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Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights considers the report of Kazakhstan

Committee on Economic, Social
  and Cultural Rights

28 February 2019

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights concluded today the review of the second periodic report of Kazakhstan on measures taken to implement the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Introducing the report, Nariman Mukushev, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Protection of Population of Kazakhstan, said that socio-economic progress and the improvement of the quality of life in Kazakhstan, seen through the reduction in the share of the population living below subsistence line from 12.8 per cent in 2008 to 3.6 per cent and the six per cent drop in mortality rate over the past five years largely, was evident in the greater life expectancy of the people at 72.95 years.  Systemic efforts to improve the situation in the labour market and promote employment led to the current rate of unemployment of 4.8 per cent.  Since the beginning of the Nurly Zher Programme, over 6,300 rental apartments had been built for socially vulnerable groups.  Budgetary allocations for the social sphere had been steadily increased to reach the current 45 per cent of the State budget, a great part of which went to pay pensions.  The minimum wage had been increased by seven per cent in 2017 and by additional 15.6 per cent in 2018, and the benefits for a birth of a child by more than 50 per cent.  The country remained firmly committed to overcoming discrimination against women, which together with other issues, was covered by the Kazakhstan 2030 Development Strategy and Family and Gender Policy.

Committee Experts asked the delegation about the applicability of the Covenant in the domestic legal order and the use of its provisions by the court, and encouraged Kazakhstan to put in place a comprehensive legislation prohibiting all forms of discrimination, especially against foreign migrants and on the grounds of gender identity or sexual orientation.  Despite considerable progress in promoting the equality between men and women, concerns still remained, Experts said, mentioning in particular the practice of early marriage, insufficient representation of women in Majlis, domestic violence, and other forms of discrimination and violence against women.  It was regrettable, they said, that the information on failure by private companies to respect economic, social and cultural rights throughout their operations, including the application of due diligence in respect of human rights.  Experts urged Kazakhstan to support the Human Rights Commissioner in addressing the limited compliance with the Paris Principles, and to repeal the list of prohibited jobs for women and strengthen the efforts to overcome societal stereotypes hindering women’s access to the labour market.  While guaranteed by the Constitution and the Labour Code, the right to strike seemed to be de facto banned on the ground, Experts remarked, inquiring about the intentions to extend social security coverage to self-employed workers, non-nationals, informal economy workers, and irregular migrant workers.

In his concluding remarks, Zdzislaw Kedzia, Committee Rapporteur for Kazakhstan, reiterated the high value of the dialogue and its importance in the implementation of the Covenant itself. 

Mr. Mukushev concluded by reassuring the Committee that Kazakhstan would continue to work on the improvement of all sides of economic, social and cultural rights of people in Kazakhstan.

Zhanar Aitzhanova, Permanent Representative of Kazakhstan to the United Nations Office at Geneva, in her concluding remarks, invited the Committee to visit the country and see the improvements first hand.

Renato Zerbini Ribeiro Leão, Committee Chairperson, concluded the meeting by saying that the dialogue was very constructive, balanced and open, and praised the expertize of the Kazakh delegation.

The delegation of Kazakhstan consisted of the representatives of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of Population, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Education and Science, Ministry of Healthcare, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of National Economy, Ministry of Industry and Infrastructure Development, Ministry of Culture and Sports, Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Energy, Commission on Human Rights, Ministry of Justice, National Commission for Women, Family and Demographic Policy, the Supreme Court,  Prosecutor General’s Office, Agency for Civil Service Affairs and Anti-Corruption, and the Permanent Mission of Kazakhstan to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Kazakhstan at the end of its sixty-fifth session on 8 March.  Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.

The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 8 March at 4 p.m. to publicly close its sixty-fifth session.         

Report

The Committee has before it the second periodic report of Kazakhstan (E/C.12/KAZ/2).

