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What does Uzbekistan’s National Human Rights Strategy mean for women’s rights?

An aerial shot of a urban center in Uzbekistan

In June 2020, Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev approved a National Human Rights Strategy, aimed at improving the country’s efforts to protect and promote the human rights of its citizens. What will this mean for women’s rights in the country? 

Where does Uzbekistan stand on women’s rights, particularly protecting and promoting the right to live free from violence? 

Several laws have been adopted in Uzbekistan in recent years aimed at ensuring gender equality and protecting women from violence. The laws  “On protecting women from oppression and violence” and “On guarantees of equal rights and opportunities for women and men” were adopted in 2019. Hundreds of shelters have been opened throughout the country to protect women fleeing from violence, although more needs to be done to resource these and develop a full protective program for those fleeing domestic violence.  Also, Uzbekistan is yet to take significant steps to ensure substantive equality and effective prevention and protection from all forms of gender-based violence.

Our 2019 Roadblocks to Justice report highlighted several concerns with Uzbekistan’s laws and practices, related to rape and other forms of sexual violence, which are effectively denying access to justice for survivors of sexual violence in the country. For example, despite recent efforts to protect women’s rights and combat gender-based violence, Uzbekistan’s legal system continues to provide opportunities for perpetrators to escape criminal liability or punishment, including through: 

  • definitions of sexual violence crimes,
  • allowing the direct release of a perpetrator from liability or punishment in certain circumstances,
  • the way that sexual violence crimes are investigated and prosecuted;
  • failure to ensure ex officio (public prosecution) for sexual violence crimes

Since the release of the Report Equality Now has submitted alternative reports to international human rights bodies on Uzbekistan’s laws and practices relating to sexual violence, identifying the areas for improvement to meet international human rights standards. 

So what does the National Human Rights Strategy say? 

The Strategy outlines measures aimed at protecting women’s rights, such as:

  • the development of proposals on ensuring gender equality and preventing violence in all spheres of public life;
  • the development of the Gender Equality Strategy of Uzbekistan for 2021 – 2025; 
  • the development of a National Plan of Action for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution No. 1325 (“Women, Peace and Security”); 
  • expanding women’s support programs for the realization of their rights and interests in the socio-economic sphere, the widespread use of modern technologies, including information and communication to empower women; 
  • ensuring full compliance with international standards of mechanisms and the legal framework for protecting women from domestic violence; 
  • raising public awareness of gender equality; 
  • and implementation of effective measures to ensure gender equality in all spheres of public life, especially in political activities and decision-making.

The Strategy does not include any specific measures to address sexual violence. 

There are several measures referenced in the Strategy that need to be examined further. For example, according to the Strategy, more than 200 innovative schools for preparing young people for family life were opened. These schools must not become a tool to reinforce traditional patriarchal gender roles in the family, rather they should promote equality in the family. 

What steps does Uzbekistan need to take to meet international standards when it comes to ending sexual violence?

Equality Now’s recent submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on Uzbekistan made the following recommendations:  

  • Amend the definition of rape and other forms of sexual violence to focus solely on the absence of voluntary consent, given as the result of the person’s free will assessed in the context of the surrounding circumstances.
  • Ensure that all crimes of sexual violence provide penalties that are commensurate with their gravity. Remove “community service”, “correctional labor” and conditional sentences as forms of punishment for sexual violence and put in place deterrent prison sentences.
  • Explicitly criminalize rape in marriage and intimate partner relationships as a separate article in the Criminal Code of Uzbekistan, or as an aggravating circumstance within the existing sexual violence articles.
  • Ensure that the Criminal Procedure Code of Uzbekistan provides that all sexual violence crimes are investigated/prosecuted ex officio (public prosecution) by the State and that the investigation/prosecution does not depend on the complaint of the victim or their legal representative.
  • Ensure that the reconciliation procedures are not applied, either formally or informally, to leave perpetrators of sexual violence unpunished.

The Government of Uzbekistan is accountable for upholding human rights and the adoption of the Human Rights Strategy is a breakthrough move for human rights in the country, indicating a willingness to uphold human rights standards. We look forward to this being turned into more concrete progress moving forward.