ASTANA (1 October 2012) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Gulnara Shahinian, stated today that Kazakhstan might lose recent achievements in its fight against slavery, and urged the authorities to adopt a “bottom-up approach” when introducing new laws and measures to address the problem.
The Special Rapporteur was informed that existing laws which allow employers to recruit migrant workers and to regularise their status have been further complicated by new legal requirements that demand additional information to be submitted for work permits to be issued.
“Without long-term solutions such as an easier process for acquiring work permits and ensuring access to education and medical services for all - foreigners and Kazakh citizens as mentioned in the Kazakh constitution - the huge gains that have been made might be lost,” said Ms. Shahinian at the end of her eight-day mission to the country.
Since 2009, when practices such as the worst forms of slavery, forced and bonded labour were found in the tobacco plantations, the Government, with the strong commitment and support of tobacco industry and civil society organisations, made great efforts to eradicate contemporary forms of slavery.
However, the rights expert noted, these gains might be lost, because proposed revisions in the law will complicate the process for acquiring a work permit. “Instead of promoting more regularisation of migrants,” she said, “the revisions to the law only work to increase the numbers of undocumented workers because employers and employees are not interested in going through a complex and lengthy process to apply for work permits.”
“I spoke to employers and Government officials who are frustrated by the complicated process to obtain a work permit,” the Special Rapporteur noted. “In some cases, unless assisted by an intermediary such as an NGO, the employer does not bother applying for a work permit and prefers instead to employ undocumented workers. The figures I received clearly show that there are over twice as many undocumented workers than documented workers.”
In addition, current revisions in the law make it difficult for the children of undocumented migrant workers to attend school. Undocumented migrants and their families are also not able to access health care unless it is an emergency, leaving families without access to basic medical treatment.
“I met with teachers so committed to their work that they were willing to teach all children - Kazakh citizens and migrants - even without pay as long as they could keep them from working in harmful and hazardous conditions,” Ms. Shahinian said. “The only thing standing in their way is an administrative order which prohibits children of seasonal workers from attending school.”
“Any introduction of new laws or amendments should be done after consulting with the sectors most affected by slavery, which should include relevant government bodies, civil society organisations, international organisations and relevant private sector companies,” she said, stressing that Kazakhstan must have a “bottom-up approach in order to effectively address slavery.”
Ms. Shahinian shared the advice expressed by experienced government officials and members of civil society she met in the provinces of Almaty and South Kazakhstan: “Easier process for acquiring work permit; creating national awareness of slavery like practices such as forced and bonded labour; providing training to government officials and civil society about the national laws prohibiting slavery like practices; and educating employers and workers about their rights and obligations.”
“The National Council for Child Protection has been effective in preventing the worst forms of child labour in the tobacco industry,” she said. “A similar council should be established in the Prosecutor General’s Office which includes relevant Government departments particularly from the Ministry of Interior, Health, Education, Labour and Social Protection, civil society actors, international organisations and employers.”
The Special Rapporteur welcomed Kazakhstan’s programmes addressing trafficking, and recommended that the authorities broaden their scope to include other forms of slavery, such as forced labour and debt bondage.
During her visit, Ms. Shahinian visited Astana, Almaty, Shymkent, Maktaral and Enbekshikazahskiy district, where she met with Government representatives, law enforcement agencies, non-governmental organizations, community members and others.
The Special Rapporteur recognised the Government’s readiness to address the problems related to modern forms of slavery and thanked them for their openness and cooperation during the country visit.
Ms. Shahinian will present the visit’s findings at the Human Rights Council in September 2013.
Gulnara Shahinian was appointed as the first Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, its causes and consequences in May 2008. She is a lawyer with extensive experience as an expert consultant for various UN, EU, Council of Europe, OSCE and government bodies on children’s rights, gender, migration and trafficking. Ms Shahinian is also a former trustee of the UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary forms of Slavery. Learn more, log on to:
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