Domestic Violence in Uzbekistan: Can It Ever Be Stopped?
By Dillorom Abdulloeva*
November 24th is World Day for Combating Violence against Women. On this day, Uzbek-language online social media circulated a sensational article about a young Uzbek woman [pictured above] who was a victim of domestic violence. She tells the story of how she was forced to appeal to the court because her ex-husband failed to pay alimony; when he learned of this, he burst into her house and stabbed her 42 times with knife. All this happened in front of her small children and disabled father. By some miracle, the woman survived, although the doctors had to amputate her arm and leg.
This event took place on the day when equality between men and women is trumpeted on every corner. While reading the article, one unintentionally begins to wonder whether it was possible to prevent this tragedy. The violence of some men toward their families, people’s emotionless attitude towards it, the police and Mahalla’s carelessness together with their occasional unwillingness to solve the problem turned the life of a young woman into hell, and left the woman herself disabled for life..
And unfortunately, there is no guarantee that such stories will not be repeated in the future.
The concept of domestic violence is new in the realm of Uzbek law. However, the problem itself is as old as the hills. In patriarchal societies, violence is a phenomenon that is deeply ingrained in people’s consciousness.
Unhealthy ideas of men’s perfection compared to women and their supposedly higher status implies that a woman should always be subordinate, should unquestioningly execute the husband’s orders, and, ultimately, bow her head even to take beatings and abuse. Some people even believe that such an approach is the only right one. There even exists a famous saying that goes, “a man who does not beat his wife is not a man!”
This article is dedicated to the analysis of domestic violence in Uzbekistan from a legal perspective.
Complaints of domestic violence
When we analyzed all the questions submitted to our site since 2010, we found that approximately 60 percent of them are about the relationships in the family. Most of them relate to divorce, alimony and the legal relationship between spouses, as well as domestic violence. Here are some examples:
“My father constantly beats my mother. My parents always quarrel, and my father beats our mom right before our eyes. Mom almost became crippled. Several times we reported the abuse to the police, but they did not take any measure against our father. Where else can we turn? How can I separate my mom from the abuses of my father?”
“I want to divorce with my wife. I love her, but my mother and sister will not allow us to live normally. They constantly interfere with our life. Several times, my wife was kicked out of the house. I cannot complain to the Mahalla Committee because my mother is one of the activists of the committee, so no one dares to contradict her. My mother threatens that if I do not divorce, she will not talk to me any more. I do not want to offend my mother, but I do not want to divorce. We live together, we have children. How can I handle this situation?”
“My husband is very wealthy businessman. We quarrel a lot because of his betrayal, and now I live with my father. We have two children. If I demand a divorce through the court, my husband threatens to take away my children. He can achieve this by his money. What should I do to keep the children with me?”
What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence means physical, psychological, sexual or financial violence between spouses or other close family members. Usually, the basis of such violence is the desire of one family member to control the lives of others. In most cases, a victim of domestic violence is a woman or children, but sometimes men and the elderly can also be subjected to domestic violence.
Below, we list the common types of domestic violence:
Husband beating his wife; imposing psychological pressure; abusing her by insulting her origin, family conditions; resorting to sexual violence by satisfying sexual needs through unnatural forms of sexual humiliation or rape; limiting financial means (for example, the husband does not give his wife money or does not allow her to study or work).
Is domestic violence prohibited by law in Uzbekistan?
Neither the Administrative Code nor the Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan mentions domestic violence. This concept is not defined as a separate offense, which means there is no punishment established for such crime.
Resolution of family disputes, regardless of the degree of violence involved, are usually assigned to Mahalla authorities. In practice, the cases of domestic violence are rarely reported to police or court. Because there is a state policy aimed at preserving families and reducing the number of divorces, women complaining of domestic violence are usually sent back their homes. Courts also tend to disregard women’s complaints when it comes to divorce cases. This situation increases the likelihood that women and their children will be abused again and again. In domestic violence related cases, a criminal case will be initiated against the perpetrator only if the victim receives a serious injury, or death occurs.
