President. The next item is the debate on six motions for resolutions on Kazakhstan(1).
Ona Juknevičienė (ALDE), author. (LT) On 13 February, the well-known Kazakh politician and opposition leader A. Sarsenbayev was brutally murdered in Almaty, along with his driver and bodyguard. Not long ago, another opposition leader Z. Nurkadilov was found with three gunshot wounds after he accused the government of corruption and of being responsible for the killing of the freelance journalist Sharipzhanov. The official version of the investigation suicide. As one of the most advanced states in the region, Kazakhstan is trying to include itself among the democratic states of the world. Moreover, it aims to chair the OSCE from 2009. An organisation which has to ensure democracy and stability within the Community and beyond its borders. An organisation which in December acknowledged that the presidential elections in Kazakhstan did not comply with international requirements. We recognise that Kazakhstan's economy is growing rapidly. Kazakhstan is a very important trade partner for the Community, but colleagues, we are not just an economic union, but also a union of values. In foreign policy, we cannot pursue narrow economic interests and under no circumstances can we allow the violation of human rights. President N. Nazarbayev openly admits that in the past there was no democracy in his country and says that we cannot expect it to appear overnight. This is an attempt to assure us that there can be a controlled democracy in Kazakhstan, but essentially, it is a desire to justify an authoritarian regime from the Soviet period. Mr President, we all know that democracy either exists or does not exist. It cannot be controlled or partial.
Albert Jan Maat (PPE-DE), author. – (NL) Mr President, (... the speaker spoke without a microphone) we would not have held this debate this afternoon. It is not that we do not care about Kazakhstan or that we think that nothing is wrong there; of course, we worry, but in the last term of office, this House accepted a strict resolution on Kazakhstan, one which both this Parliament and the Government of Kazakhstan took seriously at the time. It has led to the admission of more political parties and has, in any event, resulted in a step forward in the freedom of the press.
We worry again today, but what is striking now compared to the previous resolution on the situation in Kazakhstan, is the fact that the government, the President, is at least trying to introduce transparency, in the sense that in relation to killings, or matters that can be called into question, there is in any event every opportunity for foreign observers to watch what is happening.
One thing is for sure. Something is brewing in Kazakhstan, that is true, but that does mean that you cannot assess the situation in the right manner, and we think that in that light, this resolution is premature at the moment. Another reason is that whilst we do not think that everything is wonderful, we do see for the first time that in sensitive areas, where people may have been killed and people have definitely been killed, although the circumstances or perpetrators are unknown, there is a willingness to show what is happening, how the process is drawing to a close. It is these points we should like to highlight in order to strengthen the relationship that we in the European Union have with Kazakhstan.
The Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats propose, then, that we should make use of the cooperation between the parliamentary delegations. The parliamentary delegation from Kazakhstan will be visiting Brussels in May, during which we will have an opportunity to discuss all these issues as fellow-parliamentarians. We in the PPE-DE Group would like to see some progress in relation to the countries in Central Asia. As for Kazakhstan, we must clearly debate the topic of partnership to find out whether we can team up in those areas in which we cooperate well.
In a nutshell, we are concerned about Kazakhstan. While we are not always impressed by democracy in that country, we can see at this very moment that there is more transparency, that something is brewing, that there is much uncertainty. I should in any event like to congratulate the Commissioner on the sound information we have received from her representative in Almaty on this score, which we greatly appreciated.
As far as the vote is concerned, although we have contributed to this resolution, for not doing so is excluding ourselves from the game in hand, we did apply for five split votes, the outcome of which will determine whether we will back this resolution or not. In short, although we have concerns, we would like to talk these over with our Kazakh colleagues on amicable terms to see whether we can take a few steps forward in relation to democracy.
Bernd Posselt (PPE-DE). – (DE) Mr President, just a brief word. This lunchtime, Mrs Pleštinská said that people are putting candles in their windows in Slovakia and many other countries today as a sign of solidarity with the opposition and the freedom movement in Belarus. To avoid setting off the fire alarms, we have only brought a small symbolic candle into plenary, which is burning at Mrs Pleštinská’s place, but it is intended to make clear the strength of our ties with the freedom movement in Belarus.
President. In reaffirming our support for the initiative, I must point out that, in accordance with the Rules of Procedure, it is strictly forbidden to bring any incandescent or burning object into the Chamber, and so I kindly ask our fellow Member to extinguish it. Thank you.
