Kazakhstan recently began lengthy and thorough legal proceedings into the tragic violence in Zhanaozen in the oil-rich western part of the country that left seventeen people dead and many others injured. The trials, which will last for months and scrutinize every aspect of the riots, will prove to the world that Kazakhstan respects the rule of law, believes in an open and transparent system of government, and does not tolerate violence against its citizens.
Many critics are loudly saying otherwise. But the formal trials, which began last week, are the beginning of what will prove to be a very long and deliberate process.
As Kazakhstan has demonstrated from the beginning of this terrible set of disturbances, it will spend as long as is necessary to ensure that the facts are brought to light and that those responsible—either in government or outside of it—are punished for their wrongdoing.
Protesters as well as police officers and local officials have been indicted and face criminal charges.
Despite accusations to the contrary, these proceedings will be fully open and transparent to the public, the media and the international community. The media will have unbridled access to every piece of evidence, every question proffered, every answer given and every ruling. Nothing will be hidden; nothing will be kept under wraps.
There's nothing to be proud of when it comes to the mass disturbances in Zhanaozen, and there are many people to blame. The police, the protesters, and local government officials and businesspeople all share responsibility. Kazakhstan mourns the lives lost and deeply regrets what occurred. The events have taught us many important lessons.
But these trials give us great hope and opportunity. They will allow Kazakhstan and its citizens to show the world that its system of justice works.
Just look at where we've been and what we've done.
On December 16, 2011, a long-running labor dispute in Zhanaozen turned bloody. Former employees of the OzenMunaiGas Company—upset because they had lost their jobs in the dispute—mounted a protest that deteriorated into a violent clash with law-enforcement officers. Seventeen people died, and sixty-four were injured, including seventeen police officers. Millions of dollars in damage was done to property.
Immediately after the violence, the government of Kazakhstan commenced a comprehensive investigation into what happened. Investigators spent weeks establishing a chronology of events, determining the facts and understanding why and how the tragedy occurred. They received 2,277 witness reports and conducted more than two hundred forensic inquiries.
These investigators left no stone unturned. In all, they questioned 1,128 individuals. They sought out every potential witness, visiting every apartment and house in the neighborhoods affected. They asked extremely difficult questions in order to determine what might have provoked such violence. They produced hundreds of volumes of materials, all of which will be presented at the trials.
And at every step, the public was kept completely informed.
But some critics tried to diminish these sincere efforts to make things right. Some individuals, attempting to undermine the credibility of the investigation, have spread misinformation and distorted the facts. This has not been helpful. In fact, this whining has distracted investigators who worked tirelessly to ferret out the facts and to share their findings—in a fair and objective manner—with the public.
I can only hope that these same individuals will show respect for the rule of law and the judicial process during these very important trials. I would hope they would appreciate the government's efforts to be open and transparent. Any attempt to disrupt the proceedings will not—and should not—be tolerated. At a time like this, our shared goal must to bring the guilty to justice.
The government of Kazakhstan has made a commitment to its people and to the world that these proceedings will meet the highest standards. I know that they will demonstrate in a very public way that Kazakhs support freedom, fairness and openness and that we have come a very long way to becoming a truly democratic nation.
Erlan Idrissov is Kazakhstan's ambassador to the United States.