Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the third in a series of Helsinki Commission hearings on Kazakhstan, which takes over the OSCE Chairmanship next year. In our first hearing, before the OSCE approved Astana’s candidacy, we examined Kazakhstan’s human rights record and related fitness for the position, as well as the implications of a Kazakh chairmanship for the OSCE and for the United States. Last July, the Commission looked at Astana’s progress in implementing reforms pledged by Foreign Minister Tazhin at the OSCE Ministerial in Madrid in November 2007, which were critical in gaining support by the United States and other countries for Kazakhstan’s bid.
This hearing continues that examination, as we rapidly approach January 2010. With time growing short, our purpose is to see what has been done, what remains to be done, and how the US Government and the Helsinki Commission can help promote and accelerate the reform process. I want to stress that we all have a large stake in Kazakhstan’s successful chairmanship.
Kazakh and international human rights organizations have carefully tracked Kazakhstan’s record. We will hear today in detail about the pluses and minuses of the legislative package passed at the end of last year. But I believe it would be fair to conclude that the human rights community in spring 2009 still has serious concerns.
So I was disturbed to read that the Speaker of Kazakhstan's upper house of parliament recently told the Director of the ODIHR that certain ODIHR recommendations "cannot be taken into account fully due to the specifics of our country."
In that connection, I recall that when the US delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly met President Nazarbaev in July and asked about human rights and democratization, he told us his country “cannot move faster than his giant neighbors Russia and China.”
It appears, therefore, that Kazakhstan does not intend to fully implement reforms recommended by the OSCE before taking charge of the organization. And Kazakh officials, it seems, have any number of reasons not to carry out reforms both needed and promised. But instead of excuses for inaction or half-measures, I would like to hear from them when substantive political change will take place that make Kazakhstan an exemplar of democracy and human rights observance.
Our witnesses today will enlighten us on these important issues. Before we hear their testimony, let me call on Co-Chairman Hastings for his remarks.