"Men never beat for nothing."58
The government of Uzbekistan does not compile statistics on reported domestic violence cases. Uzbekistan's first report to the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, considered by the Committee in January 2001, provides only vague information on domestic violence.59 Without statistics on the numbers of domestic violence complaints filed each year with the police and mahalla officials, it is difficult even to begin to assess the scale of this problem.
Research among a wide array of social scientists, government officials, domestic violence victims, police, and women's non-governmental (NGO) activists, however, suggests that domestic violence against wives is common.60 A survey conducted by one government institution in the late 1990s revealed that over 60 percent of female respondents considered domestic violence to be a "normal situation."61 The Tashkent-based Law Office for Civil Cases and the Defense of Women's Rights received a total of 1,857 calls over two years from women seeking legal or psychological relief from family violence.62
Under-Reporting of Domestic Violence
According to many police, activists, and lawyers, and victims themselves, there are various social forces that greatly discourage women from divulging their experiences of domestic violence to anyone outside the home. The very act of complaining about family violence is widely considered to be humiliating for the woman herself, an indication that she is a "bad wife."63 Women prefer to return to their natal homes or appeal to the local authorities on the mahalla committee. One woman in a village told Human Rights Watch:
Women hesitate to involve the police so as not to bring shame on the family by airing the conflicts outside of the home. One women's committee official told Human Rights Watch that she warns women who seek her help in response to domestic violence "not to let it get to that point [of calling the police] no matter what happens."65 According to one victim, Gulnora, whose husband hit her throughout her pregnancy and after she returned home with her newborn daughter: " I could have called the police, but I didn't-I thought about the child..."66 In the cases described to Human Rights Watch, in which the victims intend to remain in the marriage, they hesitated to involve the authorities for fear that their husbands would cast them out in retaliation.
Other women may even be unaware that they could go to the police. Dilfuza, for example, who resolved to end her abuse-filled twenty-four year marriage after her husband tried to choke her, stated, "I went to the ZAGS [civil registry office where marriages are conducted] and wrote a complaint. I wrote that I did not want to live with him anymore and that he did not work. I also wrote that he wanted to kill me...I did not know that you could go to the police and tell them."67 In some cases, the prospect of drawn-out investigations yielding few results dissuades women from appealing to the police, as in the case of one woman from a large city who decided against it:
The reluctance to report domestic violence may also stems from the fear that criminal penalties, including fines and jail time, might be levied, as provided for by law in cases of injury, thus hurting the family budget and possibly depriving it of a breadwinner. In fact, as will be shown below, criminal penalties rarely result even in cases in which serious injuries have resulted from domestic violence. One village council secretary told Human Rights Watch:
Blaming the Victim
Views such as those expressed by a deputy district mayor and representative of the local women's committee were typical. She explained to Human Rights Watch:
Another deputy mayor in a village expressed a similar viewpoint concerning a case where the wife had fled to her parents' home:
A collective farm director who threatened to beat a man who had abused his wife, told Human Rights Watch:
Unfortunately, even women's rights activists on occasion blame the victims of the abuse. One women's rights NGO activist claimed that women often provoke their husbands into committing violence against them: "Women sometimes humiliate their husbands on material grounds, in a kind of blackmail... Women consider that men must support them; this is their psychological violence against men."73
Local officials charged with mediating family disputes most often cited one of three causes for the instances of abuse they described: the youth of the couple involved, their poverty, and alcohol or drug abuse. Frequently, officials cited these factors not only to explain the violence, but also to justify why they did not consider it necessary to take measures to hold perpetrators of domestic abuse criminally accountable for their acts. Consequently, officials' attempts to resolve these "family conflicts" (the most prevalent euphemism for wife-beating) focused on ameliorating what they viewed as the causal factors, rather than on addressing the violence itself.
These officials often attributed the prevalence of domestic violence to the youth of the couple involved, and their lack of "preparedness" for family life, more often of women, than of men, notwithstanding the fact that reports of abuse emerged in all age cohorts. One civil-registry office (ZAGS) official called for raising the legal age of marriage for girls to nineteen from seventeen, an age she viewed as too young. "We tell the girls that they should not hurry and they should be ready for family life. Many continue their education."74 However, this "lack of preparedness for family life" is often cited to imply that women are insufficiently mature to acquiesce to their low status within the marital family; women's insubordination thus justifies the violence against them. The chairman of a local mahalla committee supported this view:
The village council secretary, or rais, of one village, who was engaged in an attempt to reconcile a local couple, told Human Rights Watch,
Those who cite youth as the cause of family conflicts often express the opinion that multi-generational households may exacerbate these problems; most commonly they refer to struggles between the mother-in-law and the kelin, or youngest bride, due to the kelin's insubordination.77 In the case cited above, the rais argued that the couple enjoyed an ideal situation, because they lived alone, not with the husband's family. One senior female lawyer argued:
Others, including an official of a government human rights institution, noted that young newly-married women are often under pressure from all members of the husband's family, including his siblings and their wives. "She must earn their respect through her labor."79 The answer, in these cases, to the violence, is therefore sought by counseling the victims to better cope with the expectations and temperaments of their husband's family. However, local government officials also reported that mothers- or fathers-in-law sometimes interfered unreasonably in the lives of young married couples, contributing to domestic violence.80 Sometimes, they pointed to the need to provide young couples with separate housing as the solution for family violence.81
Another frequently cited explanation for domestic abuse was poverty.82 "We have conflicts over lack of money," according to a mahalla official.83 A district women's committee chairwoman asserted that over 50 percent of family conflicts in her district arose due to male unemployment and the resulting lack of money for basic necessities.84 Officials believe that a family's lack of income creates stress, which husbands are likely to express through violence.85 A police officer in a rural village told Human Rights Watch, "There are many cases of violence. The main reason for the violence is poverty in the family...In one case the husband did not work and he beat his wife."86 In response to reports of domestic violence, local officials sometimes attempted to find work for unemployed husbands as a means of ameliorating family stress. Here too, it is the victim who is often held responsible for inciting violence by complaining about the family's economic situation, and so victims are sometimes advised to be more pliable. In the words of one district women's committee official, "When a woman tells him to bring home money or food, then he starts to beat her of course!"87
Increasing numbers of women have responded to Uzbekistan's economic crisis by taking up informal work such as petty trade in the bazaars. Government officials expressed mostly negative views about such work outside the home. Most local officials who commented on it looked upon it as a necessary evil; one official recalled advising a woman in an abusive marriage to leave her job in order to repair relations with her husband.88 Some also noted that women's insistence on working outside of the home was sometimes the basis for disagreements with her in-laws and itself a cause of family violence.89 In search of a solution to the violence, local authorities seeking to reconcile families often sought work for the male abuser, in order to persuade the woman to discontinue her work outside the home. As one rais told Human Rights Watch:
Alcoholism or drug abuse was often cited as a factor which explained, although did not justify, family violence.91 One local government official, one of the very few who condemned the male perpetrators rather than the women victims for the violence, told Human Rights Watch, "The men are guilty when there is beating. Most of the time they beat their wives when they are drunk. And they press all their evil feelings onto their wife."92 Another local official concurred that alcohol often led to domestic violence, citing one particular case he had dealt with:
Consequently, officials responded to these situations by mobilizing community pressure on the abusive husband to stop drinking, while leaving the abuse in the home unaddressed.
No Exit: Violence in the Family
Leaving an Abusive Spouse
Women's birth families may also refuse to accept them back.95 In many instances, parents are known to have delivered daughters back to their violent husbands, telling their daughters that children reared separately from their fathers will be considered "orphans."96 Rano, a thirty-four-year-old woman with three young children who left her husband in 1997 after nine years of frequent and severe beatings recounted, "Every time he beat me I came home and my parents said, `You have two children. How can you make them orphans?' They sent me back each time. Once he put a bag on my head and beat me with a big bat."97
Often, it is the victim's parents who decide for a woman about whether or not she should leave an abusive husband. In one case recounted to Human Rights Watch, a thirty-eight-year-old woman who had suffered brutal beatings for seventeen years told her parents that she did not want to return to her husband, only for her father to tell her "not to make orphans" of her children and force her to go back to her husband.98
In Rano's case, the husband also physically attacked her father when he visited with a group of elders from the village. The father told Human Rights Watch that he would "allow" his daughter to return to her battering spouse if her husband apologized:
If a woman's birth family refuses to accept her back, domestic violence victims have few options other than to return to their marital homes. Given the strong social stigma attached to single or divorced women, even those women with the capacity to support themselves and their children independently find it difficult to contemplate the idea that they might live alone. Rano recounted that "my father does not want me to live on my own as a divorced woman."100 Another woman interviewed in an urban area told Human Rights Watch, "If you have no husband you are considered bad and it's an immoral image."101
If women feel able to overcome their shame and fear, they may turn to one of two parallel government structures charged with mediating family disputes: the first are local community government bodies, or mahalla, and, in rural areas, the superordinate executive structures of the former state and collective farms (selsovet or village council); the second are the representatives of the women's committees within the municipal, district, or provincial governments. However, representatives of all of these agencies interviewed by Human Rights Watch exhibited a strong aversion to victims of domestic abuse leaving their abusive spouses, and against any criminal sanction for the perpetrator.
Local government officials charged with mediating family disputes uniformly spoke of family reconciliation as their main goal when faced with a report of domestic violence. They rarely pointed to the rights or interests of individual women as values worth preserving or defending independent of women's function within the family unit. The patriarchal norms prevalent in society govern the modes and aims of state functionaries' intervention in family disputes.
