UNITED NATIONS (INPS) - The UN General Assembly unanimously adopted on December 17 the revised UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMRs). This followed a four-year revision process after a 2010 UN General Assembly resolution, which requested revision of the SMRs “so that they reflect recent advances in correctional science and best practices”.

Given that the last stage of negotiations was hosted by the government of South Africa in Cape Town, it was decided that these revised prison standards would be known as the ‘Nelson Mandela Rules’ in order to honour the legacy of the late South African President, in prison himself for 27 years and a committed advocate for the rights of prisoners.

- Photo: 2020

Kazakhstan Concludes One Year of Transition With President Tokayev

Viewpoint by Ramesh Jaura

BERLIN | NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan (IDN) On June 12, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev completed the first year of his term as President of Kazakhstan, traversing a road to multifarious reforms at home, reflecting the maturity and stable political transition in Central Asia’s biggest nation-state. At the same time, he has been strengthening bilateral and multilateral relations, building on Kazakhstan’s rich experience in negotiating peaceful ways out of conflictive situations.

President Tokayev succeeded Kazakhstan’s first president Nursultan Nazarbayev a towering figure in Central Asia who ruled for 29 yearsgarnering 71 per cent of the popular vote in 2019 elections. He launched a package of significant political reforms generating a new stage in the liberalization of Kazakh socio-political life.

For the purpose, at the end of May 2020, the Kazakh President signed several laws. These include the laws “On the procedure for organizing and holding peaceful assemblies”, “On introducing amendments to the Constitutional Law”, “On Elections in the Republic”, and “On introducing amendments and additions to the Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan On Political Parties”.

These evolutionary regulations and the transformations envisaged are part of the package of political reforms put forward by the President as part of the National Council of Public Trust. Their approval is vital for realizing the concept of a “state that listens” and the increasing role of civil society. This, in turn, would encourage pluralism of opinions, alternative views, constructive standpoints and the recognition of individual responsibility.

The new law on rallies greatly simplifies the legal regulation of peaceful assemblies. Independent experts, civic and human rights activists, and non-governmental organizations participated in the process of drafting the legislation. The result of the multi-level discussion was a change in the initially laid down provisions aimed to further liberalization.

The law is fully consistent with Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The document sets out the basic principles of peaceful assemblies: they must be legal, voluntary, not violent, and not pose a danger to either the state or citizens. Significantly, excluded are also bans and obligations restricting the activities of journalists.

Now, public spaces in the cities of the country can be used by citizens to hold peaceful assemblies. Besides, the notification procedure for peaceful assemblies will be five days instead of 15.

Explaining the reform package, the Kazakh President said: “We are shaping a new political culture. Pluralism of opinions and alternative views are coming to the fore. The authorities do not believe that disagreement is destructive.” It is time for society and the state to treat correctly public expression of views. “And it is better to come to this independently, consciously, and not forcedly”, President Tokayev said.

The new legislation clearly outlines the basic principles of peaceful assemblies: they must be legal, voluntary, not violent, and not pose a danger to either the state or citizens. The principles of human rights are observed – “everything that is not forbidden is allowed”. And, in the spirit of Polish Marxist and German Social Democrat Rosa Luxemburg, executed in the Weimar Republic in 1919: “Your rights end where the rights of others begin”.

The previous relevant law was adopted 25 years ago and has long required a conceptual review, according to Kazakh experts and international observers. The new law of 2020 fully complies with international standards. It ensures the right to freedom of expression.

The new law on elections is also being improved. The aim is to further strengthen the rights of women and youth to participate in the country’s political life, establishing the introduction of an obligatory 30 per cent quota for women. Young people under 29 years of age are to be included in party registry lists.

Currently, 22 per cent of members of parliament in Kazakhstan are women (the average representation of women in the OECD legislatures is 30 per cent). There are 29 women in the Mazhilis of Parliament (the Lower House), and six in the Senate. But young people under the age of 29 are currently not represented in Parliament.

Commenting the implementation of the reform package, the Chair of the EU-Kazakhstan Friendship Group in the European Parliament, Ryszard Czarnecki, said: “In Europe, the prevailing opinion is that Kassym-Jomart Tokayev … is building a social welfare state, where special attention is paid to reducing inequality, improving the quality of life of every Kazakh, and where priority is given to solving the day-to-day problems of the people”.

One of the key initiatives the Kazakh President, closely followed in the European Union, was the creation of the National Council of Public Trust, which discusses the most pressing issues on the domestic agenda, Czarnecki told KAZINFORM news agency.

“As a result of the work of this advisory body, the most important pieces of legislation in the history of modern Kazakhstan law have been developed, namely the new law on political parties and the law on peaceful assemblies,” noted Czarnecki, the Polish member of the European Parliament.

The Kazakh President has brought a new impetus, safeguarding evolutionary development. “Ensuring the continuity of power, Tokayev laid a new vector for state development based on dialogue with society, pluralism of opinions and diversity of views,” noted the The Economic Times, an eminent Indian newspaper.

The Kazakh President had supported the idea of including civil society representatives on the boards of directors of socially significant enterprises in the quasi-public sector. The country’s foreign workers quota will also be reduced by 40 per cent next year from 49,000 to 29,000. The government will continue work to prevent discrimination against local workers by foreign employers.

A significant achievement of President Tokayev is to increase public confidence in the state. One of the effective steps in this direction is the creation of a Presidential Youth Personnel Reserve, said the Indian newspaper.

The Kazakh President also gave instructions to reduce the number of national companies and the cost of branding events. The introduction of personal responsibility of heads of state bodies, including ministers and akims (governors), in case their deputies are involved in corruption cases, is also an indicator of the openness of the authorities.

The President has a rich political experience having served as Chairman of Senate, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. He is well-versed in politics and diplomacy acquired over decades. It is not surprising, therefore, that he has strengthened the country’s international position.

In the first year in office, his most significant visits abroad included State visits to China, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Official visits to Russia in April 2019 (first abroad as acting President), the United Arab Emirates in January 2020, and Germany in February 2020.

Multilateral diplomacy involved participation in the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly in September 2019, the Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in Uzbekistan in June 2019, a regular session of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council in Armenia in October 2019, and the  Summit of the Heads of States Council of the Commonwealth of Independent States in October 2019.

Besides, in the backdrop of the peace deal between the USA and Taliban, the Kazakh President has instructed the government to strengthen coordination with foreign partners in a bilateral format and within the multilateral negotiation mechanisms to counter terrorism, extremism, illegal migration and drug trafficking. He wants Kazakhstan to be more actively engaged in promoting its trade and economic interests in Afghanistan. [IDN-InDepthNews – 13 June 2020]

Photo: Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Source: Kazakh Permanent Mission to the UN in New York.

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