Uzbek women battered by their husbands have little hope of protection from the government, Human Rights Watch charged in "Sacrificing Women to Save the Family?: State Response to Domestic Violence in Uzbekistan," a report issued July 9th, 2001.

Rather than protect them from violence, Uzbek authorities routinely force women to remain in violent marriages, blocking their access to divorce and strong-arming them to return to their husbands.

The 57-page report, Sacrificing Women to Save the Family?: State Response to Domestic Violence in Uzbekistan, is based on interviews conducted in May and June 2000 with victims of domestic violence, women's rights activists, along with dozens of lawyers, judges, police, doctors, and government officials at the national, province, district, village, and mahalla (local community government) levels. Researchers focused on rural areas, where more than 60 percent of the population lives.

The report documents the Uzbek government's utter failure to investigate and prosecute domestic violence against women. State policies intended to "save the family" and suppress divorce rates have left women unable to depend on police or other officials for protection from violence and exacerbated their vulnerability to continued beatings in the home.

"Women simply can't escape the violence," said Elizabeth Andersen, director of the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. "Beaten, raped, and humiliated by their own husbands, they turn to community authorities to protect their rights. But those officials condone the violence by telling the women that they themselves are to blame, and that they should just go home to their violent husbands."

Human Rights Watch found that Uzbek officials rarely criminally prosecute husbands who beat their wives. Instead, local authorities, under orders from central government officials, attempt to reconcile married couples, often sacrificing the women's safety and rights for low divorce statistics.

Batterers enjoy near impunity for their violence, often facing criminal penalties only if their victims commit suicide. In one of the cases documented in the report, a twenty-year-old woman committed suicide by drinking vinegar concentrate.

"Women suffer doubly," said Andersen, "first at the hands of their husbands, and then at the hands of the state. This has to stop." Human Rights Watch called on the Uzbek government to prosecute cases of domestic violence vigorously, to introduce criminal penalties for stalking and marital rape, and to ensure that women who report domestic violence have ready access to the courts and to social services.

Testimonies from domestic violence victims in Uzbekistan follow:

"Sharofat," a 38 year-old woman living in a rural community, faced violence in her home for seventeen years. Suffering from tuberculosis and abandoned by her husband who had taken a second wife in a religious ceremony, she told Human Rights Watch:

He beat me so hard that I lost my teeth. The beatings happened at least one time each month. He used his fists to beat me. He beat me most severely when I was pregnant...The first time he beat me, and I lost the baby. I was in the hospital. The second time was only a few days before a baby was born, and my face was covered with bruises. He beat me and I went to my parents. My father refused to take me to a doctor. He said, "What will I say, 'her husband beats her?'"

Interview with "Mukhabat," a mother of three, who fled to her parents' home in a rural region in Uzbekistan. She told Human Rights Watch:

I have a bad memory because my...husband beat me on the head. I have no memory anymore. He gave me head trauma. I did not tell anyone that he beat me. I did not go to the mahalla committee. I told my parents, and they went to him and said that he should stop. They asked him to stop. For a year we were happy...then he began to beat me again.

He started to beat me on the head, and I grabbed his hands and tried to stop him. I begged him not to beat me-and not to beat me on the head. He beat me on my head even more with his fists. He beat the left side of my head especially.

At that time, my head was spinning, and I saw spots before me. I lost consciousness, and I cannot remember what happened to me. My brother took me to the doctor. They gave me three shots, and then I felt a little better. But I got worse again, and they took me back to the hospital. I told them that my husband beat me. They said that they would call the police. The policeman did not come to the hospital even though the doctor told them what had happened. I was in the hospital for seven days.

Finally, [someone] came and said that someone from the precinct would come and take a longer statement from me. But no one ever came. No one asked me anything.

Often the only criminal sanction against the perpetrators of domestic violence comes when their victims have taken their own lives. Article 103 of the Criminal Code provides for penalties of up to eight years of imprisonment for driving a person to suicide. In the case of a twenty-year-old woman who committed suicide by drinking vinegar concentrate in early June 2000, the policeman investigating the case, whose testimony is given here, asserted that the victim's statements made in hospital before she died would certainly result in a prosecution:

Interview with Police Officer B, June 3, 2000:

The doctors must call the police in these cases. We went to the hospital. The girl told us that she did it on purpose because her husband beat her up and her father-in-law cursed her. One year ago she had a ninth-month miscarriage, and after that, there were many arguments in the family. One day before she drank the vinegar, her father-in-law said to her, "Give me some tea." She brought it to him, but not politely enough. He started to correct her and they got into an argument. Her husband heard this and began to beat her. The next morning at 7:30 or 8:00 a.m. she drank the vinegar. Her husband and his relatives brought her to the hospital. She was six months pregnant at the time. He started to ask her questions at first, when her condition was not so bad. She told us what happened, but then she lost consciousness. The doctors said she would be dead in an hour but it took twenty-four hours for her to die. The investigators have taken over the case and will likely give it to the prosecutor.