The mahalla is a geographically self-contained neighborhood community, in which a committee of leaders, led by a chairperson, regulates community life. Historically, the mahalla evolved as a unit of community self-government in urban areas, whose elders, known as aksakals, or "white beards" administered the collective life of the residents.102 In rural areas, village elders carried out similar functions.103 Under Soviet rule, local state and party structures orchestrated the election of approved community leaders, and codified the responsibilities of the mahalla (village, settlement) committee, and the chief among them, known as the rais or secretary, who was paid by the state.104
Independent Uzbekistan further codified and expanded the responsibilities of the mahallas, in the 1999 Law on Citizens' Self-Government (hereafter Law on the Mahalla).105 Although article 7 of the law explicitly states that "organs of citizens' self-government are not part of the system of state power," in practice the mahallas are subordinated to the local representative of the executive branch (the municipal, district or provincial khokim), who approves the selection of community leaders and pays the salary of the mahalla committee chairmen.106 Since the passage of the Law on the Mahalla, these bodies are responsible for many additional governmental functions, such as oversight of tax collection, utilities payments, and the distribution of social welfare payments, and community policing, including registering the whereabouts of its members and monitoring their religious activities. These are to be performed in addition to the mahalla's traditional regulation of community life: holding celebrations such as weddings and funerals, organizing collective volunteer labor for the maintenance of roads and irrigation networks, and support for the community's poor.107 Finally, the 1999 law requires that the mahalla committees "take measures directed towards protecting the interests of women, raising their role in social life, in forming the spiritual-moral atmosphere of families and the education of the young generation."108
In practice, this provision is carried out through the direct intervention of the mahalla chairman, the chairman of the village council (selsovet) or former kolkhoz rais, and the mahalla committee in regulating family conflicts, including those involving domestic violence. Although members of the official women's committees asserted that "No women, particularly Uzbek women, would go to a man to talk about these problems," Human Rights Watch found that in the eight rural districts studied, women tended to appeal directly to the chief authority figure, usually, although not always, a man.109
According to the officials interviewed, when victims appeal to the mahalla, the chairman forms a "reconciliation commission," usually consisting of the chairman and a few of the unpaid community elders, and possibly the women community activists, or mahalla women's committee, volunteers as well. In some cases, the initial interview with the couple might be performed only by the mahalla chairman alone, or by one of the community elders. If the conflict persists, then the entire reconciliation committee becomes engaged. The matter might be referred to the superordinate rural administrative body, the village council, in areas where such bodies exist, if the mahalla's mediation is unsuccessful, and from there, to the court or to the police. There is no legal requirement that the mahalla become involved before the police are contacted, although mahalla chairmen interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported that they routinely decided whether or not to allow residents of their communities to refer such matters to the local police. If victims contacted the local police precinct themselves, local police would refer the matter to the mahalla before proceeding with any action (see Domestic Violence in the Criminal Justice System, below).
The primary objective of community mediation is to eliminate the need for legal action in family disputes. Victims of domestic violence may plead for months or even years for local government authorities to initiate criminal action, before a case is referred to the police, or before a victim is "allowed" to divorce (see below). One village council chairman recounted a case in which a victim of domestic violence had just been to court for a divorce hearing: "Two years ago she came three times to us. The husband was called here and told not to drink. He promised to stop. But ten to fifteen days later he was drunk again. We warned him that we would take him to the police if he continued the beatings. The case came three times before the village council in five months and then we sent it to court."110 In another case, a woman with four children, suffered severe beatings from her husband for nine years of their fifteen-year marriage. The beatings to her face had deformed the bone structure of her cheeks and nose. Despite the beatings, the local authorities tried to "reconcile the family." The deputy mayor of the rural village told Human Rights Watch,
How mahallas try to reconcile couples demonstrates a strong tendency to hold the woman accountable for her abuse. One village council chairman described the procedure to Human Rights Watch in these terms: "Mostly, the men beat their wives when their wives don't do their work...We call the woman and ask her first why he beat her. Then we call the husband and ask him why he beat her. Most of the women realize their own guilt. They realize that they did not do something that they were supposed to do."112 Another mahalla elder explained his approach to mediating family conflicts by emphasizing religious obligations: "Muslims have one hundred responsibilities for women and one hundred responsibilities for men. I ask the woman if she has fulfilled all one hundred responsibilities. I do a test. If she answers no to the questions, I say to her, `It seems you do nothing for your family. Go back and live with your husband.'"113
Mahalla officials opt primarily for dispensing advice or using persuasion to address the problem of domestic violence, rather than taking punitive action. One rural district governor explained the essence of mahalla intervention this way: "If the husband is guilty, we will not punish him or fine him. We will just give him advice...In every mahalla there is an aksakal and he knows all of the people in the community."114 Only in cases of persistent family violence might the mahalla venture to take punitive action internally, for example, mild forms of social ostracism such as advising members of the community not to include the perpetrator as a guest at weddings and other local celebrations. However, such ostracism is more likely to result from other behavior judged to be illegal or anti-social, such as excessive drinking or drug abuse, rather than solely on grounds of domestic violence.115
Such actions depend largely upon the discretion of the individual mahalla chairman or equivalent local government official. One local village council chairman related his approach to dealing with these instances: "Sometimes women come to me. A woman comes and says her husband beats her. I call the husband and the woman, it turns out, was guilty for this herself. I yell at him that if he lifts a hand against her, I will beat him. After that, the family calms down."116 Such reliance by officials on a mixture of moral persuasion and the threat of punishment does not adequately protect victims against the possibility of further violence. "The mahalla women's committee called him in and talked to him," Jurakhon recalls of her husband. "And he was quiet for a week, but then he drank and beat me again."117
While mahalla officials take pains to persuade women to remain with their husbands, even abusive ones, it appears that officials pursue reconciliation less energetically when it is the husband or his family that wishes to initiate a separation. Domestic violence usually comes to the attention of the mahalla when the wife leaves her husband's family home of her own will, fleeing abuse. But it may also be revealed in cases when, although the woman wishes to remain in the marriage despite the abuse, she is thrown out by her husband's family. Gulchekhra, though she suffered brutal beatings at the hands of her father-in-law, hoped to remain married to her husband. During her first years of marriage, her husband's extended family left their home in the countryside to engage in agricultural labor near the capital, Tashkent, but when her infant son fell ill, Gulchekhra took him back to her parents' home in the countryside. Her husband and his parents subsequently returned to their village, but several months later, when Human Rights Watch interviewed Gulchekhra, they still refused to take her back into their home to live with her husband.
In a similar case, Shahida's in-laws threw her out of their home as a form of retribution against her family, after one of Shahida's relatives, a man married to her husband's sister, sent his wife [Shahida's sister-in-law] back to her natal family. Although Shahida's husband beat her severely as he sent her away, she nonetheless hoped that their marriage could be preserved. Her husband, however, had requested the papers necessary for divorce from the mahalla chairman and was immediately granted them.119
There are cases, however, in which mahallas attempt to prevent husbands from casting off their wives, in accordance with women's wishes, notwithstanding the fact of abuse. Malika reported that her local mahalla prevailed upon her abusive husband not to cast her and their three daughters out, in favor of the second wife he wished to bring home.120
That mahallas are less likely to intervene to "save the family" when the separation is initiated by men indicates gender bias and tendency to wish to reinforce the asymmetrical distribution of power within the family, and it underlines too the lack of importance that mahalla officials attribute to domestic violence. A village council chairman with responsibility for eleven separate mahallas stated bluntly, "We keep marriages together even in cases when the husband beats his wife. This year three men wanted to divorce. I helped them get the papers so that they can go to court for divorce."122
Only one woman told Human Rights Watch that the mahalla's intervention had quelled violent quarrels between her and her spouse that had not, for the time being, returned. Aziza described the occasional violence meted out by her husband that had caused her to turn to her local mahalla:
In the instances of persistent family violence described by victims to Human Rights Watch, mahalla officials, when faced with resistance on the part of the husband or his family, failed to press effectively to obtain relief or redress for women victims. For example, when Rano returned to her natal home in November 1997, her father went to their local village council chairman to complain that her husband had beaten her. She recounted, "The committee said that they knew my husband had a difficult character and said that they would try to talk to him. The elders went with my father to him and asked him to stop. They tried to give him advice. But he then tried to strangle my father and threw them out of the house. He also beat me again and told me not to take the children anywhere..."124 Rano then appealed to the village council repeatedly, in order to retrieve her documents and possessions from her husband, but without success:
Mahalla personnel fail to address the real harm being done to the victims of domestic violence, and do not act on the principle that domestic violence is a criminal offense. They interpret "reconciliation" of family conflicts as the cessation of complaints, rather than an end to the violence. Their intervention, therefore, is often directed toward placating the abuser, rather than helping the victim.
District Women's Committees
When presented with cases of family violence, women's committee chairwomen intervene directly or refer the matter to the victim's mahalla or village council. One deputy mayor of a district in a major urban area told Human Rights Watch that she may call in the volunteer female mahalla activists to critique their efforts and instruct them on how to handle the case when she receives a complaint about unresolved domestic violence.128 None of the district deputy mayors for women's affairs interviewed by Human Rights Watch showed any greater inclination to attach priority to protecting women's rights than did the mahalla officials. Shakhnoza, a resident of the central town in her rural district, appealed directly to the local deputy mayor for women's affairs when she fled her four-year marriage after being subjected to battering. The deputy mayor, as she introduced the witness to Human Rights Watch, continually pressured her to return to her husband, saying, "Think about it, you have two little girls, after all."129
In Uzbek society generally, divorce carries strong stigma, especially for women. A lawyer and women's activist stated: "By our standards, if a girl gets married and leaves of her own accord, she is damaged and cannot get married again."130 A psychologist and counselor at a women's crisis center also commented: "For Uzbeks, divorce is unacceptable. There is a case right now of a woman who is thirty-six. She has five children and her husband beats her regularly. She thinks that if she will divorce people will speak badly of her. Our psychologists persuaded her father to take her back for a few months. It is unclear whether she will divorce. People will say she is a bad wife. If a woman doesn't have a husband then she's a bad woman."131 Divorce is held to reflect badly on the whole family, not only the wife. Indeed, members of one prominent women's NGO told Human Rights Watch with some pride that they counseled men who planned to abandon their wives to remain with their families, citing the potential stigma of divorce, which would make it difficult later for couples to arrange marriages for their children.132 More than half of the twenty victims of domestic violence interviewed by Human Rights Watch expressed a desire not to divorce their husbands. For example, Nozima, who suffered monthly beatings over the course of her six-year marriage before retreating to her parents' home, said that she would not consider divorcing her husband unless he caused her serious injury.133
Under Uzbekistan's Family Law code, either party to a marriage may initiate divorce proceedings. If by mutual agreement, and if the marriage has produced no children, the couple may dissolve the marriage administratively, by submitting affidavits to the civil registry office, or ZAGS.134 If, however, there are children of the marriage, or if the divorce is not consensual, then one or other party must file for divorce in the court. Under the code, if a wife is pregnant, or if there are children under one year of age, a husband may not sue his wife for divorce.135 In all cases, the judge may impose a waiting period of up to six months and then may hear the case again.136 The family code states that "Marriages can be dissolved if the court establishes that the preservation of the family, and the cohabitation of the spouses has become impossible," giving judges considerable discretion as to whether or not to grant a divorce.137
Obtaining a divorce became more difficult in 1998, which the government dubbed "The Year of the Family." According to lawyers and NGO activists, state agencies made special efforts during 1998 to limit the number of divorces, as a means of "strengthening the family." One NGO leader and former Communist Party official told Human Rights Watch that "There was an order from above, an oral instruction, that if the number of divorces in any area was too high, then the administrators would be punished."138 Civil registry offices denied divorces to couples who wished to divorce by mutual agreement, telling them that they could not do so because it was the Year of the Family.139
In practice, though the six-month waiting period is officially discretionary, lawyers and government officials told Human Rights Watch that since 1998 courts have almost always imposed it. Mahalla officials and other local authorities interviewed by Human Rights Watch indicated that they interpreted the six-month waiting period as mandatory, as did several judges.140 "It's difficult for women to get divorces," one provincial lawyer observed. "They [judges] impose a cooling-off period, and carry out discussions. Judges tell the women to wait and to try to reconcile."141
Even before the 1998 policy of curtailing divorce to a minimum, waiting periods were imposed as a rule. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that such delays, and the attendant bureaucratic wrangling and humiliation, were burdensome for them, and that once they decided to seek a divorce, it was important that it be granted quickly. Karima, who applied to divorce her husband in early 1995, was granted a divorce only at the end of the year, after the statutory six-month maximum period. "The first time I went to court was in May," she recalled. "There was a judge and five other people on the panel. They asked questions. They wanted to help the family and to get us back together. The court was completely against the divorce. They gave us three months to reconcile...The second time we went to court we had a new judge. The three people on the panel were all men. The judge was on my husband's side...This judge gave us another three months."142
Simple bureaucratic obstacles, as well as attitudinal ones, impose severe difficulties on women who have resolved to leave their abusive marriages. One urban domestic violence victim, though she had the full support of her own family, and even enlisted the help of a lawyer, waited two years before finally obtaining a divorce in 1996:
Even after the initial court hearing, the judge imposed a three-month waiting period before agreeing to consider this woman's case.
