Nearly one in seven of the planet’s population, for example, do not have enough food to eat. Many countries are still scarred by bitter conflict and violence. Discrimination on the grounds of gender, ethnic background and beliefs remain widespread.
These failures do not just scar the lives of the individuals concerned. They are also the biggest barrier to our wider hopes for the world. Progress, prosperity and peace will not be possible while millions of our fellow human beings are denied their most basic human rights.
This is why the work of the United Nations Human Rights Council, created six years ago, is so important. By monitoring the performance of countries and actively promoting and protecting human rights, the UNHRC has the potential to be a powerful force for good in the world.
The re-election of the United States to the UNHRC last month can only help increase its influence. So, too, can the determination of member countries to increase the effectiveness of its work. The UNHRC cannot just be seen as a talking shop which was the criticism of its predecessor.
Kazakhstan, which has just been elected to the Council for the first time, is determined to help with these aims. Through our recent chairmanship of the Organization of Security and Co-operation in Europe, we have the experience of working effectively and collaboratively in international bodies. The Organization of Islamic Co-operation, under our chairmanship made human rights a particular focus.
We believe that our good relations with our neighbors and role as a bridge between east and west in the very heart of Eurasia can help remove obstacles to progress.
I can also promise that Kazakhstan views our election to this important body not as a badge of honor but as a spur to continue improving human rights abroad and at home. For while we are proud of our progress as a country, we do believe that we have not yet got everything right.
After all, Kazakhstan has only been an independent country for 21 years. We emerged out of the break-up of the Soviet Union without a democratic culture or institutions to build on.
President Nazarbayev has repeatedly stressed that we are only at the beginning of our journey as a country and that we must accelerate economic, social and political modernization. So while we are confident that our record on human rights stands comparison with any country in our region, we know there is more to do.
It is why we have put in place a comprehensive human rights plan to ensure guarantees under the constitution are met. An independent ombudsman, too, has been set up to investigate complaints about abuses.
In recent years, Kazakhstan has launched a concerted campaign to root out corruption, something the OECD has praised. Senior judges, politicians and officials have been tried and jailed for dishonesty. In the last year, every police officer has been assessed to ensure they have the qualities to do their job fairly and properly with those failing dismissed.
Like many countries across the world, we have taken steps to protect ourselves from the threat of violent extremism based on a distortion of religious beliefs. But we have balanced these new safeguards with new protections for religious freedom. In a region with many religious and ethnic tensions, we are proud to be a society where people of all faiths live in harmony and can worship freely.
We have also moved quickly to tackle the underlying economic, social and human rights issues which the shocking unrest in Zhanaozen a year ago exposed. Criminal behavior inflamed the situation and those responsible for the disorder have been brought to justice in open and transparent trials. But there has also been major investment in Zhanaozen and other mono-towns to provide increased employment opportunities and to improve social facilities.
We understand that there is more to do to bring human right protections for our citizens up the level of more mature democracies. We are ready to work with both domestic and international NGOs to deliver this aim just as we are determined to work to promote human rights internationally.
We see our election to the UNHRC not as a goal achieved but as the beginning of a new stage in our development as a country and our role in the international community. At home and abroad, we are determined to help bring the dream of the visionary architects of the Universal Declaration closer.
Idrissov is Kazakhstan’s minister of foreign affairs.