The following is the second of two-part series, outlining the history and current practice of "bride kidnapping," a serious human rights violation against women in Kyrgyzstan. [Click Here to Read Part I]
Part two of this series provides a systematic investigation of relevant international conventions, protocols, and covenants that Kyrgyzstan has signed in relation to bride kidnapping. The objective is to isolate the size and scope of international human rights law that protects women from kidnapping. The term "bride kidnapping," when used in this article, refers only to a non-mutual type of marriage.
It is hoped that this article may encourage the government of Kyrgyzstan to fulfill its international commitments vis a vis women's human rights. This may also be useful for local and international NGOs, local courts, lawyers, and judges, and international donor agencies in promoting human, social, legal, and judicial development.
International Legal Tools to Combat Bride Kidnapping
1) The United Nations Charter, which Kyrgyzstan ratified on 2 March 1992, particularly the Preamble, Article 1, Article 55, and Article 56.
By signing the UN Charter Kyrgyzstan agreed to promote and encourage human rights and freedom without distinction to sex. Kyrgyzstan, i.e., President Akaev's government, by not fostering a legal and social culture that discourages bride kidnapping, is not upholding its obligation as a Member to the UN. Paragraph 3 of Article 1 of the UN Charter is violated, as bride kidnapping does not encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedom. Article 55 and Article 56 are both violated throughout because well being is not promoted when women are subject to violent thief of body, rape, and loss of freedom and dignity.
Equal rights of women cannot occur when kidnapping is allowed, and is effectively ratified by local Aksakal courts of elders, along with President Akaev full knowledge, consent, and approval. Aksakal Courts literally translates as White Beard Court. These local community "courts" consist of the oldest men in the village who make decisions, as if an elected town council. They also have the power to judge on moral and family decisions that may be in dispute. There have frequently been alleged cases in Kyrgyzstan where girls/women who escaped kidnapping were rumored to be sentenced to stoning, not to death, by the villagers as punishment for violating local custom. President Akaev has publicly supported the role of Aksakal Courts and has reinforced their importance to Kyrygz society. This was done most publicly in Akaev's speech to members of Aksakal Courts, which can be found in Utro Bishkeka, 8 May (1999).
2) The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, particularly, Article 3, Article 4, and Article 5, Article 9, Article 12 and Article 16.
Articles 3, 4, 5, 9, and 12 are in disregard in that liberty and security of a person are not respected by kidnapping. Less obvious is that kidnapping in these instances is a form of slavery. Slaves are defined as a people who are captured, forcibly removed from their natural environment, and compelled, through threat of violence and/or loss of life, to work for free, in servitude.
Article 16 holds particular relevance in that it deals excessively with marriage. Under the coerced circumstance of bride kidnapping, women do not hold equal rights within this "marriage", during marriage, and/or its dissolution. Nor do the women who are kidnapped enter marriage with free and full consent. Bride kidnapping thus violates the spirit of marriage and the sanctity and dignity of the family unit.
3) The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [hereinafter ICCPR], which was ratified by Kyrgyzstan 7 Oct 1994, particularly Article 2, Article 7, Article 8, Article 9, Article17, and Article 23.
Article 2 is critical tool for eradicating kidnapping and establishing Kyrgyzstan's responsibility as a state party to the UN Charter. Article 2 clearly establishes that all citizens in Kyrgyzstan are to be afforded the rights in the ICCPR and that the legal structure of Kyrgyzstan shall be cultivated to provided effective remedy for enforcement and protection of these human rights. Moreover, Kyrgyzstan has committed to providing a competent judicial, administrative, and legislative bodies to promote judicial remedy. To date, Kyrgyzstan has not fulfilled its pledged commitments.
A number of ICCPR articles explicitly reinforce the Universal Declaration of Human Rights' (UDHR) standard of behavior. Article 7 and Article 8 of the ICCPR respectively reiterate sentiments of Article 5 and Article 4 of the UDHR. ICCPR's Article 17 reinforces Article 12 of UDHR. Article 23 of the ICCPR reinforces Article 16 of the UDHR. ICCPR's Article 9 is particularly relevant in that restates Article 9 of the UDHR and brings more detail to the idea that kidnapping can be considered a deprivation of liberty by arrest and detention, particularly when the Aksakal Courts sanctify kidnapping as legitimate. Indeed, Paragraph 5 provides the legal ground for a woman to sue for compensation when subject to arbitrary arrest and detention as a "wife" without her consent. Paragraph 5 also allows her to gain financial compensation for damage done to her honor, dignity, and loss of freedom.
4) The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights [hereinafter ICESCR], which Kyrgyzstan ratified on 7 Oct 1994, particularly in Article 10, Paragraph 1.
Article 10, Paragraph 1 commits Kyrgyzstan to taking steps to ensure that marriage is entered into with the free consent of both intending spouses. Without the free intent and consent marriage is not marriage. It is slavery. By not according the widest protection for human rights within and among family members and units, Kyrgyzstan is not only violating their own international legal commitments but also retarding the future growth, development, and progress of Kyrgyzstan as a whole.
5) The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. [hereinafter CEDAW], which Kyrgyzstan ratified on 10 February 1997, in Article 16 in its entirety
Although Kyrgyzstan has ratified CEDAW nothing has been done to promote a culture, social and legal atmosphere that provides for free and equal rights entering marriage. Nor has effort been made to establish equality within marriage, or at its dissolution. Moreover, many of these women kidnapped may be still girls or children.
The tradition of "bride kidnapping" has been revived in a manner that is often harmful to women, and to the Kyrygz community as a whole. Kidnapping is a clear violation of women's rights, and it ultimately contributes to a downward spiral of society in general, as is evident in a number of health indicators, including decreasing life expectancy, increasing child mortality and increasing instances of suicide. It is also evident in growing cultural desperation, as documented in "Transition 1999 - Human Development Report for Central and Eastern Europe and the CIS," (http://www.undp.org/rbec/pubs/hdr99/foreword.pdf).
Until the Kyrgyz government takes substantive steps to eradicate bride kidnapping, it is likely that Kyrgyzstan will encounter difficulty in improving living standards. It is well documented that women comprise a vital element in economic development. Women cannot actively contribute and participate in the development of Kyrgyzstan if a large number of the female population is under constant fear of kidnapping. In sum, kidnapping is not a forward seeking or healthy means for Kyrgyzstan to reassert a strong, modern international identity.
L.M.Handrahan is director of The Finvola Group, a human rights and gender consultancy and is completing her dissertation, "Understanding Implications and Impacts of Gendered Ethnicity in Consolidating Democracy: The Case Study of Central Asias Kyrgyzstan," at the Gender Institute of The London School of Economics and Political Science. L.M.Handrahan has spent two years living and working on human rights and gender issues in Kyrgyzstan. The author can be reached at L.M.Handrahan@lse.ac.uk for questions or comments.