Ainagul from Aktobe, Gulnara from Kostanai, Arailym from Almaty, and Madina from Karaganda: these women from cities across Kazakhstan share a painful connection. They are all survivors of domestic violence at the hands of their abusive partners or husbands.
Their personal stories were made public this year, after they or activists who advocated on their behalf, had lost any hope that the state would offer adequate protection.
Domestic violence is deeply rooted in Kazakhstan’s society. A 2009 domestic violence law aimed at preventing and combating the violence fell far short of international human rights standards by not criminalizing domestic violence as a specific offence and failing to offer adequate protection and remedies to those living in fear of abuse. Instead of strengthening the law, between 2017 and 2019, the government took steps to water down protections from domestic violence.
In 2020, authorities appeared finally to be taking some positive steps. Kazakhstan’s government signaled interest in acceding to the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, known as the Istanbul Convention. And in April a parliamentary working group began to consider a new draft law on combating domestic violence. The draft includes important elements, such as better data collection and more streamlined guidelines on coordination among various state agencies. But the draft still does not criminalize family abuse as a standalone offence, nor does it explicitly provide that a survivor’s informed consent is needed for staff in women’s shelters or elsewhere to report abuse to police. In September, the draft passed its first parliamentary reading.
Despite its limitations, moving ahead with the strengthened draft law should be a priority for lawmakers. Yet the government seems blind to the urgency. On December 16, an aide to the President, posted on Facebook that review of the draft law is suspended until January 15, 2021, and that Mazhilis, the lower chamber of the Parliament, would have until May 2021 to adopt it.
This may be well-intentioned to allow time for further consultation to bring the draft in line with international standards, but it also means domestic violence survivors are concluding another year with legal gaps in the lifesaving protection they urgently need.
The government should act fast to bring the draft in line with international human rights norms and pass it into law. Women across Kazakhstan have already waited far too long.