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UN rights expert urges Kazakhstan to step up its fight against all forms of slavery

Kazakhstan’s fight against slavery

27 March 2014

ASTANA (27 March 2014) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, Ms. Gulnara Shahinian, on Thursday called on the Government of Kazakhstan to intensify its fight against all forms of slavery in the country in all fronts.

Ms. Shahinian’s call comes at the end of a follow-up official visit to Kazakhstan to assess new developments since her first country visit in 2012 and the initiatives taken by the Government in response to her recommendations*.

The expert commended the authorities for the swift action in response to some of her recommendations and its continuous cooperation since the first visit, but urged them “to urgently put in place enforcement and monitoring mechanisms to fully implement the new laws and policies towards eliminating all forms of slavery in the country.”

“This follow-up visit provided me with a real opportunity to accompany the Government in its fight against slavery,” said the independent expert designated by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor, report and advise on contemporary forms of slavery, its causes and consequences in the world.

The Special Rapporteur welcomed the amendments to the legislation on migration, noting that “the complex and lengthy process of issuance of work permits significantly constrained the opportunities for legal employment and hence increased the vulnerability of migrants. Its simplification is an important step forward and will allow for the legalization of migrant workers.”

She noted that, among other reforms, children of migrant workers employed in accordance with migration laws are allowed to attend schools – with same rights – as all other children. “I was also very pleased to learn that the amendments are intended at eliminating gaps in the labor legislation in line with the rights-based approach, in particular regarding the status of migrant workers and their children,” the independent expert said.

The law also makes important changes to the taxation of migrant workers, whose income is no longer taxable at the source of income, but Ms. Shahinian warned that the requirement of an advance payment of income tax in order to obtain work permits may have the unintended effect of increasing in the numbers of undocumented workers.

The expert also reiterated her concern at the consequences on children in terms of access to medical care of the introduction of individual ID numbers for undocumented workers and their families.

The Special Rapporteur further recognized the Government’s efforts to consult with all parties in drafting the amendments to the law, and encouraged it to fully translate its commitment to a bottom-up approach in addressing slavery, which she had called for as a result of her previous visit.

“I urged the Government of Kazakhstan to ensure that slavery, and slavery-like practices including domestic servitude, forced labour, and forced early marriage are designated as crimes in the a new draft criminal code,” the expert said.

The Special Rapporteur also welcomed initiatives taken by the Government of Kazakhstan towards addressing the demand side of forced labour and slavery-like working conditions at the regional level. “Regional cooperation, dialogue and sharing of best practices are crucial elements to curb the exploitation of migrants,” she noted.

Ms. Shahinian acknowledged significant progress by the authorities in the fight against the worst forms of child labour, forced and bonded labour in tobacco plantations. However, she noted that despite the commitment and support of the tobacco industry and the steps taken to increase protections for migrant tobacco workers, the risk of debt bondage and cases of hazardous child labor still persist on some farms.

She called on the Government to increase the number and the scope of labour inspections, notably of farms, to be carried out by adequately trained inspectors and without prior notification in line with Kazakhstan’s international obligations, as an essential element its fight against forced labour and child labour.

In this context, the Special Rapporteur also reminded the Government and companies of the need to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

“Without a clear understanding of the concepts of slavery, the identification, prevention and prosecution of forced and bonded labour is virtually impossible,” Ms. Shahinian said, “but the lack of awareness and insufficient understanding cannot be overcome overnight.”

“I urge the Government to step up its efforts in training government officials and civil society about the national laws prohibiting slavery like practices and in educating employers and workers about their rights and obligations,” she said, stressing the importance of developing a national awareness raising campaign, including on child labour.

The Special Rapporteur reiterated her calls on the Government to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families and the ILO Conventions that also cover Migrants.
During her three-day follow-up visit, Ms. Shahinian met with various Government authorities, non-governmental organizations, trade unions, community members, business companies and others working against all forms of slavery.

A report on the Special Rapporteur’s findings and recommendations of her follow-up visit will be presented at a forthcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council in September 2014.

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(*) Check the 2012 report on Kazakhstan by the Special Rapporteur:

Ms. Gulnara Shahinian was appointed as the first Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, its causes and consequences in May 2008. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Shahinian 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. She is also a former trustee of the UN Voluntary Trust Fund on Contemporary forms of Slavery. Learn more, log on to:

Read the 2012 report on Kazakhstan by the UN Special Rapporteur:

UN Human Rights country page – Kazakhstan:

For further information and media requests, please contact:
In Astana: Ms. Leila Duisekova (+7 7172 59 25 50 / [email protected])
In Geneva: Mr. Khaled Hassine (+41 22 917 93 67 [email protected]) or write to [email protected]

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])  

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