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Kazakhstan Woman’s Death a National Tragedy

Lawmakers Should Urgently Criminalize Domestic Violence

Participants at the international Women's Day rally in Almaty, Kazakhstan, March 8, 2022. © 2022 Stanislav Beketov

Saltanat Nukenova is a name that is widely recognized in Kazakhstan these days. That is because, on November 9, Saltanat’s husband, Kuandyk Bishimbayev, the former economy minister, was detained in connection with her death. She was just 31 years old.

Her death has sparked fresh calls for more to be done to tackle domestic abuse in Kazakhstan, which does not criminalize domestic violence as a standalone offence.

Saltanat’s death has created a media storm in Kazakhstan due in large part to her husband’s public profile. But there are many stories about women who are abused and even killed at the hands of violent partners. A situation that once again exposes the systemic nature of domestic violence in Kazakhstan, and how Kazakhstan’s laws, as well as the police and judiciary, fail to adequately protect women against family violence.

Saltanat’s death occurred as lawmakers are considering the “partial criminalization of repeated “battery” and “light bodily harm”, offences commonly used in cases of family abuse, which were decriminalized in 2017.

But these measures would not go far enough.

Saltanat’s death has prompted different segments of Kazakhstan society to call for the criminalization of domestic violence: a call women’s rights activists and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly made in recent years. In a video published on November 17, athletes, artists, business people, bloggers, and lawyers called for tougher measures to address violence against women, including the “criminalization of domestic violence”.

About 150.000 citizens have signed a petition proposing to recriminalize “battery” and “intentional infliction of light bodily harm.”, an independent online media outlet, issued a statement condemning violence against women. Women’s rights lawyers and activists, and many others across the country, accentuated the urgent need to criminalize domestic violence.

And a parliamentary deputy Zhuldyz Suleimenova, from the ruling Amanat party, has proposed criminalization of all forms of violence against women and children, and for the establishment of a separate authority to combat domestic violence.

Women in Kazakhstan too often face injury or even death, as in Saltanat’s case, because of the authorities’ failure to uphold their rights and adequately protect them from abuse. The public has done its part by making it clear how strongly it feels on this issue, now the government should do its part. It should answer the public calls by criminalizing domestic violence and ending impunity for abusers.

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