Neither the family code nor the Law on the Mahalla provide for any formal role for mahalla officials in divorce proceedings. Nevertheless, Human Rights Watch found that mahalla officials routinely assume the role of gatekeeper, either permitting women to press ahead with divorce suits or blocking those plans by refusing to provide a letter of support, a "character reference," to the court. One mahalla chairman told Human Rights Watch that "since 1999, courts will not set a divorce case in motion without the agreement of the mahalla," as a prominent NGO leader also confirmed.144 One deputy district governor openly described the policy of denying divorces: "There are three or four families on the list where the husband beats the wife. Those three or four, they all live together. They are not divorced. We do not let it get to the stage of divorce...Without a character reference you cannot get a divorce."145 Nearly all of the victims of domestic violence interviewed by Human Rights Watch who were seeking to divorce believed that they would have to obtain permission from their local mahallas in order to divorce, as statements by mahalla officials and judges also suggest, although there is, in fact, no such legal requirement.
Local government officials interviewed by Human Rights Watch frequently expressed pride in the low number of divorces in their communities, and of the success of their interventions in "reconciling" family conflicts. One village council chairman responsible for governing some of eleven villages with a population of 13,000, divided into four mahallas, said that there were ten to fifteen cases of family conflicts (not necessarily involving violence) in his community each year, but in the previous twelve months, all had been resolved without resorting to the police or to the courts.
Mahalla committees are, for the most part, anxious to prevent divorces even in cases of persistent physical abuse. The village council chairman mentioned above was one of the few local officials to approach the question of divorce differently. His attitude shifted somewhat, he said, after a 1999 case in which a woman who had repeatedly appealed to local officials to do something about the persistent beatings and rapes she suffered at the hands of her husband committed suicide (see below). "That case of the suicide influenced me a good deal. I realized that it is not necessary to force them to live together if he beats her. The cases that come to us-we try to make sure that the families are not torn apart. Those families where it is impossible to save the family, we divorce them."146
Mahalla officials, as well as other local government officials, continue to pressure women to reconcile with their husbands and remain in an abusive marriage without acknowledging the further harm this may cause. Indeed, even the mahalla official mentioned above, despite the suicide case he had experienced, urged a woman who had complained for three years that her husband beat her and had begun divorce proceedings to remain with her husband.147 Municipal and district executive bodies pressure mahalla officials to "resolve" such cases without divorce. One municipal women's committee official described how her agency reacts to reports of couples intending to divorce:
Lola endured twenty-six years of violence in her marriage, which resulted in a punctured lung and resultant chronic illness; she had turned to local mahalla leaders many times before making her latest appeal to a newly-installed mahalla chairwoman, the former director of the local school. "We have a tradition that when you come with a complaint, two or three days go by and they promise to help, and then they start to persuade you to forgive him and to stay," she recounted. "I came to the previous chairman three times, and after two or three days they start to persuade you to go back."149 Lola was finally motivated to seek assistance once more because her husband, together with his grown son from a previous marriage, was attempting to force her and the two young children of the marriage, from the family home. "If need be I'm even ready to go to court," Lola maintained. "I came to her for help to defend me from these attacks...For twenty-six years I've waited for him to change but he hasn't, and now I've come to her trusting in God and in the mahalla that they will help me."150 The mahalla chairwoman, however, was noncommittal, suggesting that the problems could be resolved without divorce. "I don't know about going to court," she hedged. "Naturally, we'll try to reconcile the family."151
One of the levers mahalla officials may deploy in order to pressure women to abandon plans to divorce is to threaten to withhold social welfare payments to which the women may be entitled. This was also noted by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in its 1999 Human Development report on Uzbekistan, which stated that mahallas employ "subjective factors" in distributing social support to needy families, sometimes withholding payments from those eligible to receive them.152 "Women are very easy to convince to save their families," one mahalla chairman told Human Rights Watch. "I have to talk to the wives who do not want to live with their husbands. I tell them they will not get any alimony, nor any assistance for their children at all."153 Mahalla and other local government officials also spoke of meeting with judges informally to express their views on divorce cases.154
Mahalla officials may also impede women's efforts to obtain divorces by refusing to issue particular documents, or by demanding illegal payments in order to issue them. Rano recounted that her village council gave up trying to retrieve relevant documents from her abusive husband, so she went to the civil registry office to seek a copy of her marriage certificate. But when she asked the village council to issue her letter attesting to her residence, the members refused, citing her lack of an identity document-which they had failed to retrieve from her husband. In the end, Rano stated, "I paid money to the village council and they gave it to me. I sold my earrings and with the money I paid for the copies of the certificate and the documents."155
In some cases, mahallas may take it upon themselves to "divorce" couples informally, orchestrating a separation and a division of property without incurring an official divorce. The women in such arrangements can neither re-marry nor obtain court-ordered support payments, as they remain married in the eyes of the law. Gulchekhra recalled that a relative of her brother's wife was abandoned by her husband and given an "Islamic divorce" with the approval of the mahalla.156 Rather than officially dissolving their marriages, men simply conduct what is known as an "Islamic divorce," pronouncing the Koranic triple renunciation of their wives [in Uzbek, uch talak] and thus freeing themselves to marry again. Their wives, however, often blocked in their attempts to obtain civil divorces, may not re-marry, and have no access to either the joint property of the marriage, the living space they are allotted by law, or sometimes even to their children.
Another victim, Sharofat, first appealed to her local mahalla after she was subjected to a particularly severe beating by her husband. After a brief initial separation, her husband then decided to re-marry and attempted to force her to sell part of the home where they had lived with their two children to finance his wedding:
In cases when one side, usually the husband, refuses the settlement that the mahalla proposes, there is no alternative but to turn to the courts. Mahalla officials initially told Mukhabat, whose husband beat her over a six-year marriage and then rejected her, that she could remain in the family home where they had lived together with their children. But when her husband objected and threatened violence if the mahalla imposed this settlement, the mahalla instructed her to file for a divorce and to vacate the property until the court ruled in both the divorce case and the issue of alimony.158 After initially refusing to help her visit the one of their two children left with her husband, the mahalla eventually aided her in returning the child. Despite the serious injuries caused to Mukhabat, including partial paralysis and memory loss, mahalla officials still hoped that they could still "reconcile" the couple. "We have one chance," the mahalla chairman stated. "If we can make peace between them then the case will be closed...The mahalla committee would then go before the court and say that all is resolved...Why should the children suffer?"159
Courts, too, frequently perceive their function in such cases as the "preservation of families." Current and former judges interviewed by Human Rights Watch insisted that preventing divorce was their primary aim when adjudicating divorce cases, explaining that the law, in fact, requires that every attempt be made to keep spouses together.160 The chairwoman of one provincial civil court explained,
Even in the face of evidence of domestic violence, judges insisted that waiting periods were required before granting a divorce.162 In fact, in some cases, judges apparently disregard accounts of violence. For example, although Rano provided evidence of persistent battering, she was denied a divorce. After two years and three separate court hearings she abandoned her efforts and remains legally married to her husband. At first, she said, the judge refused even to accept her papers. "The judge said, `Why do you want a divorce? You have two children.'" Rano appealed to the court a second time after her husband continued to refuse to return her personal identity papers and other documents:
Sharofat, who ultimately went to court to sue for alimony after her mahalla-approved "Islamic divorce," felt that the judges were skeptical about her allegations of battering. "They asked me in court for witnesses that he beat me." When she said that her children had been the only witnesses, "They told me not to turn my children against their father. They told me that if the neighbor had seen something then they could do something. But they said that I should forgive him. I did not scream. It was all the same to me if he killed me. The neighbors neither heard nor saw anything. Only the children saw it."164
When Rano returned to the court six months after being given a waiting period, shortly after the birth of her third child, the judge again refused to grant her a divorce. "The judge said to me, `He wants to live with you and you refuse.'" The judge refused to give us a divorce and gave us another year to reconcile. The judge told me that I had an infant child and that I should wait until the infant was one year old."165 The judge ultimately refused to grant a divorce, finding that "in court it was clear that he does not beat her and that he loves her."166 One year later, not only did the court deny Rano's petition for divorce, but effectively deprived her of the right to appeal by failing to notify her of the decision:
Rano dismissed the possibility that a higher court might grant her a divorce. "I don't want to go to the provincial court. It is better to buy the children clothes and food. I'd have to spend money to travel and to file the papers. Then the same song would start all over again. Why should I go through all that again? It is better to save the money for the children...The court failed me."168
Without a divorce, women have no hope of obtaining access to the joint property of the marriage. Even if women do choose to pursue divorce, however, their chances of being granted marital property by the court are not good, particularly for those women who live together with their husbands in multi-generational households where the home and other property is registered in the name of the husband's father.169 Although it is customary for women rejected by their husbands to be able to take away the possessions they brought with them as dowry, there are few potential sanctions against the husband's family if they refuse to allow her to do so. In one instance reported to Human Rights Watch, the in-laws of a woman who fled her marital home and attempted to take her dowry items with her reported her to the police for stealing their property; the police questioned the woman but ultimately took no action against her.170 It is customary for members of multi-generational households to remit any income they earn to the senior male of the household or his wife, but any items accumulated with those funds are normally considered to be the property of the household, not of the married couple.171
Some women, thrown out of their marital homes, are even deprived of the custody of their children. Shakhnoza endured five years of abuse before leaving her husband in October 1999. Her husband refused an offer to divorce, and her in-laws allowed her to take only her younger daughter but not the elder one. "I went two times to get her but they threw me out and told me I could not have her...I want my daughter first of all. Last time when I went for my daughter, not long ago, he [her husband] was drunk and he hit me."172 Shakhnoza had appealed to a court to obtain custody of her elder daughter two days before she was interviewed by Human Rights Watch, but did not know whether her appeal would be successful.
