By Assem Kazybay
ASTANA, Nov. 13 – During the 67th session of the UN General Assembly on November 12, 2012 in New York, Kazakhstan was elected to the UN Human Rights Council for the first time in its history.
A total of 183 out of 193 UN member states voted for Kazakhstan’s candidacy in secret ballot voting. The country will take up its membership on January 1, 2013 and sit on the Council until 2015. In total, 18 new member states were elected to the Council.
“We are pleased to have been elected to the UN Human Rights Council. But we do not consider it solely as a badge of honor,” Altay Abibullayev, spokesperson for Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said. “We see it as an opportunity to contribute to global efforts for making progress in this crucial field. The Republic of Kazakhstan has been actively supporting the work of the Human Rights Council and human rights generally. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan annually takes part in a High-level segment of the Human Rights Council.”
In February 2010, Kazakhstan presented and successfully defended its first national report in the framework of the new human rights mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council, the Universal Periodic Review.
“Congratulations to Kazakhstan. It is a great opportunity to help raise global human rights standards in partnership with the United States and other countries,” Richard Weitz, Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute, said on the occasion.
This election acknowledges Kazakhstan's successful consolidation of a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional population into an inclusive society of citizens, Vladimir Socor, Senior Fellow of the Washington, DC-based Jamestown Foundation, noted. “Barely two decades old, the state of the Kazakhs is built on the concept of a civic nation in which ethnic, religious, and cultural identities coalesce around the common Kazakhstani citizenship. Beyond simple tolerance, Kazakhstan respects and encourages the expression of those identities as a matter of individual civic rights and personal freedoms.”
Socor continued: “Against a global backdrop where ethnic and religious militantism, tribe and sect, tear apart scores of unconsolidated states, while others suppress those identities, Kazakhstan sets the rare example of a Muslim-majority state on a secular path of development, taking pride in its rich diversity, and conceiving of itself as a messenger between continents and cultures. Wide-open to European influences, Kazakhstan became in 2010 the first Asian and first Muslim-majority country to chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) with the member states' unanimous consent.”
According to Socor, “Kazakhstan's government regards its membership of the UN Human Rights Council ‘not solely as a badge of honor. We see it... as an opportunity to lead from within the Council as well as by example at home’. Personal and civil rights are precursors to the evolutionary development of democratic political systems. The 2012 parliamentary elections have introduced party pluralism in the Mazhlis. It is up to the Kazakhstanis, attuned to their own country’s specific circumstances, to determine the scope and pace of that evolutionary process.”
“The election of Kazakhstan to the United Nations' Human Rights Council is both an honor and responsibility for the young state,” Margarita Assenova, Director of Programs for Balkans, Caucasus and Central Asia at the Jamestown Foundation said. “The UN member states recognized Kazakhstan for its successful dialogue and cooperation with the UN human rights body. The challenge for the Kazakh government will be to improve human rights protection at home by fully implementing its Human Rights Plan and UN Human Rights Council’s recommendations. I believe that this goal will be achieved better through engaging Kazakhstan in important UN bodies, rather than excluding and isolating a country that has demonstrated its desire to comply with UN human rights conventions.
The UN Human Rights Council was created by the United Nations General Assembly in March 15, 2006 by resolution 60/251. It is the leading international body for the protection of human rights which replaced the UN Commission on Human Rights.
The Council consists of 47 countries. Membership is open to all UN member states, which are elected directly and individually by secret ballot by the majority of the members of the General Assembly. Members of the Council serve for a period of three years and are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms. The General Assembly takes into account the candidate states’ contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as their voluntary pledges and commitments in this regard.