Violence Against Women in Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan
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Population of women: 14,120,000/ 28,077,000

Life expectancy of women (at birth): 72

School life expectancy for women: 11

Women's adult literacy: 99%

Women engaged in economic activity: 48% 

Source: U.N. Statistics Division, Social Indicators (2012)

 

last updated May 2014

Introduction

Uzbekistan declared its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991 and adopted a new constitution in 1992, the same year it joined the United Nations. It is comprised of several territorial entities, including the Republic of Karakalpakstan, the City of Tashkent (also the capital) and other provinces. Uzbekistan is considered an authoritarian state dominated by the President and the executive branch, despite constitutional guarantees of universal suffrage and the separation of powers among diverse branches of government.[1]

Gender Equality

Article 18 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan states that all people shall have equal rights and freedoms and be equal before the law without discrimination by sex, race, nationality, language, religion, social origin, convictions, and individual and social liberties.[2] Article 46 of the Constitution specifically states that women and men shall have equal rights. [3]  Uzbekistan ratified the UN Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (“CEDAW”) on July 19, 1995.[4]

Article 141 of the Uzbek Criminal Code (as amended in 2001) forbids discrimination, which the Code defines as a “violation of equality,” including discrimination based on sex.[5] The discriminatory behavior may be direct or indirect, and includes violating or limiting a person’s constitutional rights based on sex, as well as granting privileges based on sex. This is punishable by a fine or correctional labor, but if committed with violence, the punishment increases to a longer correctional labor sentence or arrest and imprisonment.[6] Article 148 of the Criminal Code prohibits employers from knowingly refusing to hire or fire a woman due to her pregnancy or childcare issues.[7] Violation of this article is punishable by a fine of up to twenty-five minimum monthly wages, deprivation of rights up for to three years or correctional labor for up to three years.[8]

While Uzbek law technically provides for equality between men and women, women in fact experience widespread discrimination and their roles are still very limited in Uzbek society.[9] The UN Human Rights Committee (“HRC”) in 2010 expressed concern that “inequalities between women and men continue to persist in many areas of life, including employment and political life.”[10] The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (“CEDAW Committee”), which monitors Uzbekistan’s implementation of CEDAW, has characterized the Uzbek labor market as persistently “sex-segregated.”[11] The labor code bars women from working in many of the same industries as men.[12] Although Uzbek law provide for equal pay for equal work, as of 2006, Uzbek women's wages were only 63% of men’s wages.[13]

The Uzbek government created a National Women’s Committee (“NWC”) to increase women’s participation in society. [14] In 1995, by Decree of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the NWC obtained the status of a government organization, and its chairperson is now the Deputy Prime Minister for Social Protection of the Family, Maternity and Childhood.[15] The CEDAW CommitteeCommittee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Womenurged the Uzbek government in 2010 to provide sufficient funding and other resources to enable the NWC to effectively carry out its mandate, and to develop a “national plan of action for the advancement of women.”[16] A representative of the NWC joined the delegation for Uzbekistan’s review by the CEDAW Committee for the first time in 2010.[17]

The CEDAW Committee also recommended that Uzbekistan develop more legislative reforms regarding equal rights and opportunities for women, including passing the proposed but long-stalled Law on Equal Rights and Opportunities.[18] The stated purpose of the draft law is to promote equal rights, equal opportunities, equal legal liability, and equal partnership and cooperation in all economic, political, social and cultural areas of life.[19] The Committee noted favorably that the law had been updated to include a definition of both direct and indirect discrimination, in accordance with CEDAW. [20] In February 2013, Uzbekistan reported to the CEDAW Committee that Committee Member Violeta Neubauer had assisted the country in securing a UN Population Fund (UNFPA) sponsored “expert evaluation” of the draft law, to help ensure that it was in accord with the Committee’s concluding observations from 2010.[21] The Uzbek government stated that it had considered and incorporated at least 60 comments on the draft law.[22] As of April 2014, the Uzbek government had yet to enact the Law on Equal Rights and Opportunities, or similar legislation.

