Thank you for joining me today. Qassiyetti Ramazan Aiy Qutty bolsyn! for those who celebrate. It has been a wonderful visit to Kazakhstan – my first time to your country and to the Central Asia region. I am stunned by your country’s natural beauty, the warm welcome I received both in Nur-Sultan and in Almaty, and the spirit of community I see unite us all during the holy month of Ramadan.
I want to start by highlighting that the United States remains committed to Kazakhstan’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity. Just as we are committed to the Central Asia region and to working with your governments through the C5+1 diplomatic platform to promote greater economic prosperity and stability and to address transboundary challenges such as COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.
For more than 30 years, the United States has partnered with Kazakhstan, supporting Kazakhstan’s security and democratic growth as anchors to its sovereignty and stability.
And I acknowledge that this is not an abstract idea for Kazakhstan. With Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine, and Russia’s politicians too often disparaging Kazakhstan’s sovereignty, we understand the Russian government’s actions are more than just a headline for the people of Kazakhstan given your historical and cultural ties. We welcome Kazakhstan’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and full enforcement of international sanctions against Russia.
Protection of human rights, including freedom of expression and assembly, and respect for independent media, is essential for a healthy, thriving country and an accountable government. The January unrest, centered here in Almaty, tested these values. How Kazakhstan responds to these events matters – both in words and actions. This message is one I emphasized throughout my meetings here. Ahead of my visit, I learned of an inspiring quote by your national poet, Abai [ah-BAI], “your heart is like a mirror, if you don’t keep it clean it will reflect the world distorted,” which I have thought of often throughout my time here.
In Nur-Sultan, I had an opportunity to reiterate to Foreign Minister Tileuberdi and other government officials, our support for President Tokayev’s democratic and economic reform agenda, emphasizing the importance of tangible progress and full implementation, with meaningful contributions from independent civil society and enhanced protection for human rights, including press freedom.
I joined Special Representative for International Cooperation Yerzhan Kazykhan at the inaugural High-Level Human Rights Dialogue to discuss bilateral and multilateral topics, including Kazakhstan’s country priorities in the UN Human Rights Council.
I was glad to discuss key human rights issues including the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly, and respect for the rights of disabled persons, members of the LGBTQI+ community, and political prisoners.
I had a chance to talk with civil society representatives in both Nur-Sultan and Almaty to hear about their efforts to promote rule of law, freedom of expression, elections monitoring, and legal protections for activists, particularly following the January unrest.
I met with religious leaders who shared with me Kazakhstan’s rich religious and cultural diversity during a multifaith Iftar.
I discussed the importance of supporting economic empowerment for Kazakhstani women from underrepresented groups and those working in underrepresented sectors.
I met with Almaty mayor Dossayev to discuss the January events and encourage more civil society inclusion as Almaty recovers.
I had a very sobering discussion, I must say, with ethnic Kazakh Xinjiang refugees and the organizations and individuals who have been providing assistance to them. We were able to discuss the challenges they face in light of the People’s Republic of China’s ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.
And finally, I was happy to present Shakhnoza Khassanova, Director of Sana Sezim, with the 2020 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Hero award, a celebration of her and her organization’s achievements in supporting victims of human trafficking despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. I also congratulated 2020 TIP Hero Nina Balabayeva, Director of Rodnik, on her efforts to combat human trafficking in Kazakhstan.
I was joined on this trip by the State Department’s Special Advisor for International Disability Rights, Sara Minkara. Sara leads our comprehensive strategy to promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities internationally and value-based inclusion.
While in Nur-Sultan, Special Advisor Minkara had the opportunity to visit the National Paralympic Training Center. She had fruitful discussions with the Center’s staff and Paralympic athletes not only on how Kazakhstan supports and prepares Paralympic athletes for global competitions, but also on the strong partnership between our two countries on sports diplomacy and inclusion programs.
Special Advisor Minkara also met with civil society representatives and alumni of U.S. exchange programs in Nur-Sultan and Almaty. She was thrilled to learn how these partners are advocating for disability rights and how the U.S. government can further work with the Government of Kazakhstan in these efforts.
To sum up, it has been a productive and informative trip. I am honored to have had the opportunity to meet with so many inspiring Kazakh leaders, both inside and outside the government. We believe Kazakhstan is a country with a bright future. Kazakhstan’s stability and prosperity depend on harnessing the full potential of its citizenry, strengthening human rights protections and developing a strong and vibrant civil society, as noted by President Tokayev.
The United States remains ready to support Kazakhstan’s reform initiatives, as we have for more than 30 years. We look forward to working together toward a more stable, secure, and prosperous future for Kazakhstan and the region.