Józef Pinior (PSE), author. – (PL) Mr President, the political opposition in Kazakhstan is protesting against the murder of Altynbek Sarsenbayev, the former minister and ambassador who joined the opposition in 2003 and started criticising the political system under President Nursultan Nazarbayev. On 26 February this year in Almaty around 1 500 people took part in a demonstration, and 43-year-old Sarsenbayev’s body was found with gunshot wounds to the shoulders and the head beside the bodies of his bodyguard and driver. The National Security Committee officers suspected of the killing have been arrested, and the head of the National Security Committee, Nartay Dutbayev, has resigned.
I would also like to point out that the organisation Reporters without Borders has accused the Kazakh authorities of Internet censorship and restricting freedom of expression in traditional media. On 15 December last year, the security forces searched the offices of the weekly Law Economy Politics Culture after it published a letter signed by the head of the Election Commission stating that electoral fraud had taken place to some extent in the 4 December presidential elections. Furthermore, on 20 December the weekly Juma-Times was closed by a decision of the court in Almaty after being accused of libel against President Nazarbayev.
Erik Meijer (GUE/NGL), author. – (NL) Mr President, the collapse of the Soviet Union has not proved to be a guarantee for democracy – quite the opposite, in fact. Some politicians with Communist pasts may have abandoned their ideology, but are for that very reason now even less hindered than before in their manoeuvring to remain in power for the long haul or to transfer state power to their offspring. One of those sleights of hand is to extend the term in office of presidents in power by ten years or even to the end of his life by means of a referendum without the option of putting forward one or two rival candidates.
Another technique is to eliminate serious opponents by locking them up on the basis of false accusations, getting them killed in car accidents or having them simply disappear. In Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, widely-supported popular uprisings against regimes of that kind have been successful, but it remains to be seen whether those countries will be better off in the long term. So far in Belarus, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and the much larger Kazakhstan, those in power have managed to break any opposition. Some have been able to use their role in the supply of energy to buy themselves powerful foreign friends.
For a long time, Kazakhstan was mainly a dry and sparsely populated area where, in the middle of a small population speaking a Turkic language, Russian colonisation took place in areas where industry or mining appeared possible or where an experimental space rocket base could be set up. Meanwhile, a new capital has been created, far from the large city of Almaty, and the influence of the Russian inhabitants is being reduced considerably.
Kazakhstan is a large, sparsely populated country, with two large population groups and the remainder consisting of minorities banished to that country from the Russian empire, and its future is extremely precarious. In our relations with it, the resolution is right to insist on due account being given not only to economic relations, but also, and above all, to political prisoners, scope for opposition, democratic decision-making and human rights.
Carl Schlyter (Verts/ALE), author. – (SV) Mr President, not everything is pitch-black in Kazakhstan. Compared with a number of other countries in the region, positive things too are happening, for example the moratorium on the death penalty and the prosecution of policemen accused of torture. The latest development is, however, that, paradoxically, when the opposition is growing and becoming stronger, so too is the oppression directed against it. These two murders have exacerbated the situation.
The OSCE said that the election did not proceed correctly. In reality, it was quite unnecessary to rig the election, because, according to all the opinion polls, Mr Nazarbayev would still have won it. Given the media situation in Kazakhstan, these developments are not perhaps so odd. A climate of fear also prevails. Governors did not dare report the worst voting figures and did not hesitate to season them with a few extra votes out of a fear of seeing their positions, financial or otherwise, undermined. We cannot have such a climate in a democracy, and we must be on our guard.
In reality, the European Parliament is not demanding a lot: only that Kazakhstan obey its own constitution and that court decisions be required in connection, for example, with arrests. In paragraph three, we state that we want international observers to monitor the murder investigation. The FBI has been invited to take part in the investigations of the murders, and we should ensure that other international bodies too be allowed to study information concerning these crimes so that we have some grasp, and clarification of, the investigation.
Janusz Wojciechowski (UEN), author. – (PL) Mr President, Kazakhstan is an important country with a great history, and one of the largest countries in Europe – yes, Europe, because about 150 000 km2 of its territory is within the geographical borders of our continent. It is a country where, to this day, thousands of my Polish compatriots live, having been exiled there at the time of the Stalin regime. Historically and politically, however, it is obvious that Kazakhstan belongs to Central Asia. It is also a post-communist and post-Soviet country. We have to take this history into account and remember that the word ‘democracy’ is not always understood there in the same way as it is here in the countries of Europe, with their centuries of democratic tradition.