Women's exercise of their right freely to leave a marriage, and therefore obtain relief from family violence, is complicated by the toleration of polygyny, the practice of taking multiple wives (mnogozhenstvo, or in Uzbek, kop hotinli bolish).173 Anecdotal evidence suggests that polygyny is being practiced more widely than before Uzbekistan's independence a decade ago. Men may take second, or more rarely, third or fourth wives in a religious marriage ceremony, known as nikokh, conducted by a mullah, without obtaining a civil divorce. In some cases, first marriages may also be contracted through nikokh, bypassing civil registration of the union.
Officially, the state does not recognize such unions. Uzbek law accords legal status only to marriages contracted through civil registry offices, or ZAGS, and specifies that marriages concluded only through religious rite have no legal force.174 Under the family code, those who are party to one registered marriage may not enter into another legal marriage.175 The criminal code prescribes penalties for having multiple wives, in an ambiguously-worded article suggesting that for criminal responsibility to be invoked, all parties to the polygynous union must be resident in the same household.176
However, some officials apparently support the practice of polygyny on grounds of national tradition, and several articles in the government newspaper Hurriyat, including one in the form of a letter from a woman to the editor, have urged the legalization of polygyny.177 This undercurrent of official support for the practice is expressed in the de facto toleration for polygyny as it is usually practiced.
Women's NGO activists related that criminal prosecutions for polygyny are exceedingly rare.178 The government cited forty-one reported cases of polygyny in 2000, stating that "most of those cases had been investigated and those guilty had been punished under the law."179 However, one experienced lawyer and women's rights advocate recounted that "it's very hard to prove bigamy and the participation of the mullah. Police don't want to get involved. Women who go to them and complain, they just send them away."180 ZAGS officials spoke of educating local mullahs on provisions of the family code, saying, "without registration at ZAGS, the mullah cannot perform a wedding. We don't allow the mullah to do this." This official acknowledged, however, that cases of men with more than one wife are not uncommon.181 Another official interpreted this law much more laxly, suggesting that mullahs were authorized to perform marriages without a ZAGS registration certificate if one of the parties was already married (in other words, in polygynous unions).182
Polygyny has the effect of frustrating attempts by women who have chosen to leave abusive marriages, or who have been rejected by their husbands or their extended families, to obtain fair settlement of their rights to property and even to child custody. Because men may freely remarry in religious ceremonies, they have no incentive to cooperate in divorce proceedings. Mukhabat related that "I said to my husband that he should go and file for divorce. But he refused because he could marry again without getting a divorce."183
In order to avoid the possibility that a woman will complain to the authorities if her husband takes a second wife, men sometimes pressure their legal wives to provide letters stating that they have no objection to their husband's remarrying, often through the agency of the mahalla. In cases where the first marriage is not legally dissolved, this enables such men to avoid division of family property and to evade the obligation to pay alimony. Although the husband of Rano had not, at the time of the interview, remarried, she recounted that "He demanded that I sign a paper saying that I had no claims against him marrying again-no claims on him or his property. I signed a letter saying that he could marry again... The neighbor was willing to be a witness to the letter freeing him to marry again, but where were they before?"184
Mahalla officials sometimes facilitate men's second marriages by obtaining these permission letters from wives who have been rejected by, or who have fled from their husbands. The involvement of the mahalla, combining the force of community opinion and the authority of the local government, makes it extremely difficult to refuse such requests. At times, the mahalla may obtain the letters from other family members without even consulting the wife. Sharofat, whose mahalla engineered her "divorce" and division of marital property, recounted that the mahalla pressured her family to issue such a letter. She said of her husband, "I don't have an official divorce, but he remarried anyway and no one asked me for my agreement that he take another wife. The mahalla committee tricked my brother. My brother signed that he agreed to the marriage. They promised that I would get alimony and a charitable benefit payment. My brother signed for me and I didn't even know that he had done it."185 Without an official divorce, which the mahalla had refused to help her obtain, she received no such payments.
The presence of second "spouses" may even inhibit some men from agreeing to a divorce, creating an insurmountable problem for their legal wives. Mavjuda's husband, who abused her from the beginning of her seven-year marriage, had taken a second wife three years before she discovered it. He initially blocked her efforts to obtain a divorce, by confiscating her personal identity documents. After some time, she stated: "He said, `Let's get a calm divorce if you won't write that I had a second wife.' I said, of course I would [inform the court about the second wife]. He said then `I won't divorce you because I can go to jail'... He will never apply for a divorce because he is afraid. He doesn't want to live with me anymore but he is afraid [that he might be prosecuted]."186
It's his own wife, not a stranger.187
Only a small minority of acts of domestic abuse ever come to the attention of law enforcement bodies. As noted above, women victims of domestic violence interviewed by Human Rights Watch gave two common explanations for their failure to report the abuse. The first was shame. A deputy mayor related the case of a woman whose husband sexually abused her and accused her of having sexual relations with other men, saying, "everyone knew about this but they did not tell the police. These people do not tell the police about such things."188 Another official told Human Rights Watch, "We Uzbeks do not call anyone. It is so shameful. The women cry and then they go back and reconcile."189 Women also feared abandonment, and described their desire to preserve their families and keep their children's father involved in their upbringing. One woman explained, "My husband said that if I talked he would never live with me again."190
One police officer sympathetic to abused women's plight estimated that only one-third to one-quarter of women victims ever go to the police.191 Human Rights Watch's own research findings reflect that estimate: only six of the twenty women victims of domestic violence interviewed by Human Rights Watch had complained about their abuse to the police. Another police inspector, responsible for a community of 711 households, stated that he receives one or two reports of family violence every month.192
Of those instances that are reported, most, according to police officials, are usually dealt with directly by local police inspectors. In most cases, local police do not open criminal cases: of the six cases reported to Human Rights Watch where women reported the violence, not one led to a criminal case being opened. In two cases the perpetrators paid small fines; in another, the perpetrator served a fifteen-day sentence in administrative detention. One head of a police investigative department in a rural district reported that in the two years he had held the post, the only cases which had been reported were those resulting in light injury; these were resolved by the local officer fining the perpetrator on the spot.193 "Family scandals," he explained, "are usually not serious cases."194 A deputy police chief in another village echoed the attitude that domestic violence cases do not merit police attention, telling Human Rights Watch, "I don't deal with family scandals."195
Local police take part in mahalla efforts to mediate family conflicts. As part of its 1998 measures for the Year of the Family, the government instructed local police departments, in cooperation with local government and mahalla officials to maintain a record of each family to whom they have been called. Families remain on this registry for a period of three years, during which time police are supposed to regularly check in on them.196 In 1999, in the wake of the law on the mahalla, the government created the new post of posbon, or civilian police deputy, in each neighborhood, and currently this monitoring may be carried out by the local posbon. It is unclear whether repeated instances of violence in families on this list will necessarily result in any criminal sanction for the abusers. According to victims interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the mere fact of being on the list is supposed to exert social pressure on those families, either to eliminate aggressive behavior or to conceal it better from the community. One local government official revealed that "we check them and then we take them off the list. We try to avoid having them on the list. We try to get them off as quickly as possible. It is shameful to be on the list."197
More informally, police may take part in prophylactic discussions held by the mahalla with husbands reported to have beaten their wives. One village council chairman explained, `We call the husband if he beats his wife and we speak with him in front of the precinct policeman and the head of the mahalla. We find out the reasons for this and we warn him. He signs a piece of paper that he will not do it again. If he does it again the police then have that letter and it is in the record...He must sign a form...and we tell him that we will turn him over to the police if he does it again. We try to scare him...In this case the husband has not repeated this-or no one has come to tell us about more beatings."198
Sometimes the scare tactics exceed simple discussions. One young police officer recounted an approach that involved warning husbands the first time, and obtaining written pledges from them that they would not continue to beat their wife if there was a second report of assault. "If we feel that it won't stop, then...we calm him down in the cell...If he is very aggressive, then you can take physical measures. Different techniques are allowed."199 At this, the officer's superior interrupted, correcting, "We have the right to stop him [the abuser] and put his hands behind his back, not to beat him."200
Police interviewed by Human Rights Watch indicated that they wished to respond as best they could to complaints of abuse from women. Generally, however, their intervention is limited by their own bias against criminally prosecuting battering husbands, and that of the mahalla. Indeed, police may sometimes discourage women from pressing complaints out of concern that the most likely punishment, an administrative fine, would serve only to harm the family further, and to provoke the husband.201 One officer explained that if a woman was not injured seriously enough for her to require hospitalization, "there is no need for a fine," and that his approach was to lecture the husband about his behavior or at most, detain him for a day. This officer also echoed mahalla officials' confidence in the effectiveness of obtaining written pledges from abusers that they would not continue to beat their wives.202 Several women interviewed by Human Rights Watch, however, dismissed such warnings as ineffective at best. Lola recalled that mahalla officials warned her husband several times over the course of their twenty-six year marriage but to no avail.203
Not all police, it appears, are as responsive as those interviewed by Human Rights Watch. Several victims reported that their repeated appeals to the police had elicited no effective protection, or no response at all. After being hospitalized for injuries from her husband's beating, Mukhabat was again beaten by her husband when she attempted to visit the child he would not give up to her. "He beat me again on my head. I lost consciousness and the mahalla committee members took me home...and called the precinct police. The policeman said, `It's Sunday, leave me alone.'"204 Police finally took Mukhabat's statement three days later, but she was never called as a witness and did not believe that her husband had been detained or prosecuted.
