"Unfortunately [HRW] made a very biased report on Kazakhstan … there were statements that the authorities had violated human rights. If we get to the core of the issue it was not the authorities who violated but the company management."

- Usen Suleiman, Kazakhstan's foreign ministry official

A human rights group has accused the government of Kazakhstan and three oil companies of abusing and repressing workers in the country's oil fields.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), in the 153-page report released on Monday, examined last December's events in western Kazakhstan in which at least 15 people were killed and more than 100 injured.

The incident happened when police fired on oil workers who were on strike.

The HRW report accused the government and the oil companies of restricting workers' rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression.

"The government must hold the companies accountable for the way that they operate in the country and whether they respect national and international laws. To put all the blame on the companies is inaccurate … and the government appears to be avoiding responsibility."

- Jane Buchanan, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch

Al Jazeera's Robin Forestier-Walker reporting from Almaty said the government in a statement blamed the industrial unrest mainly on mismanagement by the oil companies, and local officials. Political opponents were also accused of stoking the violence.

Our correspondent said observers such as HRW say the real problem lies with repressive legislation.

Inside Story asks: Where are the workers' rights in Kazakhstan?

Joining presenter Hazem Sika for the discussion are guests: Jane Buchanan, a senior researcher in the Europe and Central Asia division at Human Rights Watch; Tim Noonan, the head of campaign and communications at the International Trade Union Confederation; and Usen Suleiman, the ambassador-at-large at Kazakhstan's foreign affairs ministry.

"What we've seen in Kazakhstan is representative of what's going on in many parts of the world now. Fundamentally workers in so many places are at the mercy of employers because governments are not putting in place proper legislation and not abiding by international rules."

Tim Noonan, the International Trade Union Confederation


  • President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been in office since the country gained independence in 1991, and has ruled it as a one-party state that the West has been happy to do business with.
  • The country's population is 16.7 million and it sits between Russia and China.
  • In the last two decades, the economy has attracted billions of dollars in foreign investment.
  • In 2001, Kazakhstan strengthened its regional ties by joining China and Russia to launch the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation.
  • Six months later, George Bush, who was then US president, declared a commitment to a long-term, strategic partnership with Kazakhstan.
  • The country is also one of the world's biggest oil-producers, with more than three per cent of global reserves.

Source: Al Jazeera