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Sino-Russian neighborhood policy: Kazakhstan – Euroasian heart of gold

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] Q [/yt_dropcap] uite untill recently Kazakhstan was commonly identified as an impervious, legendary and fascinating place, one of passionate, bloody dusks whose natural beauty, combined with the landscape diversity, made it the most seductive country in Central Asia. Today, though these features still distinguish it, it is placed in the new global scenario with a fully renewed guise which makes it the jewel in the area’s crown.

Over 20 years it actually managed to endow itself with its own structure and identity, doubtlessly more incisively and further reachingly than other ex USSR countries. This data may be even more appreciated if one considers its population, made up of only 17 million inhavitants, is subdivided into as many as 130 different religious confessions, which the state authorities were wisely able to harmonize, fleeing any attempt to ethnically-religiously characterize the Country. State modernization was also the fruit of smart economic choices, whose strategy did not stop on exclusively exploiting the huge energy resources available, but focussed on encouraging ambitious development projects based on the public – private partnership and attracting foreign investors tempted by the the privileged geographical position placing it near the greatest markets in Russia, China and India.

This geographical peculiarity makes Kazakhstan a transcontinental State and also a potential logistic platform for exchange between Europe and Asia and, in particular, in this moment which is recording an epochal change in geo-political, geo-economic scenarios which the greatest powers involved are also responding to via creating and planning great infrastructural works. In fact there is no doubt that in the emerging context, continental infrastructures form an essential moment for upturn, as they can influence both the technological modernization processes and foreign policy stability. As well as broadening works in the Suez Canals and Panama, which have surely stressed the role played by maritime links, one must in no way ignore the importance of the land ones, which see the Asian continent as one of the main characters.

Indeed, Asia – “pivot of the century”, which prof. Bajrektarevic describes as the place where “demographic-migratory pressures are huge, regional demands are high, and expectations are brewing” is the continent most interested in and involved by projects to create roads, tunnels and rail, infrastructures that should cross it from one strip to another. For example, China, which is playing a major role in this process, has for some years now got down to business, creating several strategic infrastructural projects that are useful in accompanying, protecting and raising the Country’s expansive capacities. This surely includes the great land and sea “New Silk Way” project, devised by Peking with the principal aim of moving China closer to the rest of the Euro-Asian continental mass, as well as developing the inland zones remaining behind the coastal strip. There can be no doubt that the full completion of this project will have weighty geo-political repercussions, if one just considers it focuses on linking Europe and Asia under an infrastructural, economic profile, and at the same time going against US replacing on the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean.

In this new picture, Kazakhstan, already identifying itself as as “bridge” and joining land between the economies of Europe and Asia, finds itself back in the heart of a new East-West efficiency logistic axis represented by the current surge of motorway, Railroad and pipeline constructions. This looks to new, ambitious business opportunities, some of them already grasped by Italian firms (like Salini Impregilo and Todini), already busy creating one of these international transit corridors, while others could be profiled following the passing of the new Nurly Zhol state development programme, “The Walk Toward the Future”.

This programme, which aims to modernize the infrastructure and internal transport apparatus, also in view of the Expo to be held in the very modern Astana in 2017, intends to encurage foreign investments in transport / logistic and industrial / energy sectors so as to make the Country more efficient and in step with the interconnection processes developing both on a global level and in the “Euro-Asian” strip. The Expo event is bound to contribute to giving gloss to the capital representing the perfect synthesis of modernizing processes launched in the last two decades as well as the last in the utopian cities chronologically.

Astana, bearing the signature of Japanese architect Kisko Kurokava with collaboration from artists and intellectuals, was devised to represent, despite its distinctive Winter temperatures, the perfect city of the future model and celebrate the growing power of Kazakhstan. A revolutionary city that expresses the vision of its its planner, man dominating nature, and also embodies environmental sustainability principles, breaking with traditional city structures. Astana was indeed planned and created in sectors, putting the zones in a row starting from the industrial one, located around the station so as to exploit transport possibilities, following with residential areas, with parks and gardens, with the government’s administrative ones and the diplomats’ zone. As well as Astana, Kazakhstan also dares on the maritime transport megastructures, suggesting a “Euro-Asian channel” so that its ships, starting from the Caspian Sea, can reach the Black Sea and from there, via the Bosphorus, the Mediterranean.

Should this proposal become reality, it could turn the Country, thanks mainly to its geographical position and its constructive big neghbours, into the great “Euro-Asia” logistic platform, a great centre to shift products and services and attract investments located in the golden “heart of the world”.

