Kazakhstan was chosen last year to chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Human rights groups and Kazakh opposition leaders have criticised the West's OSCE decision, saying it was too early for Kazakhstan to lead an organization dedicated to democracy.
Even the deputy chief of the U.S. mission to the OSCE says there are lingering concerns over Almaty's implementation of democratic reforms.
Richard Boucher, U.S. assistant secretary of state for the region, told a hearing organized by the U.S. Helsinki Commission that Kazakhstan needs to step up its work, and explicitly set the end of 2008 as a deadline for it to show more commitment.
"Despite slow and uneven progress, President [Nursultan] Nazarbaev assured me earlier this year that Kazakhstan will stand by its commitments," Boucher told the group in a speech in Washington on July 22, according to a Helsinki statement sent to Reuters. "Clearly, a great deal of work must be done by the end of 2008."
Kazakhstan is seen as a relatively relaxed regime, however, compared with some of its more authoritarian neighbors.
"Kazakhstan is not a country with frequent or dramatic government crackdowns on freedom and human rights," Andrea Berg of Human Rights Watch told the same hearing. "One finds rather an atmosphere of quiet, subtle repression."