WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 637, December 16, 2010 UZBEK LEADER USES REFORMS TO SECURE FUTURE Changes appear to diminish presidents powers, but are intended to secure his long-term political position and fend off any hint of challenge. By Inga Sikorskaya
PLIGHT OF ABANDONED WIVES IN TAJIKISTAN When migrant workers cut ties with home and stop sending money, their families are ill-equipped to fend for themselves. By Mehrangez Tursunzoda CUTTING YOUTH RE-OFFENDING IN KYRGYZSTAN More needs to be done to help young offenders adjust to life after detention. By Yelena Voronina SPECIAL REPORT KAZAK PRISON RIOTS HIGHLIGHT POOR CONDITIONS Central governments commitment to penal reform has yet to feed through to prison management, activists say. By Artur Nigmetov **** NEW ************************************************************************************ LATEST PROJECT REVIEWS: http://iwpr.net/make-an-impact/project-reviews VACANCIES: http://iwpr.net/what-we-do/vacancies **** IWPR RESOURCES ****************************************************************** CENTRAL ASIA PROGRAMME HOME: http://www.iwpr.net/programme/central-asia CENTRAL ASIA RADIO: http://iwpr.net/programme/central-asia/central-asia-radio NEWS BRIEFING CENTRAL ASIA: http://iwpr.net/programme/news-briefing-central-asia CENTRAL ASIA HUMAN RIGHTS: http://iwpr.net/programme/central-asia-human-rights-reporting-project STORY BEHIND THE STORY: http://iwpr.net/report-news/the-story-behind-the-story BECOME A FAN OF IWPR ON FACEBOOK http://facebook.com/InstituteforWarandPeaceReporting FOLLOW US ON TWITTER http://twitter.com/iwpr **** http://iwpr.net/ ********************************************************** RSS FEEDS: http://iwpr.net/syndication/builder DONATE TO IWPR: http://iwpr.net/donate **** http://iwpr.net/ ********************************************************** UZBEK LEADER USES REFORMS TO SECURE FUTURE Changes appear to diminish presidents powers, but are intended to secure his long-term political position and fend off any hint of challenge. By Inga Sikorskaya Changes to the Uzbek constitution giving parliament more powers and establishing new procedures for the presidential succession are mainly about reinforcing the position of current leader Islam Karimov, analysts say. On the face of it, the changes look like a tentative step towards democracy. Outlining the reforms in a speech to parliament on November 12, President Karimov, said the political party or bloc that won the most seats in an election would get to nominate a prime minister, a right currently reserved for the president himself. Parliament would also have powers to seek the dismissal of the prime minister. The government, meanwhile, would take over full responsibility for areas like the economy and social affairs that now fall within the presidents remit. The purpose of these changes, Karimov said, was to create a more balanced distribution of power among presidency, legislature and executive. Granting parliament more authority marked a new stage in reforming and democratising the country, he said. Another key change affects the arrangements for replacing the head of state in the event he dies or becomes incapable of continuing in the post. At the moment, members of parliament are supposed to pick one of their number to fill in on an acting basis while a presidential election is organised. Now the acting position will automatically go to the chairman of the Senate, the upper house of Uzbekistans parliament, with an election due within three months. The presidents true intentions are opaque. Some analysts interviewed by IWPR believe he is laying the way for the day he leaves office though none see this as an imminent possibility. Others suspect that members of Karimovs entourage have pressed for the changes in order to guarantee their own political survival by ensuring any transition of power goes smoothly. Finally, there are those who believe the reforms are no more than the periodic window-dressing that Karimov has engaged in for more than two decades. A member of parliament in Uzbekistan who asked to remain anonymous argued that the political elite as a whole is considering the options for a time when Karimov is no longer in charge. The new arrangements were really intended for the long term. Several years ago, he recalled, legislation was passed to give former president a seat in the Senate and in the Constitutional Court for life. At the time, this was misread as a sign Karimov was on the point of retiring. If it had been conceived as a plan for a smooth departure, he should have been gone by now, but many years have passed since then and we still have the same president, the legislator said. Instead, he said, Karimov was manoeuvring to ensure he wielded political power even if he stepped down as president. He will be a senator and dominate parliament as elder statesman. He will recommend a candidate [for prime minister], and will say when it is time for a vote of no confidence, he said. A Tashkent-based political analyst, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the reform might have emanated from Karimov himself, as the