Of the six women interviewed by Human Rights Watch who had reported instances of family violence to the local police, most reported that the police had resisted taking their statements and had actively discouraged them from filing complaints. Lola recounted that she went to her local police precinct "four or five times" following beatings, "but [they] did nothing."205
Police and judges insisted to Human Rights Watch that it was possible to mount criminal prosecutions of those who physically abused their wives without first receiving a complaint from the wife, but conceded that such prosecutions were very few. Police and mahalla officials reported frequently agreeing to women's requests to drop investigations of their abusers. One victim, however, did report that in her case, police refused to allow her to withdraw her complaint after her husband's brother threatened her, because they were cognizant of the repeated nature of the abuse.206
As with divorce, mahalla officials exercise a gatekeeping function with respect to law enforcement responses to domestic violence.207 In practice, in some cases, police may pursue criminal or administrative sanctions only with the assent of the mahalla or village council.208 Mahalla officials may have criminal cases closed, or pressure women to withdraw complaints. The chairman of the mahalla where Mukhabat resides indicated that he had stopped any criminal investigation into the beating that resulted in Mukhabat's partial paralysis: "I told the woman that if it had been a stranger, we would have taken measures against him. I told her, `But it's your husband so you must forgive him and take him back'...It's his own wife, not a stranger."209
Mahalla officials also are also called on to provide written evidence to courts when abusers are charged with criminal offenses. Courts, in turn, refer cases of administrative fines and detention for domestic assault back to the perpetrator's mahalla "requesting that they take measures to save the family."210
Although hospitals are required by law to report injuries resulting from assault to the police, in cases of domestic violence, this practice is sometimes not followed even in the case of severe injuries. Many women, as was the case with Jurakhon, may be ashamed to seek treatment for their injuries.211 Even if women do visit hospitals as a result of beatings, the fact of the assault may not be reported to police. A newspaper report on the conviction of a man for driving his wife to suicide suggests that hospital personnel may interpret this requirement as the patient's prerogative. The suicide victim, "could have asked the police to intervene after she was twice admitted to hospital for treatment of her injuries," but did not, according to the judge in the case.212 As Lola explained, when she was hospitalized with a punctured lung as a result of her husband's beating, she did not think of informing the police. "I was young, I didn't think about it. My parents said `don't, you have children' and I thought so, because I didn't want to be shamed. In the hospital they didn't inform the police because my mother asked them not to. `She will stay with him,' she said, `and the main thing is that she is still alive.'"213 In another case, involving a young woman who suffered a miscarriage after being raped by her husband, the doctor who treated her injuries ignored the bruises covering her body, and attributed her miscarriage to "a weak organism."214 Gulchekhra recalled that when her relative was hospitalized after a beating, "her husband arranged her discharge because he didn't want to go to jail."215
Hospital staff too may sometimes tend to see the victim as responsible for provoking her own abuse, and fail to accord domestic violence the seriousness it merits. This may lead both to their not reporting cases of assault, and to their minimizing the extent of women's injuries in their reports. One chief doctor in a district hospital with twenty-four years of experience insisted that his staff always reported instances of battering to the police, but then explained, "there are cases when she is guilty. For example, she does not look after the children, or does not have everything ready for him when he comes home from work. After these scandals they understand each other and love each other even more."216 Likewise doctors may discourage women victims from pursuing either divorce or criminal complaints, even when they have suffered considerable physical harm. "They have to go home," the chief doctor explained to Human Rights Watch, "they have children."217 He said that domestic violence victims were usually hospitalized for three to ten days, and described one case in which he had intervened. "There was a case where a woman was beaten and we explained to her that families are all different.... I spoke to her as a doctor and as a human being...We have always worked to save the family."218
Even when hospital staff do report cases of severe injuries, this does not insure that police or prosecutors will act on the reports. The hospital that treated Mukhabat for head injuries that ultimately resulted in the paralysis of one side of her face reported the assault to the local police when she was admitted in December 1999. "I told them that my husband beat me," Mukhabat recounted. "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 think that my husband went to the precinct and agreed to something with them. I was in the hospital for seven days...But no one ever came."219 In the case of Khamida, hospitalized repeatedly as a result of battering during her five-year marriage, police responded to hospital notification of her injuries, but then confined their actions to levying fines. Her husband, who was wealthy, simply paid the fines. And although her injuries could have formed the basis for a criminal assault charge, the victim denied to police that she had been beaten, telling Human Rights Watch, "I wanted to save my family."220
Particularly for rural women, the requirement to obtain a forensic medical examination is burdensome. The services themselves are largely located in provincial capitals and only a few district towns in each province; smaller provinces may have only one such service.224 Police officers in one district described arranging transportation and accompanying women to the forensic exam in another district, but such assistance does not seem to be common.225 Some women also face threats of violence, abandonment, and retaliation from their husbands if they pursue a forensic medical exam. Khamida told Human Rights Watch, "My husband did not want me to go to the forensic medical expert. And he forbade me to go. He said that he would not live with me if I told anyone."226
Even if women do gain access to the forensic examination, there is no guarantee that police will act on the findings of the expert. In December 1999, Mukhabat was referred to the forensic medical service in the provincial capital by the hospital in which she was treated for head injuries. She did not understand what to do with this referral, and ignored it. After being beaten once more by her husband, and receiving injuries that resulted in the paralysis of half of her face, she was again referred to the forensic service by the police, three days after the event. She then went to the forensic expert, was examined, and provided the forensic report to the local police.227 At the time of the interview, five months later, she was unaware of any charges brought against her husband.228
The forensic service defines what constitutes a "light" injury, punishable under the administrative code by a fine or short detention, and what constitutes "heavy" injury, for which the perpetrator may be held criminally accountable. Under current rules, light injuries are those "which cause short-term health disorders or insignificant persistent loss of the capacity to work" or lesser forms of disability, with "short term" being defined as less than three weeks. In one case recounted by a precinct police officer, injuries that required a woman to be hospitalized for three days were defined as light, and the husband was subject to a 3,500 som fine.229 According to forensic experts, nearly all of the injuries received as a result of domestic violence are classified as "light."230 Forensic doctors may also be influenced in their examination by their own views on the proper means of dealing with domestic violence. One senior forensic official explained that "our native population has a different mentality. Here the family is a sacred institution. If women are wise, they try at all costs to save the family. I feel that appeals to law enforcement agencies are not the way to strengthen the family."231
Police may or may not be guided by the conclusions of the forensic expert in their response to acts of battering, and may bring lesser, misdemeanor charges, rather than pursuing a criminal case. According to a recent report based on a review of records of domestic violence cases brought to prosecution, the existence of a forensic report does not guarantee that the appropriate charges will be brought against the perpetrator, or that the level of sentencing will be consistent with the degree of injury.232 Dilfuza told Human Rights Watch that police referred her to the forensic service after her husband choked her until she lost consciousness. "They gave me a piece of paper to go to the medical expert... I went to the forensic service and they gave me a report. The doctor told me that my husband should go to jail for three years. But he didn't. They only fined him...I brought the conclusion from the medical expert back myself and gave it to the police...They called him to the police and they only demanded a fine."233
Judicial Responses to Domestic Violence
Given the lack of data, it is impossible to know how many of those charged with criminal assault in cases of domestic violence are ever convicted by the courts. The government does not make public information on the overall rate of convictions. According to unofficial sources, however, courts in Uzbekistan are known to issue convictions in all but a very small number of criminal cases, including those involving domestic assault charges.236 One lawyer with considerable experience in domestic violence cases noted the tendency of police to presume the guilt of anyone they arrest, a tendency that is repeated in the courts.237 Therefore, it is likely that in the rare cases when batterers are charged with criminal offenses, they are convicted.238
Courts, however, do play a role in depressing the number of criminal charges ultimately brought against batterers. The Code of Criminal Procedure mandates that judges open investigations into criminal acts that emerge in the course of hearings. They rarely do so, however, with regard to instances of domestic abuse, which come to light during divorce hearings or alimony proceedings. Dilfuza related that during her divorce hearing, "...I told the judge that he had beaten me. The judge said nothing."239
In general, rape is an underreported crime in Uzbekistan, due in part to cultural norms that place high value on women's sexual purity. In 1998, the last year for which figures were available, there were 675 cases of rape prosecuted in the country; no information was available on the number of convictions.240 When pressed by members of the CEDAW committee examining its state report on January 30, 2001, the Uzbek government representative stated that 520 cases of violence against women (sexual violence) were reported in the year 2000, but acknowledged that there were no statistics on domestic violence as a separate category of crime.241
Uzbekistan's criminal statute on rape does not explicitly address the marital status of the victim; nor does it distinguish between rapes committed by an acquaintance or relative, or those committed by a stranger.242 Nonetheless, in interviews with Human Rights Watch, government officials, police, and judges for the most part cast doubt on the idea that a married woman might legitimately claim to be the victim of rape by her husband.243 One former judge expressed shock at the very concept, dismissing it as an oxymoron. "There are not cases of rape in marriage. They are husband and wife. She cannot refuse."244 Even activists in the newly-formed NGOs devoted to promoting women's rights expressed the view that sexual violence within marriage could not constitute a crime. One psychologist and counselor at a woman's crisis center commented in relation to sexual violence "within marriage, this is not considered rape."245 Similarly, the chairwoman of one of the most prominent women's crisis centers in Tashkent expressed an attitude typical of many local government and other officials: "The police would laugh if a married woman tried to report a rape case."246
Human Rights Watch learned of three separate cases in which rape had been identified by the victims as a form of spousal abuse. In two of these cases, the victim had appealed to the mahalla, but no criminal action was initiated against the perpetrator; in the other, the woman's family removed her from the marriage without complaining to outside authorities.247
Even when rape within marriage is acknowledged as abuse, state bodies frequently fail to take any action against the rapist. Thus, the local official who stated proudly to Human Rights Watch that all family conflicts in his community were resolved by the mahalla committees described a 1997 case of a woman who had committed suicide by self-immolation, after a history of beatings and rape by her husband. "Three years ago a husband raped his wife and she burned herself. She got sick of the situation...He raped his wife and beat her many times." 248 Although the woman complained repeatedly to the mahalla committee, and to the local executive, where she explained the extent of the abuse, the only action that was taken was to call the husband before the mahalla committee and warn him to stop. "She went many times to the mahalla and the village council," the official explained, but those bodies refused to facilitate a divorce, despite the woman's pleas. "She told the committee about the beatings and explained. She could have divorced if she had only one child, but with three children, there was nowhere for her to go."249 The husband was later charged with driving his wife to suicide and sentenced to four years in prison, but was released before serving his full sentence. Custody of the couple's three children remained with the husband after his wife's death.
