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Kazakhstan: OSCE

Volume 717: debated on Monday 8 February 2010

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are their expectations for the 2010 Kazakhstan chairmanship of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as chair of the British-Kazakhstan APPG.

My Lords, we will work with Kazakhstan to deliver progress on the key issues facing the OSCE. These include the discussion on the future of European security, the protracted conflicts in Moldova and the Caucasus, and the protection and promotion of democratic institutions.

We welcome President Nazarbayev’s pledge on 14 January to “pursue further political liberalisation”. We will continue to support Kazakhstan’s efforts towards meeting its OSCE commitments and the challenges that it faces as chair.

This could be the important East-West landbridge year for the OSCE, the chairmanship and Kazakh internal best practice. Are the differing Eurasia security concepts initiated under the Corfu process being advanced satisfactorily? In addition to keeping that process alive, has not the Helsinki Committee on Human Rights also now recommended, with official US support, the merits of an end-of-term summit last held in Istanbul in 1999, which would allow leaders to adopt agreed priorities?

I thank the noble Viscount and pay tribute to the work that he undertakes in the all-party group which fosters links between the UK and countries in central Asia. The Corfu process was set up to discuss the security concerns of all members of the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian space and across all three dimensions of our security. At the OSCE ministerial meeting in December, all OSCE countries agreed that the Corfu process had already improved the quality and contributed to revitalisation of political dialogue. We are committed to supporting and continuing that dialogue.

On the second issue, I would point out that the OSCE is not just about human rights; it has a busy agenda, including European security issues, conflict prevention, human rights democratisation and security impact of energy and environmental issues. Progress discussions will be relevant to our consideration of a possible summit.

My Lords, Kazakhstan has made some welcome moves away from autocracy but my noble friend will recall that at the Madrid conference in November 2007, to allay fears about the human rights record, Kazakhstan made a number of specific commitments. Are the Government satisfied on the expectations of compliance with those commitments during the one-year term of office?

I agree that Kazakhstan’s performance on human rights since independence compares favourably with some of its neighbours. Kazakhstan has taken some important steps forward with its reform agenda, but certainly we would say that more progress needs to be made, which was acknowledged by the Kazakh Government, on individual cases, on human rights, on media restrictions, internet law, legislation and religion. We expect all those issues to be addressed.

While it is perfectly proper to put pressure on Kazakhstan to accelerate its democratic development, does the Minister accept that this country is an important part of the Afghanistan jigsaw and the international energy security jigsaw? Will she assure us that aside from any links on our foreign policy through the European Union we will develop strong bilateral connections with Kazakhstan over the coming years to ensure that our foreign policy interests are promoted effectively?

I thank the noble Lord for the important points he makes and his acknowledgement that Kazakhstan has made public commitments to preserve the mandate of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions. We support Kazakhstan’s focus on the protracted conflicts in Moldova and the Caucasus. We would like to see more progress from Kazakhstan on arms control under the Kazakh chairmanship and the treaty on conventional forces in Europe. We welcome Kazakhstan’s focus on Afghanistan, to which the noble Lord referred, and the engagement in central Asia is essential to the stabilisation of Afghanistan.

Perhaps I may press the Minister further on the answer given to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. The special reputation of the OSCE is likely to be tarnished if the Kazakh Government do not make more progress on democracy, human rights and freedom of speech. There is still a lot to be done. Why is the Minister so confident that the Kazakh Government are dealing properly with these matters?

I do not think that I was being as positive as perhaps the noble Lord thought. I acknowledged clearly that, although there has been some progress, a great deal still needs to be done. We are working with the Kazaks bilaterally and with our EU partners on a wide range of human rights issues, including that controversial legislation on religion and the internet, as well as individual cases, such as Yesergepov and Zhovtis who have had very flawed legal processes to face. The Kazaks participate in human rights dialogue under the EU central Asia strategy, and the UK and the EU contribute their views. But we want them to co-operate more effectively and consistently on all these matters.

My Lords, given what my noble friend has said about general support and how much more needs to be done, has any consideration been given to forming a group of the friends of the chair for Kazakhstan during the period of its chairmanship and, if no such thought has been had, will consideration be given to that point?

I thank the noble Baroness for her intervention. I agree that friends of various countries and organisations have been effective in the past. I am not aware of any initiative of the kind of which she just spoke, but I will investigate whether it has some potential.

My Lords, I notice that the non-compliance by Armenia of the various United Nations resolutions relating to its occupation of Nagorno Karabakh and several provinces of Azerbaijan was not listed as one of the priorities of the OSCE. As the non-resolution of this problem could lead to further violence, will the Minister bring this matter to the attention of Kazakhstan and have it on the agenda during its presidency of the OSCE?

I thank the noble Lord for that question. I, too, can confirm that this is not a priority listed on the agenda. However, I will look into whether it can be included.