A U.S. congressional delegation visiting Kazakhstan called on the country to speed up democratic reforms ahead of assuming the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2010.
The delegation, in Astana for the OSCE’s annual Parliamentary Assembly session, said Kazakhstan has not kept its promise to push through democratic reforms as a precondition for taking over the chairmanship of Europe’s leading human rights organization.
Kazakhstan was awarded the prestigious post at an OSCE meeting in Madrid last year, but only after pledging to reform its election laws, increase media freedom, and allow opposition parties to play a greater role in politics.
Not Fit To Lead
By making those promises, Kazakhstan was able to overcome objections by Britain and the United States, who argued that Kazakhstan's record on human rights and democracy showed the Central Asian giant was not fit to lead the OSCE.
But speaking at a news conference on July 1 after meeting with Kazakh officials and opposition leaders, U.S. Senator Benjamin Cardin (Democrat, Maryland) said Kazakhstan has still not kept the promises it made last year in the Spanish capital.
"Those commitments dealt with the rights of political parties, election reform, protection of religious entities, and a free media," Cardin said. "Progress was to be made in 2008. In order to fulfill those commitments, much more progress needs to made for 2008."
Congressman Alcee Hastings (Democrat, Florida), part of the U.S. delegation, added that the United States will continue to press Kazakhstan to make good on its pledges.
"We have continuously urged, and will continue to urge, the government of Kazakhstan to reform its methodologies with reference to rights and opportunities for the opposition in this country," Hastings said.
In Madrid, supporters of Astana's bid for the OSCE rotating chairmanship had pointed to Kazakhstan's economic progress and relinquishing of the nuclear arsenal it inherited from the Soviet Union as reasons for awarding the country with the prestigious post, which Kazakhstan hoped would be in 2009, not 2010.
The Parliamentary Assembly is meeting in Astana through July 3. Several other officials at the gathering, including Goran Lennmarker, the president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, have also voiced concerns about the Kazakh chairmanship.
But Hastings, striking a balance in his comments, also had praise for the energy-rich country.
"We appreciate the role Kazakhstan is playing in bringing new oil to the market and diversifying the routes that their oil takes to the market," he said.
RFE/RL's Kazakh Service contributed to this report