Unrest In Kazakhstan Brings Human Rights Concerns

After weeks of violent unrest in Kazakhstan in reaction to anti-government protests, the Kazakh government claims to have retaken control of government buildings in all regions of the country. The unrest has killed over a hundred people, and thousands have been injured or arrested.

Tensions in Kazakhstan boiled over in the country’s remote west last Sunday in response to the government raising fuel prices. Apart from the increased fuel prices, protesters are also reportedly unhappy with their country’s political and economic situation, with quality of life remaining low, corruption rife, and the authoritarian system of government unchanged for the past three decades. The protestors hoped that the resignation of long-time former president Nursultan Nazarbayev would bring change, but this hasn’t been the case, with the former leader still playing a prominent role in the country’s politics. The protests quickly spread throughout the country, leading to unrest in recent weeks.

While an almost week-long internet blackout has restricted access to Kazakh news and made it difficult to verify these claims, the government reported on Sunday that at least 164 people have died during the uproar. This includes 103 in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city. But government officials from the Interior Ministry said that the situation has been “stabilized,” with Interior Minister Erlan Turgumbayev claiming, “[T]oday the situation is stabilised in all regions of the country.”

The Guardian reports that almost 10,000 protestors have been arrested by government forces. This comes after Kazakhstan’s president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, ordered government forces to “shoot to kill without warning” in an attempt to crush the protests. A Russian-led peacekeeping force has also recently entered the country at Tokayev’s request in an attempt to stabilize the situation and disperse protesters.

“[T]he counter-terror operation is continuing in a bid to re-establish order in the country,” Turgumbayev said. Public protest is illegal in Kazakhstan without government approval and the Kazakh government has dealt harshly with previous protests. This raises concerns over human rights abuses in the country.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has previously raised concerns over the violent crackdown on protests. “International law is clear: people have the right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression,” Bachelet says. “At the same time, protesters, no matter how angry or aggrieved they may be, should not resort to violence against others.” Ms. Bachelet has called for all those arrested for peacefully protesting to be released and for all allegations of human rights to be independently investigated.

The international community has a vital role to play in helping end Kazakhstan’s ongoing unrest. We must advocate for Kazakh civilians and call for the Kazakh government to respect its citizens’ rights to protest and peaceful assembly. The international community and Kazakhstan’s regional allies should also hold the government responsible for any human rights violations committed, including illegal detention and violence against peaceful protesters.

Reports of the government ending the five-day internet blackout and the planned withdrawal of Russian-led peacekeepers are welcome. This will allow the international community to monitor any continuing unrest for any further government crackdowns on dissent. It will also make it easier for human rights activists to safeguard the well-being and human rights of peaceful protesters.

These actions can help ensure that any further incidents of abuse against the civilian population can be prevented or punished.

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