The emergence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights UDHR, undeniably a watershed moment in international law and multilateralism, continues to inspire and guide us, today, in confronting the dynamic challenges to human dignity and equality around the world.
As we honor this milestone, it is crucial to recognize that the UDHR remains a living instrument – empowering people globally to strive for freedom, equality and dignity. It continues to prove, time and time again, a north star in our collective quest for a fairer, more just world.
The relationship between the European Union (EU) and Kazakhstan in the realm of human rights is steadily strengthening each year. My recent visit to Brussels, as well as the visit by the Parliamentarian delegation from Kazakhstan led by Aigul Kuspan, chairwoman of the Committee for International Affairs, Defense, and Security of the Mazhilis (Parliament), marks another significant step in this evolving partnership.
The discussions during the 20th meeting of the EU and Kazakhstan Parliamentary Cooperation Committee underscored the mutual commitment to addressing various aspects of cooperation, with a particular emphasis on human rights, among other crucial topics. In Kazakhstan, we are fully committed to these principles, and to the protection of human rights. The government is working hand-in-hand with civil society, as well as with our international partners, to drive reforms, in alignment with the path that President Tokayev has charted towards a Just and Fair Kazakhstan.
Our experience may offer some valuable lessons for the benefit of the global human rights landscape. For Kazakhstan, that would be our most significant tribute to the UDHR and its spirit.
Marking a significant advancement in this journey, on December 8, President Tokayev signed a critical Decree, ratifying an Action Plan to further human rights and the rule of law in Kazakhstan. This step reaffirms Kazakhstan’s dedication to meeting its international human rights obligations and enhancing its democratic institutions. The Plan, indicating a new chapter in the nation’s commitment to democratic reforms, entails a series of significant actions. These actions, ranging from legislative reforms addressing domestic violence and labor safety to collaborations with international bodies like the UN and OSCE, underscore Kazakhstan’s comprehensive approach to safeguarding human rights and democracy.
Furthermore, for Kazakhstan’s population, perhaps the most significant tool to enable effective access to human rights has been the renewal of our Constitution, which strengthened our values and set out new human rights safeguards – in particular, the appointment of the Human Rights Commissioner as a constitutional official.
We have set out to deliver a new settlement for our people which is in line with our unique national context and cultural values, but also informed by international best practice and the principles of the UDHR. Indeed, 75% of our constitutional amendments on human rights to date – including the abolishment of capital punishment – are aligned with the UN’s recommendations.
These constitutional reforms are not just legislative flourishes – but have a real impact on the ground. Indeed, the numbers speak for themselves. In 2021, the Ombudsperson’s office received 1,800 complaints, whilst it received thousands of appeals in the months following the Constitutional Reform. This surge highlights people’s ability to assert their human rights as well as renewed faith in the relevant process.
Further emphasizing Kazakhstan’s dedication to integrating international human rights norms into national legislation, Astana recently hosted the International Scientific and Practical Conference on December 7-8. This event, supporting the UN’s “Human Rights 75” initiative, saw participation from a wide range of stakeholders, including government representatives, NGOs, Ombudsmen of Turkic states, and experts.
Reform and progress on this important front do not, of course, happen overnight. To accelerate this process, we need to empower people across the country, through strengthening institutions and expanding democratic freedoms. The link between strong democratic values and human rights is incontestable.
In this respect, we will continue to institutionalize reforms that expand democratic freedoms – working closely with the UN, OSCE, and other key partners. We have taken significant steps over the last year to introduce more representation at the local and regional level, and to facilitate the registration of more political parties. This will have a direct influence on strengthening our democracy and human rights protections. History shows us that reforms are often connected to tragic events throughout history. Indeed, the UDHR was born out of the ashes of the Second World War, which created an urgent need for change. Similarly, the January events of 2022 – a tragedy for our country – proved to be a substantial turning point.
Alongside launching transformative reform, President Tokayev has also taken specific action to address the events of January. In particular, the institution of mass amnesty for non-violent protestors, and a major effort to address any instances of torture, have been significant.
While we are making greater progress than ever before – we acknowledge that our journey is far from complete. As we drive forward change, it is imperative to ensure that our reforms align with our unique history, culture, and national identity, while also resonating with the spirit and principles of the UDHR.
This journey of balancing progress with cultural and historical contexts is not unique to young democracies alone; it is a shared experience for many countries across the world, including those with long-standing democratic traditions. The pursuit of human rights is an ongoing endeavor, a perpetual work in progress – but an ideal worth striving for.
Yet as we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the UDHR, we find its values as relevant and guiding as ever in the face of a consistently evolving global landscape. In Kazakhstan, our commitment to upholding these values is as strong as ever. We stand dedicated to collaborating with our partners from across the world, translating these enduring principles into concrete actions and continuing our pursuit of a world where human rights are universally respected and cherished. This enduring commitment is a tribute to the vision set forth 75 years ago, a vision that continues to light our path forward in these uncertain times.