Uzbekistan adopts landmark legislation on domestic violence

Uzbekistan adopts landmark legislation on domestic violence

A legislation aimed at criminalising domestic violence in Uzbekistan was approved unanimously by the parliament, a milestone reached after a long campaign from women’s and human rights activists. 

“Today, Uzbekistan finally became the fifth country in Eastern Europe and Central Asia to criminalise domestic violence as a separate criminal offence under the law, after Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Ukraine,” said Heather McGill, Amnesty International’s Central Asia Researcher.

The bill, which will come into effect once signed by the president, aims at providing women and children with greater legal protections against gender-based violence.

Under the new law, people found guilty of assaulting a current or former partner will face fines or prison time, and sexual offenders will not be eligible for early release. Perpetrators of sexual violence against minors will be registered and prohibited from working with children, and claims of ignorance of a victim’s age will no longer be admitted as grounds for mitigation during sentencing.

“Work on this legislation lasted over one year,” said Tanzila Narbayeva, chairwoman of the Senate. “There were difficulties and resistance. I can state with confidence that our law is progressive and in line with international norms.”

Gender-based violence in Uzbekistan

The adoption of the bill comes after recent revelations about a case of sustained sexual abuse against three young girls in an orphanage, which caused national outrage. Among the details that most shocked the public was the fact that the perpetrators were sentenced to only one-and-a-half years of restricted freedom, denying the men the opportunity to leave their homes at night. Following the anger over the scandal, the Supreme Court announced on April 3 that it would review the case.

Violence against women is rampant in Uzbekistan. In 2021, about 36,000 cases of violence towards women were reported, including more than 12,000 cases of physical violence. Legal protections in the country are often undermined by a heavy emphasis on the preservation of the family in domestic violence disputes, with officials prioritising reconciliation and reunification of families rather than the protection of women. 

A 2022 report by the International Partnership for Human Rights, a non-governmental human rights organisation based in Belgium, found that Uzbek society typically blames the victim rather than the perpetrator.

“According to women’s activists in Uzbekistan, many people believe that women ‘provoke’ or ‘deserve’ violence, that women victims of domestic violence are ‘masochistic,’ that ‘quarrels’ between husbands and wives are natural, and that victims of abuse are always free to leave their homes,” the report states. 

While the adoption of the legislation has been celebrated by activists, and is a decisive step in tackling gender-based violence, it is far from enough.

“Much remains to be done to implement the new law, prevent domestic violence and tackle patriarchal attitudes in society,” says McGill. “We are concerned that although physical violence has now been criminalised, economic and psychological violence remain unaddressed.”

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