International humanitarian law and raison d'état : the balance sheet of Kazakhstan's ratification of the Geneva Convention on refugees
Alex Danilovich, Sabina Insebayeva
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International journal of refugee law, Vol. 26, issue 1, March 2014, p. 112-129
Post-soviet countries have been eager to accede to international humanitarian law while quite reluctant to honour the resulting obligations. The home to thousands of asylum seekers from neighbouring countries, Kazakhstan ratified the Geneva Convention on refugees in 1998. However, the Kazakhstani government regularly flouts its important provisions by denying bone fide asylum seekers refugee status and by sending applicants back to countries where they may face imprisonment, torture, and execution. This article is an attempt to explain why Kazakhstan does not always honour its obligations under international humanitarian law. It argues that maintaining good relations with influential neighbours from where refugees originate takes precedence over Kazakhstan’s obligations under the Geneva Convention. Various empirical data are used to test this assumption, such as statistics on numbers of applicants extradited from Kazakhstan compiled by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and qualitative data generated through in-depth interviews with UNHCR protection officers posted in the country. The time frame examined is the period between 1999, the year Kazakhstan ratified the Geneva Convention relating the Status of Refugees, and 2012. The analysis seems to uphold the assumption that Kazakhstan’s raison d’état and resulting foreign policy priorities undermine its obligations under international humanitarian law.