Kazakhstan Has Faced Numerous Claims Of Human Rights Abuses

Hunger Strike Protests By Oil Workers Growing In Western Kazakhstan

MINISTERS have been urged to ensure human rights issues are at the fore when they embark on a trade mission to an oil-rich ex-Soviet state described as a “haven for torture”.

Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty International’s Scotland programme director, spoke out after Economy Secretary Keith Brown revealed the Scottish Government would be working with the UK Government on a business visit to Kazakhstan next year as part of a strategy to improve trade links with countries outside the European Union.

McAuliffe said: “Kazakhstan is a haven for torture and other ill-treatment – the authorities have failed to investigate hundreds of reports of such abuse by members of the country’s law enforcement agencies and prison staff.

“The Kazakh system for investigating police abuses is riddled with loopholes and the failure to investigate torture and prosecute those responsible leaves victims feeling hopeless – they are reliant on their families and a small number of dedicated activists and lawyers to campaign for justice.”

She added: “Freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly are heavily restricted. A number of media outlets have been forcibly closed and journalists face harassment and intimidation.

“Citizens are not allowed to hold any street protest without permission from local authorities, which is often refused, and are subject to imprisonment if caught. NGOs also face a hostile climate with new restrictions on their ability to access funding. Any MSPs or members of the Scottish Government visiting areas with endemic human rights abuses should take the opportunity to raise these issues.”

Her remarks were supported by Ross Greer MSP, the Scottish Greens’ external affairs spokesman, who said Scottish and UK trade policy must be underpinned by a defence of human rights.

“Both governments should seize the opportunity of raising the issue with the government of Kazakhstan and meet with human rights organisations in the country during this trip,” he told The National.

“They must ensure that a human rights envoy plays a leading role in both the preparation and the visit itself, someone who can make assurances that no trading deals will be made with organisations associated with serious human rights abuses. Environmental groups, along with the Greens, will be keeping a close eye on the oil and gas aspect of the visit.

“We’d expect the Scottish and UK governments to highlight our climate change commitments and ambitions to transition to safer and cleaner renewable energy technologies.”

Oil and mineral resources-rich Kazakhstan is the world’s largest landlocked country and the ninth largest in the world,

It shares borders with Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, and has an estimated 18 million people.

It was the last of the Soviet republics to declare independence following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The current president Nursultan Nazarbayev has been leader of the country since then.