Grim news from Kyrgyzstan on domestic violence

For women in Kyrgyzstan, 2020 has already been deadly. At least three women were killed by their husbands or partners in the first 14 days of the year. Their deaths resulted from abuse including kicks to the head, burns, stabbing and severe beatings.

There are some signs that these killings could accelerate overdue action to address domestic violence. In response, prime minister Mukhammedkaly Abylgaziev has called for stronger laws and harsher penalties, and parliament is already discussing amendments to the family violence law. The country’s ombudsman requested an extraordinary meeting of the Coordinating Council of Human Rights to discuss domestic violence.

At a 17 January news conference, a representative from Kyrgyzstan’s Interior Ministry affirmed that domestic violence is an agency priority, though he cautioned that the work is “difficult.” Calls from an Islamic expert for stricter punishment for domestic abuse also point to engagement of religious authorities to change attitudes and end practices such as forced and child marriage, including through so-called “bride kidnapping”.

Yet local women’s rights activists question whether this will deliver real change. “These are not the first cases of domestic violence murders in our country,” said Larisa Ilibezova, a gender-based violence expert, pointing to earlier suicides of women and girls who were victims of forced marriage in the Issy-Kul region and the widely-publicised killing of a young woman, Burulai, by the man who abducted her for forced marriage in 2018.

Burulai’s murder prompted public protests and government insistence that it would act, but almost two years later, little has changed. “Gradually, it came to naught,” Ilibezova said. “I am concerned that could happen again.”

According to the Interior Ministry, of nearly 6,145 domestic violence cases registered by the police in 2019, only 649 resulted in criminal cases. Four were for murder.

Reliable domestic violence data is lacking, with conflicting data from different ministries. And domestic violence is underreported. Our research in 2015 and 2019 found that poor police and judicial response, lack of services such as shelters, and social pressure from families and authorities inhibit victims from coming forward. Those who do seek help and justice often do not receive needed support or protection.

Despite positive steps – such as criminalisation of domestic violence in 2019’s Code of Misdemeanours and adoption of a new Family Violence Law in 2017 – gaps in these laws and their implementation leave women at risk. The misdemeanour code eliminates administrative arrest for domestic violence, instead providing only for fines or “corrective labor”. Survivors I interviewed for Human Rights Watch’s 2015 report said short-term administrative detention often provided their sole respite from abuse.

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