realisation dawned that if he chose to step down, the presence of a massively powerful successor would not be to his own advantage. Maybe hes come to see that when the time comes, this personalised system could become unstable, he said. Farhod Tolipov, a political analyst in Tashkent, uses a similar example to draw a different conclusion that nothing would actually change. In an interview he gave to IWPR, he said cited a previous presidential initiative allowing parties to form a parliamentary opposition. Despite this, he said, we havent seen any faction emerge as an independent opposition. Dosym Satpaev, a political analyst in Kazakstan, agreed that what was being presented as reform was really just a mechanism for shaping the future the way the president wanted to see it. Karimov is very acutely aware of the need to start thinking now about a mechanism that will secure continuity and preserve the political system he has created, he said. This has a lot to do with security first, for his family; second, for the property that belongs to him, to his family and to members of his immediate circle, Satpaev said. Karimovs strategy, he said, was to dilute the powers of the next president while strengthening those of a parliament dominated by a party he would still control. Tashpulat Yoldashev, a political commentator now living outside Uzbekistan, sees the reform as a divide-and-rule tactic designed to satisfy a range of political elite groups while preventing any one of them emerging ahead of the pack. Karimov has always played on rivalries and confrontation among clans, taking it out on the less trustworthy ones, punishing and destroying them with the help of those who happen are close to him at any given time, he said. Seen in this light, Ilgizar Sobirov, a little-known figure despite heading the Senate since 2006, looks very much like a transitional figure. His connections are with a political grouping or clan that comes from Khorezm in the northwest of Uzbekistan, and is much less influential than the Tashkent, Fergana and Samarkand groups. Sobirov would step in as interim head of state if Karimov left the stage, but lacked the backing to make a bid to take over on a permanent basis, Yoldashev said. Identifying Sobirov could thus be a way of checkmating Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoev, who may have grown too powerful for Karimovs liking. Mirziyoev, who has skilfully won the bosss trust and copies his style of leadership and behaviour, has not put his political ambitions on public show as yet. But he has been systematically strengthening his position in the state apparatus and in the economic sector, and hes been quietly building up his team, which probably hasnt gone unnoticed by his rivals, who will have reported this to the leader, Yoldashev said. Rovshan Ibrahimov, head of the international relations department at Baku University in Azerbaijan, said any talk of Karimov stepping down was premature. This is a period of transition, of preparing the ground, he said. All the leaders in the post-Soviet area are doing the same thing. There is little doubt that Uzbek parliament will approve the reforms President Karimov has proposed. Yoldashev said that Karimov was so strong that no rival would dare challenge him as long as he lives. Karimov is unpredictable. Depending on what he wants, he will reshuffle his staff repeatedly, change the rules of the game and dictate new terms whenever he wants to, the analyst said. Until he dies, no real change can be expected in the countrys political life, in the functioning of parliament, or in the appointment and dismissal of prime ministers. Inga Sikorskaya is IWPRs chief editor for Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway. PLIGHT OF ABANDONED WIVES IN TAJIKISTAN When migrant workers cut ties with home and stop sending money, their families are ill-equipped to fend for themselves. By Mehrangez Tursunzoda While mass labour migration has provided a life-support system for much of Tajikistan, those families where the main breadwinner has stopped sending money home are among the poorest in the country. Civil society groups say more needs to be done to allow abandoned wives to get state help, find ways of earning an income on their own, and track down husbands who should be paying child support . The problems facing such families came up a series of discussion events held in various parts of Tajikistan from November 25 to December 6. The debates, organised jointly by the International Organisation for Migration, IOM, the United Nations womens agency UNIFEM, the Open Society Institute Assistance FoundationTajikistan, and IWPR, are expected to generate recommendations on protecting the rights and interests of migrant families in Tajikistan. Farzona Yusupova, 36, is fairly typical of the women left behind by husbands who go abroad. Although happily married with three children, the couple were so short of money that her husband had to find work in Russia. There was no news from him for about two years, but then I heard rumours that hed got married in Russia, Yusupova said. After a while his relatives grew tired of keeping us and