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9 Apr 2021

HRD Interview: Dilnar Insenova, activist from Kazakhstan

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

What is the situation like for human rights defenders, working on business-related human rights issues in Kazakhstan? Are there sufficient protections for HRDs?

In general, the situation with human rights defenders is the same as in the country on the whole: no one is protected; sometimes human rights defenders themselves need protection.

What are the greatest risks human rights defenders are currently facing? Has the situation improved or worsened over the last five years? Has it changed during COVID-19, and if so how?

In the banking sector it remained at the same level. I think it is due to the fact that there are a lot of borrowers with problem loans, and if human rights defenders begin to accumulate this force, it can become a threat. Therefore, in this area, there is not so much pressure on human rights defenders. Let's say there are not so many activists in the political field, but in Kazakhstan there is a great number of borrowers with problem loans. Therefore, I think the authorities are acting carefully here: they interact, meet, work, help, at this moment the state is taking an unprecedented step, there is a write-off of troubled mortgage loans. Over the past 5 years, most likely it has worsened; there are many politically motivated cases.

Can you tell us more about your work on business and human rights?

Now my probation term is coming to an end, only 1 month left. Additional punishment restriction is not to conduct public activities for a period of 2 years. During the term, there was no particular pressure, because there was already a court decision, since I was already under restriction. At any moment, I could be sentenced to imprisonment for violation. If peopel come to us, we help to resolve the issue with banks. Everything takes place at the level of negotiations. The peak of my activity was in 2015-2018, when we organized rallies near banks, defended people's housing from bailiffs, in brief, the struggle was tough.

Can you share the kinds of threats and attacks you have experienced as a result of it? How were companies involved in this?

Three or four years ago, I was often invited to talks by the Akimat - Department of Domestic Policy: they would say I shouldn't engage in public activities or may end up jail.

There were situations when my husband was threatened, they said, “Watch your wife if you want to see her alive”.

They threatened my mother - she had a bank loan, so they tried to manipulate through the bank. Then they began to put pressure on my eldest daughter: police planted her drugs (anasha). They kept her all night at the police station, did not allow her to make a phone call, they wrote strange SMS messages from her number, at the same time my husband and I were searching for her all night in hospitals and police stations, and the next morning they gave her the phone and said, “Invite only your mother”. And at that time I thought that I would go on the warpath for the sake of my child, if they did not stop putting pressure on our kids, then I would take drastic measures. After that, my family was left in peace, but I also had to calm down.

What has been the response of other NGOs to the attacks you have been experienc-ing? How about the general public? The international community, including buy-ers from and investors?

When it happened to my daughter, I was afraid to disclose the issue to the general public, because I was afraid to make it worse. Kadyr-Kasiet paid for my lawyer twice. They also helped pay administrative fines worth almost a million tenge; they helped pay part of it. There were posts by Bakhytzhan Toregozhina, she also helped pay fines, and the Human Rights Bureau provided a platform for holding press conferences. In two cases Kadyr-Kasiet paid for a lawyer, Zhanar Balgabaeva, and obtained a decision of the UN Human Rights Committee, with the informational support of Toregozhina Bakhytzhan. There was no interest or proposals from any other organization.

Are businesses cooperating with civil society when concerns are raised about their operations? Can you share some positive examples, if there are any?

No, I do not know about such examples.

Have any investors or companies supported human rights defenders beyond their operations?

No, I don’t know.

What role does the government play? Is it supportive of human rights defenders? Or do you feel pressure from the government?

I can say that the situation on the part of the government has changed recently. Sometimes it seems to me that the government lives in some kind of a parallel world, it pays attention only when there is some kind of emergency, or a riot, or mass deaths. I do not think the government intends to support human rights defenders, except for those who are, so to say, confidant human rights defenders; maybe they get support, but definitely not independent human rights defenders.

What do you think the government or investors/companies can do to improve the protection of human rights defenders?

Firstly, on the part of the government it is not to try to regulate their activities through fiscal laws, not to interfere in their activities, to be in dialogue and interaction, to hear criticism from human rights organizations, to involve them in discussing public issues.

What can international organizations and community do to help protect human rights defenders on the ground?

It is necessary to make local human rights defenders a part of international communities, to integrate all human rights defenders into one large organization with a branch network, to improve human rights defenders’ qualifications, to organize meetings at various levels, to inform the international community about violations on the ground.

What drives you to do your work? How do you think it contributes to achieving corporate accountability for human rights abuses?

I like to be in the thick of things, I am interested in the process of society development, to some extent I want to influence this process. I want to be useful not only to my family, but also to society, with my activity and indifference. People turn to human rights defenders when their civil rights are grossly violated, perhaps, as a last resort. In general, I think that everyone can become a human rights defender and this would be much more useful for the development of the state.