Neither criminal nor administrative law in Uzbekistan has any specific provision proscribing the persistent and threatening harassment of women who have attempted to escape physical abuse by their current or former husbands, or stalking. The reluctance to prosecute men to the full extent of the law for physical injuries they inflict, in addition to the practice of relying on the mahalla to find informal resolutions to all family conflicts, leaves women particularly vulnerable to this form of abuse. Two of the twenty victims of domestic violence victims interviewed by Human Rights Watch had separated from, but continued to be stalked by, their husbands. Though the women had notified either police or local officials, including the mahalla and the district-level women's committee, all of these state representatives explained that there was no legal action they could take against these men to stop the harassment.
Human Rights Watch spoke to Jurakhon together with the women's committee chairwoman from her district. After nine years of marriage during which her husband beat and physically humiliated her, Jurakhon turned to the district government for help. The women's committee chairperson recounted that her husband "constantly makes scandals. He said that she [Jurakhon] ran around with other men even though she never did. He had this idea that he would find her with another man. He walked around with a knife, looking for her and thinking she was cheating...He constantly beat her, on the face."250 After five years of mahalla intervention, according to the chairwoman, "We decided that she should file for a divorce...After the divorce he would not leave her in peace and went to her apartment all the time...He still follows her..." Jurakhon added: "He threatened me. He says that he wants the children. He thinks that if he takes the children I will go back to him...I am so scared that when I go to work I lock the children in the house with a key."251
Although the women's committee chairperson had attempted to enforce a separation, the authorities had no legal powers to assist Jurakhon. "There is no law to arrest him," the chairperson stated, adding:252
The sole measure taken by the community has been that members of the mahalla committee have offered to check on the family periodically.
In the case of Mavjuda, her husband did not honor the informal separation she requested after she learned that he had taken a second wife.
A court found her husband guilty of an administrative offense for the beating and sentenced him to fifteen days in prison. Immediately upon his release, however, he continued to harass her. "My husband called and threatened to slit my throat. I went to the police and told them but they didn't take my statement, and that day they let him out."255
Repeated entreaties to the police yielded only a promise that they would continue informal pressure against Mavjuda's husband who, nevertheless, continued to hold his wife under constant, threatening surveillance.
Often the only criminal sanction against the perpetrators of domestic violence comes when their victims have taken their own lives.
The problem of female suicide has long drawn the attention of government officials in Uzbekistan, particularly in cases when women end their lives by self-immolation.257 Female suicide was one of the first social problems to be openly discussed during the brief interlude of glasnost from the late 1980s through the early 1990s, according to Uzbek social scientists.258 Since that time, the government has not allowed the number of such deaths to appear in the press, although it was discussed in a report produced by the Gender in Development Unit of the Cabinet of Ministers for the United Nations, Beijing+5 review, and also in the government's report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, reviewed in January 2001.259
Although data are not available on the number of suicides linked with domestic violence, anecdotal evidence obtained by Human Rights Watch suggests a strong correlation between the two. Chronic inattention to violence within families, according to NGO activists, contributes to the number of female suicides. Often, as in the case of Jurakhon recounted above, local officials turn their attention to cases of family violence only when they fear that women may be on the verge of committing suicide.260 Activists and government officials alike recognize the role played by domestic abuse, and by persistent inattention to this abuse, in cases of female suicide. In one 1999 case recounted by a women's NGO leader:
Police occasionally warn violent husbands that they might face charges if their wives commit suicide. One police officer in a village told Human Rights Watch:
Sharofat, whose husband beat her regularly over fifteen years of marriage, described the hopelessness that led her to attempt suicide. "The beatings happened at least one time each month. He beat me so hard that I lost my teeth. He beat me most severely when I was pregnant...I complained to his parents and they told me `it's his business, let him beat you.'"263 Sharofat suffered four miscarriages due to the beatings. Her own parents showed little more sympathy for her plight. "My father refused to take me to a doctor. He said, `What will I say, `her husband beats her?''...I am already so tired of the beatings I don't even feel the blows anymore. I can't feel anything anymore."264
Prosecutions for allegedly driving a person to suicide are not unheard of, although not routine, and are sometimes reported in the press.265 But whether or not such cases will be initiated or pursued depends on the attitude of the local prosecutors and police investigator. In the case of a twenty-year old woman who committed suicide by drinking vinegar concentrate in early June 2000, police asserted that the victim's testimony made in hospital before she died would certainly result in a prosecution:
In other cases, even the presence of such testimony cannot guarantee a criminal case will be brought to trial. The daughter of Karima, whose two-year marriage was punctuated by frequent beatings, committed suicide by overdosing on tranquilizers in 1996. Karima recounted that "after six months she came home and said that her husband hits her, for no reason he hits and humiliates her. I didn't want their family to break apart because they had a child."267 Karima told police investigators, according to case records, that before her daughter slipped into a coma, she said that her husband taunted her, "`You can't do it-just try to drink the medicine.'"268 The district procurator's office initially opened an investigation, charging the victim's husband under article 103 of the Criminal Code, with causing his wife to commit suicide. When the local procurator unexpectedly closed the case, Karima hired her own lawyer to pursue it. His repeated complaints to the general procurator's office resulted in the case being closed and reopened five times, before a court eventually found the victim's mother-in-law guilty of a lesser offense, failing to provide timely medical attention. However, upon her conviction she was immediately amnestied, in May 1999, and served no prison time.269
Rhetoric Without Remedies
The government's national program prepared in the wake of the U.N. Women's Conference in Beijing in 1995 asserts that the country's law enforcement agencies have paid increased attention to the issue.272 However, in practice the government has implemented few of these laudable recommendations in its October 1998 declaration. Moreover, those state programs that have been implemented have not alleviated, and may have exacerbated, existing social attitudes that foster domestic violence.
Since 1998, "The Year of the Family," state agencies have begun to devote attention to problems of the family generally, and the various educational, public-awareness and welfare programs developed under these auspices have sometimes included components addressing domestic violence.273 Generally, these efforts fall into three categories: legal reform, law enforcement policy changes, and public education and media discussions.
The most notable change in Uzbek state policy towards the family in the past few years came with the adoption of a new Family Law Code in April 1998 supplanting the Soviet code in force since 1969. Although some legal specialists and women's rights advocates proposed including specific language on domestic violence when the draft of the law was first circulated, no such provision was ultimately included in the law.274 Government human rights officials explain this decision by stating that, in contrast to the West, the level of "consciousness" had not changed to the point where such a law would be appropriate.275 Scholars and NGO activists also noted at the time that article 8 of the code, on the application of local traditions and customs in family life, likely contravenes the provision of CEDAW requiring state parties to "take measures to change or eliminate all laws, traditions and practices which promote discrimination against women."276 Article 8 of the amended Family Code, in the opinion of local legal scholars, reinforces the legitimacy of "traditional" understandings of family relations. It states:
Despite the vague formulation and the reference to legal principles, which include gender equality, local lawyers and women's rights activists fear that it may ultimately undermine provisions on equality.
One positive feature of the new law, from the perspective of women's rights advocates, was the provision allowing couples to conclude pre-marital agreements specifying the terms for property division in the case of a divorce.278 Women's committee representatives describe actively promoting these contracts through their pre-marriage education program (see below), although the highest number of such pre-marital contracts actually concluded in any province had reached only thirty-four in mid-2000.279
In 1998, the government initiated some changes in law enforcement, although these do not include such basic measures as compiling national statistics on the number of reported cases of domestic violence. In its report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the government said that it had implemented "a series of organizational and practical measures to prevent violence against women" since that time, but did not provide any details.280 However, these measures included the creation of a coordinating council for law enforcement bodies (the police and the procuracy) for responses to domestic violence that met during both 1998 and 1999.281 Neither the procuracy nor the Ministry of Internal Affairs responded to written requests from Human Rights Watch for information about the current activities of this council, though it is known to have implemented monthly police checks on families where violence has been reported.
The most extensive response to domestic violence by far has been the public education and training of government personnel and others. Within the framework of the 1998 Year of the Family program, the government began a nationwide program of pre-family education for children in the upper grades of high school. These programs, administered by district-level executive bodies, are largely within the purview of local women's committees. In two of the three provinces surveyed by Human Rights Watch, district-level officials described participation in these courses by some quasi-, state-supported non-governmental organizations, including the organization For a Healthy Generation (Soghlom Avlod Uchun), the center for Women and Health (Ael va Salomatlik), and the Center for the Family (Oila). Medical and legal specialists may be invited to hold discussions, although according to one activist the topic of sex education has been removed from the official school curriculum.282 In some provinces, non-state funded non-governmental organizations, such as the newly-formed crisis centers, may take part in designing or carrying out these education programs. In addition to school programs, the women's committee and other state agencies such as the parliamentary ombudsman, hold training sessions for their local activists and volunteers at the district and mahalla level.283
It is beyond the scope of this report to review in detail the curriculum of these educational programs for schoolchildren and for local activists. Because local-level government bodies are responsible for carrying them out, the programs vary widely across the country and even within a single province. Some certainly include considerable focus on the nature and impermissibility of domestic violence, while others pass over the topic peremptorily. Conversations with local government officials who actually implement the programs suggest that "preparing young people for family life" often involves reinforcing interpretations of "tradition" which tend to place blame for family conflicts on the woman.284 Though family violence may or may not be mentioned by these programs as unacceptable, the fundamental emphasis on women's submission and subordination facilitates blaming the victim and impunity for the perpetrator. One NGO activist complained that "the contests organized by the women's committee for the best kelin [young bride] are humiliating for girls: contests for ironing, for instance. It treats them like domestic servants."285 Comments by members of several of the government-sponsored organizations reveal that education directed at divorce-prevention places the absolute goal of preserving the family ahead of protecting the rights of its members.286
The mass-media devote considerable attention to family life and to promoting positive images and models for family behavior. Absolute state control over media ensures that reference to family questions and women carry approved political messages.287 In general, the Uzbek media shy away from portraying much negative news at all, and so it is scarcely surprising that the issue of domestic violence per se does not receive much frank coverage.288 According to surveys performed by a leading women's rights NGO, the vision of women's proper role in the family promoted by state media compounds women's difficulties in obtaining relief or redress for family violence, by reinforcing the view that women are responsible for the violence they face.289 Furthermore, predominant media messages emphasize to women and girls that because of their own inadequacies, as wives and daughters-in-law, they are the sources of family problems, and that they can only hope to avoid such problems by becoming ever more subservient and pliable. Some officials, including one former judge, endorsed this message as the only one with the potential to relieve family struggles. She commented: "There was a program on Tashkent TV entitled `How to Preserve the Family.' It showed young women who understood the obligation to care for the older generation."290 Others, particularly some NGO activists, question the emphasis on female docility and subservience as one likely to undermine efforts to promote women's rights, including the right to be free from violence.291
58 Human Rights Watch interview, district women's committee chairwoman, May 20, 2000.
59 For the purposes of this report, domestic violence is defined as "physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry-related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, non-spousal violence and violence related to exploitation." United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, Platform for Action, Section D, 112.