Domestic Violence

Despite repeated urging by the CEDAW Committee,[23] NGOs and other international institutions and national governments, Uzbekistan still has no official law against domestic violence. Human Rights Watch has noted that women in Uzbekistan face “astounding rates” of domestic violence, while the government either fails to intervene, or intervenes “haphazardly and in ways that make women feel culpable for the violence.” [24] Domestic violence is not culturally considered a “criminal act” but rather a “personal affair,” leading to widespread failure in all segments of the Uzbek legal system to prevent domestic violence, protect victims and prosecute perpetrators.[25] For example, law enforcement officers often discourage victims from reporting domestic violence incidents, and local government officials prefer reconciling husband and wife instead of prosecuting the husband and protecting the wife.[26] A related and well-known problem is attempted and committed suicide as a result of domestic violence, yet there are no precise figures due to under-reporting.[27]

The Uzbek Bureau on Human Rights and Rule of Law (“UBHRRL”) pointed out in its 2013 submission to the UN Human Rights Council for the Universal Periodic Review of Uzbekistan that official views dismissing the severity of domestic violence in Uzbekistan are shaped in part by the lack of an exact translation for “domestic violence” in the Uzbek language.[28] According to UBHRRL, the government prefers “family conflict,” which distorts the meaning of domestic violence and recasts the problem as a “family issue in which the government should not intervene.”[29]

However, assault is a crime, so Criminal Code articles that address intentional infliction of physical injury could be used to prosecute domestic violence cases.[30] Article 109 in particular is the most common, punishing intentional infliction of light injury with a fine, correctional work for one year, or “arrest” for up to three months.  The penalty increases if the injury leads to missed work or a temporary health disorder.[31] Article 104 criminalizes the intentional infliction of serious injury that endangers life, results in physical injury, disfigurement or termination of pregnancy, or reduces the victim's capacity to work.[32] The punishment is three to five years' imprisonment, increasing incrementally up to ten years' imprisonment if certain aggravating factors are present.[33] Article 105 criminalizes the intentional infliction of medium bodily injury, punishable by a prison sentence or correctional labor of up to three years.[34] Article 110 criminalizes tormenting, defined as "systematic battery or other actions of tormenting.” Tormenting is punishable by correctional labor, arrest or imprisonment.[35]

Nonetheless, as reported by the UBHRRL, women in Uzbekistan effectively have no recourse for domestic violence.[36]  When seeking a divorce, they must first go through their local Mahallas, small self-governing groups based on familial or religious ties (since a wife generally live near her husband’s family, the committee often includes the husband’s relatives).[37] The courts will not accept a petition for divorce without the Mahalla’s recommendation, which is difficult to achieve since the Mahalla strives for family reconciliation over divorce.[38] Often divorce petitions are denied and the women are sent back to their husbands and blamed for the situation.[39]

In 2010, the CEDAW Committee outlined the urgent need for the Uzbek government to “adopt a framework law” prohibiting all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence, that ensures victim protection and increases victim services.[40] Such services, including emergency shelter and temporary housing, are extremely limited in Uzbekistan. Only two or three NGO-administered shelters exist in the entire country.[41]

Trafficking in Women

The US State Department noted in 2007 that trafficking was a “significant problem” in Uzbekistan and that existing laws and procedures were largely ineffective to punish or deter human trafficking.[42] In 2008, Uzbekistan ratified the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.[43] In the same year, Uzbekistan adopted comprehensive legislation to prevent human trafficking and punish perpetrators in line with the Protocol, including the Suppression of Trafficking in Persons Act[44] (or the Law “on countering trafficking in human beings”), and amendments to relevant provisions of its Criminal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure.[45] The 2008 laws created a more comprehensive legislative framework for combatting trafficking in Uzbekistan, by defining human trafficking, increasing criminal penalties for trafficking, prohibiting both forced labor and prostitution, and mandating victim and witness protection and assistance.[46]   

Additionally, by Presidential decree, Uzbekistan adopted a National Action Plan (“NAP”) on the Enhancement of Efficiency of Countering Human Trafficking for 2008-2010, and required updates to the NAP every two years.[47] The NAP is intended to improve the effectiveness of the government’s anti-trafficking efforts. The Uzbek government also established a Republican Interagency Anti-Human Trafficking Commission (or Interdepartmental Commission to Combat Human Trafficking) to oversee updating and implementation of the NAP; however, the status of the update for 2013 is unclear.[48]

The government has improved victim protection and rehabilitation by providing resources and space for two NGOs, improving police referrals of women trafficking victims to NGOs, and opening a government-run shelter in the capital Tashkent.[49] Under the new anti-trafficking laws and trafficking NAP, victims are entitled to medical assistance and other support services from the government, and are supposed to be protected from prosecution for crimes related to trafficking, including prostitution charges.[50]But trafficking victims not officially identified by the government have been prosecuted for prostitution and illegally crossing the Uzbekistan border.[51] Additionally, while local governments in Uzbekistan have primary responsibility for repatriating Uzbek trafficking victims, they generally lacked the resources to do so effectively.[52]

The U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report for 2013 downgraded Uzbekistan to a Tier 3 country (the lowest tier) after six years on the Tier 2 watch-list.[53] The State Department had previously refrained from downgrading Uzbekistan due the country’s NAP on trafficking and other efforts. However, the 2013 TIP Report highlights the Uzbek government’s repeated failures to stop using forced labor during the cotton harvest and the complicity of Uzbek officials in forced labor.[54] The 2013 TIP Report  also notes that, while there have been efforts to assist victims of transnational trafficking and to prosecute those involved in trafficking, both civil society groups and the government recorded an increase in the number of transnational trafficking victims from Uzbekistan.[55]