I was one of the European Parliament’s observers in Kazakhstan during the presidential elections. The country is by no means a model of democracy, but in fairness it must be said that the authorities there are doing a great deal to democratise public life and, above all, to bring the country closer to Western values and to modernise it. This is something we should appreciate, and we should offer prudent support for this process.
The motion for a resolution under debate deserves support insofar as it demands an investigation into the death of Mr Sarsenbayev, the opposition politician, but it also has some elements that are an expression of unjustified suspicion. Politicians are killed in many countries in assassination attempts or accidents, without the cause always being political intrigue. For this reason I appeal for moderation in the contents of the resolution, and for several of the proposed amendments to be adopted.
Charles Tannock, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – Mr President, I, like all my MEP colleagues, am horrified by the brutal murder of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbayev on 13 February. I welcome the fact that President Nazarbayev has called in the FBI to track down the culprits, and his statement of 21 February on punishing the perpetrators. I am also encouraged by the recent arrest of five suspects. Of course there are still concerns regarding democracy and human rights in Kazakhstan. We in the EU are rightly concerned about any instability in this key strategic central Asian Republic, which is anxious not to get too close to Russia or China, but to get closer to us in the EU.
As the rapporteur for the European Neighbourhood Policy, I have suggested including Kazakhstan in that policy. This follows a tradition in which it was the European Parliament that first raised the question of such a status for the three Caucasus republics, which was duly granted by the Council in due course. Kazakhstan has a westward extension, which makes a strong case geographically for its European Neighbourhood status. It also has a strong secular tradition inherited from its Soviet past, with a very large European Christian minority living in harmony with the indigenous Kazakh Muslim people.
Of strategic importance to the EU are its vast oil and gas reserves, which it is anxious to sell to the EU without depending entirely on Russian pipelines to transport its natural resources. Moreover, the Kazakh Diversification Policy includes plans to liquefy its natural gas for export via the trans-Caspian route.
In this context, and less appreciated, is the vast potential supply of Kazakh yellow cake uranium from mines coming onstream, which will be vital to supplying the EU’s future nuclear energy needs. The EU must extend every help to this vast, under-populated, geopolitically key country and we in the PPE-DE Group will not support the biased joint text unless our amendments are carried.
John Attard-Montalto, on behalf of the PSE Group. – Mr President, allow me to speak in my own language.
(MT) It worries me to hear a speech like the one that has just been made. I worry that, because the West and the United States have an interest in Kazakhstan – mainly because it is rich in minerals and an ally in the war against terrorism - its government might feel able to do certain things with impunity. This is something we should be on our guard against. Some time ago, Kazakhstan applied to become a member of the Council of Europe, and I went on a mission there. It is true that, geographically, part of Kazakhstan is in Europe, but everybody knows that this country still has a lot to learn in terms of acquiring democratic credentials. It is clear, moreover, that, in recent times, the political climate has deteriorated. We know that, over a period of three months, two opposition politicians have been killed and that human rights are in one way or another being denied. We should not therefore allow Kazakhstan’s wealth and the fact that the country is an ally against terrorism to delude us into thinking that there need be no controls whatsoever on its conduct.
Andreas Mölzer (NI). – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, up until now Kazakh President Nasarbayev has acted according to the old proverb ‘keep your friends close and your enemies even closer’ and tried to include them in his regime. Although he spent a week at a spa in my home province of Carinthia only recently, evidently to recover his strength, he seems to be enjoying less and less success with this, because criticism of him is growing, as you know.
It may be no coincidence that, as we have heard, two opposition politicians died in mysterious circumstances after revealing dishonest machinations by the presidential clan. In my opinion, it really is essential that these murders be investigated transparently by independent parties.
Progressive as Kazakhstan may be in its economic development – not least because of its many mineral resources – we are all agreed that it is equally halting when it comes to democracy. There were complaints of vote rigging in last December’s presidential elections, and the daughter of the president elected under such dubious circumstances is known to be the director of the largest television station, her husband head of the tax authority. Some parties are being refused registration and activists are known to be persecuted. So it is not surprising if the murdered man’s mourners are punished.
