Kazakhstan to Britain: Don’t lecture us about human rights
British Prime Minister David Cameron (L) and Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev (R) hold a press conference after signing a strategic partnership agreement at the Presidential Palace in Astana. AFP photoKazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said today nobody had the right to lecture his country after British Prime Minister David Cameron raised concerns about human rights in the former Soviet state.
In Kazakhstan on a brief visit which saw $1.06 billion of business deals, Cameron, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with Nazarbayev, said he had discussed “at length” allegations about government repression.
Nazarbayev was stony faced, underscoring the political risks of Cameron’s strategy of broadening Britain’s trade links to include emerging economies, such as Kazakhstan which sits on a wealth of oil reserves. Cameron said Britain needs to diversify such links at a time when its economy is in the doldrums. But activists have accused him of putting trade before human rights, while the countries he is trying to court bridle at criticism of their rights records.
“I discussed for instance the letter written by Human Rights Watch, and the concerns in that letter,” Cameron told a news conference in the Kazakh leader’s presidential palace.
“It’s very important we have a frank dialogue.” In the letter, which was sent last week, New York-based Human Rights Watch said it was worried about credible allegations of torture, the imprisonment of government critics, and tight controls over the media and freedom of expression.
It urged Cameron to tackle Nazarbayev on the subject. “Thank you very much for the recommendations, for the advice, but nobody has a right to instruct us how to live,” said Nazarbayev, who turns 73 this week and enjoys the official title of “The Leader of the Nation.”
Nazarbayev, who was a member of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s last Politburo of the Communist party, said Westerners often viewed his country through a distorted prism.
“People from your island see the post-Soviet space as being in the middle ages whose residents ride camels and horses.” Kazakhstan needed time to develop democracy, he added. “British parliamentary democracy is 600 years old. It won’t take us that long of course. Democracy for us is not the beginning of the journey but the end of the journey. We’re moving forward.”
Cameron and Nazarbayev jointly unveiled the Bolashak on-shore oil and gas processing facility that operates with the involvement from Royal Dutch Shell. The plant is stationed on the Kashagan oil and gas field – one of the largest deposits found in Central Asia. It is due to process 450,000 barrels of oil and 8.8 cubic meters of gas daily by the time it becomes fully operational. Royal Dutch Shell has a 16.81 percent stake in the facility, which is in the Kazakh segment of the Caspian Sea. Nazarbayev said last week consortium members had so far invested $48 billion, making it the most expensive oil venture in the world.
‘I want to be Harry Potter’
David Cameron has joked that anyone with “any sense” would like to be Harry Potter, though he acknowledged that the British people would probably see him as the malevolent Voldemort. In a question and answer session with students in Astana, Cameron also said that he misses his wife Samantha “desperately” on overseas trips. Cameron spoke of his admiration for Harry Potter when he was asked which character from the JK Rowling novels he would like to be.