Kyrgyzstan: Sexual and gender-based violence

The Uzbek and Kyrgyz communities in southern Kyrgyzstan are both predominantly Sunni Muslim and traditionally are more conservative than people living in other areas of Kyrgyzstan. As a result, both communities collectively react to sexual and gender-based violence with particular anger, while victims of such attacks often feel intense shame and may experience stigma from within their own communities. In this context, during the violence that occurred in southern Kyrgyzstan in June, corroborated cases of sexual assault, (as well as rumours that such attacks had taken place subsequently discovered to be unfounded), provoked violent responses on both sides, and were used as justification for revenge attacks. Sexual assaults continued to be reported by human rights activists into December, primarily involving Kyrgyz men assaulting Uzbek women.

Soon after the conflict erupted on the night of 11 June 2010, rumours began to spread among ethnic Kyrgyz that an Uzbek mob in central Osh had raped and killed female Kyrgyz students in a university dormitory. These allegations were subsequently investigated by human rights activists and found to be untrue. However, the rumours spread quickly around the girls’ home villages in southern Kyrgyzstan, and led to thousands of Kyrgyz men descending on the city from these villages to free the hostages and take revenge.

At the peak of the ethnic violence in Osh on 11–14 June, both sides reported sexual assault being used as an instrument of the conflict by the other ethnic group. Websites were quickly set up by supporters of both sides which documented some cases of sexual and gender-based violence in gruesome detail.

There were many reports of sexual assaults that took place during the destruction of ethnic Uzbek areas. An Uzbek human rights activist reported meeting at least 50 victims of sexual assault in a refugee camp in Uzbekistan after the June events. But overall, it is impossible – for several reasons – to quantify the scale of gender-based violence during the conflict. Cultural and social norms make it very difficult for women to report attacks as to do so entails bringing shame and dishonour on their families. In addition, there have been reports of anonymous warnings to victims to prevent them from reporting incidents. Finally, many victims were sent abroad to Russia or Uzbekistan to escape from the violence, or were killed after the assaults.

A gender-based violence assessment report produced by UNIFEM in August 2010 indicates that while both communities generally felt insecure after the violence, there were particular concerns among Uzbek women survivors. They were afraid of repeated sexual or physical violence against themselves or their children, and thus severely limited their own movements in the city. In addition, access for victims to almost all services has been very limited, including psychosocial counselling, legal advice and education. Some ethnic Uzbek service providers have been sacked from their jobs, while others have left the country. Therefore, many ethnic Uzbek victims have relied on support from international organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Even in women’s crisis centres which are sympathetic to Uzbek victims, some sources have reported that hostility among ethnic Kyrgyz clients can make residential support for ethnic Uzbeks impossible.

Sexual and gender-based violence against Uzbek women has reportedly continued in southern Kyrgyzstan throughout the year. In December, local human rights groups registered with the authorities seven instances of kidnap and rape between October and December. Women were reportedly tortured, made to drink a medicine, beaten and held in captivity for several days, before being left near their houses. The cases continue to make many female Uzbek school students scared to leave their homes because of fear of assault. There has also been a rise in early marriage among Uzbek girls since June, including some girls younger than 16. Their parents are looking for others to take responsibility for their daughters’ security.

The justice system has so far proved ineffective at prosecuting the perpetrators of gender-based violence against Uzbek women. However, on 8 December, six ethnic Uzbeks were jailed for the rape and murder of a Kyrgyz woman on 12 June. While both Uzbeks and Kyrgyz were implicated in the June violence, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International have raised concerns about the disproportionate targeting of suspected Uzbeks for arrest and prosecution.

This text was previously published in the 2011 State of the World Minorities and Indigenous Peoples report. The whole publication can be downloaded here.

Photo: Children in a damaged mahallah or Uzbek neighborhood in southern Kyrgyzstan - an area affected by inter-ethnic violence in 2010. Credit: Sofia Skrypnyk.

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Date: 28/11/2012




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