CORRESPONDENCE WITH THE GOVERNMENT OF KAZAKHSTAN
To the President of Kazakhstan,
From Citizens of the Republic of Kazakhstan
Residents of the village of Berezovka
Burlinsky Raion, Western Kazakhstan Oblast
Address for Response:
Village of Berezovka
Western Kazakhstan Oblast
On the basis of Article 33 of the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Decree of the President on Violation of Fundamental Rights of Citizens, guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Aarhus Convention, and the Law “On Environmental Protection.”
Respected Nursultan Abishevich!
WE APPEAL TO YOU AS THE GUARANTOR OF OUR RIGHTS AND ASK THAT VIOLATIONS OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE REPUBLIC OF KAZAKHSTAN AND THE RIGHTS OF CITIZENS BE HALTED.
According to Article 1 of the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan the highest values of our state are the individual, and his rights and freedoms. The rights and freedoms of the individual belong to each person from birth, are recognized as absolute and inalienable and determine the content and application of the laws and other normative acts.
Article 31 of the Constitution guarantees the environmental rights of the citizen:
“P. 1. The State’s goal is environmental protection of the life and health of the individual.
P. 2. Those responsible for concealing facts and situations that threaten the life and health of people shall be held responsible in accordance with the law.”
On October 23, 2000, you, as President of the Republic of Kazakhstan signed the law, “On the Ratification of the Convention on Access to Information, Participation of the Public in the Process of Decision-making and Access to Justice for the Citizens of the Republic of Kazakhstan.” It provides additional guarantees of our right to a healthy environment and its defense.
The condition of the environment in our village is not suitable for human life and is destroying the life and health of future generations. In 1998 the company Karachaganak Petroleum Operating, B.V. (KPO BV) started development of the gas condensate field, which is located immediately next to the village of Berezovka (around 3 km). The development is accompanied by the burning of hydrogen sulfide and other highly toxic chemicals that are dangerous to human life and health. Frequent accidental emissions occur at the field. As a result of the company’s activity, the condition of the environment in the area around Berezovka has become catastrophic. According to data from the Oblast Ecology Department of Western Kazakhstan Oblast (Uralsk), in the third quarter of 2004 alone, the volume of polluted emissions amounted to 25 thousand tons.
The environmental situation in the village of Berezovka worsens with every year. Many village residents have skin ailments, which they did not have prior to the development of the Karachaganak field. In families where there has never been an incidence of epilepsy, in the last three years young people have become ill with epilepsy (three instances). Anemia is present in almost every second family. The health condition of all the villagers has dramatically deteriorated since the moment the development of the field began. (Dramatic worsening of vision and hearing, headaches, bone illnesses, cardio-vascular system.)
The fact that the village of Berezovka is polluted and that the residents need to be relocated is not disputed by the state environmental organs. (A letter from the Vice Minister of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of the Republic of Kazakhstan No. 02-05-09 1639 from May 29, 2002 is attached.) “The Ministry of Natural Resources repeatedly expressed its opinion about the necessity to relocate the residents of the villages of Tungush and Berezovka, which are located in the sanitary protection zone of the Karachaganak Oil and Gas Condensate Field (KOGCF). According to the above, the decision about relocating the villages located within the sanitary protection zone should be made by the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Akim of Western Kazakhstan Oblast should be charged with implementing the decision.”
State organs and KPO BV, taking advantage of the legal and scientific illiteracy of the residents, have not taken any steps to implement the relocation.
We have been forced to approach several nongovernmental environmental organizations for experts and specialists to provide legal and practical assistance. Several nongovernmental organizations and specialists have responded and provided us with assistance.
The environmental nongovernmental organization, “Ecotan” (Atyrau) has provided the villagers of Berezovka with assistance and organized blood analysis at an independent medical facility in the city of Aksai, as an opportunity to research the impact of toxic emissions from the Karachaganak on our blood.
At the request of the initiative group of villagers from Berezovka, experts and specialists came to the village in December 2004 to exchange experience and provide environmental and legal education. On December 12th an educational seminar was planned for the villagers.
The seminar program included questions about defending the right to environmental information and studying the environmental protection legislation of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The seminar was led by O.A. Yakovleva, a lawyer from the Moscow Oblast collegium of lawyers, who traveled from Russia. She is an Honorable Lawyer of Russia, the author of six textbooks for citizens and nongovernmental organizations on the defense of environmental rights of citizens and the right to environmental information. O. Yakovleva held a similar seminar together with environmental nongovernmental organizations in Almaty in 2002. The specialists A. Knizhnikov (Russia) and Kate Watters (USA) also participated with the goal of exchanging experience in solving environmental problems. Partnership and mutual assistance by activists and environmentalists is common practice throughout the world.
