Young women in Osh, Kyrgyzstan. Nearly one-third of women in Kyrgyzstan experience abuse by a spouse or partner. 

© 2015 Hillary Margolis / Human Rights Watch

President Almazbek Atambayev of Kyrgyzstan took an important step toward curbing violence against women when he signed a new domestic violence law and accompanying legislation on April 27, 2017, Human Rights Watch said today. The law, which replaces a 2003 version, includes measures to improve protections for victims of domestic abuse and strengthen police and judicial response.

The new Law on the Prevention and Protection against Family Violence requires police to register a domestic abuse complaint from anyone, not just the victim. The law recognizes not only physical and psychological abuse but also “economic violence,” which in Kyrgyzstan often takes the form of restricting access to and use of financial resources, property, or other assets. The accompanying Law On Amending Certain Legislative Acts of the Kyrgyz Republic on the Prevention and Protection changes elements of the Administrative Code and other relevant laws.

“By enacting this new law, the Kyrgyz government has shown a commitment to the rights of domestic abuse victims and is setting a standard that others in the region should follow,” said Hillary Margolis, women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Now government agencies should demonstrate leadership by putting into practice, and enforcing, these new measures that can literally save women’s lives.”

Now government agencies should demonstrate leadership by putting into practice, and enforcing, these new measures that can literally save women’s lives

Hillary Margolis

Local organizations and women’s rights activists, who have been pushing for a revised law since 2009, were instrumental in drafting and advocating for the law’s passage. An important feature is that any victim of domestic violence, regardless of whether criminal proceedings are opened in their case, can avail of the provisions. These include key rights, such as access to safe shelter, and medical and mental health services.

In a significant move to heighten safety for victims, under amendments to the Law of the Kyrgyz Republic on Weapons convicted domestic violence offenders are no longer eligible for a permit to purchase or possess weapons. Authorities will revoke permits already held by convicted offenders.

Domestic violence is widespread in Kyrgyzstan, affecting nearly one third of women and girls ages 15 to 49. According to the most recent government data, for 2013, fewer than half of registered domestic violence complaints resulted in a court case. Of those that did, only 7 percent were referred to the courts as criminal offenses. The rest were treated as administrative offenses, which have lesser punishment. Of domestic violence cases that resulted in administrative penalties, 64 percent resulted in only small penalties for “minor hooliganism,” or disorderly conduct.

Kyrgyzstan’s 2003 domestic violence law made important strides toward criminalizing domestic violence, but significant gaps in implementation and enforcement remained. In a 2015 report, Human Rights Watch documented insufficient police and judicial responses to domestic violence, as well as lack of shelters and other critical services for survivors.

Anna D., 43, told Human Rights Watch that police at several stations in Bishkek and Issyk-Kul province sent her away when she tried to report domestic abuse on multiple occasions between approximately 2007 and 2010. “When I came to the police station the policeman at the door would start asking, ‘Why are you here? What do you want?’” she said. “Then they would say, ‘No, you cannot do that, we do not take complaints on domestic violence.’ Then I would turn around and walk away.”

To address gaps, the new law calls for the government to name a coordinating body for all activities related to the prevention of, and protection from, domestic violence. It also assigns responsibilities for preventing domestic violence and assisting victims to multiple government and nongovernment entities, including the Ministries of Justice, Internal Affairs, Social Development, Health, and Education, the Office of the Ombudsman, and nongovernmental groups.

Allocation of resources, both by the central government and through funding from international donors, will be key to full implementation and enforcement, Human Rights Watch said. The law’s essential assistance measures include targeted training of police, judicial officials, health care providers, social workers, and local authorities, and provision of shelter, mental health care, and legal aid for survivors.

Services for victims can be the key to escaping abuse, Human Rights Watch said. “I knew if I went to the police I would have to leave the house and couldn’t go back and I thought, ‘Where will I go with two kids?’” Aigul G., a 42-year-old woman from Naryn province who suffered domestic abuse for nine years, told Human Rights Watch. “I put up with his beatings, but at least I have a place to stay.”

While some provisions of the new law will go into effect within 10 days of the law’s publication, others will not take effect until January 1, 2018, including the rights to social and psychological assistance and to free temporary accommodation in shelters. Government agencies, with support from international donors, UN agencies, and nongovernmental groups, should ensure that by January 1 there are adequate shelter spaces – in line with Council of Europe standards, for example – and social and psychological services for victims in all provinces.

Adopting a survivor-centered approach consistent with international standards for domestic violence response, the law calls for health and social development authorities and service providers to obtain adult victims’ consent prior to informing police of a domestic violence incident. This helps to mitigate risks for victims – particularly those who live or maintain a relationship with their abusers – and facilitates a response that respects victims’ needs and best interests.

Some provisions of the law lack specificity and survivor protections, and should be clarified through implementing regulations or protocols, Human Rights Watch said. For example, the law mandates the police to issue short-term protection orders in all domestic violence cases, but does not require a survivor’s consent for such orders. The law also should be elaborated to ensure that it includes unmarried partners, former partners, and relatives of current or former partners or spouses, regardless of whether the victim and abuser live together.

Though changes to the Administrative Code increase the potential fine for failure to comply with a protection order, Kyrgyzstan’s parliament should amend the Criminal and Administrative Codes to make violation of a protection order a potential criminal offense. The parliament should also amend the Criminal Code to clarify that its provisions may be invoked in cases of domestic violence, and eliminate the possibility that an abuser could be immune from criminal liability by reconciling with the victim.

“Kyrgyzstan’s government and civil society should be proud of this move to make women and girls safer in their own homes,” Margolis said. “But the new domestic violence law will only be meaningful if its promise is backed by action to make better protection for victims a reality.”