Additionally, the country remains a significant source of women trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation into Central and Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, Asia, and the Middle East.[56] Women and men are also trafficked within Uzbekistan for commercial sexual exploitation, domestic work and manual labor.[57] The CEDAW Committee in 2010 expressed continued concern about the “persistence” of cross-border trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and girls in Uzbekistan, and the inadequacy of repatriation and relocation services for trafficking victims, such as shelter, medical care, financial support, legal services, and training.[58] The Committee called on Uzbekistan to effectively implement the 2008 anti-trafficking laws and the country’s trafficking NAP, and to do more to understand and address the root causes of trafficking in Uzbekistan to eliminate the vulnerability of women and girls to sexual exploitation and traffickers.[59]

Recently, the Uzbek government began requiring male relatives of women between the ages of 18 and 35 who were planning to travel internationally to certify that their female relatives were not leaving the country to engage in prostitution or other illegal activities.[60] The official reason given for this requirement is the prevention of trafficking in women;[61] however, it restricts women’s freedom of movement.

Sexual Assault

Article 118 of the Uzbek Criminal Code punishes rape by imprisonment for three to seven years. Rape is defined as "sexual intercourse committed by force, threat, or abuse of helpless.”[62] If committed by more than one person, by a repeat offender or dangerous recidivist, or with threat of death, the penalty increases to a sentence of seven to ten years.[63] The penalty increases up to 15 years if committed during riots, by a “special dangerous recidivist,” against a juvenile under 18 years of age or a close relative, or results in grave consequences, and if the victim is under 14 years of age, the sentence increases to a maximum of 20 years in prison.[64] While marital rape should be prohibited under Article 118, no reported cases of marital rape have been prosecuted in Uzbek courts, and the Uzbek Criminal Code does not explicitly punish marital rape.[65]

Sexual Harassment

Uzbek law technically forbids a man from coercing sex from a woman who has a business relationship with him or who is financially dependent on him.[66] The draft Law on Equal Rights and Opportunities would create a more expansive definition of sexual harassment, including “offensive conduct, expressed verbally or physically and based on sexual intentions, with respect to the person in connection with his/her working, office or other subordination-based relations.”[67] However, this law has not passed, and no law exists that defines or prohibits direct or indirect discrimination against women in employment, nor does Uzbek law contain any other legal prohibition against sexual harassment of women in the workplace.

Forced Marriage, Early Marriage and Polygamy

Article 136 of the Criminal Code prohibits forcing a woman to get married or continue cohabitation, and prohibits abducting a woman with intent to marry her against her will or preventing her from marrying.[68] Forcing or preventing marriage is punishable by a fine, correctional labor for up to three years, arrest for up to six months, or imprisonment up to three years.[69] Article 126 of the Criminal Code is intended to prevent “de jure” polygamy by prohibiting the cohabitation of two or more women “on the basis of common household,” but the law is considered vague and ineffective in preventing or eliminating the practice in Uzbekistan.[70] The UN Human Rights Committee requested that Uzbekistan amend its laws to prohibit all forms of polygamy and include criminal sanctions.[71]

The CEDAW Committee expressed concern that early marriage, arranged marriages and the practice of kidnapping young girls and forcing them to marry continued in many parts of Uzbekistan, despite the criminal laws forbidding forced marriage, and asked that the Uzbek government implement more effective measures to protect women and girls.[72]    

Forced Sterilization

The government of Uzbekistan has been accused of requiring doctors to sterilize women, often without their consent, in adherence to a government program meant to curb Uzbekistan’s population growth and, some believe, to reduce infant and mother mortality rates.[73] The government denies such claims, but reports from BBC interviews with women and physicians indicate that health professionals are given quotas for sterilizing female patients, and the procedures are often carried out during cesarean sections.[74] The first reports were in 2002, and evidence suggests that the rates of sterilization began to rise in 2005 and again in 2009.[75]

In March 2014, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) expressed alarm over reports of forced sterilizations of Roma women and women human rights defenders, and called on Uzbekistan to promptly investigate such allegations.[76]


[1] Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook: Uzbekistan (accessed May 15, 2014), https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/uz.html

[2] The Governmental Portal of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Art. 18, http://www.gov.uz/en/constitution/#s267

[3] Ibid., Art. 46.

[4] United Nations Treaty Collection, Status of Treaties, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=IV-8&chapter=4&lang=en

[5] Criminal Code of Uzbekistan, 2012-XII (1994) Art. 141.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., Art. 148.