Presentation of the Report

NARIMAN MUKUSHEV, Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Protection of Population of Kazakhstan, began by expressing appreciation to the Committee for its understanding of the efforts being made by Kazakhstan to fulfil the obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and said that the report contained all measures taken by the State to significantly improve the situation in all its areas.  All the Covenant provisions were implemented in the current legislation, he said and informed the Committee that since 2008, Kazakhstan had increased its per capita gross domestic product from $8,513 to $9,331 and decreased the share of the population living below minimum subsistence from 12.8 to 3.6 per cent.  Over the last five years, life expectancy had reached 72.95 years and mortality rate had dropped by six per cent, with even greater reductions in maternal and infant mortality, which had seen 11 and 19 per cent decrease respectively.  All those indicators, the Deputy Minister stressed, clearly demonstrated the socio-economic progress and the improvement of the quality of life in Kazakhstan.

Due to systemic efforts to improve the situation in the labour market and promote employment, current unemployment rate stood at 4.8 per cent and at 3.8 per cent for the youth.  The State was taking measures to support access to housing with the Nurly Zher Programme, aimed at providing affordable housing to all people of Kazakhstan regardless of their income level.  Since the beginning of the programme, over 6,300 rental apartments had been built for socially vulnerable groups.  A multi-level model of social security had been developed and effectively functioned, while budgetary allocations for the social sphere had been steadily increased to reach the current 45 per cent of the State budget.  A great proportion of the social budget was allocated to pension payment which had been raised twice in 2017, while social security benefits for disability had seen 32 per cent increase.  Kazakhstan had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and had submitted its initial report in 2017.  In an effort to improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities, Kazakhstan would adopt a new national plan on their rights and introduce the Social Service Portal in 2019.  The minimum wage had been increased by seven per cent in 2017 and by additional 15.6 per cent in 2018.  On average, workers in Kazakhstan had seen their monthly wage increased by 34.1 per cent over the last five years.

Turning to education, the Deputy Minister said that all girls and boys had a full and equal access to free secondary education.  A new system of certification of teachers had been introduced and more than 34,000 teachers had been certified.  Since 2010, Kazakhstan was participating in the Bologna process, and currently had 556,293 students in 131 universities.  The head of the delegation said that Kazakhstan had created a national model of supporting for families with children and that the benefits for the birth of a child had been increased by more than 50 per cent.  The country remained firmly committed to overcoming discrimination against women, which together with other issues, was covered by the Kazakhstan 2030 Development Strategy and Family and Gender Policy.  Currently, 33 women were Members of Parliament or 22 per cent and Deputy Prime Minister was a woman; among 16 ministries, women held the positions of positions of one minister, 11 deputy ministers, and one executive secretary.  Particular attention was accorded to ensuring access to cultural facilities.  There were free museum exhibitions and theatre performances on holidays and weekends throughout the country, free visits to museums and theatres for children during holidays, while low income and large families could access cultural facilities free of charge.

Questions by the Country Rapporteur

ZDZISLAW KEDZIA, Committee Rapporteur for Kazakhstan, welcomed the delegation and, praising the comprehensiveness of the report, asked whether the Human Rights Commissioner and non-governmental organizations had been involved in its preparation.  The Rapporteur asked whether international treaties, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights were directly applicable in domestic legal order and whether the courts could use their provisions in judgements.  What were the specific prospects for the ratification of the Optional Protocol?  What concrete steps was Kazakhstan taking to improve the status and resources of the Human Rights Commissioner and address its limited compliance with the Paris Principles?

The Rapporteur asked about the judicial reform to strengthen the protection of economic, social and cultural rights and improve access to justice for victims whose rights were violated.  Was Kazakhstan considering the adoption of a comprehensive law prohibiting discrimination on all grounds, and taking steps to address all typical situations of de facto discrimination?  The delegation was asked to outline concrete measured to combat discrimination of foreign and internal migrants and eliminate discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

Despite considerable progress in promoting the equality between men and women, concerns still remained, said Mr. Kedzia, mentioning in particular the practice of early marriage, insufficient representation of women in Majlis, domestic violence, and other forms of discrimination and violence against women.  The Rapporteur also raised the question of business and human rights and regretted the lack of specific information on failure by private companies to respect economic, social and cultural rights throughout their operations, including the application of due diligence in respect of human rights, as well as on claims filed by victims of rights violation by corporations.

