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Sexual Violence and Intersectionality: Demanding access to justice for women with disabilities in Kyrgyzstan

Survivors with disabilities face additional barriers when trying to access justice. In Kyrgyzstan and throughout Eurasia this is exacerbated because of insufficient protections in sexual violence laws, the stigmatization of survivors, and specific discriminatory procedures applied in cases when the victim has a disability.

We’re partnering with two Kyrgyz organizations, Ravenstvo (Union of People with Disabilities in Kyrgyzstan) and Bir Duino, to litigate a case on behalf of Sabira (not her real name), a young woman with disabilities who was raped by a family member when she was a minor. Due to her disability, Sabira faced multiple barriers in reporting, including her inability to reach the police and the lack of proactive visits from social services, so the authorities failed to uncover the continuous abuse that she suffered It was only when her brother posted a video on social media about her situation, revealing the violence perpetrated against her that her case became public. 

Like many women and girls with disabilities in Kyrgyzstan, Sabira was discriminated against on the basis of her sex and her disability and was denied her right to justice. Even though the rape investigation started in 2021, the proceedings were terminated due to a supposed lack of evidence.

Barriers to justice for survivors with disabilities in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan has burdensome and discriminatory evidentiary standards in cases of sexual violence, and this is exacerbated when the victim is disabled. For example, Kyrgyz law requires disabled survivors to have a psychological exam to assess their supposed competency in order to determine if their testimony can be considered reliable. If deemed unreliable then the survivor’s account is tossed out and the court will dismiss it. 

At the same time, law enforcement personnel often lack knowledge on how to obtain witness statements from women with disabilities and the forensic expert bureau lacks training in conducting a psychological examination of women with disabilities (particularly from women with psycho-social needs) in line with human rights standards. This, together with common stereotypical prejudices at the intersection of disability and gender throughout the process (for example, discriminatory perceptions that women with disabilities are prone to lying or cannot comprehend what happened to them), and a lack of communication with the survivor about her rights, means the system often fails to take cases forward and so, even with respect to the cases that are reported, perpetrators can commit sexual violence against women with disabilities with impunity. In addition, survivors with disabilities aren’t guaranteed reasonable accommodation, including the proper services that would enable them to navigate the criminal justice system with the level of respect and accessibility that every person is entitled to.  

As stated by our partner Gulmira Kazakunova and Director of Ravenstvo, 

“The legislation of Kyrgyzstan lacks the acceptance of the fact 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 monitor the process of including the principle of non-discrimination in all legislative acts, regulations, and policies that form the legislation of Kyrgyzstan, as well as implement measures to combat discrimination against women with disabilities. All women in Kyrgyzstan must be protected by the national authorities.” 

Appealing based on international standards: Sabira’s case is reopened

An appeal to reinstate the investigation into Sabira’s case was initially rejected. After a further appeal based on international standards by a Bir Duino lawyer litigating the case in partnership with Equality Now, the investigation has just finally been re-opened by the Prosecutor General. We hope this will result in the perpetrator being brought to justice and allow for broader lessons to be learned in the treatment of women with disabilities who are victims of sexual violence.

Kyrgyzstan’s sexual violence laws require improvement 

Despite reforms to Kyrgyzstan’s Criminal Code made in January 2019, the law still provides an inadequate and limited definition of sexual violence crimes and allows many coerced and non-consensual acts of a sexual nature to go unpunished. The lack of mandatory/public (ex officio) prosecution for sexual violence and allowing impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence if they have ‘reconciled’ with the victim also deny justice to survivors and are contrary to international human rights standards.

The Government of Kyrgyzstan needs to improve the implementation of its sexual violence laws 

In order to be in compliance with international human rights law and ensure access to justice for ALL survivors, the Government of Kyrgyzstan must: 

  • Amend criminal legislation so that it defines sexual violence in accordance with international human rights standards, ensures public prosecution for all acts of sexual violence, and removes loopholes that permit perpetrators to evade punishment;
  • Institute and properly fund country-wide campaigns that fight harmful beliefs and stereotypes in relation to persons with disabilities;
  • Develop strong procedural rules and practices, including in relation to forensic psychological and psychiatric examinations, that focus on getting justice without prejudice and meet international human rights standards;
  • Train police, judges, medical personnel, social workers, and all others in the criminal justice process in gender-based violence, sexual violence and disability, and intersecting vulnerabilities;
  • Ensure women with disabilities have access to victim support services which provide facilities for medical, vocational, and social rehabilitation.  

Learn more about the importance of intersectionality in the work to end sexual violence

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