The activity of the initiative group of the Berezovka villagers, the organization Ecotan, the specialists from Russia, A. Knizhnikov and O. Yakovleva, and US environmentalist K. Watters is legal and promotes the realization of the rights of citizens to a healthy environment, which is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Aarhus Convention, and also the Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan, “On Environmental Protection.”
The Convention strengthens the position given to citizens in relationship to the environment:
“Every person has the right to live in an environment adequate to his or her health and well-being, and the duty, both individually and in association with others, to protect and improve the environment for the benefit of present and future generations,
Considering that, to be able to assert this right and observe this duty, citizens must have access to environmental information, be entitled to participate in decision-making and have access to justice in environmental matters, and acknowledging in this regard that citizens may need assistance in order to exercise their rights, recognizing further the importance of the respective roles that individual citizens, nongovernmental organizations and the private sector can play in environmental protection, desiring to promote environmental education to further the understanding of the environment and sustainable development and to encourage widespread public awareness of, and participation in, decisions affecting the environment and sustainable development, concerned that effective judicial mechanisms should be accessible to the public, including organizations, so that its legitimate interests are protected and the law is enforced.”
The Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan, “On Environmental Protection”
Article 73. calls for the distribution of environmental knowledge among the population by state organs of public unification through the mass media and in any case, not contradicting the legislation.
Article 5, paragraph 3 assigns to every citizen the obligation to raise the level of his or her environmental knowledge and to assist with the environmental education of suffering populations.
Article 6 assigns to nongovernmental organizations the right to defend the rights and interests of citizens, include them in voluntary ways in active participation in the sphere of environmental protection, to create public control in the realm of the environment.
Our rights, guaranteed by the country’s Constitution, international agreements ratified by the Republic of Kazakhstan, and national legislation have been grossly violated by the authorities.
Holding an educational seminar on legal education of the population in the realm of protecting environmental rights and the environment is not only our right, but in accordance with Article 6 of the Law on Environmental Protection, our OBLIGATION.
Organs of state authority are obligated to help us with this activity. However the authorities in the city of Aksai and the village of Berezovka illegally forced us to appeal with a request for permission to hold an educational seminar.
According to the law, this does not require permission from the authorities.
With great difficulty we received permission.
FACTS ABOUT THE VIOLATION OF CITIZENS’ RIGHTS
Violation of the terms of Articles 17 and 18 of the Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan
- The dignity of the person is protected.
- No one should suffer torture, violence or other cruel or humiliating treatment or punishment.
- Everyone has the right to protection of their private life, personal and family privacy, and protection of their honor and dignity.
- Everyone has the right to privacy of personal investment and savings, correspondence, telephone conversations, mail, telegraph and other contact. Limiting that right is allowed only in the instances and according to the procedures directly determined by the law.
- State organs, public associations, responsible individuals and mass media are required to provide every individual the possibility to obtain access to documents, decisions and other sources of information concerning their rights and interests.
The police tried to disrupt the analysis of Berezovka residents at an independent medical clinic.
The nongovernmental organization Ecotan helped residents of Berezovka conduct blood analysis at an independent medical establishment. Ecotan signed an official agreement with the policlinic “Talap” for the blood analysis of 75 people. On December 11th the residents came in groups to the polyclinic and gave blood for analysis. Believing this to be a personal decision, they did not consult with anyone externally. However, at the moment when the first residents began to give blood, unknown men in police uniforms appeared near the medial clinic. Without showing any documents, they started to grab the women and tried to force them into a car and take them to the police station. The women broke loose; they were afraid, insulted and humiliated. This action was taken by employees of the police and unknown individuals in civilian clothing. From the onset of the use of force, an unknown man videotaped the faces of the residents of Berezovka who had been in the medical center. When they started to force the women into the car, he also participated in that activity. The incident itself was not caught on film. Thanks only to the active opposition of the women, they were unable to take them away.
Violation of the Protection of Personal Life
In addition to the violence on the street, representatives of law enforcement bodies interfered in the private lives of citizens. In the medical center, the police unceremoniously and urgently investigated the women’s goal at the medical center, asking tactless questions. Everyone was scared and traumatized. As a result of this incident, the elderly people felt very poorly.
