Kazakhstan takes OSCE Helm amid Rights Concerns
Kazakhstan took over the leadership of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Friday for the next year amid concern over its human rights record.
It is the first former Soviet state to chair the 56-nation trans-Atlantic security body, after making promises of democratic reforms.
"We have concerns about the situation of human rights, media and other areas ...throughout the region, including Kazakhstan," Janez Lenarcic, director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, said last month.
While conceding that "no state is without problems," Lenarcic said at a meeting of ministers in Athens on December 2, "clearly there is a challenge for the incoming chairmanship whether they will be able to lead by example."
In a statement issued in Astana Friday, Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev pledged "to uphold the fundamental principles and values of the organization, to proceed according to the interests of all participating states and to strengthen the role of the OSCE as a significant platform for dialogue contributing to security in the wider Eurasian space."
Saudabayev will outline Astana's priorities in a speech on January 14 to the OSCE's permanent council in Vienna and plans to host a summit of the organization during the year.
Kazakhstan, which takes over the reins from Greece, has been attacked in recent months for jailing Yevgeny Zhovtis, a prominent rights activist, to four years in prison over his role in a fatal car accident and for raids on a well-known independent newspaper.
In November Human Rights Watch called on OSCE members to put more pressure on the country to do more to protect the freedom of the press and improve human rights.
Kazakhstan ranked 142 out 175 countries on media watchdog Reporters Without Borders' annual worldwide press freedom index in 2009.
Last month also saw the murder of a Kyrgyz opposition journalist in the Kazakh financial capital of Almaty. Gennady Pavlyuk was apparently thrown from the sixth-floor window of an apartment with his hands and feet bound with duct tape.
On Wednesday Kazakhstan angrily denied that it planned to sell purified uranium ore to Iran, calling media reports to this effect "groundless insinuations."
The reports prompted a warning from the United States that such a transfer was prohibited under UN sanctions on Iran, according to Agence France Presse.