drove us out of the house. Who would take me in now with three children? I found a hostel to live in and got myself a job as a household servant so that wed have something to live on. Having survived the experience, Yusupovas main worry is that as a single parent she cannot give her children the attention they need now that they have reached adolescence. Although economic crisis in Russia, by far the most popular destination, has reduced the demand for migrant labour, unofficial estimates put the current number of Tajikistan nationals working abroad at up to one million. That includes both those who have the right documents and permits and those who are working illegally. Muzafar Zaripov, who runs the NGO Migration and Development and heads a resource centre that helps migrants, calculates that 930,000 people went to Russia in 2009. The IOMs current estimate is slightly lower at 800,000. According to the IOM about 95 per cent of the migrants are men, and nearly 80 per cent of that number are married. The money they send home has cushioned large numbers of households against destitution over many years in which the Tajik economy has performed poorly. According to World Bank data presented last year, remittances account for nearly 60 per cent of gross domestic product. Studies show that most migrants do send money back, although this may not be much as they have to pay their own living and other costs first. A study which the IOM published in April 2009 said the average amount of money sent home by a labour migrant was 400 dollars in the course of a year. In a later report, from August last year, an IOM researcher calculated that some 37 per cent of households where the main breadwinner was abroad were living in poverty or extreme poverty because they were receiving under 500 US dollars a year, and in some cases nothing at all. The 25 per cent that receive more than 500 dollars but less than 1,000 dollars annually may also be at risk, the report added. For a minority of families, emigration becomes a permanent state and sooner or later the money stops coming. The IOM report estimated that about one-third of husbands working abroad would settle down in the host country, leaving their wives back in Tajikistan. These abandoned wives, the report said, together with those receiving little or nothing from husbands they are in contact with, constitute a risk group. These women live in extreme poverty; they lack assistance from the government, international organisations and the local community; and their physical and mental health is vulnerable as they are defenceless against famine, crime and abuse, it said. Oinihol Bobonazarova, head of the Perspektiva Plus NGO, described some of the issues facing abandoned families. Weve done a lot of work on suicide, where women set fire to themselves. Some of them did so because their husbands had gone away, remarried or failed to send back money, she said. Secondly, children are left without care, as the mother has to go out to earn a crust and spends day after day sitting [trading] at the market. Alla Kuvvatova, who heads the NGO Association for Gender Equality and Preventing Violence against Women, said people could seek government assistance in such cases. There is social support; the state can help if theres no breadwinner in a family for an extended period. They can come say, Hes gone and he isnt [financially] helping me, she explained. Kuvvatova said lack of education was a basic problem for vulnerable women. They need to be taught how to earn money. They need the simplest skills, she said. Husbands are legally bound to provide for any children, including after a divorce, but this becomes especially difficult to enforce when they are far off in another country. Often, they do not divorce their wife in Tajikistan, making it hard for her to pursue alimony through legal mechanisms. Other wives may have married only according to the Muslim rite without registering with the state authorities, so the onus is on them to prove paternity. In any case, such women, who typically live in rural areas and may not be able to travel to a large town, are as a rule unfamiliar with how to take their case to a government agency or go to a specialist NGO for advice. Neli Safarova, coordinator of a project on access to justice and legal reform which the League of Women Lawyers is running, said women could get various kinds of help from her group. We advise them, and if they need legal aid we will write their statements for court proceedings, she said. A husband can be declared missing or dead. In cases where only a religious wedding had taken place and the woman was therefore not married in the eyes of the law, Safarova said her organisation would seek a court order for a blood test to establish paternity. She said lawyers would also help women secure a court order for alimony and then try to track the delinquent husband down through reciprocal legal arrangements concluded by the Commonwealth of Independent States, of which Russia and Tajikistan are both members. Safarova said legislative changes were needed in several areas to tighten up on alimony payment, to ensure that