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Our Rule of Law Work in Kazakhstan

Rule of Law Program

The American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) opened its first Kazakhstan office in 1993 and has since worked with lawyers, law students, judges and citizens across the country. Starting in October 2020, ABA ROLI commenced work on implementation of the USAID-funded Kazakhstan Rule of Law Program (KRLP), which aims to develop the legal climate for businesses to increase confidence and international investment in Kazakhstan, improve the legal framework for civil society organizations, and ensure the modernization of the judiciary and eliminate avenues for real and perceived bias to increase its independence in professionalism. This program works with the Kazakhstan Supreme Court, Union of Judges, and Academy of Justice under the Supreme Court of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Ministry of Information and Social Development, Civil Society Organizations, Ministry of Finance and National Chamber of Entrepreneurs “Atameken”.

On June 28, 2021, ABA ROLI held a Code of Ethics workshop in Kazakhstan to further improve the country's Code of Judicial Ethics. Specifically, the workshop outlined how to apply ethical standards to further better judicial conduct and increase trust in the judiciary. Conducted in partnership with the Union of Judges of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the workshop became a platform for experts and participants to share international best practices on judicial ethics and to develop recommendations. The Union of Judges was presented by 31 participants from all regions of Kazakhstan, who actively participated in the event.

During the workshop, the U.S. expert Ms. Carolyn Dubay, Executive Director of Judicial Standards Commission of North Carolina, made a presentation about judicial, extrajudicial, and administrative activities of judges and their recommended regulation by the Code of Judicial Ethics. Mr. Maarten Steenbeek, a retired Dutch district court judge and author of Dutch Code of Judicial Ethics, talked about ensuring independence of judges and shared his experience of developing a judicial ethics code in the Netherlands. During the event, participants discussed international best practices of judicial ethics currently applied in foreign countries and the way to adapt and implement them within the Code of Judicial Ethics of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

Code of Judicial Ethics Workshop, June 28, 2021, Kazakhstan

Code of Judicial Ethics Workshop, June 28, 2021, Kazakhstan

Other key accomplishments under the program include an Investor Forum (see below), held on May 21, 2021, that brought together judges, international experts, government representatives and members of the legal community to discuss reforms to investment legislation and investment courts, a seminar on judicial education for the Supreme Court of Kazakhstan, and the establishment of a Dialogue Platform for Civil Society.

The Investment Forum, May 21, 2021, Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan

The Investment Forum, May 21, 2021, Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan

The Investment Forum, May 21, 2021, Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan

The Investment Forum, May 21, 2021, Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan

Past Programs

Defense Attorneys Advocating Rights Protection (DAARP)

ABA ROLI implemented the Defense Attorneys Advocating Rights Protection in Kazakhstan (DAARP) program from June 1, 2020 to August 6, 2021 to respond to the challenges faced by the community of defense advocates in Kazakhstan related to the Law on Advocacy and Legal Aid, which was adopted in 2018 and implemented in February 2019. The law aimed to improve: regulation of the activities of defense advocates and legal advisors, continuing legal education (CLE) mandates, disciplinary committees, and criteria for legal aid provision. Provisions of the new legislation, however, went beyond what is needed for a well-regulated advocates’ community. They consolidated the regulation of the defense advocate community under the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and made the National Bar Association subject to MoJ oversight, reducing the ability of defense lawyers to maintain independence in the courtroom. The activities under the DAARP program supported institutional strengthening to ensure the long- term reclamation of independence by the National Bar Association and strengthened the ability of attorneys to provide high-quality legal defense. ABA ROLI worked with the National Bar Association of Kazakhstan, the Almaty City Bar, and several other regional bar associations. This collaboration sought to develop their strategic priorities, strengthen CLE systems and ensure compliance with the adopted standards for CLE and regulations for advocates’ practice, and provided opportunities for national bar associations of Central Asian Republics to exchange experience on CLE regulations and professional development for advocates.

Kazakhstan Judicial Program

ABA ROLI implemented its USAID-funded Kazakhstan Judicial Program from April 2012 through September 2020. Under this 8-year program, ABA ROLI cooperated with the Supreme Court, and it’s subsidiary Union of Judges, and Academy of Justice. Our efforts sought to strengthen judges’ knowledge and application of international best practices in judicial decision writing techniques and substantive law, support the implementation of new legislation, and develop alternative dispute resolution methods in order to advance the goal of the modernization of judicial system and increased the public trust in the judicial system of Kazakhstan. This program has led to higher professional standards for judges at all levels of the Kazakhstan court system, strengthened legal reform processes, and increased the public trust and awareness of the judiciary. ABA ROLI secured unique and meaningful cooperation and coordination with the judiciary and has ensured a groundwork for Kazakhstan to continue to develop their own capacity for an effective court system.

Legal Support to the Independent Media

With initial support from the U.S. Department of State's Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) opened the media support center (MSC) in Almaty to bolster free expression and journalistic rights in Kazakhstan. The center's activities are currently jointly supported by the British Embassy in Astana and the U.S. Agency for International Development. 

Regional Legal Advocacy Program

From December 2008 through March 2012, the regional legal advocacy program provided a forum to connect and network advocates and legal leaders across Central Asia and encouraged them to discuss common problems, especially in criminal cases, and to come together to develop regional solutions. The program provided support for advocates on emerging legal issues, such as the recent institution of jury trials in Kazakhstan, the move to do the same in Kyrgyzstan and the use of strategic litigation across the region. It further trained advocates on advocacy skills in the courtroom and leadership skills in the community, providing them with guidance and resources on special issues and cases. The Central Asian League of Lawyers, a regional association of lawyers established as an outgrowth of the 2010 regional exchange, is a formally registered non-governmental organization in Kyrgyzstan and continues to promote cooperation within the region’s legal community.

Regional Court Monitoring

The ABA Rule of Law Initiative’s (ABA ROLI’s) 2010–2011 court monitoring activities in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan identified trends in courtroom criminal proceedings specific to each country as well as common successes and challenges. A comprehensive analysis of findings helped those countries’ legal communities’ better understand further reform needs, including in such areas as equality of prosecution and defense, openness of hearings, protection of defendant rights, quality of legal assistance and judicial independence. The program helped create and strengthen court monitoring mechanisms in these three countries. 

Legal Education Reform and Civic Education 

From 2002 to 2007, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI)—through its U.S. Agency for International Development-supported public legal education program—worked to bolster the public’s legal literacy and corresponding ability to assert its rights.