Why do we need a new law?
Some argue that it is not really necessary to include domestic violence as a separate article in the Criminal Code because there are already penalties for causing injury or sexual abuse. It is true that if the husband uses violence against his wife, it can, depending on the consequences, be qualified as causing light (medium, heavy) injury (Article 109), torture (Article 110), murder, or threatening with the use of violence (Article 112). If violence leads to death, the action can be classified as a premeditated murder (Article 97), or incitement to suicide (Section 103); in the case of sexual violence – rape (Article 118), satisfying sexual needs by unnatural ways (Article 119), forcing the woman to have a sexual intercourse (Article 121); and in other cases libel (Article 139), insult (Article 140), forcing a woman into marriage or hindering marriage (Article 136).
However, domestic violence has unique subjects and objects, as well as subjective and objective sides. These four elements can be different from the elements of other offenses. Also, in the articles mentioned above, there is no consideration of the situations that involve the husband or other relatives of the victim such as father and brother. As a result, many forms of domestic violence go unpunished. Domestic violence has different motives, happens under different circumstances and in different ways, and therefore must be included as a separate offense in the Criminal Procedure Code and the Criminal Code.
In 1995, Uzbekistan ratified the “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women”. Since then, the Uzbek government submitted three reports to the UN Committee on Human Rights about how to implement the provisions of this Convention in the country. In each of these three cases the UN Committee has concluded that women do not have equal status with men in Uzbek society due to prevalent patriarchal prejudices and stereotypes concerning the role of women, and that women are often the victims of domestic violence; in each case the committee recommended that Uzbekistan take action against such practices.
According to information provided to the UN authorities by Uzbek officials, a new draft law that guarantees equal rights and opportunities for women and men has been prepared in Uzbekistan. However, this law has yet to be adopted. As per the request of the UN Committee on providing information about the scale of domestic violence in Uzbekistan, the Uzbek government has given statistics only about crimes committed against women, not about a domestic violence.
What is the difference between the crimes committed against women and domestic violence?
It is necessary to mention that there is a substantial difference between the crimes against women and domestic violence. We explain this difference by analyzing the case of moderate bodily injury. If a person who is not a family member or a relative causes a woman a bodily injury, everyone understands that it is a crime, and police intervene immediately. It is also typical that in such cases the injured woman goes to police without any hesitation. The public also strongly condemns the man who dared to raise a hand against a woman and demands a harsh punishment.
Let us now imagine that the same event occurred in a family – a husband beat his wife. In this case, the public believes that it is an internal family matter. Since this offense usually occurs inside home there are not enough witnesses.
Moreover, under public pressure the wife does often not report the incident to police. In extreme cases, she may complain to the Mahalla committee. Representatives of Mahalla usually try to resolve the dispute within the family. The husband who does not take the responsibility for the violence continues to bully his wife again and again. In cases where the victim becomes disabled or commits suicide, it becomes clear that the violence in the family was constant and that Mahalla and law enforcement authorities did not take any timely action even though they were aware of it. As such, an abused woman tries to handle the situation by her own hands, resorting to suicide as the last option.
The state’s role in protecting women from domestic violence
According to a report on domestic violence in Uzbekistan prepared by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in 2000, the Uzbek government does not pay sufficient attention to the protection of victims of domestic violence and punish the perpetrators.
Involvement of the Mahalla in the resolution of family strife is a good practice because disputes be prevented from escalating further when neighbors and elders capable of giving correct and useful advice are consulted. But in fact this practice does not usually yield the expected results. Elders often approach the situation superficially, and instead of solving the problem only place the responsibility on the victim. According to the HRW report, some members of Mahalla committees even wondered how a man who abused his wife could be held responsible “because he is the woman’s husband”. In most cases, a Mahalla committee does not provide affected parties with legal aid, instead they force the woman to forgive her husband, to be patient and “correct her own mistakes.”
