Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

The Republic of Kazakhstan has a parliamentary system dominated by President Nazarbayev's Nur Otan party. Nur Otan won every seat in the lower house of parliament in the August 2007 national elections, which local and international observers concluded fell short of international standards, despite some improvements. The constitution concentrates power in the presidency, permitting the president to control regional and local governments and to exercise significant influence over the legislature and judiciary. Democratic political institutions, civil society, and independent media remained underdeveloped. Severe limits on citizens' right to change their government; lack of an independent judiciary; restrictions on freedoms of speech, assembly, and association; and pervasive corruption were the most severe political and human rights problems facing the country.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

The fundamental strategic aim of the U.S. Government in the country is a stable, secure, democratic, and prosperous society. The U.S. Government supports the development of democratic systems and practices in the country and urges the government to bring the country's laws into compliance with international standards and its public commitments as future chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. To help the country prepare for the chairmanship, the U.S. Government strongly encourages the government to respect and support the civil and religious rights of its citizens, political and religious pluralism, and freedom of speech and the press. The United States actively promotes these goals through public and private advocacy, targeted assistance and programming efforts, and coordination with civil society actors.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

The U.S. Government urges and works with the government to continue to bring local laws and procedures into compliance with its OSCE commitments and other international standards. The U.S. Government provides technical assistance to the Ministry of Information and Culture, the Ministry of Justice, and various government agencies through implementing partners, and U.S. officials work with counterparts at the Ministry of Justice and other government agencies to prepare the country's 10-year legal strategy. U.S. officials will monitor the implementation of recently amended media, political party, and election legislation and encourage the country to take further steps toward political liberalization, such as adoption of legislation providing access to government information and permitting freedom of assembly. The U.S. Government participated in an international advocacy campaign to urge the country to ratify the First Optional Protocol to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which it did in February 2009. The U.S. Government and its partners were instrumental in developing new legislation to provide assistance to victims of violence, including trafficking victims, and the U.S. Government is assisting in implementation by providing training programs for law enforcement and judicial officials, and victim assistance programs. 

The U.S. Government uses a variety of diplomatic and assistance tools to support democratic institutions in the country, including the judiciary. For example, to encourage judicial transparency, the United States has partnered with the country’s Supreme Court to provide training and technical expertise for utilization of an audio/video recording system for court proceedings. The system has received significant support from both citizens and legal professionals, and a recent survey revealed that judges and defendants had increased confidence in judicial outcomes.

The U.S. Government uses targeted exchange programs to promote good governance. Members of parliament recently participated in a legislative exchange program in the United States that focused primarily on issues of accountability and decentralization of power.

The United States is heavily engaged in developing civil society and promoting political and religious pluralism. One U.S. partner, with the government's support, has pioneered a nationwide initiative to bring government, civil society, business, and media leaders together to address key policy issues, such as decentralizing power and promoting rule of law. This initiative includes grants to local NGOs to support grassroots advocacy campaigns related to the policy issues under discussion. Other U.S. programs focus on providing effective financial incentives for private sector contributions to NGOs and developing advanced lobbying and communication skills among NGOs as they become more active partners with the government. The U.S. Government supports two political/civil society discussion clubs in Astana and Almaty and continues to network with democracy information centers in four cities across the country. The United States actively engages with local political parties and provides assistance with internal party rules and procedures, outreach and communication strategies, policy development, ethics, and coalition building. Through an ongoing small grants program, the U.S. Government funds a variety of civil society projects, including projects to protect children's rights, prevent violence and discrimination against women, train and develop NGOs, monitor human rights observance by local police, and conduct seminars on religious extremism and religious freedom and tolerance. The United States also uses exchange programs to train local political activists and human rights advocates to monitor elections, promote religious diversity, and advocate for human rights.

The U.S. Government is directly supporting independent media through a regional satellite television broadcasting program to increase access to objective reporting on the region. The U.S. Government funds professional, legal, and technical support and training for media outlets, journalists, and media-related organizations on a variety of issues, including libel, advertising, language requirement, and licensing. The U.S. Government actively promotes the participation of local journalists in exchange programs, including the International Visitors Program. In 2008 several journalists went to the United States to observe the presidential election. The U.S. Government actively reaches out to the media community and engages with professional organizations such as the Editor-in-Chief Club. At the request of the Club, the U.S. Government is arranging for a U.S. media professional to work as an advisor to two major TV outlets in the country.