NGOs call for improved protection of women at risk of domestic violence during the COVID-19 crisis (Open Letter)


Since the introduction of quarantine measures on 15 March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries across the world are facing a sharp rise in incidents of domestic violence.

In March 2020 in Kazakhstan, the horrific case of Aunagul Bekenova, whose ex-husband attacked her and slashed her face from mouth to ear in the bar where she worked, highlighted the issue and spread of domestic violence in the country, and there are fears that the state of emergency will only worsen the tensions and violence in families.

The fact that domestic violence is not a criminal offence in Kazakhstan means that the perpetrators are not punished adequately; there is no deterrent effect and a perception of impunity leads to an increase in domestic violence.

The situation is worse now because of the state of emergency. Usually, courts can issue warnings or order administrative detention for up to 10 days, but due to the shutdown court activities have been suspended or limited and the courts often prioritize cases involving violations of quarantine rules.

The restrictions on movement during the emergency situation also mean that it is impossible to conduct a forensic medical examination, or to gather evidence of domestic violence. In order to effectively combat this problem, which affects an estimated 34 % of women and 28 % of children (as victims and witnesses) in Kazakhstan, it is necessary to criminalize domestic violence and end impunity for perpetrators. This will send a strong message that domestic violence is not acceptable.

The NGO Coalition of Kazakhstan Against Torture and IPHR recommend that the government take the following immediate measures as a matter of priority:

  • guarantee a swift response to reports from victims of domestic violence from both local police officers and the 102 service;
  • inform law enforcement officers that issuing protective orders and intervention in cases of domestic violence should be treated as a priorities, along with cases related to the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • ensure the continuation of court hearings on cases of domestic violence;
  • ensure that measures are taken to allow victims of domestic violence to access timely forensic examinations when necessary;
  • provide informational support to the 150 service to ensure the public is informed about the provision of round-the-clock psychological and information support.