all marriages were properly registered, and to make sure that every worker who left the country did so as a legal emigrant. At the moment, it is easy for migrant workers to conceal the fact that they are married and evade paying child support and alimony once they have stopped sending regular remittances. Firuz Saidov, an expert with the Centre for Strategic Studies in Dushanbe, would like to see a revival of the Soviet-era practice of recording marital status and children in peoples passports. At the moment, it is possible for a man with family in Tajikistan national to marry a Russian woman by buying a forged certificate stating that he is single. Saidov would like to see a formal agreement between Russia and Tajikistan requiring registration of marriage in one state to be notified to the authorities in the other as a matter of course. When a Tajik migrant settles down and marries a Russian, that is often the point at which he will stop sending money back home. Bobonazarova said that in some cases Tajiks concluded such marriages to get accommodation, to ease the route to Russian citizenship, or just as a way of deterring local police from harassing them. She cited estimates that 12,000 Tajik men get married in Russia every year. That is still a tiny proportion of the men who work in other countries, three-quarters of whom will remain there for under a year and continue to support their families as best they can. As Saidov pointed out, 70 per cent of Tajik labour migrants travel abroad in spring and come back when the cold sets in. Theyre seasonal; they go off and then come back to their wives again, he said. With no end to labour migration in sight, though, the real hardships facing those households that are abandoned by their breadwinners look set to continue. Mehrangez Tursunzade is an IWPR-trained journalist in Tajikistan. This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway. CUTTING YOUTH RE-OFFENDING IN KYRGYZSTAN More needs to be done to help young offenders adjust to life after detention. By Yelena Voronina The authorities in Kyrgyzstan should overhaul the juvenile detention system to help young offenders reintegrate into society when they are released, experts say. While the countrys main young offenders institution provides schooling, vocational training and social adaptation programmes are only just getting off the ground. And once ex-offenders are on the outside, no provision is made to prevent them reoffending or to help them find work and fit into society. Kyrgyzstan has just one detention facility for young male offenders aged between 14 and 18, the period of criminal responsibility for minors. Located near the village of Voznesenovka, 70 kilometres from the capital Bishkek, its 69 inmates are serving sentences for less serious crimes. The facility is surrounded by a barbed-wire fence with accommodation in barrack-style dormitories with bars on the windows, a school and a football field. It suffers from the same kind of problems as other penal institutions in Kyrgyzstan, such as inadequate heating and a shortage of food and winter boots for inmates. There is no analogous facility for female offenders aged 14-18, and officials say there are no plans to build one. They are held inside a womens prison in Stepnoye in the northern Chui region, but separately from the adults. Currently there are just four girls in the unit; they do not have schooling but can train in practical skills like hairdressing. Female young offenders convicted of minor crimes are generally given suspended sentences or alternative penalties. Young offenders of either sex under the age of 14 are not incarcerated, and are the responsibility of local government social service departments wherever they live. A special school for this category used to exist, but was closed five years ago at the insistence of Kyrgyz NGOs concerned about the treatment of inmates. Cholpon Omurkanova, who heads Egl, a non-government group focusing on young people in trouble with the law, is among those who believe work with young offenders has to start while they are locked up. Of the ten boys released from the Voznesenovka institution every month, four or five will come back after re-offending. She said special programmes were needed to help them prepare for freedom. They need to be prepared for it, so that when theyre released, they find their feet and understand how to move on, she said. Omurkanovas NGO is running a project to set up Kyrgyzstans first youth rehabilitation centre, which will open by the end of this year in the Voznesenovka institution. The project, backed by the Danish aid group DanChurchAid, is being implemented in collaboration with the prison authorities. Many child rights activists want to see a network of rehabilitation centres outside the penal system, to work with recently-released young offenders by finding accommodation and jobs for them. Among them is Mahabat Temirbek-Kyzy, a senior advisor to the labour ministrys child protection department, who agrees that Kyrgyzstan needs a better system for dealing with young offenders. Its very important for Kyrgyzstan to have [state] social services equipped with rehabilitation techniques and educational mechanisms, which would see young offenders as the subjects of a process, and their crimes as a symptom of an ailment these services would have to treat, Temirbek-Kyzy said. She stressed that the ministry would welcome any NGOs that wanted to run rehabilitation centres, and reminded them that they could apply for government-funded contracts to carry out such work. Unfortunately, there arent any social [rehabilitation] centres for minors with suspended sentences or whove been recently released, Temirbek-Kyzy said. In the last three years, only a couple of NGOs had applied for funding to work with young offenders, and the one that won a contract was focusing on helping them get their documents in order, apply for jobs and find accommodation. But that isnt enough to get an adolescent fully back into a normal life, she said. Nor is it enough for the state alone, or NGOs alone, to be working on this. A consolidated approach is needed, also bringing in international organisations from countries where this kind of approach has been successfully mainstreamed into overall child protection policies. Experts on youth offenders agree that helping them catch up on education is a key part of the rehabilitation process. The Vosnesenovka facility has its own school that uses the standard state curriculum, plus additional learning programmes to help students fill the often massive gaps in their education. Sometimes they arrive here without being able to read the alphabet, Kuraman Nazarbekov, who runs the detention facility, said. Theyve been doing other things on the outside. He noted that some young men learn enough to go on to higher education after their release. Theyve started families, been in work, and raised children, Were very proud of lads like that, he said. The school head, Valentina Geraschenko, said most students were between four and six years behind with their education when they arrived that they could not catch up. They have lost any interest in studying and effectively broken all contacts with school, she said. The amount of time they serve here is also a factor. If one of them turns 18, hell be transferred to the adult facility, and if another is released early, he will have no opportunity to complete his education on the outside. An IWPR contributor who visited the school said facilities were basic, with old desks designed for much smaller children and amateurish attempts at refurbishment. Teachers complain of a shortage of textbooks, atlases and writing materials. Russian is the only teaching medium, as there are too few Kyrgyz-language books available, and this puts children from the countryside and from neighbouring countries like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan at a disadvantage. Geraschenko and her team of ten teachers appear to be doing their level best against the odds. To us theyre just children. Each one has ability, some have talent. Its only while theyve been here that many of them have been able to show their ability, she said. Our task is to show every adolescent that theres light at the end of the tunnel even if hes gone astray and committed an offence. She added that having a few more teaching resources would make the classes more engaging, although some local teachers and educationalists had helped out by passing on used textbooks. One of the inmates said the school had given him hope of becoming an IT specialist when he got out. They understand that theres a lot we dont know, and help us catch up on what weve missed, he said. In here Ive realised that Ive got ability and that I can be proud of doing well at studying. Our school is no worse than the ones on the outside, but I wish we had new textbooks and maybe computers. A 20-year-old former inmate who gave his first name as Kirill is one of the success stories. After four years in Voznesenovka, he got out two years ago and enrolled on a carpentry course at a college in Bishkek. Since then he has found a decent-paying job at a furniture company, where the manager took him on despite his past conviction. Im trying to forget the past. Now Ive got a job and an education. I dream of building my own house. Kirills story is fairly typical of the young people who pass through the youth detention centre at Voznesenovka. He left home at the age of 12 to escape beatings from his new step-father after his mother remarried, and lived on the street, occasionally being picked up by the police. I stole things and sold them to feed myself, he recalled. I was lucky all the time, until I got caught. Once in the detention camp, he had to start making up for the year of school he had missed. Im grateful to the teachers, he said. They did a lot for me. If Id had such attentive teachers at my old school maybe I wouldnt have ended up in detention. Like many prison staff and current inmates, Kirill would like to see the Vosnesenovka facility providing training in practical trades. There was nothing like that when he was there, and he got the idea of training as a cabinet-maker after coming across a slim book on practical crafts. Yelena Voronina is a human rights activist in Bishkek who has attended IWPR training. This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway. SPECIAL REPORT KAZAK PRISON RIOTS HIGHLIGHT POOR CONDITIONS Central governments commitment to penal reform has yet to feed through to prison management, activists say. By Artur Nigmetov The authorities in Kazakstan need to accelerate penal reforms and improve conditions to avoid further protests by inmates, rights activists say. The latest in a series of protests was a hunger strike at Zone 40, a high-security prison near the village of Dolinka in Karaganda region. Prison rights activist Vadim Kuramshin reported on November 20 that inmates alleged they were subject to brutal treatment and deprived of decent food and clothing, and HIV-positive convicts were not being given medical treatment. Protests have been reported at other prisons in Karaganda, the location of a network of prison camps dating from Stalins rule and known as Karlag. On November 8, 12 inmates of the nearby Zone 41 facility mutilated themselves by slashing their stomachs. RFE/RL quoted Natalya Gorina, spokesperson for the prison authorities in Karaganda, as saying the injured convicts, who had been taken to hospital, were demanding a relaxation in prison rules. These two cases bring the number of protests reported since June to ten. Most have taken place in high-security facilities in northern and central parts of Kazakstan. Kuramshin said there had been two incidents in Akmola region, one of them a riot at a prison near the town of Granitny, two more in Kostanay, one in the North Kazakstan region, and one at a detention centre in Almaty in July, in which prisoners relatives say there were at least 30 cases of self-mutilation, although officials have confirmed only two. Precise figures are hard to come by, according to Ardak Janabilova, who is a member of a public commission monitoring penal institutions in Almaty region and heads the human rights group Sauygu, which is part of Kazakstans NGO Coalition Against Torture. "The total number of inmates who have mutilated themselves by cutting their stomachs, necks or arms is being carefully concealed by prison officials, and many of the cases are not accessible to rights defenders," she said. Janabilova described the riot at the prison near Granitny, which happened in August and was the largest in recent months. She said about 350 inmates took part in the incident over three days, and believes four people died, while the authorities say it was only two. The trouble began when at least 80 inmates cut themselves in an attempt to highlight conditions at the jail. When there was no response, prisoners barricaded themselves in one of the cell blocks. An interior ministry unit was then sent in to regain control. Officials said the troops did not carry firearms. POOR CONDITIONS AND MISTREATMENT Janabilova said overcrowding was a serious problem at the Granitny prison, and inmates had to take turns sleeping, with beds occupied in three shifts. She argues that the protests are the result of problems that have built up over many years. "Overcrowding, a shortage of prison staff whove been trained about human rights, frequent changes of management at the Committee for the Penal Correction System, a lack of professionalism among staff, and poor conditions all these problems have reached a critical peak," she said. Kuramshin said the protesters in different prisons across Kazakstan were voicing similar demands "an end to torture, banning military-style practices not required by penal law, such as regular, exhausting marching both in hot weather and in temperatures of minus 40". He said corruption among prison staff meant that inmates were denied entitlements like packages and meetings with relatives unless they paid bribes. Prisons in northern Kazakstan were the worst in this regard, he said. "In the north of Kazakstan, they ask for money for everything, be it early release, prison visits or anything else," he said. Kuramshin is a journalist from Petropavlovsk who turned to defending prisoners rights after doing time in jail, including in Akmola region. He received a sentence of nearly four years for libel, which is prosecuted under criminal law in Kazakstan. Officials have responded to riots and other protests by saying prisoners are trying to avoid being bound by the basic regulations needed to run any penal institution. The deputy head of penal institutions in Almaty region, Irina Yakubova, said the incident in July in which inmates mutilated themselves was in protest at rules introduced by a new prison governor. "They want to be able to play cards and visit each other, she told reporters. They just don't want the introduction of rules that are required by law." Commenting on a recent riot at the Derzhavinka prison in Akmola region, the regional penal affairs chief Kanat Tumanov told journalists, "They dont want to do two hours of work, to be on duty, to wash floors, or to observe the requirements and rules. They dont like having to walk in columns." Some alleged ringleaders have been prosecuted after incidents of this kind. IWPR tried unsuccessfully to contact senior officials at