Crematorium, anthrax, and human rights, or how Kazakhstan enters the WTO

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The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that nobody at any conditions should be subjected to humiliation. Constitution of the Republic of Kazakhstan states: “Human’s dignity is inviolable.” But it seems that neither the Universal Declaration of Human Right, nor the Constitution is able to confront the insanity of free market in our country. 
The state authorities again and again allow violation of human rights, this time explaining their actions by demagogy that entering the World Trade Organization (WTO) would be profitable for everybody in Kazakhstan! Human’s dignity is turned into some sort of merchandise!

People are public enemies

A group of Almaty residents became such public enemies by trying to protect their rights on favorable environment, struggling to keep their houses and small plots of land, and not wishing to bear humiliation and lose their dignity.

Everything started in 2007, when a joint order #261 of the Minister of Health and #358 of the Minister of Agriculture approved the “2007-2009 Plan of activities on bringing the sanitary and epidemiological well-being of the population, veterinary medicine, and plant quarantine in compliance with the Agreement of the WTO on application of sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures.”

The purpose was honorable – to improve the quality of the agricultural produce which would foster public welfare…
The Plan of activities stipulates construction and reconstruction of 26 regional and district veterinary laboratories on the territory of Kazakhstan, including the State veterinary laboratory located in Almaty at 221/B Raiymbek street.

The residents privatized their houses and land plots near the laboratory in the beginning of the 90s. They were not notified about the intending construction of the new laboratory facilities. The people learnt about it only in May 2009, when suddenly a fence was erected and demolition of the old buildings started. The access roads to their houses and garages were blocked, their own fences were broken. Trees around the construction site were cut (it seems as an inevitable thing these days). In order to get to their houses, the people had to cross the construction site through the mud, get round the pits, crane, and other construction vehicles. There were narrow trapdoors left in the fence for people to access their houses… What a generosity!
But the ungrateful homeowners did not bear such “favors” and started to send claims in different organizations, and in October 2009, with the support of the Ecological Society Green Salvation, they addressed to the court!

«Kids’» fears!

But not only the temporarily inconveniences worried the people. They realized very well that a dangerous facility was developed by their side, although the city authorities were trying to persuade them in the opposite.  

What are you afraid of? Crematorium? But this is just a small unit for burning corps of infected animals, and its emissions will simply disappear in the smog covering Almaty everyday.

Infected animals?  They live in the city in an infinite number: abandoned pets, birds, rats. Can you only imagine what diseases they are all carrying!
You worry about the highly contagious diseases which will be diagnosed in the laboratory, including human-transmittable ones: anthrax, plague, and rabies? The veterinary laboratory exists since the beginning of the 50s, and nobody got infected yet! 

May be you are concerned about the missing sanitary and protection zone of 50 m? Well, it is missing indeed. But what is the big deal? The KSMK-3 cement plant located on Bokeikhan street must have a sanitary and protection zone of 300 m, but people live right near the cement containers.  
So, what is it all about – “kids’” fears? You put your personal benefits over the interests of the government, the country, the whole nation, and even over the interests of the WTO!

In order to dispel these fears, the developer started to act simply, rudely, and cynically. You addressed to the court? You do not agree? We will cut your water supply, switch off your heat and power. 
The authorities do not even want to hear the voice of the people. From the environmental wellbeing standpoint, Almaty is already such a dangerous city that in any district you can be heaped up, poisoned, flooded, or harmed by dozens of the highly dangerous enterprises. Is it normal? Back in the 50s, authorities were more farsighted. The laboratory was built on the edge of the city, but these days, it found itself almost in the downtown.

Something is wrong with the math

In the court, the developer representatives stated that “all the six residents except for three do not mind the construction of the laboratory.” But according to the laws of math, three out of six is 50 percent, and 50 percent is far from being all.  During the court hearings, it was determined that four out of seven residents mentioned in the case are against the construction. This was confirmed by their written statements. Two other residents live on the other side of the street, but even they signed the statement against development of the additional laboratory facilities in the beginning. But later, they officially refused from their signatures with unexplained reasons.

As time went, another letter appeared with a requirement not to allow construction of the new laboratory facilities signed by several dozens of residents living close by. Realizing that the math trick was a weak movement, the developers stopped promoting this argumentation.

The court defined its position right away. Its actions towards the claimants were far away from exercising justice in a civilized society. Despite of the numerous facts of the residents’ rights violation appearing every day, their arguments were not taken into consideration, all the claimants’ petitions were declined.

