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UN Security Council: Kazakhstan

Volume 771: debated on Tuesday 12 April 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of Kazakhstan’s bid to secure a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for 2017-18.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare my interest as vice-chair of the All-Party Group for Kazakhstan.

My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government are committed to promoting a broad and deep bilateral relationship with Kazakhstan, working together to further boost our co-operation and take forward our dialogue on a wide range of issues. We will consider Kazakhstan’s candidacy for the United Nations Security Council on its merits.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. The pillars of Kazakhstan’s campaign to join the United Nations Security Council are nuclear security, water security, food security and energy security. It has played a pivotal role in the promotion of nuclear disarmament and in advancing the peace in several countries as well as responding to humanitarian emergencies. Does my noble friend recognise the importance of these issues and does he believe Kazakhstan’s commitment to them displays its suitability for a non-permanent seat on the council?

My Lords, I have no doubt of Kazakhstan’s commitment to water, food and energy security and its role in nuclear disarmament. I recognise that these are important issues. However, as I am sure the noble Lord appreciates, we have a long-standing policy of never revealing our voting intentions for Security Council elections.

My Lords, has there been any change in Kazakhstan’s human rights record since the United States Department of State reported on it in 2013, when it described the most significant human rights problems as severe limits on citizens’ rights to change their Government; restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion and association; and the lack of an independent judiciary? It also talked about other reported abuses, including arbitrary and unlawful killings, military hazing that led to deaths, and detainee and prisoner torture. Is this the sort of country we wish to encourage to join the Security Council?

My Lords, the noble Lord makes some very important points from the 2013 report. There are still problems with freedom of expression. Kazakhstan’s legislation on NGOs is of concern and progress on human rights has not been quite as fast or comprehensive as we and others would wish in the 25 years since independence. Significant reforms are under way, however, and important progress has been made on social and women’s rights and prevention of torture.

My Lords, in addition to worrying about human rights violations, which include torture, does the noble Earl agree that the record on the promotion of democracy is also pretty awful? There have been five successive elections: in the most recent the President was elected yet again, but with 97% of the vote. All the outside agencies that have monitored these elections say that they have all been flawed.

My Lords, I agree with much of what the noble Lord has said. The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights noted that, while the elections were “efficiently organised”, there was still room for much improvement and there needs to be a “genuine political choice” and more media pluralism.

My Lords, we all recognise the importance of Kazakhstan and the other central Asian countries in the stability of Asia—in particular, given their Sunni Muslim populations, in the enormous overlapping problems between central Asia and the rest of the Middle East. Nevertheless, we recognise that there is a good deal of corruption in Kazakhstan. Has the noble Earl noted the number of Kazakhs who came into Britain in recent years under the tier 1 investor visa scheme? Have we checked whether the money they invested in Britain was lawfully acquired in Kazakhstan?

Noble Lords may jest, but it is quite right that these points should be examined. I assure the noble Lord that we will look at this and see whether there is any more information I can give him.

My Lords, sometimes, unfortunately, horse trading can take place at the United Nations and the issues that concern us most are put aside for other reasons. This week, we have seen the much more open and transparent process for the appointment of the UN Secretary-General. Half the declared nominees are women. What are the chances of a woman being elected Secretary-General in September?

My Lords, I would not try to second-guess the General Assembly, but the noble Lord was in his place during a debate last year when my noble friend Lady Anelay responded on behalf of the Government. She emphasised the importance of structure and transparency in the election of future UN Secretaries-General. While we want to encourage as many women candidates as possible, we want to see the best person for the job, no matter what gender.

Does the Minister accept that in Kazakhstan’s condition the thing we want to encourage more than anything else is an independent judiciary and rule of law?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Soley, makes a point that is worth repeating. Last May, President Nazarbayev launched far-reaching reforms for the legal system, the civil service, the economy and public accountability, known as the 100 concrete steps. I emphasise that the Prime Minister visited Kazakhstan in 2013 and President Nazarbayev visited the United Kingdom towards the end of last year. Human rights and trade were important points of discussion.

My Lords, while I in no way advocate Kazakhstan being a member of the Security Council of the United Nations, does my noble friend agree that if widespread corruption, and the other abuses that have been mentioned, disqualified a candidate for membership of the council, it would be significantly smaller than it is today?

I could not possibly comment on my noble friend Lord Lawson’s question, but he makes an interesting point.