The behavior of the employees of the law enforcement bodies was reminiscent of an operation to arrest criminals.
Experts A. Knizhnikov and K. Watters, who were in the medical center with the citizens, were questioned and taken one at a time into a separate office without having done anything illegal.
K. Watters was taken away by two men in a car without a license plate to an unknown destination.
After the interrogation at the center, K. Watters was asked to go to the Akim. A foreign citizen, she was required to go with two men into a car without a license plate and was taken to an unknown destination and left with unknown individuals. The nervousness of a woman finding herself in this situation is hard to imagine. The action taken in relation to her is also reminiscent of the arrest of a dangerous criminal.
She was taken to the Akimat of Burlinsky Raion to the Deputy Akim where, with an incomplete knowledge of the language, she found herself alone with six men who displayed clear enmity toward her.
The interrogation lasted about an hour. They asked her the same questions several times. Many times they asked her to give a written explanation of the reasons for her trip to the Republic of Kazakhstan. They forbade her to attend the seminar in Berezovka. The behavior of the Deputy Akim, the employees of the Prosecutor’s Office and other officials was not explained. After about an hour, K. Watters was released. The moral suffering and humiliation this caused will be hard to forget.
The actions of the authorities in relation to the specialists from Russia and the USA who came at the request of the villagers of Berezovka is illegal.
In accordance with Article 88 of the Law on Environmental Protection (Activities of foreign organizations and citizens in the realm of environmental protection on the territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan)…”On the territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan the activities of foreign organizations and citizens are allowed as long as they do not violate the legislation of the Republic of Kazakhstan or the regulations of international agreements, ratified by the Republic of Kazakhstan.”
Attendance at a medical center and participation in a seminar are not activities that violate the laws of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Furthermore, cooperation of the public from different countries results in the strengthening of agreements between states.
Seminar Under Attack From the Police
Employees of the Burlinsky Raion police department arrived at the place where the seminar was held on December 12, 2004. Representatives of the police department verified the documents of O. Yakovleva and A. Knizhnikov and stated that conducting the seminar was illegal because permission to hold it had not been received from the authorities.
The representative of the police stated that he would attend the seminar, after he was invited by O. Yakovleva. During this time, while the seminar was going on, two police cars were parked near the music school. The participants of the seminar were residents of the village of Berezovka–primarily women and elderly people. Many of them suffer from serious illnesses. During the seminar, a police employee unceremoniously entered the hall and started to film the participants with his video camera. This caused a great shock among the residents, because this same person had participated in the events the day before, filming the women as they entered the medical center.
Persecution of the Leader of the Initiative Group of the Residents
Although she has never been accused of a concrete violation of a concrete norm, S.Ya. Anosova, the leader of the initiative group of the residents of Berezovka, is under constant pressure, accused of breaking the law. From December 8-10, each evening a policeman came to her home. He took Svetlana to a separate room and engaged her in a conversation, placing psychological stress that left her unable to sleep at night.
All the accounts of the activity of the authorities in relation to citizens who are defending their legal rights, can only be seen as a desperate attempt to hide the violations committed by the international company, leading the development of the Karachaganak field on the territory of Kazakhstan.
The violation of the Constitution of the country (articles 1,3,17,18,31,33,34,38) and unprecedented incidents of pressuring the population of the village of Berezovka demonstrate the dependence of the authorities of the Western Kazakhstan Oblast on the company, KPO BV, which together with the Akimat of Western Kazakhstan Oblast, is required to relocate the people from an environmentally polluted area.
We appeal to the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan and ask you to stop the tyranny of the Akimat and the Prosecutor’s office of Burlinsky raion. We ask you not to allow the persecution of activists and the residents of the village.
In sending this appeal, we ask you to stop the violation of our rights by the authorities and organs of law and order. In connection with the Decree of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, “On the Protocol for Reviewing Requests from Citizens,” dated June 19, 1995, No 2340, which has the authority of law, we request the following:
- Punish those guilty of violating the Constitution and the rights of citizens
- Do not avert the complaint to our detriment
- Do not refer our complaint to those responsible bodies, about whose actions we are complaining
- Do not allow this complaint to be investigated by those individuals whom it may be assumed are not interested in the objective resolution of the issues
- Put a stop to the persecution of Svetlana Anosova, the members of the initiative group of the village of Berezovka, and their families in connection with sending this appeal and our activity to defend our rights.
The residents of the village of Berezovka, Burlinsky Raion, Western Kazakhstan Oblast
In total 104 signatures
Translation by Crude Accountability