60 See also Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, Domestic Violence in Uzbekistan, December 2000.
61 Interview, government human rights official, May 17, 2000.
62 Unpublished report, Tashkent Legal Office for Women's Rights and Civil Law, Monitoring po Domashnemu nasiliiu provedennyi po rezul'tatam obrashchenii grazhdan v konsul'tatsiiu po grazhdanskim delam i zashchite prav zhenshchin, May 2000.
63 Interview, government human rights official, May 17, 2000.
64 Interview, "Rano", May 20, 2000.
65 Interview, district women's committee official, June 1, 2000.
66 Interview, Gulnora, June 4, 2000.
67 Interview, Dilfuza, June 4, 2000.
68 Interview, Mukadas, May 24, 2000.
69 Interview, village council secretary, May 21, 2000. Because of widespread torture in the criminal justice system, citizens of Uzbekistan fear interactions with law enforcement authorities generally. See Human Rights Watch, "`And It Was Hell All Over Again...': Torture in Uzbekistan," A Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 12, no. 12 (D),December 2000.
70 Interview, district women's committee chairwoman, May 20, 2000.
71 Interview, village rais, May 24, 2000.
72 Interview, kolkhoz director, June 4, 2000.
73 Interview, NGO activist, May 18, 2000.
74 Interview, ZAGS official, June 4, 2000.
75 Interview, mahalla chairman, May 20, 2000.
76 Interview, village rais, May 24, 2000.
77 Interview, psychologist, May 21, 2000.
78 Interview, head of provincial Women Lawyers Association, May 22, 2000.
79 Interview, government human rights official, May 18, 2000.
80 Interview, mahalla chairman, May 20, 2000; Interview, village council chairman, May 20, 2000.
81 Interview, mahalla chairwoman, May 24, 2000.
82 Families with greatly varying levels of income were represented among the twenty cases of domestic violence documented by Human Rights Watch. Researchers have disputed the link between poverty and domestic violence. According to researchers Efrain Gonzales de Olarte and Pilar Gavilano Llosa, other factors are more important than poverty, including the man's age and employment status. They argue, as do other experts internationally, that domestic violence is found at all levels of society. See Morrison and Biehl, ed., Too Close to Home: Domestic Violence in the Americas, Inter-American Development Bank and Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.
83 Interview, kolkhoz chairman, June 4, 2000.
84 Interview, district women's committee chairwoman, May 20, 2000.
85 Interview, psychologist and women's NGO counselor, May 22, 2000.
86 Interview, local precinct police officer, May 23, 2000.
87 Interview, district women's committee official, June 1, 2000.
88 Interview, village council chairman, May 20, 2000.
89 Interview, mahalla chairman, May 20, 2000. Other researchers studying the Fergana valley region report local respondents' views that instances of domestic violence are becoming more common. These respondents blame women's engagement in small-scale trade to support their families, believing that women's involvement in these activities "dishonors" their husbands, who then turn to physical abuse. Dr. Barnett Rubin, Central Eurasia Project Open Forum, April 27, 2001.
90 Interview, rais, May 24, 2000.
91 Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights found similar attitudes among officials in Uzbekistan. See Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, Domestic Violence in Uzbekistan, p. 28.
92 Interview, village council chairman, May 23, 2000.
93 Interview, village rais, May 24, 2000.
94 Tor koringa sikgan, keng yiga sigadi.
95 Interview, provincial deputy mayor for women's affairs and members of the women's committee, May 20, 2000.
96 Legally, fathers retain the responsibility to support their children in the case of a divorce or separation, although in practice, according to respondents, enforcing child support arrangements can be difficult or impossible.
97 Interview, Rano, May 20, 2000.
98 Interview, Sharofat, May 21, 2000.
99 Interview, Rano's father, May 20, 2000.
100 Interview, Rano, May 20, 2000.
101 Interview, Karima, May 20, 2000.
102 N.Kh. Azimova, "K voprosu o roli makhallia v sovremennoi zhizni sel'skogo naseleniia Andidzhanskoi oblasti," in Akademiia Obshchestvennykh Nauk pri TsK KPSS, Voinstvuiushchii Islam i mery protivodeistviia ego vliianiiu (Moscow, 1988), pp. 142-143.
103 The word mahalla refers both to the geographic unit, the community which resides there, and to the authorities within it. While historically the mahalla evolved in urban areas, currently large villages may be divided into smaller administrative units known as mahallas. In such areas the mahalla chairmen are under the nominal authority of both the village council chair and the local executive.
104 Azimova, "K voprosu o roli makhallia....," p. 150, citing regulations issued by the Uzbek SSR Supreme Soviet of July 4, 1983, which were never made public.
105 In rural areas during the Soviet era, several villages may have been combined into collective or state farms, the administration of which carried out similar functions to those of urban mahallas.
106 Interview, mahalla chairman, May 22, 2000.
107 Law on the Mahalla, art. 12.
109 Interview, provincial deputy governor for women's affairs, May 19, 2000.
110 Interview, village council chairman, May 23, 2000.
111 Interview, deputy mayor and "Jurakhon", June 3, 2000.
112 Interview, village council chairman, May 21, 2000.
113 Interview, mahalla elder, May 23, 2000.
114 Interview, district mayor, June 3, 2000.
115 Interview, deputy district mayor, June 3, 2000.
116 Interview, village council chairman, June 4, 2000.
117 Interview, Jurakhon, June 3, 2000.
118 Interview, Gulchekhra, May 21, 2000.
119 Interview, Shahida, May 21, 2000.
120 Interview, Malika, May 23, 2000.
122 Interview, village council chairman, May 21, 2000.
123 Interview, Aziza, May 23, 2000.
124 Interview, Rano, May 20, 2000.
125 Interview, Rano, May 20, 2000
126 Human Rights Watch interview, name and place withheld, May 20, 2000; Human Rights Watch interview, urban deputy mayor, June 1, 2000.
127 The chairwoman declined to say what proportion of these appeals related to cases of domestic abuse.
128 Interview, urban district deputy mayor for women's affairs, June 1, 2000.
129 Interview, deputy district mayor for women's affairs, June 3, 2000.
130 Interview, lawyer, June 8, 2000.
131 Interview, head of provincial university psychological research center, May 21, 2000.
132 Interview, NGO activist, May 18, 2000.
133 Interview, Nozima, May 21, 2000.
134 Family Code, part VII, article 42.
135 Family Code, part VII, article 39.
136 Family Code, part VII, article 40.
137 Family Code, part VII, article 41.
138 Interview, NGO leader, May 23, 2000.
139 Interview, Nozigul, May 17, 2000; Interview, lawyers' group, June 1, 2000.
140 Interview, village council chairman, May 21, 2000; interview, former judge, June 2, 2000.
141 Interview, head of provincial Women Lawyers Society, May 22, 2000.
142 Interview, Karima, May 20, 2000.
143 Interview, Mukaddas, May 24, 2000.
144 Interview, mahalla chairman, May 29, 2000; interview, NGO leader, May 23, 2000.
145 Interview, deputy district mayor for women's affairs, June 4, 2000.
146 Interview, village council chairman, May 23, 2000.
147 Interview, village council chairman, May 23, 2000.
148 Interview, municipal district deputy mayor for women's affairs, June 1, 2000.
149 Interview, Lola, May 24, 2000.
150 Interview, Lola, May 24, 2000.
151 Interview, mahalla chairwoman, May 24, 2000.
152 UNDP, National Human Development Report: Uzbekistan, 1999, p. 27.
153 Interview, mahalla chairman, May 22, 2000.
154 Interview, district mayor, June 3, 2000.
155 Interview, Rano, May 20, 2000.
156 Interview, Gulchekhra, May 21, 2000.
157 Interview, Sharofat, May 21, 2000.
158 Interview, Mukhabat, May 21, 2000.
159 Interview, mahalla official, May 21, 2000.
160 Interview, former judge, May 31, 2000.
161 Interview, provincial civil court chairwoman, May 22, 2000.
162 Interview, former judge, June 2, 2000.
163 Interview, Rano, May 20, 2000.
164 Interview, Sharofat, May 21, 2000.
165 Interview, Rano, May 20, 2000. As noted above, however, Uzbekistan's Family Code limits divorces in the case when there are children under one year of age only in cases when the husband is seeking the divorce, not the wife.
166 Unofficial translation of court decision.
167 Interview, Rano, May 20, 2000.
168 Interview, Rano, May 20, 2000.
169 Interview, women's NGO activist, May 16, 2000.
170 Interview, Karima, May 20, 2000.
171 Interview, district women's committee head, June 1, 2000.
172 Interview, Shakhnoza, June 3, 2000.
173 The United Nations Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has concluded that polygamy (multiple marriages) violates provisions of article 5(a) of the Convention. "Polygamous marriage contravenes a women's right to equality with men, and can have such serious emotional and financial consequences for her and her dependents that such marriages ought to be discouraged and prohibited." http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/184758d9fcd7a2b1c12565a9004dc312/7030ccb2de3baae5c125, (May 2001).
174 Family code, part II, art. 13.
175 Family code, part II, art. 16.
176 Criminal code, ch. V, art. 126. The article reads "Polygyny, or cohabitation with two or more women in a common household, is punished by a fine of from fifty to one-hundred times the monthly wage, or corrective labor of up to three years, or by imprisonment for up to three years." Most cases of men with multiple wives encountered during the course of this research involved men who had for all intents and purposes abandoned their legal wives and concluded second (or third) marriages in religious ceremonies, with each wife living in a separate household.
177 Hurriyat, December 17, 1997, as cited in BBC worldwide monitoring, December 21, 1997. The alleged letter to the editor commented favorably on a previous article entitled "Is it a Vice to Have a Lot of Wives?"
178 Interview, NGO activist, May 23, 2000.
179 Uzbekistan responds to over 100 questions as women's anti-discrimination committee concludes consideration of its report, WOM/1260, January 30, 2001.
