
Regarding workplace injuries, 520 workers in the processing sector were injured, 349 employees in mining were injured, and 229 workers in the construction sector sustained injuries. The highest number of fatalities – 54 workers – was recorded in the construction sector, followed by 39 fatalities in the processing sector and 24 fatalities in mining. The government attributed many labor-related deaths to antiquated equipment, insufficient detection and prevention of occupational diseases in workers engaged in harmful labor, and disregard for safety regulations. Experts also cited low qualifications of workers, a deficit of qualified safety engineers, and corruption in the companies as other leading reasons for occupational accidents. The most dangerous jobs were in mining, construction, and oil and gas, according to an expert analysis of occupations with the highest fatalities. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection reported that in 2020, 23 percent of employees worked in hazardous conditions.
According to the FTUK, in 78 percent of fatal accidents in 2020, employers were blamed for violating occupational health and safety regulations. Some companies tried to avoid payments to injured workers. Companies may refuse to compensate workers for nonfatal industrial injuries if the worker did not comply with labor safety requirements.
In August the Karaganda Labor Inspection Department found liable the management of steel producer ArcelorMittal Temirtau (AMT) for a May 26 accident in which two crane operators sustained severe burns after a cast iron ladle fell during crane lifting operations, spilling its contents onto the two operators. The Karaganda Labor Inspection Department assigned 100 percent of the blame for the accident to AMT for unsatisfactory organization of labor and use of broken equipment.
Informal Sector: The government reported in 2020 that 1.22 million citizens of the country’s workforce of nine million persons worked in the informal economy. Government statistics defined the informally employed as those who were not registered as either employed or unemployed. The government also categorized those individuals who were self-paid or self-employed as working in the informal economy. A Ministry of Finance spokesperson separately reported during the year that up to one-third of workers were engaged in the informal sector. Informal workers were concentrated in the retail trade, transport services, agriculture, real estate, beauty and hair dressing salons, and laundry and dry-cleaning businesses. Small entrepreneurs and their employees for the most part worked without health, social, or pension benefits, and did not pay into the social security system.