To wrap up our study tour, we had a wonderful farewell dinner at a Turkish restaurant. I wasn't sure exactly how to dress—I didn't want to offend our guests by dressing too casually, so I went with slacks and a formal blouse. Then, the ABA-ROLI staff and I all arrived at the restaurant before the judges, so we planned strategically who should sit where, considering both hierarchies and language barriers. However, once the judges arrived—laughing amongst each other, clad in Nike apparel and sandals—it was clear that they were in a very casual, relaxed mood!
After showing them around D.C. and discussing our legal system all week, it was wonderful to learn more about Kazakhstan and our guests' culture. Our guests were extremely eager to learn more about different legal systems and to figure out what methods would work best in their country. Back in January, there was violent unrest in Kazakhstan. The protests started out in Zhanaozen over rising fuel costs, but quickly spread throughout the country, eventually reaching Nur-Sultan (the capital) and Almaty (the country's largest city). The unrest lasted for about a week, during which President Tokayev put in place shoot-to-kill orders against protestors. Overall, an estimated 227 people died in the unrest, with 9,900 more arrested. Tokayev has since instituted reforms, some of which limit his own authority. At the same time, however, there are allegations that people arrested in connection with the unrest are being tortured into giving false confessions. Additionally, many people who lost loved ones during the unrest still have no idea what happened to them.
Given what transpired, we were amazed to hear how hopeful most of our guests and field staff felt about the current situation there. More than that, however, they were driven to seize the moment and institute meaningful reforms. Our guests told us that people there feel as if they finally have the chance to form a "New Kazakhstan" that is more fair and just for everyone. Talking with them made me feel inspired to contribute to justice reform efforts in my own country.
It was wonderful to meet and get to know our field staff in Kazakhstan! I'm so grateful I got to have these amazing experiences.