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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 29,749 24,205 22,400 60
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,780 1,510 1,350 119
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Kazakstan


Update No: 378 - (26/07/12)

The United Nations has accused President Nursultan Nazarbaev of putting economic prosperity before human rights as the authorities' handling of the violence in the Manghystau region last year mars Kazakhstan's reputation for stability and prosperity.

On July 12, the United Nations pressed Kazakhstan to allow an international investigation into clashes between protesters and policemen on December 16 last year. Up to 16 people were killed and another 100 injured when police and striking oil workers clashed in the country's western Manghystau region. The violence erupted in the town of Zhanaozen when police tried to clear the main square to erect yurts as part of celebrations to mark the anniversary of Kazakh independence. The square had been occupied for more than six months by hundreds of disgruntled workers at an oil facility controlled by state-owned KazMunaiGaz and, when told to move on, the strikers threw rocks at police, who retaliated with live gun fire.

During a visit to Kazakhstan last month, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the December riots should serve as a "warning" to Kazakhstan not to pursue financial prosperity at the expense of human rights.

"Ignoring this was the mistake made in Tunisia, where very positive economic indicators masked the despair of a population deprived of many of their fundamental human rights," Pillay said.

Kazakhstan is the richest state in Central Asia and holds 3 per cent of the world's recoverable oil reserves. President Nursultan Nazarbaev has prioritised growth and the economy, worth $185 billion at the end of last year, has expanded by an average of 8 per cent per year over the last decade. But the boom has come at the expense of developments in democracy and human rights and the violence last December has tainted Kazakhstan's image of stability and progress.

"A precise account of exactly what happened in Zhanaozen, both during the tragic events themselves and afterwards, remains elusive," Pillay said.

"It is not clear who gave the orders allowing police to open fire, or precisely why they did so," she said. "I have recommended to the government that the only way to credibly answer these questions once and for all, and draw a line under these tragic events, is to authorise an independent international investigation into the events themselves, their causes and their aftermath," she said.

Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman Altai Abibullayev said the UN's assessment of what happened at Zhanaozen was "one-sided", and international bodies, including the UN, had already been invited to collect information.

"The right to life, the provision of security and basic social, economic and humanitarian rights for every citizen of Kazakhstan remain fundamental values for us," he said.

The trials of those accused of being responsible for the violence opened on March 27 and ended in June. 34 people – mainly striking oil workers – were convicted of rioting in Zhanaozen, although only 13 were sent to prison. Some of them were reportedly tortured to extract testimonies that made the government look good. In a statement issued on April 23, Human Rights Watch said: “The alleged widespread and serious ill-treatment of the defendants undermines the ability to guarantee them a fair trial, which should lead a court to halt proceedings.”

Officials in Astana maintain that any reports of torture will be investigated, and Foreign Ministry spokesman Altay Abibullayev said: “The Government takes any allegation of mistreatment seriously.” Separate trials led to the conviction of six policemen for abuse of power, including the head of a remand centre found guilty of failing to allow medical aid for a man who later died.

Prosecutor-General Askhat Daulbayev, who met Pillay earlier, said these trials had been conducted transparently and had been open to international observers and relatives of the accused.

The date of another trial involving other people accused of inciting violence in Zhanaozen by “fomenting social discord” has yet to be set. The defendants at those hearings will include Vladimir Kozlov, leader of the unregistered opposition Alga! Party, opposition activist Serik Sapargali and former oil worker Akzhanat Aminov.

Pillay said the events of Zhanaozen, if properly investigated, could become a "watershed" for Kazakhstan. "It contains, in microcosm, many of the human rights concerns and critical gaps in the country's laws and rule-of-law institutions," she said. "These include allegations that torture is still practised in Kazakhstan."

Pillay also said freedom of assembly was "far too restricted" and the underlying causes of the original dispute in Zhanaozen reflected wider social and economic problems, including large differences in access to resources for country dwellers and city people.

But with the global economic crisis still in full swing, it seems unlikely that Kazakhstan's human rights record will put off big businesses from operating in the country while they're continuing to turn healthy profits, namely large Western-led oil consortiums such as ENI.

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