Kazakhstan’s 2016-2020 National Action Plan on Development of Interaction between the Government and CSOs generally recognizes the importance of civil society to the country’s development. However, barriers to civil society’s ability to access foreign funding remain in the country’s tax code, which is comprised of vague regulations requiring CSOs to report annually on their leadership, membership, bank accounts, revenue, spending, and project activities to the Ministry on Religious and Civil Society Affairs. The government claims that the tax code promotes transparency and protects national security. However, CSOs report that it is virtually impossible to comply with the code. CSOs believed to be in violation of the code are at risk of fines, asset freezes, travel bans, and dissolution.
Kazakhstan has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which protects civil society’s rights to operate and seek funding. Civil society activists often reference the ICCPR when advocating for their rights and during trials involving CSOs and activists. Activists also refer to the ICCRP during press interviews and conferences to foster more awareness about civil society’s purpose and rights among the general public. CSOs have similarly relied upon the Joint Guidelines on Freedom of Association created for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Venice Commission when conducting advocacy.
Civil society in Kazakhstan has partnered with international legal experts to draft offering legal advice to the government on improving the ability of CSOs to seek and receive funding and to utilize funding outside of the government’s influence. They use these opinions to argue that guaranteeing civil society’s right to access resources will benefit the county’s development. Amicus Briefs on freedom of association in Kazakhstan have been produced by the former UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly and Association, Maina Kiai, and by International Center for Non-profit Law (ICNL).
CSOs have sometimes adopted a “harm reduction” strategy to remain viable in Kazakhstan, whereby they identified shared goals with the government to demonstrate how civil society can help the state. Although this has helped CSOs protect their right to access resources, they indicate that it is difficult to conduct advocacy on issues of particular sensitivity, such as corruption, when trying to work and develop a cooperative relationship with the government. The Government of Kazakhstan is, however, reportedly concerned with its public image abroad, which gives civil society some leverage. Where possible, civil society engages with platforms established by the government, including the Consultative-Advisory Body’s “Dialogue Platform on Human Dimensions” under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Commission on Human Rights’ Expert Council under the President of Kazakhstan; the Expert Council under the Office of the Ombudsman of Kazakhstan; the Public Council under the Ministry on Religious, and Civil Society Affairs; and a working groups of the Lower Chamber of Parliament.
International treaties to which Kazakhstan is a party: