Amid alarming reports of deadly violence in Kazakhstan, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Thursday urged all, including security forces, protesters and others, to refrain from violence and to seek a peaceful resolution of grievances.
A police spokesperson in the main city, Almaty, said that security forces had killed dozens of protesters. In addition, almost 1,000 people have reportedly been injured in the protests, which began on 2 January. According to the Kazakh Interior Ministry, 12 law enforcement officers have died in the unrest and 317 police officers and members of the National Guard have been injured.
“International law is clear: people have the right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression. At the same time, protesters, no matter how angry or aggrieved they may be, should not resort to violence against others,” Bachelet said.
Among the developments, riot police allegedly used tear gas grenades and flashbang grenades in clashes with demonstrators in Almaty. Protesters seized some government buildings in the city, setting them on fire, and attempted to storm police stations. According to reports, on 6 January, intense shooting erupted between the military and armed individuals in front of Almaty city hall.
The High Commissioner reminded the Kazakh authorities that force must be employed subject to strict requirements of necessity and proportionality. Lethal force, in particular live ammunition, should only be used as a last resort against specific individuals to address an imminent threat of death or serious injury.
A state of emergency declared in several areas on 5 January, including in the main city of Almaty and the capital, Nur-Sultan, has now been extended to the whole country. The state of emergency, including a curfew from 11pm to 7am, is due to remain in place until 19 January.
“States do have the right to declare states of emergency under certain narrow circumstances, but any derogation of human rights is subject to strict requirements of necessity and proportionality. Certain rights, including the right to life, the prohibition against torture and other ill-treatment, and the right not to be arbitrarily detained continue to apply in all circumstances,” the UN Human Rights Chief stressed.
In light of the request by the Kazakh authorities for security forces to be sent to the country under the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), of which Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation, Belarus, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia are members, the High Commissioner highlighted that use of force by all security forces, including foreign forces, to maintain and restore public order, should be guided by international law norms and standards applicable to law enforcement officials.
According to Kazakh officials, more than 2000 people have been taken into police custody. Bachelet called for all those arrested and detained solely for exercising their rights to peaceful protest and freedom of expression to be released. She stressed that all allegations of human rights violations should be promptly, independently and thoroughly investigated. The State also has a duty to ensure that all due process rights of those detained are fully respected.
Since Sunday, Internet services have been significantly disrupted in Kazakhstan, progressing to a complete shutdown.
“Shutting down the Internet – in effecting curbing people’s access to information and their right to freedom of expression, assembly and participation, as well as a host of other rights – is not the answer to a crisis but risks fuelling the violence and unrest,” Bachelet said.
“I urge the Kazakh authorities to ensure Internet services, which are also vital for emergency health services during the COVID-19 pandemic, are immediately and completely restored,” the High Commissioner said.
“I note that the Kazakh Government has indicated its hope that there can be an inclusive and constructive dialogue with protesters. I urge them to take all steps to ensure dialogue can be fostered and that the respect and protection of human rights remain paramount during the state of emergency and beyond,” she said.