the justice ministrys Committee for the Penal Correction System for comment on several occasions. A written request sent to the committees spokesman, Galymjan Khasenov, was left unanswered after the prescribed time in which officials are required to give a response. GOVERNMENT COMMITTED TO REFORM Yet in general, the government has acknowledged there are problems in the prison system and promised to take action. According to a report by the outgoing United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, the prison population in Kazakstan at 60,000 according to official figures is three times the average in Europe, and well above the numbers in other post-Soviet countries. In a report following a May 2009 mission to Kazakstan, which was submitted to the UN Human Rights Council this March, Nowak said the use of torture and other forms of mistreatment went beyond isolated cases. He recommended that national criminal legislation be amended to bring the definition of torture into line with that used in the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and also to create an effective preventive mechanism and investigate allegations of mistreatment promptly and impartially. The authorities have tried to respond to such criticisms. In September, the government invited Nowak to take part in the meeting to discuss how recommendations from his last year report are being implemented. Moreover, recent official statements show a willingness to implement reforms of the judicial, law-enforcement and penal systems. Speaking at a press briefing on November 11, the head of the Committee for the Penal Correction System, Sultan Kusetov, said changes to the law would result in the prison population being halved to 30,000. He was referring to a bill currently in parliament which will make penalties for certain offences less draconian, provide alterative penalties and decriminalise some minor offences. Janabalina said that although the bill and the thinking behind it had been conceived well before the wave of trouble began, it might not be coincidental that President Nursultan Nazarbaev signed off on it in August. "Its possible the disturbances in penal institutions provided the impetus for more decisive action, she said. On the overcrowding problem, Kusetov said this would be resolved by the end of the year. Even now, he said, there was virtually no overcrowding in any institution". Over the next five years, prisons would be refitted to meet international standards so that instead of large barrack-style dormitories housing between 20 and 100 inmates, smaller cells would be put in place. This summer, the prison authorities ran a one-month campaign to reduce the incidence of corruption among guards, with seminars at which they were shown a new justice ministry-approved code of conduct. ATTITUDES MUST CHANGE AMONG PRISON STAFF Human rights activists have welcomed the government's reforms, but warn that improvements on the ground most especially in the prisons where riots took place will not happen until those immediately in charge change their ways. A desire for change at the top needs to translate into substantive measures to prevent prison administrators running institutions as if they were their own fiefdoms, and also to make sure they face sanctions if they continue doing so. Kuramshin said prison administrations often refused to cooperate or be open with NGO representatives, and enjoyed a sense of impunity for alleged wrongdoing. Mahambet Abjan, a former prisoner who worked with Kuramshin to publicise the riots and self-harm cases when news of them began leaking out, expressed frustration at the authorities failure to make changes. "The response was limited nothing has changed," he said. Rights defenders like Abjan and Janabilova are calling for greater public scrutiny of Kazakstans prisons, in the shape of monitoring groups made up of human rights activists, journalists and relatives. Janabilova noted that one case, following the Derzhavinka jail riot in July, did result in the prosecution of the prison governor, a number of his staff, and the deputy head of Akmola regions penal affairs committee for torture and abuse of office. The trial is ongoing. On November 26, a new group called Action Against Arbitrary Treatment, gave a press conference in Almaty at which it made recommendations for greater NGO involvement in monitoring the prison system, increased NGO participation in the National Mechanism to Prevent Torture, regular audits of the use of prison funds to be carried out by Kazakstans financial police, opportunities for prisoners to file complaints without hindrance, and easier access to the prisons for the media. Artur Nigmetov is a journalist in Kazakstan. This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign Ministry of Norway. **** http://iwpr.net/ ********************************************************** REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a unique insiders' perspective on the region. Using our network of local journalists, the service publishes news and analysis from across Central Asia on a weekly basis. 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