President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has signed a decree abolishing the death penalty in Kazakhstan, according to a statement released by his office on Saturday (2 January).
The new law makes permanent the existing moratorium on state executions, introduced in 2003 by the first president of the country, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
The move was largely expected. Tokayev, a former high-ranking UN official who was elected in June 2019, announced that his country would join the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aimed at abolishing the death penalty. The announcement was made in his speech at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly in December 2019.
Russia, Tajikistan and Belarus are now the only three countries in Europe and Central Asia which haven’t yet signed or ratified the Second Optional Protocol. Belarus is the only country in Europe to carry out executions.
Capital punishment in Kazakhstan has been abolished but was still permitted for war crimes or terrorism, as the UN Convention allows. In 2008 and 2016, Kazakhstan voted in favour of the UN Moratorium on the Death Penalty.
While the former Soviet republic has not carried out an execution in almost two decades, death sentences have continued to be handed down to those convicted of serious crimes.
Tokayev has spared convicts sentenced to death. One of the last pronounced death sentences in Kazakhstan was reportedly that of mass murderer Ruslan Kulekbayev who shot and killed eight police officers and two civilians during a rampage in the country’s largest city, Almaty, in 2016. He will now serve a life sentence instead.
The last state-sanctioned executions carried out in the country were in May 2003, when 12 people were put to death by firing squad.
(Edited by Frédéric Simon)