BLOG: Remote training in Kazakhstan: A reflection in the time of COVID-19.

Last month, BHRC in partnership with the Legal Policy Research Center, a non-political, independent research institute founded by a group of Kazakhstani lawyers in April 2008. delivered a second series of training webinars to lawyers in Kazakhstan on using international human rights law, in particular the ICCPR which Kazakhstan has ratified. We covered relevant and salient topics in Kazakhstan including freedom of expression and assembly, fair trial rights, detention, discrimination, employment rights and privacy. Each webinar included a presentation by a prominent Kazakh human rights lawyer on a topic focusing on the Kazakh domestic context, and in particular the impact of Covid-19.

As evident in many places around the world, the coronavirus pandemic has served to heighten many existing human rights concerns in Kazakhstan. The webinars outlined current challenges to freedom of expression and assembly, conditions of detention, and health care and access to legal advice. We also focused on issues confronting lawyers who represent migrants and asylum seekers in the present context, which is challenging. As Human Rights Watch pointed out on 21 January 2021, “the ongoing crackdown on local human rights groups casts serious doubt that Kazakhstan’s leadership is genuinely interested in reforms or improving its rights record”. On 30 November 2020, the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law and six other civil society organisations signed a strongly worded statement to this effect.

One of the most positive aspects of this format enabled lawyers from across Kazakhstan (and indeed the UK) to attend in a way that might not otherwise have been feasible.

The striking difference from the previous training in December 2019 was the mode of delivery. Instead of travelling to Almaty to gather together in a room and share experiences of the law and practice, each speaker and delegate appeared in the now-familiar Zoom environment.   We cannot deny that we felt the loss of that valuable face-to-face dialogue, connection and interactivity  of in-person events which enables colleagues from different jurisdictions to discuss common and distinctive themes and issues. However, one of the most positive aspects of this format  enabled lawyers from across Kazakhstan (and indeed the UK) to attend in a way that might not otherwise have been feasible. Widening participation in training and information exchange, particularly outside large legal centres, is an important means of promoting and protecting human rights. In the post-pandemic future we are all hoping for, we will continue to think creatively about how to achieve the best of both worlds.

We are grateful to the FCDO and British Embassy in Kazakhstan for their technical and financial support in providing this training. This blog piece does not necessarily reflect the official views of the Embassy.

Professor Bill Bowring is a barrister and BHRC Executive Committee Member

Professor Bill Bowring is a barrister and BHRC Executive Committee Member and President of the European Lawyers for Democrac
y and Human Rights. He teaches human rights and international law at Birkbeck College, University of London. As a practising barrister since 1974, he has represented applicants before the European Court of Human Rights in many cases since 1992, especially against Turkey and Russia.

Kate Stone is a barrister and BHRC Executive Committee Member

Kate is a human rights and public law specialist, with an emphasis on inquests, judicial review and civil actions against public authorities. She also specialises in international human rights law. Kate is recommended in both The Legal 500 and Chambers UK in Inquests and Inquiries and by Chambers UK in Administrative and Public Law.