Kazakhstan: Authorities must ensure accountability for killings and respect the rights of those arrested following protests

As mass arrests are made following protests and violent clashes in Kazakhstan, it is essential that those arrested or detained have access to a lawyer, to judicial review of detention and to a fair trial, the ICJ said today.

The ICJ also called for independent and impartial investigations into the killings which took place during the recent violence, with a view to holding those responsible to account.

The ICJ is concerned about reports of ill-treatment of detainees to obtain self-incriminating statements, lack of access to legal representation and multiple cases of arbitrary detention.

“We are concerned that large numbers of people are now being arrested, many of them reportedly non-Kazakh nationals, charged with everything from participation in terrorist attacks to breach of the state of emergency, or breach of migration regulations.  The Kazakh justice system now needs to ensure that any prosecutions are justified in accordance with law and do not penalize acts of peaceful protest or political dissent. Guarantees of fair trial and protections for detainees must be applied to guard against arbitrary application of the criminal law ” said Róisín Pillay, Europe and Central Asia Director of the International Commission of Jurists.

The ICJ calls on the authorities to withdraw as a matter of urgency the “shoot-to-kill order” issued on 6 January as being contrary to the right to life as protected in international human rights law and in Kazakhstan’s national legislation on the use of lethal force. Under international law, lethal force may only be used when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life. An order of indiscriminate use of lethal force is likely to lead to unlawful death or serious injury.

The ICJ calls for a fully independent, impartial, thorough and prompt investigation of deaths and injury which occurred as a result of the violence, leading where appropriate to prosecutions of the perpetrators. Victims and their families a should have access to the investigation and to effective remedies and the results of the investigations should be made public.

“There must be accountability for the deaths that took place during the recent violent clashes. In light of the order to the security forces to shoot to kill,  an investigation will only be credible if it is fully independent and transparent of the security forces and the executive” said Róisín Pillay.

The ICJ emphasizes that the right of freedom of assembly is protected by international human rights law, including, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Kazakhstan is a party. While the use of violence, destruction of property or seizure of governmental buildings may justifiably lead to criminal liability, any emergency, counter-terrorism or other measures which restrict freedoms of association, assembly, expression or the operation of civil society must be limited to those adequately prescribed by law and strictly necessary for and proportionate to the protection of national security, public order or the rights of others.


Protests, provoked by a sudden two-fold increase of gas prices, erupted on 2 January 2022 and quickly spread to almost all regions of Kazakhstan. On 4 January, in Almaty, the largest city of Kazakhstan, the initially peaceful protest turned into clashes with the police. On 6 January, as the situation further evolved into widespread violence, including shooting, seizure of governmental buildings, destruction of property and looting, President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev gave an order to security forces to open fire with lethal force. He also introduced a state of emergency throughout the country until 19 January, qualifying the events as an attempted coup d’état and attacks by terrorists, including those from other countries and requested assistance from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in response to an “overcoming a terrorist threat”. Although numbers cannot yet be confirmed, the violent clashes resulted in a reported 164 civilian casualties and 18 members of law enforcement, and many more injured.


Temur Shakirov, Senior Legal Adviser, ICJ Europe and Central Asia Programme, temur.shakirov@icj.org

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