Another Expert noted that some civil society organizations could not be registered, for example FEMINITA, and asked the delegation whether there were any restrictions to their registration?

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to questions, the delegation explained that all relevant bodies in Kazakhstan, including non-governmental organizations and specialized bodies within the Government, had participated in the preparation of the State report.  The Constitutional amendment in 2017 assured the primacy of international treaties ratified by Parliament over domestic legislation, which of course included the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and all the laws had been brought in line with international agreements the State was a party to.  The Optional Protocol had been signed in 2010 and Kazakhstan was in favour of its ratification; once ratified, its provisions would be fully implemented.

The Ombudsman was an independent body and an active and strategic partner of the Government in the protection and promotion of human rights, said the delegation, stressing that no executive body was allowed to interfere in its work.

Turning to questions raised on the anti-discrimination legislative framework, the delegation stressed that there was a constitutional prohibition of all forms of discrimination, including on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.  Complaint mechanisms were in place for individuals to report rights violation. 

The delegation further explained that the refusal of the Human Rights Commission to register three non-governmental organization registration had not been done on grounds of discrimination.  In order to get registered, all civil society organizations must ensure that their activities were in line with the law.

Kazakhstan differed from other Central Asian countries in respect to gender equality, said the delegation, as it was a crosscutting question that was mainstreamed throughout the policies.  Gender equality had been institutionalized ever since the country had achieved its independence and the work in this field today focused on determining what constituted sexual offences and crimes. 

As for the respect of the provisions of the Covenant by the businesses, the laws dealing with business activities incorporated the norms stemming from the Covenant and the entrepreneurs doing business in Kazakhstan had to abide by them.  Both the central Government and its specialized bodies were mandated to ensure the protection of Covenant rights by corporations, and comprehensive and free legal aid was provided to vulnerable victims of rights violation by businesses.

As for judicial reforms, the delegation said that Parliament was discussing a bill on enhancing the legal system, which would ensure the protection and independence of judges and put in place a merit-based promotion system based on educational levels and experience.

Questions by the Committee Experts

The interactive dialogue continued with the Committee Experts taking up the issue of the right to work and asking the delegation when the list of prohibited jobs for women would be revised or even repealed and what the country was doing to overcome societal stereotypes hindering women’s access to the labour market.  Despite some progress, the absence of a comprehensive anti-discriminatory legislation affected the situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex in employment. How were the labour rights of the residents with no legal status in Kazakhstan protected?

The Experts raised questions on the proper access to labour market for migrant workers, the fight against forced and bonded labour that particularly effected women and illegal migrant workers, the advancements in narrowing the gender pay gap, and the improvement of the situation in the informal economy.  The issue of child labour, an important issue in Kazakhstan, was compounded by the lack of knowledge and awareness of legal norms and standards and the end of season payment.

Experts noted that the right to strike was guaranteed by the Constitution and the Labour Code and asked the delegation why there were de facto bans on the right to strike.  Was it true that the Trade Union Law denied workers the right to freely form and join labour organizations of their choice and that it imposed restrictions on the right to strike? 

What measures would be taken to extend social security coverage to self-employed workers, non-nationals, informal economy workers, and irregular migrant workers?  Were the pensions enough to live on and would the benefit payments for the birth and care of a child, including disabled children, be increased?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation explained that the list of prohibited jobs for women had been drafted primarily to protect women, while labour inspectors visited various companies to check the working conditions and to identify possible gender-based discrimination in the workplace.  The revision of the prohibited jobs was on-going and those not dangerous for women would be removed from the list.

Self-employed workers and those working in informal economy were becoming the centre of attention when it came to labour market.  Unemployment continued to decline, the delegate said, affirming that the employment statistics was obtained on the basis of the International Labour Organization methodology.  Labour inspections were being also carried out throughout the country focusing on identifying victims of forced labour, and judicial bodies addressed the cases upon the reports by labour inspectors.

Private and public properties were on an equal footing when it came to contributions to the economic development of the country and the position of workers.  There was a National Plan for Human Rights and a plan of action had been developed in the area of human rights in the business environment.