Sometimes, the solution is not in preserving the family at all costs, but in divorce. Therefore, responsible representatives of the Mahalla should make a correct assessment of the situation and take necessary measures accordingly. If they are unwilling or unable to do so, the woman or her representatives should contact the police with a complaint.
Uzbekistan has ratified the International Convention on Prevention of Violence against Women. During the years after the independence, the state-level protection and opportunities were created for women in many spheres. However, there is much more to do with regard to eradicating domestic violence in families, providing legal protection for victims and punishing perpetrators.
Recommendations for the prevention of domestic violence
To prevent domestic violence, public authorities and civil society representatives must work together. The most necessary measures in this regard include the following:
In the first place, the government should strengthen the legal framework. For this, we consider it necessary to adopt a new law on fighting against domestic violence. The law should define what domestic violence is and provide legal protection for victims of such crimes. Local organizations, government bodies and Mahallas, lawyers, sociologists, psychologists, religious leaders and ordinary citizens must contact legislative deputies or senators to develop a draft law. Administrative and Criminal Codes should also reflect the changes on the basis of newly adopted law.
Second, the Criminal Procedure Code should include measures to protect the procedural system, i.e. preventing the abuser from contacting the victim, providing her with protective order, etc. For example, authorities dealing with complaints of domestic violence should be given power to prohibit the accused to meet or approach the plaintiff before the court delivers its decision.
Third, it is necessary to arrange temporary shelter for victims of domestic violence and their children where they should live until court reaches its decision. In 2008, according to the Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, a “Republican Rehabilitation Center” was established for victims of trafficking. Such rehabilitation centers should be organized for victims of domestic violence too. These facilities should provide medical, psychological, social and legal assistance. They must exist not only in cities but also in rural areas, and, where possible, should be run by non-governmental organizations.
Fourth, it is necessary to create emergency contact services such as hotlines for victims of domestic violence. Information about those who contact such services should be kept secret. Staff at these centers must undergo special training on how to work with victims of domestic violence. Such training should also be organized for law enforcement officials, local authorities and neighborhood committees as well as family doctors.
Finally, educational programs should be carried out in the community. Special seminars should be organized in Mahallas, where misconceptions about domestic violence and consequences of such acts should be explained to people by qualified specialists. The involvement of the media and NGOs are important in changing the misconceptions in the society. It should be explained that the victims of domestic violence in most cases are women, and the solution depends on men. It is also essential to provide women with information about self-defense measures on how to know when and whom to contact in case of violence and where to get help.
It should be a precondition for candidates to the chairmanship of the Mahalla Committees and other local self-government bodies to take a special training on domestic violence before being elected or appointed to such posts.
It should also be noted that currently the number of non-profit organizations working in the field of women’s rights in Uzbekistan is extremely low. We need to expand social programs to address this crucial matter. We should learn from the experiences of foreign countries on how to prevent domestic violence while preserving the values of the Uzbek culture (but abandoning superstitious traditions that violate basic human rights). Based on this approach, we need to develop a national legal program to combat domestic violence. In this regard, we call upon all members of the society and ordinary citizens to work together.
*Dillorom ABDULLOEVA - Dillorom obtained her B.A. in Jurisprudence from Tashkent State Institute of Law (TSIL) in Uzbekistan, where she volunteered for three years at the TSIL Human Rights Clinic. She also studied at Nagoya University School of Law, Japan, through a one-year exchange program in 2009. She is a founder and president of Tashabbus (formerly Adolat.net), which promotes the rule of law in Uzbekistan by raising the legal literacy of its citizens. As an expert on Uzbek legislation, she regularly appears on Uzbek media outlets. She recently attended the Law and Leadership Program at Karamah Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights and is currently an LL.M student in the International Humans Rights Law program at the University of Notre Dame.