June 10, 2008
To: The participants of the Third Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention
Appeal from the Participants of the Protest Action in Almaty to the Third Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention
Dear ladies and gentlemen!
The participants of a protest action, taking place now in Almaty, Kazakhstan, appeal to you. The reason for our appeal is the extremely distressing situation in which we find ourselves as a result of the “legal” seizure of land for the purpose of a large-scale residential construction development.
At the Second Meeting of the Parties, held in our city in 2005, Decision II/5a “Compliance by Kazakhstan with Its Obligations Under the Aarhus Convention” was adopted.
The following recommendations were given to the Government of Kazakhstan in this Decision:
“Adopt and implement regulations setting out more precise public participation procedures covering the full range of activities subject to article 6 of the Convention, without in any way reducing existing rights of public participation” (Point 7a); and
“Consider introducing stronger measures to prevent any construction work going ahead prior to the completion of the corresponding permitting process with the required level of public participation” (Point 7c).
Following the 2007 passage of the Republic of Kazakhstan’s Environmental Code, official bodies repeatedly stated that all of the Convention’s requirements designed to ensure public participation in decision-making processes were being taking into account. However, both the Akimat of the city of Almaty (the executive power branch) and the developers are trampling upon the requirements of the Environmental Code, the Law “On Architectural, Urban Planning and Construction Activities in the Republic of Kazakhstan” and the Aarhus Convention.
Since 2005, they have tried by all legal and illegal means to evict us—citizens living in the square formed by Al-Farabi, Rozybakiev, Kozhabekov and Gagarin streets—from the houses and apartments we own. In so doing, we were not notified of the planned construction, were not provided with complete information, and were not permitted access to decision-making processes regarding environmental matters. We were presented with a fait accompli—the land on which we live has been seized for state needs.
In such an undemocratic way, they are trying to throw us out of our homes and to take away land plots that are located in an environmentally favorable district, without providing fair compensation for the seized property.
The state bodies substantiate their actions with the provisions of the Land Code, adopted on June 20, 2003, that is to say after Kazakhstan’s ratification of the Aarhus Convention. This very law stipulates that local executive authorities have the right to make the decision to seize land for state needs without taking into account public opinion and without public participation in the decision-making processes. However, the Code does not contain any provisions regarding informing the public of planned land seizures or provisions regarding changing the designated purpose of land and other changes of land status, which have an impact of the environment and the well-being of citizens. Furthermore, the Code does not stipulate for the right of the public to participate in decision-making processes regarding environmental matters. This is in contradiction to the Aarhus Convention.
The Agency for Land Resources Management should have participated in the implementation of Decision II/5a of the Second Meeting of the Parties; however, the bureaucrats allegedly have not noted a contradiction between the provisions of the Aarhus Convention and the Land Code. And in our case, the Agency is not using the extensive authorities it has been granted to protect the rights of citizens.
In this way, we are rendered hostages to an undemocratic system in which state bodies defend the rights of citizens only on paper, while in actuality driving citizens to despair and pushing them to extreme measures.
After several years of futile fighting for the right to live on our land and in our houses and apartments, we have been forced to take extreme measures.
On May 16, nine residents of Almaty, living in the square formed by Al-Farabi, Rozybakiev, Kozhabekov and Gagarin streets, began a hunger strike as a sign of protest against the actions of the Akimat of Almaty and the developer, “SitiServisInvestStroi Ltd.” We simultaneously appealed to the OSCE to regard with skepticism the assurances of the bureaucrats on their aspirations to develop democracy in Kazakhstan.
On May 28, hunger striker Stalina Pak was hospitalized.
On May 28, the appeal to the President of Kazakhstan was adopted by the hunger strikers.
On June 1, Oleg Pak, the husband of one of the hunger strikers, could not endure the psychological stress—he sluiced their apartment in benzene, nearly setting it on fire. Only with great difficulty, his wife and neighbors were able to take the matches away from him. Meanwhile, three more people joined the hunger strike.
On June 4, Stalina Pak was again hospitalized, and Svetlana Gureva was in critical condition, and most likely will also be hospitalized. In spite of this, the authorities did not want to conduct negotiations with any of the hunger strikers.
On June 5, those hunger strikers who were still able to walk independently and a group of supporters conducted a protest action at the building of the Akimat of Almaty. As a result, the authorities agreed to begin open negotiations on June 6, 2008.
On June 6, at the Almaty City Branch of the party “Nur otan” an open meeting was held with the participation of political parties, NGOs, representatives of the city’s public prosecutor, the Bostandyk District Court, the public enterprise “Almatyzher” and the very residents of the demolished district. The negotiations did not change the situation. The hunger strike continues.
On June 9, another hunger strike started up. Eleven residents, living nearby, began it.
Keeping in mind that:
- the purpose of the Aarhus Convention is “to contribute to the protection of the right of every person of present and future generations to live in an environment adequate to his or her health and well-being”; and
- that “each Party shall guarantee the rights of access to information, public participation in decision-making, and access to justice in environmental matters.
we ask that the participants of the Third Meeting of the Parties pay attention to the despotism committed by the Kazakhstani authorities, with their disdain for national laws and international obligations. We ask you to call upon them to stop their illegal acts and to resolve the problem in the framework of the rights granted to us by the Aarhus Convention and national legislation.
18 residents signed the appeal.