180 Interview, lawyer, June 8, 2000.
181 Interview, ZAGS official, June 4, 2000.
182 Interview, village council chairman, May 21, 2000.
183 Interview, Mukhabat, May 21, 2000.
184 Interview, Rano, May 20, 2000.
185 Interview, Sharofat, May 21, 2000.
186 Interview, Mavjuda, June 5, 2000.
187 Interview, mahalla chairman, May 21, 2000.
188 Interview, June 3, 2000.
189 Interview, deputy mayoral staff, June 2, 2000.
190 Interview, Khamida, June 2, 2000.
191 Interview, police officer A, June 4, 2000.
192 Interview, police officer, May 20, 2000.
193 Interview, chief district police investigator, June 4, 2000.
194 Interview, chief district police investigator, June 4, 2000.
195 Interview, deputy police chief, June 4, 2000.
196 One village council chairman claimed that the local posbon visited these families once a week. More commonly, police and local officials reported making monthly visits to families on the list. Interview, village council chairman, May 21, 2000.
197 Interview, deputy district mayor for women's affairs, June 4, 2000.
198 Interview, village council chairman, May 21, 2000.
199 Interview, police officer A, June 2, 2000.
200 Interview, police officer B, June 2, 2000. Interview, police officer A, June 2, 2000.
201 Interview, police officer A, June 2, 2000.
202 Interview, police officer, May 23, 2000.
203 Interview, Lola, May 24, 2000.
204 Interview, Mukhabat, May 21, 2000.
205 Interview, Lola, May 24, 2000.
206 Interview, village council chairman, May 23, 2000. Women may request authorities to drop complaints for a number of reasons, including fear that the batterer will retaliate, harassment by the batterer, or hope that the abuse will end. See Human Rights Watch, Too Little, Too Late: State Response to Violence against Women in the Russian Federation, December 1997, p. 44. See also Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, Domestic Violence in Uzbekistan, p.41. Minnesota Advocates' review of case files indicated that "women who file complaints very often attempt to stop the case once it has started."
207 Interview, female mahalla chairperson, June 4, 2000.
208 Interview, village council chairman, May 21, 2000.
209 Interview, mahalla chairman, May 21, 2000.
210 Interview, former judge, May 31, 2000.
211 Interview, Jurakhon, June 3, 2000.
212 Ishonch, August 5, 2000, as reported in BBC Monitoring, August 5, 2000.
213 Interview, Lola, May 24, 2000.
214 Interview, Umida, June 1, 2000.
215 Interview, Gulchekhra, May 21, 2000.
216 Interview, head doctor at district hospital, June 4, 2000.
219 Interview, Mukhabat, May 21, 2000.
220 Interview, Khamida, June 2, 2000.
221 Code of Criminal Procedure, art. 172.
222 Code of Criminal Procedure, art. 173, art. 180; interview, provincial forensic service physician, June 5, 2000.
223 Interview, police officer A, June 3, 2000.
224 Interview, forensic service official, June 9, 2000.
225 Interview, police officer A, June 3, 2000.
226 Interview, Khamida, June 2, 2000.
227 According to the Code of Criminal Procedure, the forensic medical service should not give the report to the victim, but should provide it directly to the police.
228 Interview, Mukhabat, May 21, 2000.
229 Interview, police officer, May 23, 2000. This amount is equal to roughly two minimum monthly wages, or at market exchange rates, approximately U.S. $4.00.
230 Interview, provincial forensic service physician, June 5, 2000.
231 Interview, national forensic service official, June 9, 2000.
232 Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, Domestic Violence in Uzbekistan, pp. 44-45.
233 Interview, Dilfuza, June 4, 2000.
234 Interview, lawyer and women's NGO activist, June 8, 2000.
235 Interview, deputy chair of provincial civil court, May 22, 2000.
236 Interview, head of municipal law office, January 17, 2001.
237 Interview, lawyer and women's NGO activist, June 8, 2000.
238 All of the eighteen cases cited by Minnesota Advocates resulted in convictions, although the sentences issued were often the lightest allowable by law, and sometimes even lower. Domestic Violence in Uzbekistan, Appendix II.
239 Interview, Dilfuza, June 4, 2000.
240 CEDAW/C/UZB/1, February 2, 2000, p. 28. According to this data, the number of reported cases has actually declined, from 791 cases in 1995, 808 cases in 1996, to 687 cases in 1997.
241 Uzbekistan's responses to questions posed by CEDAW, the United Nations, New York, January 30, 2001.
242 Criminal Code, Art. 118. The code defines rape as "sexual relations through the use of force, threats, or taking advantage of the helpless state of the victim," and sets the penalty at from three to seven years imprisonment. Aggravating circumstances, such as in the case when the victim is a minor or is a close relative, may increase the penalty to from ten to fifteen years. If the victim is under the age of fourteen, the court may impose the death penalty.
243 Researchers on marital rape note that even in the United States, where prosecution of such crimes has been well established in law in many states since the 1970s, "wife rape is still generally regarded as a contradiction in terms." Patricia Mahoney and Linda M. Williams, "Sexual Assault in Marriage: Prevalence, Consequences and Treatment of Wife Rape," http://www.nnfr.org/research/pv/pv_ch5.html (June 2001).
244 Interview, former judge, June 2, 2000.
245 Interview, head of provincial university psychological research group, May 21, 2000.
246 Interview with women's crisis center head, May 19, 2000.
247 Interview with Umida, victim's mother, June 1, 2000.
248 Interview with Village Council secretary, May 23, 2000.
250 Interview, district women's committee chairperson, June 3, 2000.
251 Interview, Jurakhon, June 3, 2000.
252 Interview, district women's committee chairperson, June 3, 2000.
254 Interview, Mavjuda, June 5, 2000.
257 Some Central Asian Muslims believe that self-immolation frees the suicide from the sinfulness of that act according to Islam.
258 Interview, sociologist, May 17, 2000. In 1989, Uzbek filmmaker Roza Mergenbaeva made a documentary about female self-immolation sponsored by the Communist party itself. She claimed in 1995 that there were 300 cases in 1990, but that since independence, state authorities have suppressed information on the problem and blocked her efforts to research it. Los Angeles Times, June 3, 1995.
259 Report on the Status of Women in Uzbekistan (Tashkent, 1999), pp. 32-33; Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, Initial Reports of States Parties, Uzbekistan, February 2, 2000, p. 29. According to the figures from the procurator general supplied in the latter report, the number of female suicides increased between 1995 and 1998, the last year for which figures were presented: In 1995, 1,327 cases; in 1996, 1,460; in 1997, 1,573; and, in 1998, 1,560. NGO activists caution that these figures are likely underestimates, because some deaths by poisoning are ruled to be accidental overdoses. Interview, NGO activist, May 30, 2000. The government does not publicize or distribute these documents in Uzbekistan.
260 Interview, deputy mayor, June 3, 2000. The deputy mayor told Human Rights Watch, "She keeps herself alive only for her children. The police take him away for a night and then they send him back again. I am afraid that she will kill herself."
261 Interview, women's NGO leader, May 30, 2000.
262 Interview, village precinct police officer, June 3, 2000.
263 Interview, Sharofat, May 21, 2000.
265 Ishonch, August 5, 2000, as reported in BBC Monitoring, August 5, 2000.
266 Interview, police officer B, June 4, 2000. Human Rights Watch was not able to ascertain whether or not a criminal case was in fact opened, or what was the result.
267 Interview, Karima, May 27, 2000.
268 Interview, Karima, May 25, 2000.
269 Interview, lawyer for Karima, May 25, 2000. Karima has referred the case to the parliamentary human rights ombudsman, who has reportedly submitted the case once again to the general procuracy for review.
270 "Improvement of the Women's Status in Uzbekistan," IMP/98 no. 191E, October 30, 1998. See also F.Kh. Bakaeva, "Ombudsman respubliki Uzbekistan i problemy obespecheniia prav zhenshchin," in G.M. Tansykbaeva, ed., Zhenshchina, pravo, obshchestvo (Tashkent, 1999), pp. 75-76.
271 Ibid., p. 4.
272 Natsional'naia platforma deistvii po uluchsheniiu polozheniia zhenshchin v Uzbekistane I povysheniiu ikh roli v obshchestve. Osnovnye mery po ee realizatsii. Tashkent, 1999, pp. 67-68.
273 Decree by the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, December 9, 1998 (on the Year of the Woman), http://www.undp.uz/GID/eng/Uzbekistan/Publications/uz_bul4_1.html; "Uzbek Decrees to support families," BBC Worldwide Monitoring, December 10, 1997, from Uzbek Radio first program, December 9, 1997, on the creation of a national commission to "improve the conditions of family life."
274 Interview, legal scholar, May 29, 2000; "Obsuzhdaem proekt Semeinogo kodeksa respubliki," Vechernii Tashkent, April 15, 1998.
275 Interview, government human rights official, May 18, 2000.
276 Vechernii Tashkent, April 15, 1998 ; CEDAW, article 2(f).
277 Family Law Code, article 8. This article of the family code may relegate women's status in the family to the vagaries of customary law. Customary law rarely protects women's interests in the family. For more information, see Human Rights Watch, World Report 2001, December 2000, p. 453.
278 Family Code, articles 29-36.
279 Interview, provincial women's committee officials, May 20, 2000.
280 CEDAW/C/UZB/1, February 2, 2000, p. 28.
281 The state report did not provide any information on whether or not the body met subsequently.
282 Interview, women's NGO activist, May 23, 2000.
283 Interview, national women's committee official, May 16, 2000.
284 Interview, national women's committee official, May 16, 2000; Interview, district women's committee chair, May 20, 2000; interview, municipal women's committee chair, June 1, 2000.
285 Interview, women's NGO activist, May 23, 2000.
286 Interview, head of provincial center "Oila," May 22, 2000.
287 The Uzbek government retains the practice of pre-publication censorship by the Committee to Preserve State Secrets, for all print media. Electronic media are subject to similarly rigorous reviews of content. See "Violations of Media Freedom: Journalism and Censorship in Uzbekistan," A Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 9, no. 7, July 1997; U.S. Department of State Annual Human Rights Reports, Uzbekistan, 2000, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2000/eur/index.cfm?docid=858.
288 The government claims that the newspaper of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Na postu, regularly reports on police efforts against domestic violence. Natsional'naia platforma...p. 67.
289 M. Tokhtakhodjaeva, "Traditional Stereotypes and Women's Problems in Post-Soviet Uzbekistan: A Survey of the Mass Media," Women living under muslim laws, Dossier 22 (November 1999), p. 41.
290 Interview, head of provincial Women Lawyers Association, May 22, 2000.
291 Interview, women's NGO activist, May 23, 2000.