[8] Ibid.

[9] U.S. State Department, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, “Uzbekistan: Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2013” (February 28, 2014), http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm?year=2013&dlid=220410.

[10] United Nations, Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee: Uzbekistan, CCPR/C/UZB/CO/3, par. 20, 7 April 2010.

[11] UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Concluding Comments, Uzbekistan, 25 August 2006, CEDAW/C/UZB/CO/3, 6, http://www.refworld.org/docid/4537781512.html

[12] Ibid.

[13] UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Responses to the list of issues and questions with regard to the consideration of the 4th periodic report: Uzbekistan, CEDAW/C/UZB/Q/4/Add.1, 26, October 19, 2009, http://www.refworld.org/docid/4b792f3d2.html

[14] United Nations Development Programme, Uzbekistan, Publications, Gender Briefing Kit: Chapter 3 National Plan of Action (2004).

[15] Embassy of Uzbekistan to the United States, “Social Issues: Gender Policy,” http://www.uzbekistan.org/social_issues/gender_policy/?print=1 (accessed June 25, 2014).

[16] UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: Uzbekistan, CEDAW/C/UZB/CO/4, par. 16, February 5, 2010, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CEDAW%2fC%2fUZB%2fCO%2f4&Lang=en.

[17] Ibid., par. 3.

[18] Ibid., pars. 9-10.

[20] CEDAW, Uzbekistan, supra n. 16.

[21] United Nations, CEDAW, Addendum to the Concluding Observations of the Committee, Uzbekistan, CEDAW/C/UZB/CO/4/Add.1, February 25, 2013, available from http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CEDAW%2fC%2fUZB%2fCO%2f4%2fAdd.1&Lang=en

[22] Ibid.

[23] CEDAW, Uzbekistan, supra n. 16, pars., 21-23.

[24] Human Rights Watch, “Women’s Rights” (2003).

[25] CEDAW, Uzbekistan, supra n. 16, par. 21.

[26] US State Department: Uzbekistan, supra n. 9, pp. 28-29.

[27] Ibid., 29.

[29] Ibid.

[30] E.g., The Advocates for Human Rights, Domestic Violence in Uzbekistan (December 2000) note 128 (in a review of cases from January through March 2000, the Advocates delegation found 7 criminal cases of domestic violence out of a total of 45 cases of criminal injury, rape, and hooliganism (under Criminal Code articles 104-110, 118 and 277).

[31] Criminal Code of Uzbekistan, Art. 109.

[32] Ibid., Art. 104.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid., Art. 105.

[35] Ibid., Art. 110.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid., 43.

[39] Ibid., 42-43.

[40] CEDAW, Uzbekistan, supra n. 16, par. 22.

[41] UN Country Team (UNCT) submission for the 2012 Universal Periodic Review of Uzbekistan (2nd cycle), http://lib.ohchr.org/HRBodies/UPR/Documents/Session16/UZ/UNCT_UPR_UZB_S16_2013_UNCT_E.pdf

[42] The Uzbekistan Criminal Code, Article 135 (as amended in 2001), prohibits forced prostitution, making it a crime to “[engage] people for sexual or any other exploitation by deceit” or to transport persons outside of Uzbekistan for similar purposes. Uzbekistan: Criminal Code, 2012-XII, 22 September 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b59216.html

[43] United Nations Treaty Collection, Status of Treaties, Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, https://treaties.un.org/pages/viewdetails.aspx?src=ind&mtdsg_no=xviii-12-a&chapter=18&lang=en

[44] Law No. 179 of 16 September 2008, Russian language document available at: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/population/trafficking/traffickinglaws.htm

[45] Law No. 154 of 17 April 2008, Russian language document available at: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/population/trafficking/traffickinglaws.htm

[46] UN Country Team (UNCT) submission for the 2012 Universal Periodic Review of Uzbekistan (2nd cycle), available from http://lib.ohchr.org/HRBodies/UPR/Documents/Session16/UZ/UNCT_UPR_UZB_S16_2013_UNCT_E.pdf

[47] Embassy of Uzbekistan to the United States website, “Social Issues: International Cooperation of the Republic of Uzbekistan in the fight against human trafficking,” http://www.uzbekistan.org/social_issues/trafficking_in_persons (accessed May 15, 2014).

[48] UN Country Team (UNCT) submission for the 2012 Universal Periodic Review of Uzbekistan (2nd cycle), available from http://lib.ohchr.org/HRBodies/UPR/Documents/Session16/UZ/UNCT_UPR_UZB_S16_2013_UNCT_E.pdf

[49] Ibid.

[50] U.S. Department of State, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report: Uzbekistan.