On April 21-22, 2022, the official report of the Republic of Kazakhstan will be considered at the 106th session of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The alternative report by ADC Memorial covers the crisis phenomena in the field of interethnic relations, that became vivid to the Kazakhstani society after the largest interethnic conflict in the recent past, the anti-Dungan riot in February 2020.
The political reforms taking place in Kazakhstan, including the most recent ones, have already affected the sphere of interethnic relations: it is declared that they are aimed at democratisation and ensuring broad representation of all the population groups. Earlier, the Committee for the Development of Interethnic Relations and the Institute of Applied Ethnic Political Research were established under the Ministry of Information and Social Development of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Nevertheless, there is a rather strong interethnic tension taking place in the Kazakhstani society. This is facilitated by the denial of the problem of ethnic discrimination and hate crimes, the absence of an anti-discrimination law, and the ineffective investigation of cases of conflicts motivated by hate.
The directions of the national policy in Kazakhstan are still largely defined by the ideas of the past. Containing the potential for conflicts and, if desired, amenable to arbitrary and contradictory interpretation, these are also declarations about the special historical mission of ethnic Kazakhs as the “state-forming nation”, and maintaining the idea about the “hosts” and “guests” of the country in the public consciousness. In the face of the cultivated image of Kazakhstan as an ideal “country of unions of nations”, numerous conflicts, which are undoubtedly within the interethnic dimension, were provoked by various reasons, from domestic quarrels to deeper problems such as the disintegration of ethnic minorities, and the growing popularity of national-patriotic ideas, did not find proper reaction. The largest in scale and most shocking event, which has no precedents in the entire modern history of Kazakhstan, was the pogrom of Dungan villages in the south of the country, which led to casualties, large-scale destruction and forced migration of thousands of people. The lack of an adequate investigation and a fair legal assessment of what happened creates a sense of impunity on the one hand, and discontent and a desire for revenge on the other, which only leads to an escalation of tension and forms the ground for new conflicts.
Less visible, but still a serious problem, remains Kazakhstan’s attitude towards refugees from China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Despite the fact that the world community recognised the mass repressions against the Muslims, most of whom are Uighurs, and condemned the Chinese government for them, Kazakhstan keeps considering the reports by human rights organisations about persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang unreliable. The cases of granting of refugee status even to the ethnic Kazakhs have been rare. There are persecutions of activists who publish information about the repression of Muslim minorities in China (for example, a well-known researcher of this problem, Evgenii Bunin, was banned from entering Kazakhstan).
For ADC Memorial the topic of discrimination in education remains targeted for increased attention. In Kazakhstan, a progressive model of multilingual education is being implemented, the goal of which is to achieve high proficiency in Kazakh, Russian and English. However, the ethnic minorities languages (except Russian) are left on the periphery of the educational system, even though the legislation and various relevant documents contain the guarantees for their preservation. The number of schools where teaching is conducted in the languages of ethnic minorities, even those with developed educational materials, is constantly decreasing, and the quality of teaching Kazakh, Russian and English in them is insufficient for transition to higher education. The Uighur and Tajik languages are losing their share in the field of education, Dungan is virtually not present in the school system.
Welcoming the recent reforms aimed at increasing the effectiveness of State and public institutions responsible for the harmonisation of interethnic relations, ADC “Memorial” calls on the Government of Kazakhstan to create a system for effective monitoring of interethnic tensions; scientifically based conflict forecasting; training and education of representatives of local authorities and law enforcement agencies; effective response in case of the risk of hate crimes and violence (including impartial investigation, fair trial, bringing the perpetrators to justice and redress to victims). Non-governmental organisations should be involved in conflict prevention by creating favourable conditions for their work: ensuring freedom of association and expression, openness and transparency. It is necessary to ensure adequate representation of ethnic minorities in state authorities and administration, law enforcement and judicial bodies, especially in areas densely populated by ethnic minorities; particular attention should be paid to the representation of women. Along with guarantees of high-quality teaching of languages in which higher education can be obtained in Kazakhstan (Kazakh, Russian English), state policy should also provide for indicators of support and development of the minority languages (assessments of the level of competence of speakers and an increase in their number). It is necessary to support and finance the development and production of up-to-date school materials, literature, media in digital and paper form. The rights of ethnic minorities must be protected by a comprehensive anti-discriminatory law created taking into account modern international human rights standards. Representatives of the minorities repressed in China who seek asylum in Kazakhstan must be provided with the rights guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees (1951). It is unacceptable to try them for illegal border crossing and extradite them to China, where they can be subjected to torture and other persecution.