The current pension system had various parts to it, a delegate continued.  It was largely a contribution system which guaranteed basic pensions, which were defined on the basis of years of employment and income earned, and in some instances, on a place of residence.  Pensions, as well as child benefits, had been significantly increased over the last several years.

Kazakhstan was adopting a number of measures to improve access of migrant workers to the labour market.  Over one million working permits had been issued to migrant workers in 2018 and a new migration strategy policy that covered all the issues related to migrant workers had been enacted.  The delegation stressed that regular migrant workers enjoyed full legal protection.

As far as the situation of trade unions was concerned, the delegation said that the new law was mainly focused on making trade unions valuable social partners.  Kazakhstan recognized that some of its provisions would need to be amended in line with the International Labour Organization recommendations. 

The right to strike was one issue under discussion with social partners.  There were no limitations in putting forward a request to strike, but minimal requirements had to be met in order to preserve the normal functioning of services provided by the State, such as health care and transportation, among others.  The prosecution of those who engaged in a strike was very complex and to date only one person had been brought before justice in 2018.

Questions by the Committee Experts

In the next round of questions, Committee Experts expressed concern about violence against children and asked the delegation to explain the legal framework in place and sanctions for perpetrators of all forms of violence against children including family violence.  They asked the delegation to inform on the status of the Plan of Action for the Provision of Rights and Improvement of the Quality of Life of Disabled Persons in Kazakhstan for 2012-2018, and measures to increase the availability of municipal housing for orphaned children, children with disabilities, large families, and single-headed households.  Was there a legislation that ensured that everyone had access to an efficient and free birth registration process, including asylum seekers, refugee and stateless persons in order to have access to healthcare, education and social welfare? 

The delegation was also asked whether the public health and the health system code had been amended to guarantee everyone’s right to consent to medical procedures, and whether Kazakhstan would remove the exception to the ban on medical experimentation which allowed for the testing of medical technologies and medicines for treatment of “mental disorders” on legally incapable persons with psychosocial and intellectual disabilities.

Another concern raised in the dialogue related to prejudice, stigma and discrimination in employment and healthcare of people living with HIV/AIDS, particularly those of different sexual orientation and gender identity.  What were the State’s intentions concerning a comprehensive review of all anti-discrimination legislation in order to harmonize the provisions with international standards, and to ensure that all people in Kazakhstan could enjoy the right to the highest attainable standards of health without discrimination?  What measures were being taken to ensure that all migrant women had access to reproductive healthcare, including contraception, prenatal and postnatal care?

Would the drug use be decriminalized and what were the steps being taken to regulate the visits of police authorities to drug rehabilitation centres and the reported invasion of patients’ privacy?  What was the state of the five nuclear complexes in Kazakhstan?

Replies by the Delegation

The Law on Prohibition of Discrimination of the Persons with Disabilities served as a guarantor of the protection of all their rights, the delegation said.  Budget was allocated to promoting the employment of persons with disabilities and provide allowances for personal assistants.  Labour inspectors had the right to issue an administrative order or a fine against legal and public entities for any observed discrimination of their rights in the work place.

The housing policy had been designed with the needs of all sectors of the society in mind. 
In terms of square meters built, Kazakhstan ranked first among all ex-Soviet republics including Russia whose economy was ten times larger.  In 2019, Kazakhstan had provided $2.3 million for the construction of accessible housing; some 6,000 apartments were being built every year for large families; while 1,000 apartments were provided to labour migrants annually.

A Special Registration Act was dealing with birth registration, the delegation said and noted an increase in the number of birth registrations which was due to an increase in the number of children being born in Kazakhstan and the improvement of the registration process.  The digitalization was immensely helpful in urban areas, while rural areas could provide the necessary data for the birth registration via mobile phones.  Stateless people in Kazakhstan were also provided with rights and freedoms and could apply to citizenship without any obstacles if the requirements were fulfilled.

The Government was in the process of modernizing health services, which aimed to, inter alia, motivate doctors to move to work in rural areas.  There was one doctor per 1,200 people and the efforts were being made to increase the salaries of doctors. 

Laws were in place that protected people living with HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis from discrimination.  Psychological assistance was being provided to such patients, and there were ongoing efforts to increase public awareness on the issue in media and in communities, with the support of non-governmental organizations.  Health services were free of charge for tuberculosis patients. 

