The court’s primary role is to protect human rights. Its first decision was to annul the law, which granted lifetime immunity to Kazakhstan’s former President, Nazarbayev
Kazakhstan’s newly established Constitutional Court began its work this month. The historic occasion is one of the most profound examples of Kazakhstan’s transformation from a “Super presidential” state to a normative Presidential republic with a strong Parliament, an independent Judiciary protecting human rights, and an accountable government.
The new Constitutional Court was established with the idea of expanding human rights mechanisms by giving citizens an opportunity to appeal directly to the court. According to the law, the court allows citizens to challenge laws and decisions that do not comply with constitutional law, thereby giving them an opportunity to protect their rights. Citizens can question the compliance of normative legal acts that directly affect their rights and freedoms compliance with the constitution of Kazakhstan.
The Constitutional Court vision was raised by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev as a main component of a sweeping reforms plan, elaborated in his address to the nation on March 16, 2022. The establishment of the new Constitutional Court was approved on 5 June 2022 by 77% of the voters, in a nationwide referendum on Tokayev’s democratic amendments to the constitution (the turnout was 68%). Tokayev signed the law on the Constitutional Court on November 5, 2022, among other laws stemming from the national referendum.
The Constitutional Court of Kazakhstan is meant to ensure the supremacy of the constitution on the entire territory of Kazakhstan and is independent of citizens, organizations, state bodies, and officials. Accordingly, a special appointment formula was established – The court consists of 11 judges; the President appoints the chairperson, the deputy, and three others. The Senate (the higher house) appoints three judges and the Majilis (the lower house) appoints three.
The Judges are independent in their work, by law, as they are subordinate only to the Constitution and the constitutional law. Any interference in their activity and exertion of pressure or other influence entails liability by law. “The judges of the Constitutional Court on constitutional matters, shall not be accountable. No one shall have the right to demand from them a report on the exercise of their powers”, reads the law.
A woman appointed as Chairperson
Elvira Azimova, the former national Human Rights Commissioner, was appointed as the Constitutional Court chairperson. Upon her appointment, President Tokayev said that “Human rights protection is a priority. Judicial reform is based on the rule of law, independence, and fairness of judges. The state has to ensure justice and legal protection. People expect this from us. Therefore, we will continue to improve the mechanisms for protecting human rights.”
Azimova is one of Kazakhstan’s long-time leading Human Rights legal experts. Before serving as the country’s Human Rights Ombudsperson, she also served as deputy justice minister from 2013 to 2019. During her professional career, Azimova was the chief consultant for the Department of International Legal Support, deputy head of the Department of Legislation, International Law and Protocol, head of the Department of Regulations and International Law, and director of the Department of Examination of International Treaties at the Ministry of Justice.
The court’s historic first decision
The Constitutional Court is not a novelty for Kazakhstan. It first emerged when the country adopted its first Constitution in January 1993, but was dissolved in 1995 with the establishment of the Constitutional Council. The re-establishment of the Constitutional Court comes at a time when Kazakhstan finds itself amid a democratic transformation in the political and governance systems. Following an appeal by parliamentarians, one of the court’s first decisions was to annul the law on the first president’s lifetime privileges. The law in question was adopted in 2000 and provided Nazarbaev and his family members, among other benefits, with lifetime immunity from any prosecution, except if related to high treason.
Though he officially stepped down as president, Nazarbaev retained sweeping powers as the head of the Central Asian country’s powerful Security Council. He also enjoyed substantial powers by holding the title of Elbasy – “Father of the Nation”. The provisions of the law included housing, transport, a museum, a personal archive, a personal library, and other rights. In annulling the law “On the First President”, the Constitutional Court pointed to the 5 June referendum on the constitution, as the justification for the decision.