Bolstering Kazakhstan's Judiciary

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Thursday, July 1, 2021
Justice Almagambetova featured above
Hazel Correa for USAID

Supreme Court Justice Looks Back on the Judiciary’s Journey Over Three Decades

Almagambetova Gulzhan Zhaksylykovna, wears many hats: wife, mother, grandmother, and Supreme Court justice. She went to law school when Kazakhstan was part of the Soviet Union. “I studied law at the Legal College in Chelyabinsk and later graduated from the Sverdlovsk Law Institute in Russia in 1991.” Her father was a respected lawyer who spent decades in the prosecutor’s office. “I wanted to follow in his footsteps,” says Justice Almagambetova.  

On December 16, 2021, Kazakhstan will celebrate its 30th Independence Day. As the first country to recognize Kazakhstan’s independence, the United States has continuously supported the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Kazakhstan. Since 1992, USAID has partnered with the people, institutions, and the government to foster a resilient, democratic, and inclusive Kazakhstan. 

“I am thankful to USAID for its long-standing partnership with our country,” says Gulzhan. Looking back at her own journey, she recognizes the resolve, leadership, and hard work it took to build a sovereign nation. Today, Kazakhstan is widely recognized as a regional leader in Central Asia and beyond.

After graduation, Gulzhan moved back to Kazakhstan. “In 1998, I was appointed a district court judge, later a city court judge. By 2002, I was adjudicating disputes between business entities at an economic court. In 2009, I became a judge of the Akmola regional court.” One of the most significant appointments in her career was in 2016 when she was appointed to the Supreme Court. 

“My career as a Supreme Court Justice would not be as successful if it weren’t for my family. Growing up, I had the unwavering support of my parents and in-laws. Throughout my career, my husband and children have been my biggest advocates,” says Justice Almagambetova. “Just as I had a support system that helped me thrive, our young democracy too had benefited from the support of our partners including USAID.”

Since the early 1990s, USAID has supported rule of law initiatives across Central Asia. As early as 1994, USAID began implementing programs for parliamentary institution-building, offering legal and legislative advice to the Government of Kazakhstan to strengthen judicial independence; counsel that contributed to the passage of the national law on amnesty, incorporation of international human rights standards on treatment of prisoners into Kazakhstan’s criminal code, among other milestones.

Since 2003, USAID has partnered directly with the Supreme Court of Kazakhstan, from supporting drafting sections of the Kazakhstan Supreme Court’s instructions to lower courts on the protection of consumers’ rights, to strengthening the independence and professionalism of the court system including in the application of international best practices in judicial decisions.

USAID programs have also provided support with the implementation of new legislation, development of alternative dispute resolution methods, and modernization of the judicial system. “I have personally benefited from USAID programs over the years. When I was an appellate judge in the city of Kokshetau, I participated in judicial decision-writing seminars. The seminar was highly specialized and a first of its kind to train judges on decision-writing.”

“In 2016, when I was a judge in the Supreme Court, USAID had programs focused on intellectual property rights and investment disputes. We have had many interesting initiatives including a seminar on intellectual property, with an expert from the U.S. Department of Justice and a U.S. district court judge. Since 2018, in partnership with USAID, we have hosted international conferences on investment litigation including taxes, ecology, and appeals against the actions of state bodies,” says Justice Almagambetova.

More recently, in 2019, through an exchange program, Justice Almagambetova went to Washington, D.C. to learn about the U.S. judicial system of intellectual property rights and learned firsthand about its importance to economic independence, innovation, and domestic growth in the United States. 

Kazakhstan has taken several steps to improve investor confidence. “The most significant being the creation of an investment collegium under the Supreme Court. Investors’ cases are considered by a special court in the capital city of Nur-Sultan designed specifically to adjudicate investment disputes. In cases involving large investors, the Supreme Court itself considers the case. It cuts off any potential interference from state bodies from other cities and fastracks adjudication,” says Justice Almagambetova. 

In 2020, Kazakhstan ranked 62nd out of 128 countries in the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index, improving four four positions in its global rank.

“We have a lot to be proud of,” says Justice Almagambetova. “Women constitute 49 percent of the judges on Kazakhstan’s Supreme Court, 45% of judges in appeal courts, 51% in the court of first instance. We have an excellent gender balance in our judicial administration.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Kazakhstan’s court systems adapted quickly and moved seamlessly to virtual trails. “We already had systems in place before the pandemic to conduct virtual trials, now all our trial proceedings are conducted remotely,” says Justice Almagambetova.  

Kazakhstan’s judicial system is constantly adapting to the changing landscape. It continues to adopt international best practices to bolster public trust and confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary. USAID remains a steadfast partner, championing judicial reforms and independence in Kazakhstan. 

“I love my country and people. I think that the future of our state and the future of our children depends on the work every citizen puts into our shared destiny,” says Justice Almagambetova, one of over 2,600 dedicated judges in Kazakhstan’s judicial system.

ABOUT THIS STORY:

In 2021, the United States is celebrating 30 years of diplomatic relations with Kazakhstan. The American people, through USAID, have invested more than $700 million in Kazakhstan since 1992. This story highlights U.S.-Kazakhstan decades' long partnership to strengthen the country's judicial system. #USKZ30 #KZUS3

Last updated: September 21, 2021

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