According to the Law “On Architectural, Urban Planning and Construction Activities in the Republic of Kazakhstan” and the Environmental Code, a developer must conduct public hearings before starting any construction works. In accordance with the Environmental Code, the construction project must receive a positive conclusion of the state environmental assessment.

During the court hearings, it became clear that no public hearings took place, no public opinion accountability was performed, the project was neither agreed, nor approved by any regulating authorities and the initial development plan was changed, no positive conclusion of the environmental assessment was presented, no sanitary and protection zone was established around the dangerous facility.
But the courts did not take into consideration the documented facts of violation of the construction norms and rules; as well as, they ignored the lack of materials about conducting of the public hearings.

In all courts, the speeches of the claimants were heard in silence, and afterwards, prepared in advance decisions and determinations were announced. Although later behind the scene, some of the process participants and even “independent” judges supported the residents in a whisper (!) and even apologized for the illegal actions. But this whisper of sympathy was drowning in a thunder of the court decisions – “declined”!
Appellate and review courts did not even try to understand the essence of the matter, they simply repeated the decision of the district court! The new laboratory facilities are already built, how can we demolish them now?!

Where are you, honest authorities?

Residents and environmentalists addressed the authorities again, this time appealing to the common sense.  But the replies from the authorities were so absurd that they even cannot be called a runaround: the court decided that the developer did not violate the law – therefore, the developer did not violate the law. The most striking was a letter from the Ministry of agriculture: “If the laboratory would be built illegally, no permitting authority would take such a high responsibility to issue the permission.”

Unfortunately, the letter does not indicate the addresses of the honest authorities. And as can be seen, it is very hard to find them in real life. But all mass-media inform us about dishonest ones. Former Minister of Environmental Protection is imprisoned for two years already, the Minister of Health was sued in September 2010. According to the Transparency International, Kazakhstan took the 105th place among 178 countries by the level of corruption in the governmental sector.

There is an old anecdote. One foreigner asks a local resident:

- So, do you have honest authorities in your country?

- Yes, but they are very expensive!
Instead of conclusion. Sovereign plague. 

After completion of the court hearings, construction workers still continue to eliminate various faults. But the laboratory directors are feeling winners again. They have never doubted that they will be “protected”. And they were not mistaken. The courts decided in their favor, and all the public authorities approved the project. The last one “to conquer” was GKP “Holding Almaty Su”.  On September 10, 2010, fifteen months after beginning of the construction works, the organization approved the project just a few days before the final decision of the Supreme Court. By this time, the new laboratory facilities were almost finished.

Humiliation of the people and violation of their rights continues. Without permission of the owners, new water and heat pipelines for the laboratory were installed across the territory of the people’s land plots. Access roads to the people’s houses lay on the territory of the laboratory which prohibits presence of unauthorized persons. Storm water system is not finished. As a result, rain creates a big puddle in front of an entrance to one of the houses, and after the water drains down it forms a real quagmire.

Analyzing this lawsuit and other materials collected in the organization, one comes to an undeniable conclusion that the logics of law more and more yields to the logics of money. And more and more often one can hear such court expressions which cannot be compared to anything by its cynicism. High-voltage power lines are favorable for fertility; the law is bad – therefore, we do not follow it; trees interfere with the business development; high requirements of the Sanitary Norms and Rules impede investments; ninety percent of the enterprises operating in Almaty violate environmental legislation – what is the big deal; international conventions represent only recommendations!
These malapropisms were followed by another one. If the court decided that an organization working with the most dangerous pathogenic bacteria is not dangerous, then since that day we do not have to worry about anything. And it is in Russia, where they set a sanitary and protection zone of 100 m around such laboratories. We have our own plague – a sovereign one!

The third article of the Law “On Government Service” states: “State service in the Republic of Kazakhstan is based on the principles: legality;… priority of the rights, freedoms, and legal interests of the citizens before the interests of the state;… accountability of the public opinion and openness…” But what is law in our country? Dead theory! While the tree of the lawlessness actively blooms!
Even the Vice-Minister of Environmental Protection, M. Turmagambetov, in his recent interview to a “Caravan” newspaper reporter had to admit that Kazakhstan “still did not implement one of the three principles” of the Aarhus Convention – access to justice in the matters related to the environment.
Great outcome of Kazakhstan’s chairmanship in the OSCE which mission includes protecting human rights and helping with realization of the Aarhus Convention, great result of the first decade of participating in this Convention!

Apparently, good intentions pave the way not only to the hell, but also to the WTO.

HUMAN RIGHTS / Almaty: a veterinary laboratory is being built with severe violations of law

January,  2011

Ecological Society Green Salvation

Translated by Tairova Sofya