Law Enforcement Systems
Kazakstan's police, court, and prison systems are based, largely
unchanged, on Soviet-era practices, as is the bulk of the republic's
criminal code. Major legislative changes have concentrated on
commercial law, with a view to improving the atmosphere for foreign
investment. Formal responsibility for observation of the republic's
laws and for protection of the state's interests is divided among
the National Security Committee (successor to the Kazak branch
of the KGB), the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Office
of the Procurator General. Intelligence and counterintelligence
are the responsibility of the National Security Committee. The
police (still called the militia) and prisons are the responsibility
of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The Office of the Procurator
General, formerly charged with investigation and prosecution of
unlawful acts, was removed from its investigative capacity by
the 1995 constitution. Investigation of crimes shifted to the
Ministry of Internal Affairs, which also is responsible for fire
protection, automotive inspection, and routine preservation of
order. As of 1992, Kazakstan became a member of the International
Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), and Kazakstani authorities
have worked particularly closely with the law enforcement agencies
of Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan.
The present court system functions at three levels: local courts,
which handle petty crimes such as pickpocketing and vandalism;
province-level courts, which handle offenses such as murder, grand
larceny, and organized crime; and the Supreme Court, to which
decisions of the lower courts are appealed. Until mid-1995, the
Constitutional Court ruled as final arbiter on the constitutionality
of government laws and actions in cases of conflict.
The present constitution provides guarantees of legal representation
for persons accused of a crime, including free representation
if necessary, but this right appears to be little recognized by
authorities or realized by the public. Pretrial detention is permissible,
and a suspect may be held for three days before being charged.
After being charged, an accused individual may be held for up
to a year before being brought to trial. There is no system of
bail; accused individuals remain incarcerated until tried.
Both the police and the National Security Committee have the
right to violate guarantees of privacy (of the home, telephone,
mail, and banks) with the sanction of the procurator general.
The theoretical requirement for search warrants and judicial orders
for wiretaps and other violations of privacy often is ignored
in practice. When the 1995 constitution was approved, a United
States official criticized its lack of protection of civil and
human rights. Before the approval referendum, Nazarbayev had announced
the dissolution of the Constitutional Court, which he replaced
in October with a Constitutional Council whose decisions the president
The Kazakstani prison system came under attack from human rights
organizations in the mid-1990s. In the late Soviet period, eighty-nine
labor camps, ten prisons, and three psychiatric hospitals (under
the administration of the Ministry of Internal Affairs) were known
to be operating in the republic. At least two of the prisons,
at Öskemen and Semey, date from tsarist days. There also were
at least four special prisons for women and children, at Pavlodar,
Zhambyl, and Chamalghan. The facilities remaining from the Soviet
period are badly overcrowded and understaffed. According to a
1996 report from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, government
funding of prisons is less than half the amount required, and
corruption and theft are common throughout the prison system.
The total prison population in 1996 was 76,000, and about 1,300
died of tuberculosis in 1995. Health conditions are extremely
poor. Overcrowding has been exacerbated by an explosion of crime
among the country's youth and by President Nazarbayev's ongoing
policy of harsh sentences for convicted criminals.
In the early and mid-1990s, crime was increasing at an alarming
rate. The police were badly understaffed, overworked, and underfinanced.
In 1995 police in Almaty received no pay for three months. A significant
drain of personnel has occurred since independence, as investigators
and police officers either move to other republics or enter other
lines of work offering higher pay. Even before independence, militia
authorities complained that staffing was more than 2,000 below
full force. In numerous instances, police officers themselves
have been involved in crime, especially in such potentially lucrative
branches of law enforcement as highway patrol and customs inspection.
Under these circumstances, public respect for the police declined
Since independence Kazakstan has suffered an enormous increase
in crime of almost all types. One indication of this explosion
has been a series of measures ordered by President Nazarbayev
in September 1995, aimed primarily at ending corruption in the
police force. The incidence of reported crimes has grown by about
25 percent in every year since independence, although in the first
months of 1995 the growth rate slowed to about 16 percent. The
average crime rate for the republic is about 50 crimes per 10,000
population, but the rate is significantly higher in Qaraghandy,
North Kazakstan, East Kazakstan, Aqmola, Pavlodar, and Almaty.
Crime-solving rates have fallen to under 60 percent across the
republic and to as low as 30 percent in cities such as Qaraghandy
Particular increases have been noted in violent crimes and in
crimes committed by teenagers and young men. Contract murders
and armed clashes between criminal groups increased noticeably
in 1995 and were cited by Nazarbayev as a reason for tightening
police procedures. Although Soviet crime statistics were not especially
reliable, it is still revealing that in 1988 only 5 percent of
the republic's convicts were under thirty years of age, but by
1992 that figure had risen to 58 percent. In addition, there has
been an enormous increase in official malfeasance and corruption,
with bribe taking reported to be nearly ubiquitous.
Kazakstan offers natural conditions favorable to accelerated
narcotics use and trade. Many parts of the country offer excellent
growing conditions for cannabis and opium poppies, and the country
is located on the route to lucrative markets in the West. Until
it ceased production in 1991, Kazakstan's Shymkent plant was the
Soviet Union's only supplier of medicinal opiates. The Ministry
of Internal Affairs estimated narcotics production and traffic
to be 30 percent higher in 1993 than in the previous year. The
focus of attention for that ministry, which coordinates the republic's
antinarcotics program, is the Chu Valley in south central Kazakstan,
where an estimated 138,000 hectares of cannabis and an unknown
area of opium poppy fields are under cultivation, providing exports
for international smugglers. Because of low funding, efforts to
eradicate cannabis and poppy cultivation virtually ceased in 1995.
Almaty has become a crossroads for opiates and hashish from
southwest Asia. This role has resulted in large part from lax
customs controls and the city's position as a transportation hub.
In 1994 an estimated 1.4 tons of morphine base from Afghanistan
were stored in Almaty.
An active government narcotics control program began in 1993,
although limited personnel and funding have handicapped its efforts.
In 1994 only 400 police, 100 sniffer dogs, and twelve special
investigators were active. Most Ministry of Internal Affairs interdiction
occurs along the Chinese border. Cooperation has been sought with
the narcotics programs of other Central Asian states and Russia.
In 1993 and 1994, Russian forces made eradication sweeps through
the Chu Valley, but Russian helicopter support ceased in 1994.
Antinarcotics agreements have been signed with Turkey, Pakistan,
China, and Iran. Kazakstan also has requested United States aid
in drafting narcotics provisions in a new penal code.
Domestic use of narcotics has been confined largely to areas
of production, notably around Shymkent. Although only 10,700 addicts
were registered in 1991, experts believe the actual number to
be much higher. The use of homemade opiates increased significantly
in the early 1990s. The Ministry of Health runs a center offering
treatment and prevention programs. However, by 1994 lack of resources
had made treatment on demand impossible and stimulated reorganization
of the program.
Data as of March 1996