The United Nation’s top women rights body has criticized Kazakhstan’s government over its poor record on domestic violence and protecting women with disabilities.

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has voiced concerns that the offences of “intentional infliction of minor injury” and “battery” – the most common means of prosecuting domestic violence in Kazakhstan – have been decriminalized.

Participants protest against discrimination and gender-based violence during a rally held by members of feminist organizations and social activists in Almaty, Kazakhstan September 28, 2019. The placard reads "To jail for violence, not truth". 

© 2019 REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev

The Committee’s concerns echo Human Rights Watch’s own findings. Human Rights Watch documented how the 2017 decriminalization of these offences stops women from getting the protection they need. Moreover, inadequate measures by authorities to prevent violence, hold abusers accountable, and inform women about their rights to shelter and protection orders leaves survivors without support and puts them at risk of further abuse.

Human Rights Watch found that authorities often pressured women not to file complaints about domestic violence or failed to respond when they did. When Aigerim, 38, told police that her husband continued to abuse her even after she filed multiple complaints, an officer told her they could not intervene because she did not have visible wounds. “I asked him, ‘[W]hat, are you going to wait until he kills me?’” she said.

CEDAW has now recommended Kazakhstan’s government amend its law to specifically criminalize domestic violence and ensure effective investigation of violence against women and appropriate punishment of those responsible. They also recommended that police who fail survivors be held accountable and that the government establish adequate shelters for survivors.

The committee also expressed concerns about lack of employment opportunities and limited access to healthcare for women with disabilities, including reproductive health services. It called for an end to women with disabilities being subjected to forced sterilization and forced abortion, and for these practices to be criminalized.

The women’s rights committee is not alone in putting Kazakhstan on notice. During a November 7 review of Kazakhstan’s human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council, several governments urged authorities to criminalize domestic violence.

If unchanged, Kazakhstan’s legislation will leave abusers free to continue hurting women. The government should swiftly implement the Committee’s recommendations and ensure all women’s right to life without fear of abuse.