There were 118 health centres throughout the country that provided comprehensive medical services and information to adolescents and youth up to the age of 25. Parliament was discussing a bill on nuclear facilities and compensations in case of nuclear accidents.

Laws were in place to prevent domestic violence, created in accordance with international practices and treaties signed by the State.  Victims were given all available help and assistance, including through 31 shelters and a specialized unit for prevention and specialized support.

Both parents were equally responsible before the law for the upbringing of children.  It was a fact that an awareness building was necessary and the measures had been drafted to improve the situation in reality.

Questions by the Committee Experts

In the final round of questions, the delegation was asked if the 25 per cent increase in budgetary allocation to education referred to this year specifically, or was an aspirational plan for the future.  Experts also asked it to explain steps taken to tackle corruption in access to tertiary education, and to improve access to education for migrant children including undocumented ones.

The Committee raised concern about the quality of education, both in terms of infrastructure and the number and quality of teachers, and asked about concrete measures put in place to address this problem.  Would decentralization of education be considered as a measure towards reducing the gaps in the quality of education and regional and geographical disparities, particularly between rural and urban areas? 

Inclusive education at the current state did not seem able to ensure integration of children with disabilities in mainstream schools.  Experts recognized the challenge of delivering education in mother tongue in a country as large and as diverse as Kazakhstan and inquired about actions taken to tackle that challenge.  Was there a specific strategy for youth participation in scientific and cultural life of Kazakhstan?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that Kazakhstan would dedicate in 2019 ten per cent of gross domestic product to education and healthcare, in order to improve the quality of services. 

Equal access to education was provided on the entire territory of the State, and 99 per cent of the schools had access to the Internet and online educational resources.  Small rural schools had special centres that enabled access to additional educational resources.  One of the measures to promote access to quality education was “foster families” in urban areas which accepted and accommodated children who came from remote areas to study.

Kazakhstan had adopted measures to promote inclusive education and equal access to education for persons with disabilities at all levels of education, regardless of their place of residence.  Once enrolled, students with disabilities had adapted curriculum to better address their individual needs.  The law on ethnic assembly guaranteed the existence of schools in native languages and today, there were more than 7,000 such schools.

School infrastructure was indeed a problem, particularly the overcrowded schools in the South.  In order to balance the situation, there was a redistribution programme with State support for those moving from more populated to less populated areas of the country.  The law on science guaranteed access to scientific study to all.

All migrant children had the right to access education, which had been strengthened by the introduction electronic school enrolment.  A nationwide comprehensive programme looking into the position of the youth and their role in the society was in place. 
Countering corruption was a priority, and at the tertiary level, transparency was being improved by encouraging the involvement of non-governmental organizations.  Surveys were being carried out and the data would be used as a basis to develop more specific measures.

Concluding Remarks

In his concluding remarks, ZDZISLAW KEDZIA, Committee Rapporteur for Kazakhstan, thanked the delegation for a highly constructive and professional dialogue and answers to numerous questions asked in the process, and reiterated the high value of the dialogue and its importance in the implementation of the Covenant itself.  The Committee was interested in the real picture of the economic, social and cultural rights, and this should be taken into account when studying its recommendations.

NARIMAN MUKUSHEV, Deputy Minister for Labour and Social Protection of Population of Kazakhstan, thanked the Committee for a constructive dialogue and a very good discussion that included concrete questions.  Upon their return to Kazakhstan, the delegation assured the Committee that they would continue to work on all sides of improvement of economic, social and cultural rights for people in Kazakhstan.

Zhanar Aitzhanova, Permanent Representative of Kazakhstan to the United Nations Office at Geneva, noted that a six-hour dialogue was certainly not sufficient to provide all the answers and invited the members of the Committee to visit Kazakhstan in the near future in order to see the improvements first hand.

RENATO ZERBINI RIBEIRO LEÃO, Committee Chairperson, concluded the meeting by saying that the dialogue was very constructive, balanced and open, and praised the expertize of the Kazakh delegation and fact that the dialogue covered so many areas in detail.

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