When it is so doubtful that Kazakhstan is capable of behaving like a democracy, it cannot be allowed to take the chairmanship of the OSCE in 2009 as it wishes. The EU must in my opinion stand strongly against that. It is perhaps also worth considering following the US lead and making financial and economic assistance more dependent on progress being made in the areas of democracy and civil and human rights.
Karin Scheele (PSE). – (DE) Mr President, it is now a month since the prominent politician Sarsenbayev was brutally murdered, and I believe now is the right time to hold an urgent debate here on the situation in Kazakhstan. Two prominent opposition politicians have been murdered in the space of three months and the political climate has greatly deteriorated.
We call on the Kazakh authorities to allow a full, independent and transparent investigation into the circumstances of the deaths and to allow the presence of international observers.
Politically motivated murders are only the tip of the iceberg. Internet censorship has been mentioned and pressure on opposition politicians and journalists has increased over all. We condemn the detention of the people taking part in a peaceful gathering to mark the death of Altynbek Sarsenbayev and call on the Kazakh Government to comply with its obligations under the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement and in particular to ensure respect for democracy and human rights.
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the Commission. Mr President, there is much to say about Kazakhstan. On the one hand, Kazakhstan is and should be a key partner for promoting stability and regional cooperation in Central Asia. Indeed, it is the most important of these countries and it is also rich in energy supplies and therefore it is being courted by many countries today.
Let us analyse President Nazarbayev’s State of the Nation address on 1 March. It was very comprehensive on economic development. However, it was not very detailed on the programme of democratic reforms, despite promises of a programme of democratic changes and promises to the international community. The concept of ‘managed democracy’ was reconfirmed; in fact, it was reinforced.
Let me say a few words about the positive side and the negative side, because we have to see both sides. On a positive note, I would like to welcome Kazakhstan’s ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in January this year. This is a good step. We also hope that Kazakhstan will now take steps to ratify the optional protocols allowing individual complaints. The continuing moratorium on the death penalty is also a step in the right direction.
On the negative side, and as regards issues we should criticise, what has happened to the leading political opposition leader Mr Sarsenbayev is of the utmost concern to us. His murder points towards a very dangerous trend of criminalisation in Kazakh politics. In the absence of clear constitutional mechanisms guaranteeing a peaceful transfer of executive power in Kazakhstan, this development is clearly worrying. We have therefore urged the authorities to ensure complete transparency in the investigation process. I am pleased that the FBI can go there, but some Europeans should be there as well. We are also following very closely the investigation into the murder of Oksana Nikitina, the daughter of another prominent member of the opposition. I have also been very troubled by reports on harassment of opposition figures following two peaceful memorial marches in Almaty, held after Mr Sarsenbayev’s funeral. Some of you have alluded to that.
I would also like to mention the two essential issues of media freedom and restrictions on civil society. We are concerned at reports of numerous instances of harassment of journalists and actions taken against five newspapers and one opposition website. The new law on national security, adopted in July 2005, also permits undue restrictions on civil society and NGO activities.
We have welcomed, on the one hand, improvements noted by the OSCE/ODIHR in the administration of the December 2005 presidential election – a few of you were there to observe them. However, we also regret that the election did not meet a number of OSCE commitments and that no action was taken to amend the legislative framework in line with OSCE/ODIHR recommendations. We will certainly want to continue to monitor the investigations about alleged malpractices.
One lingering core concern is political freedom. For the sake of its internal stability, Kazakhstan needs a political opposition and it is urgent for the authorities to legalise political opposition parties and open a real dialogue with them, for example through the state commission on democratisation, which is to be established soon and chaired by President Nazarbayev. In particular I think that the Kazakh authorities will reconsider their refusal to register the opposition political parties Alga and True Ak Zhol.
I would very much welcome it if you form a parliamentary delegation and if you reinforce your cooperation with delegations from Kazakhstan. It is another very important channel to give them clear messages and it is also an opportunity. Let us not prejudge a decision on Kazakhstan’s bid for the chairmanship of the OSCE in 2009. Perhaps it might provide Kazakhstan with an important challenge in achieving higher standards of democracy.
Finally, we are also concerned about reports of numerous instances of harassment of journalists and actions taken against five newspapers and one opposition website. The new law on national security that was adopted in July last year also permits undue restrictions on civil society and NGO activities. I think therefore that this is a country with which we have to engage very strongly but at the same time we have to deliver firm messages.