On 24th to 26th July 2012, a meeting of Kazakhstan human rights defenders who specialise in monitoring prisons was hosted by Penal Reform International (PRI) at the Kegok Centre, near Astana. There are currently 13 public monitoring commissions in Kazakhstan with each group made up of human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and academics. The Penal Executive Code states that the commissions shall have access to all prisons in their region. At present each commission is working independently and the aim of the meeting was to bring all the groups together by establishing a Coordinative Council of Public Monitoring Commissions (PMCs).
In many countries where public monitoring of prisons is established, a coordinating body is usually set up to consolidate all the groups who carry out this vital work. In Russia there is the Public Chamber and in the UK it is the Independent Monitoring Board. A coordinating body in Kazakhstan will ensure that each group works to a consistent standard whilst retaining its independence. The collective voice will have greater strength in dialogue with the Government and the general public in raising issues of concern regarding people in custody.
PRI has been striving since 2001 to establish a public oversight system for the prisons in Kazakhstan. The PMCs are unique in that it is the only mechanism in the country authorised to carry out monitoring of prisons through the code dealing with Human Rights, set up by local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) without the approval of the State. “Establishment of the Council is very important to us because it will give each of the monitoring commissions the tools they need to work independently yet with support from the coordinating body,” stressed Saule Mektepbayeva, Regional Director of PRI in Central Asia.
Nikhil Roy, Programme Director of PRI and Angela Clay, Chairman of the Association of Members of Independent Monitoring Boards (AMIMB), an NGO which supports prison monitors in the UK, together with a number of national experts, were invited to conduct workshops on sustainable development of the future Council. During the meeting strategic plans for the next three years were drafted and a code of ethics and the new penal code discussed.
“The event was very important for us to not only help facilitate taking a decision on the form of legal entity of the future Council and discuss other formalities but also to formulate the rules of the Council in accordance with the democratic principles of public oversight,” said Ardak Zhanabilova, chair of the PMC of Almaty and the Almaty region and chair of the Centre for Monitoring Human Rights.
The event was organised by PRI within the framework of programmes funded by the European Union, the British Embassy in Kazakhstan and Open Society Institute (OSI).