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Central Asia

ILO Reports Important Progress on Child Labour and Forced Labour in Uzbek Cotton Fields

MD Staff

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A new International Labour Organization report to the World Bank finds that the systematic use of child labour in Uzbekistan’s cotton harvest has come to an end, and that concrete measures to stop the use of forced labour have been taken.

The report Third-party monitoring of measures against child labour and forced labour during the 2017 cotton harvest in Uzbekistan is based on more than 3,000 unaccompanied and unannounced interviews with a representative sample of the country’s 2.6 million cotton pickers. It shows that the country is making significant reforms on fundamental labour rights in the cotton fields.

“The 2017 cotton harvest took place in the context of increased transparency and dialogue. This has encompassed all groups of civil society, including critical voices of individual activists. This is an encouraging sign for the future. However, there is still a lag between the sheer amount of new decrees and reforms being issued by the central government and the capacity to absorb and implement these changes at provincial and district levels,” says Beate Andrees, Chief of the ILO’s Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work Branch.

The ILO has been monitoring the cotton harvest for child labour since 2013. In 2015, it began monitoring the harvest for forced labour and child labour as part of an agreement with the World Bank.

Interviews carried out by the monitors took place in all provinces of the country and included cotton pickers and other groups which are directly or indirectly involved in the harvest such as local authorities, education and medical personnel. In addition, a telephone poll of 1,000 randomly selected persons was conducted. Before the harvest, the ILO experts organized training for some 6,300 people directly involved with the recruitment of cotton pickers.

The results confirm that the large majority of the 2.6 million cotton pickers engaged voluntarily in the annual harvest in 2017 and that there is a high level of awareness in the country about the unacceptability of both child and forced labour. The report confirms earlier findings that the systematic use of child labour in the cotton harvest has ended though continued vigilance is required to ensure that children are in school.

Instructions have been given by the Uzbek national authorities to local administrations to ensure that all recruitment of cotton pickers is on a voluntary basis. In September 2017, an order was given withdrawing certain risk groups (students, education and medical personnel) from the harvest at its early stage.

Moreover, cotton pickers’ wages have been increased in line with recommendations by the ILO and the World Bank. The ILO recommends that the government continues to increase wages and also addresses working conditions more broadly to further attract voluntary pickers.

Last September, Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev spoke before the United Nations General Assembly in New York where he pledged to end forced labour in his country and underscored his government’s engagement with the ILO. In November 2017, at the Global Conference on the Sustained Eradication of Child Labour in Argentina, Uzbekistan also pledged to engage with independent civil society groups on the issue.

The ILO Third-Party Monitoring (TPM) project in Uzbekistan will now focus on the remaining challenges, particularly the need for further awareness raising and capacity building, which varies between provinces and districts. It will ensure that all those involved in recruitment will have the information and tools needed to ensure that cotton pickers are engaged in conformity with international labour standards.

The monitoring and results from a pilot project in the area of South Karkalpakstan also show that cotton picking economically empowers women in rural areas. The cotton harvest provides many women with a unique opportunity to earn an extra cash income which they control and can use to improve the situation of their families.

The ILO TPM Project is funded by a multi-donor trust fund with major contributions by the European Union, United States and Switzerland.

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Kazakhstan Launches Online Platform for Monitoring and Reporting Greenhouse Gases

MD Staff

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An online platform for monitoring, reporting and verifying emission sources and greenhouse gases (GHG) was officially launched today by the Ministry of Energy of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the World Bank.

The platform is an essential element of the National Emissions Trading System of Kazakhstan, which was launched in 2013 as the country’s main instrument to regulate domestic CO2 emissions and to drive the development of low-carbon technologies. Today, the National Emissions Trading System of Kazakhstan covers all major companies in the energy, oil and gas sectors, mining, metallurgical, chemical and processing industries.

Since 2014, the World Bank Trust Fund Partnership for Market Readiness has provided technical assistance to Kazakhstan in supporting the implementation of the National Emissions Trading System of Kazakhstan and related climate change mitigation policies.

“Kazakhstan’s emissions trading system is the first of its kind in the Central Asia region,” said Ato Brown, World Bank Country Manager for Kazakhstan. “With support from the Partnership for Market Readiness, the country has made a great effort to develop policy options for mid- and long-term emissions pathways and to develop an action plan on GHG emissions reductions by 2030. The World Bank will continue to support the Government during the crucial stages of policy implementation.”

The platform enables Kazakhstan’s major emitters to transmit and record data on GHGs emissions, as well as trade online. The National Allocation Plan, adopted in January 2018, sets an emission cap for 129 companies for the period 2018-2020. Per the national allocation plan, quotas have been allocated until 2020.

