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Women and Girls with Disabilities in Kyrgyzstan Face a Higher Risk of Sexual Violence and Lack of Access to Justice

KYRGYZSTAN, Bishkek, May 29, 2023  – Deficiencies in the legal system and state social policy, including closed residential institutions, strongly affect access to support and justice in case of sexual violence for women and girls with disabilities finds a new report, Sexual Violence and Disability in Kyrgyzstan: Law, Policy, Practice and Access to Justice released jointly by Kyrgyzstan NGOs Union of Persons with Disabilities Ravenstvo (Equality) and Bir Duino Human Rights Movement, and international women’s rights organization Equality Now.  

The report examines significant legislative and other barriers to justice in Kyrgyzstan for women and girls with disabilities who are survivors of sexual violence. Recommendations to the government of Kyrgyzstan align with its international human rights obligations to overcome these barriers and ensure that women and girls with disabilities are adequately supported and protected.

What is the scale of violations? 

Even where a general case of sexual violence is opened, this often does not result in the perpetrator being brought to justice. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, of the 604 cases of sexual violence registered in 2021, more than half (53%) were closed based on “the absence of a legally defined crime.” According to the figures provided by the General Prosecutor’s Office about rape in 2021, out of 632 cases, 75% were closed, 21% were brought before the courts, and 4% were pending/remained in progress.

How many of these cases relate to women and girls with disabilities is unknown as such information is not officially recorded.  

Official statistics state there are 203,000 individuals with disabilities in Kyrgyzstan, of whom 40% are women and girls.  Gender-based violence against women remains widespread in Kyrgyzstan, including violence against women and girls with disabilities. The actual scale of the problem is unknown, but according to ‘We Decide,’ a UNFPA-led initiative, in the world, between 40 and 68 percent of girls with disabilities experience sexual violence before the age of eighteen, including by family, intimate partners, caregivers, and institutional facilities.

Kyrgyzstan ratified eight core international human rights instruments, which, together with the national legislation of Kyrgyzstan, impose obligations with respect to addressing sexual violence  against women with disabilities. But urgent measures are needed to build further progress, particularly connected to barriers in legislation, criminal justice processes, state social policy, discriminatory attitudes in society and “uyat”, the culture of shame.

“Persons with intellectual disabilities are among the most vulnerable. In most cases, women with disabilities are repeatedly abused. The abuser feels impunity and takes advantage of the women’s vulnerable situation.” 

“Often, women with disabilities cannot report violence committed against them due to their isolation, lack of knowledge of their rights, lack of access to help, and dependence. Unfortunately, in many cases, it is the caregivers or relatives themselves who are the abusers and they’re seldom brought to justice“, explains Lira Ismailova, Head of Human Rights at Movement Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan.

Two survivors of sexual violence with disabilities from the three case studies in the report were abused by their relatives and encountered numerous difficulties accessing justice. 

Legislative barriers to the justice 

Kyrgyzstan maintains discriminatory evidentiary standards and a limited definition of rape based on the use of force, threats and abusing helplessness. In the overwhelming majority of cases, sexual violence crimes are prosecuted only when physical injuries on the victim’s body are found, as well as biological materials associated with a sexual act. 

If a forensic examination does not identify injuries on a victim’s body or signs of violence (including, for example, if a long time has passed since the abuse was committed), the victim’s testimony, especially if she has an intellectual disability, may not be believed. 

Kyrgyz law requires that people with disabilities who are victims of sexual violence undergo a psychological assessment to assess their capacity to give testimony –  a practice falling behind human rights standards, often leading to the dismissal of cases and impunity of perpetrators. 

“The legislation of Kyrgyzstan lacks the recognition that women with disabilities are subject to double discrimination, as well as the concept of direct and indirect discrimination, based on disability and gender. There is a need for an appropriate competent body

(or committee) which will ensure the principle of non-discrimination is integrated into all legislative acts”, underlines Gulmira Kazakunova, director of the Union of Persons with Disabilities Ravenstvo.

Closed residential institutions as an additional risk of sexual violence

Residential institutions and closed hospitals are places with a higher risk of violence against women and girls with disabilities. Local experts suggest that women in these facilities are vulnerable to sexual violence committed by various individuals, including the staff and other  providing services.

As there are no confidential complaint mechanisms, cell phones are explicitly forbidden, and patients can make calls only in the presence of caregivers, it creates a high risk that abuse can occur with impunity.

The Kyrgyz Coalition against Torture report in 2013 noted that “the main ‘care’ for people with intellectual disabilities is still to place them in psycho-neurological residential institutions, which have all the hallmarks of places of detention and unacceptable conditions of confinement. Often, they remain there for life, without any medical justification, and are subjected to inhuman treatment, including exploitation”.

The authors of this new report make recommendations to the authorities in Kyrgyzstan, considering its international and national human rights commitments, including among others:  

  • to amend the definition of rape and put in place victim-centered guidelines on how consent should be understood, including in relation to survivors with disabilities;
  • to provide all survivors with the necessary support to access justice 
  • to put in place a  system of proactive detection of violence and abuse; 
  • to remove burdensome evidentiary standards to prove rape;
  • to collect administrative data on sexual violence cases disaggregated by sex, age and disability of the victims;
  • to train law enforcement officers; 
  • to change the statute of limitations for sexual crimes; and
  • to conduct campaigns to debunk myths about rape and stereotypes about people with disabilities.

“Kyrgyzstan has taken specific steps to ensure equal access to justice for persons with disabilities. However, we see from the report findings that there is still a long way to go – the engagement between the state authorities in addressing sexual violence against women and girls with disabilities needs to be improved.”

“There are a lot of challenges with the system of prevention, hindering access to justice for women and girls with disabilities. However, it is inspiring to see political will to change the situation,” concludes Janette Akhilgova, Russia and Central Asia Consultant of Equality Now and the report’s co-author.