UN Human Rights Council Mum on Deadly Violence in Kazakhstan, One of its Members

Patrick Goodenough | January 6, 2022 | 11:21pm EST
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Protesters near an administrative building in Almaty, Kazakhstan on Wednesday. (Photo by -AFP via Getty Images)
Protesters near an administrative building in Almaty, Kazakhstan on Wednesday. (Photo by -AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – Mass arrests and the deaths of both protestors and security force personnel in Kazakhstan elicited a statement of concern Thursday from the U.N.’s top human rights official but the U.N. Human Rights Council – which Kazakhstan recently joined – remains silent.

Anti-government protests initially sparked by high fuel prices have turned violent at times, with protestors torching official buildings and clashing with police.

Authorities said 12 security force personnel had been killed, while a national police spokeswoman, referring to anti-government protestors, said “dozens of attackers were liquidated” in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty.

A state of emergency was declared and more than 2,000 arrests have been made, according to the interior ministry.

At the request of the country’s president, Russia and other allies in the Moscow-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) sent in 2,500 “peacekeeping” troops on Thursday.

Thursday was the third day of protests in Almaty, which had spread to it and other cities since first erupting in an oil town in Kazakhstan’s far south west on January 2.

Yet so far there has been no response from the Human Rights Council, the U.N.’s premier human rights body.

The Geneva-based council is not currently in session – its 49th regular session is scheduled to begin on February 28 – but in its 16-year history it has held 33 “special sessions,” called at short notice at the request of at least one-third of its 47 members. (The country targeted most frequently has been Israel, the focus of nine of the special sessions.)

An HRC spokesman confirmed early on Friday that no council member has yet asked for a special session.

“A request for a special session of the Human Rights Council must be led by member states – with at least one-third of its 47 members (16 countries) backing the request,” said Matt Brown. “As of now, no such request has been lodged with respect to the developing situation in Kazakhstan.”

Brown said the HRC secretariat itself does not offer reaction to human rights situations.

The HRC began 2022 with arguably its most controversial membership since its creation in 2006: For the first time, fewer than one-third of the 47 members meet the criteria set by Freedom House, in its annual assessment of countries’ political rights and civil liberties, to be graded as “free.”

Kazakhstan was among the “not free” candidate countries elected onto the HRC in secret ballot elections held at the U.N. General Assembly last October to fill one-third of the council’s seats. Of the 193 U.N. member-states, 184 voted in favor of its candidacy.

“The election of Kazakhstan to the main human rights body of the world organization means it is recognized as an active and responsible participant in fostering international standards in the field of human rights and freedoms protection,” the country’s foreign ministry said in a statement at the time.

Kazakhstan joined at least 15 other countries on the HRC with poor records on democracy and human rights protection: Cameroon, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Gabon, Libya, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Somalia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, and the Maduro regime in Venezuela.

Last fall’s election of countries like Kazakhstan onto the HRC was opposed by non-governmental organizations led by U.N. Watch. The Geneva-based NGO’s executive director, Hillel Neuer, recalled on Thursday that not a single European Union member-state had spoken out, and that at least 18 E.U. members voted for Kazakhstan’s candidacy

“Kazakhstan is now slaughtering protesters on the streets,” he tweeted. “Maybe Kazakhstan wanted to show the UNHRC that it was just like existing members Russia, China, Cuba, Venezuela, Pakistan, Libya, Sudan, Bolivia ...”

(Image: @HillelNeuer/Twitter)
(Image: @HillelNeuer/Twitter)

While HRC members have taken no action in response to the violence in Kazakhstan, U.N. high commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet did issue a statement on Thursday, expressing concern.

“International law is clear: people have the right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression,” she said. “At the same time, protesters, no matter how angry or aggrieved they may be, should not resort to violence against others.”

Bachelet also voiced concern about the arrests, and the government’s disruption of Internet services.

“Shutting down the Internet – in effecting curbing people’s access to information and their right to freedom of expression, assembly and participation, as well as a host of other rights – is not the answer to a crisis but risks fueling the violence and unrest.”

And on the entry of CSTO troops, she advised caution, stressing that the “use of force by all security forces, including foreign forces, to maintain and restore public order, should be guided by international law norms and standards applicable to law enforcement officials.”

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev with Rusian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi in 2019. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)
Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev with Rusian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi in 2019. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

In Washington, White House press secretary Jen Psaki also raised the CSTO deployment at the request of Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

“We have questions about the nature of this request and whether it has – it was a legitimate invitation or not,” she said. “We don’t know at this point.”

“We call on the CSTO collective peacekeeping forces and law enforcement to uphold international human rights obligations in order to support a peaceful resolution.”

State Department spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. has “questions about that deployment precisely because Kazakhstan, the government of Kazakhstan, has resources, has its own resources.”

Price also said that Secretary of State Antony Blinken had spoken to his Kazakh counterpart, Mukhtar Tileuberdi. Blinken reiterated U.S. “support for Kazakhstan’s constitutional institutions and media freedom and advocated for a peaceful, rights-respecting resolution to the crisis.”

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