“The electronic platform undoubtedly proves the evolution of the Kazakhstan emission control system, which will allow the monitoring, reporting and verification system to be upgraded to a much higher level,” said Sergei Tsoy, Deputy General Director of JSC Zhasyl Damu.

GHG data is confirmed by accredited bodies for verification and validation and transferred to the Cadastre using an electronic digital signature. To date, there are seven verification companies accredited in Kazakhstan, with five more in the process of accreditation.

The platform was developed by JSC Zhasyl Damu with the support of France’s Technical Center on Air Pollution and Greenhouse Gases. The system is administered by JSC Zhasyl-Damu, while the beneficiaries are the Climate Change Department and the Committee for Environmental Regulation and Control of the Ministry of Energy of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Background

Kazakhstan is one of the largest emitters of GHG in Europe and Central Asia with total annual national emissions of 300.9 MtCO2e in 2015. The energy sector accounts for 82% of total GHG emissions, followed by agriculture (9.6%) and industrial processes (6.4%). More than 80% of produced electricity in Kazakhstan is coal-fired, followed by natural gas (7%) and hydro power (8%).

Kazakhstan proposed as its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) an economy-wide reduction of GHG emissions of 15% from 1990 emissions levels by 2030. Kazakhstan ratified the Paris Agreement in November 2016 and committed itself to the fulfilment of the proposed target as its first INDC. The objective will contribute to sustainable economic development as well as to the achievement of the long-term global goal of keeping global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius. 

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Religious buildings in Kazakhstan to be labeled 16+

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New restrictions on religious activities are emerging in Kazakhstan. Will they help to fight extremism?

According to the Government bill introducing amendments to the laws on religious activities and associations, adolescents should be forbidden from attending mosques, churches and synagogues if they are not accompanied by one of the parents and don’t have written consent of another parent.

Schools and the media are going to be forbidden from talking about the belief systems of various religions as well.

By implementing these and other measures, Astana intends to combat religious extremism. However, the crackdown on religion has already set the country four years back: in 2017 the Republic of Kazakhstan returned on the list of countries where the religious situation arouses concern of the US State Department Commission on International Religious Freedom. Kazakhstan last appeared on the list along with Afghanistan, India, Indonesia and Laos in 2013.

Is the proposed bill really going to help to contain the spread of radical Islam, and to what extent does it conform with international human rights standards?

The Concept of State Policy towards Religion, adopted in 2017, shows that the authorities strive to expel religion from public space altogether and promote an ideology of “secularism”. Their thinking is understandable: with no contact between members of differentreligions, there will be no inter-religious conflicts.

However, according to the European experience, prohibitive policy does not bring the expected results. In a multicultural society, the lack of information about the beliefs of other religions only increases tensions. Silencing the matter of religion and obstructing religious education reduces the ability to critically evaluate the extremist ideologies,while increasing the opportunityto spread false information aimed to promote inter-religious discord.

In addition, various summer camps, excursion and pilgrimage activities organized by religious communities are going to be banned if the bill is adopted. It includes those traditional religious confessions that the Government routinely thanks for promoting the inter-civilizational dialogue, youth development and the maintenance of stability, peace and prosperity in the society. A large number of children and teenagers will be deprived of their usual social circles and leisure activities.

As a result of such unconstitutional state interference and bureaucratic obstacles, children and teenagers will be denied the right to practice the religion of their family even when outside educational, medical and other state institutions. Not to mention that parents will be entitledby law to restrict the right of their children under the age of 16 to choose their faith.

Moreover, according to the proposed legislation, if a minor is found in a prayer room“illegally”, the responsibility will fall on the religious organization in question. Consequently, the clergy will need to alienate and discourage the younger generations from attending their own churches, so as not to get fined and fall within the scope of the restrictions on the religious activities!

At the same time, actual extremist organizations will go underground and get more freedom than their peaceful competitors. Obviously, the unruly youth will turn not to those imams, priests or rabbis unable to go beyond the restrictive framework of formal prohibitions. They will go to the “real” preachers who offer communion, new religious experience, something to devote yourself to, a sense of self-worth (even if as suicide bombers).

It is in the interests of all religious leaders, and indeed the whole world, to prevent such a terrible scenario from happening and to return Kazakhstan on the path of civilizational dialogue and inter-confessional cooperation. Otherwise, any participation in the VI Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in the Astana Palace of Peace and Reconciliation can be seen as not only dishonorable and hypocritical, but also unsafe.

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