Kazakhstan’s contrite response to human rights criticism

SEPT 14, 2012 — The Kazakh government appears willing to learn from mistakes made in the run-up to last year’s Zhanaozen riot.

STORY: Accusations from Human Rights Watch (HRW) that the Kazakh government had abused workers’ rights in the run-up to a deadly riot in December were met with an unusually contrite response (Sept. 11).

Instead of refuting the HRW accusations that the local authorities and energy companies — KarazhanbasMunai, Erasi Caspian Contractor and OzenMunaiGas — had harassed the workers and violated their right to protest during the seven month strike before the riot in which 16 people died, the Kazakh foreign ministry issued a statement apologising and admitting that mistakes were made.

“The company management and authorities systematically failed to address the concerns of the oil workers,” the foreign ministry statement said.

“The dispute was allowed to fester, creating an environment which enabled a small group of individuals to turn what had been a long-running, relatively peaceful protest into a violent riot.”

For Kazakhstan, so often defensive and prickly towards foreign criticism, this is a big statement.

The riots created one of the most serious challenges to President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s 20 year rule and triggered a backlash against the country’s opposition.

It may also, importantly, have been a watershed for workers in Kazakhstan. Since then a series of threatened strikes at factories around the country have led to salary increases and could even lead to improved workers’ rights. They’ve certainly marked their card with these statements.

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This story was first published in issue 26 of the weekly Kazakhstan News Extra. To subscribe and for more information click here

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