In concluding observations and recommendations released today, a United Nations expert body noted with concern that Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member state Kazakhstan “may be willing to rely” on diplomatic assurances provided within the SCO framework “to return foreign nationals to countries where torture and serious human rights violations might occur.” Human Rights in China (HRIC) welcomes these expert conclusions in light of Kazakhstan’s practice of returning Uyghur asylum seekers to fellow SCO member state China – most recently Ershidin Israil – and of returning asylum seekers and refugees to other SCO member states as well, including the return in June of 28 Uzbek refugees to Uzbekistan.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee included this concern in its Concluding Observations on the Initial report of Kazakhstan, regarding the government’s implementation of the human rights obligations enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR or “Covenant”), which Kazakhstan ratified in 2006. The Committee further expressed its concern that “individuals, particularly Uzbek and Chinese nationals, who might have valid claims for asylum or refugee status have no protection under the principle of non-refoulement . . . .” It recommended that Kazakhstan “monitor the treatment of such persons after their return and take appropriate action when [diplomatic] assurances are not fulfilled. Furthermore, [Kazakhstan] should fully comply with the principle of non-refoulement and ensure that all persons in need of international protection receive appropriate and fair treatment at all stages in compliance with the Covenant.”
During the Human Rights Committee’s July 14-15 review of Kazakhstan, expert members of the Committee raised a number of questions and concerns regarding the impact of the SCO framework on, and its relationship to, Kazakhstan’s implementation of the ICCPR. This review marked the first time Kazakhstan came before the Committee.
As HRIC has detailed in its whitepaper Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights: The Impact of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the SCO has the potential to undermine international human rights obligations by imposing countervailing and problematic commitments upon member states, one of which is the obligation to return any individual accused or suspected of “terrorism,” “separatism,” or “extremism” – charges that are often politically motivated – to a requesting state. In addition to addressing the question of extradition pursuant to SCO obligations, the Committee’s concluding observations identified the following specific legislative and policy recommendations, which are affected by and related to cooperation within the scope of the SCO framework:
- “The State party should take all necessary measures to ensure legal clarity on the status and applicability of the Covenant and other international human rights treaties ratified by the State party.”
- “The State party should adopt measures to ensure that the activities of its law enforcement officials in the fight against terrorism do not target individuals solely based on their status or religious belief and manifestation.”
- “[T]he State party should ensure that any measures to combat terrorism are compatible with the Covenant and international human rights law. In this regard, the State party should compile comprehensive data, to be included in its next periodic report, on the implementation of anti-terrorism legislation, and how it affects the enjoyment of rights under the Covenant.”
- “The State party should abolish the exit visa requirement, and also ensure that the requirement that individuals should register their place of residence is in full compliance with the provisions of article 12 of the Covenant.”
- “The State party should review its legislation on refugees to ensure that it complies with the Covenant and international standards on refugee and asylum law.”
- “The State party should also ensure that it provides the necessary cooperation to UNHCR in order to allow it to execute its mandate and functions as provided by the UNHCR Statutes, the 1951 Convention and other international treaties ratified by the State party in order to guarantee the rights provided under the Covenant.”
HRIC calls on the SCO and its individual member states to ensure that regional cooperation among them complies fully with international human rights obligations.
The Human Rights Committee is a body of 18 independent experts tasked with monitoring implementation by State parties of the ICCPR. As a party to the Covenant, Kazakhstan is required to report regularly to the Committee on its efforts to pursue, by all appropriate means and without delay, the civil and political rights enumerated in the Covenant. In addition to Kazakhstan’s report, the Committee also invited parallel NGO submissions and other sources of information. HRIC submitted a parallel report to the Committee in June.
China has signed, but not yet ratified, the ICCPR.