The situation of women in the North Caucasus is deteriorating, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to help them

Положение женщин на Северном Кавказе ухудшается, и помогать им все труднее

Societies where women’s rights are respected and protected are more successful, the UN reminds. The situation of women in the North Caucasus is deteriorating, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to help them Human rights

In Chechnya, women’s rights are violated, their role in public life is limited, and those who commit “honor crimes” remain unpunished. All this is accompanied by the reluctance or inability of the Russian federal authorities to intervene in the current situation. This was stated in her report by the independent UN expert on human rights in the Russian Federation, Mariana Katsarova. The special rapporteur also reported that serious human rights violations continue in Ingushetia.

Increasing number of violations of women’s rights in the North Caucasus

The press secretary of the crisis group SK SOS, Alexandra Mitroshkina, spoke in more detail about the situation of women in the North Caucasus in an interview with the UN News Service. We spoke with Mitroshkina as part of the ongoing “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence” campaign. This is an annual UN project that starts on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and ends on December 10, Human Rights Day.

As Mitroshkina noted, her organization specializes in helping people from the LGBTIQ+ community, but recently the group has also become involved in protecting the rights of heterosexual women, who increasingly face restrictions and persecution.

“We Indeed, we officially help LGBTIQ+ people in the North Caucasus. But it so happened that there were so many requests from women and some of them were so critical that we began to help heterosexual girls and women, simply because our colleagues from organizations specializing in helping women cannot always cope with the volume of applications and with the seriousness of the requests,” said Mitroshkina.

Women complain about restrictions on their rights and freedoms: they are not allowed to leave home unaccompanied, go where they want, study where they want, are not allowed to work, are forced into an unwanted marriage with a person they do not love, and They are forced to observe religious customs, including wearing a hijab. Most complaints come from Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan.

Helping women is becoming increasingly difficult

The main problem is not even in the increased number of applications, Mitroshkina emphasizes, and in the increased level of complexity of cases that human rights organizations have to deal with.

“Many of our colleagues from women’s human rights organizations are doing an excellent job of what they have always done – providing legal assistance, psychological support, evacuation from the region and providing shelter in another region of Russia. But the situation has worsened, and now the level of support for women in the North Caucasus that was before is no longer sufficient,” says Mitroshkina.

“Now women are often faced with the fact that they it is difficult to leave the region, they are held, controlled, and if they escape, law enforcement agencies will be involved and will do everything possible to find and return the girls. This complicates the evacuation from the region,” she adds.

According to Mitroshina, her organization regularly encountered similar cases when working in the field of evacuation of representatives of the LGBTQ+ community. “It was always difficult to evacuate them because the persecution was organized not only at the family level, but also at the level of local law enforcement agencies and authorities,” she explains.

In addition, in Russia what is now important is not only the “primary evacuation” – from the region. Very often, women cannot stay even in other regions of the Russian Federation, because they are found, kidnapped and forcibly returned to their native republics.

Mitroshkina gave an example: the case of Marina Yandieva, who ran away from home in Ingushetia, fleeing domestic violence and oppression, and her relatives blackmailed her and threatened to kill the lawyer who gave her a lift on one of the sections of the route, and his family. Relatives also tell Marina that they will file a theft report against her. Now it is very difficult for the girl to obtain any documents, including a foreign passport, and there is a possibility that she will be detained at the request of her relatives and sent back to Ingushetia.

Another high-profile case that the SK SOS organization dealt with was the case of Seda Suleymanova, who was kidnapped and forcefully returned to Chechnya. She ran away from home, settled in St. Petersburg, found a job there, started dating a young man, they were going to get married. Nothing is known about her fate after her abduction and forced return to the Chechen Republic. Moreover, as Mitroshkina noted, the federal authorities did not react to this case in any way. The St. Petersburg prosecutor’s office began an investigation in November, but so far no results have been reported.

Mitroshkina says that Seda, having already settled in St. Petersburg, hoped that she could resolve conflicts with relatives and stay in the northern capital, and, as a last resort, contact law enforcement agencies. “But, as it turned out, it was a rash decision and it was still worth evacuating her abroad,” says an employee of a human rights organization.

Honor Kills

When asked what could await a woman who was forcibly returned home, Mitroshkina replied that, unfortunately, one of the likely scenarios is the so-called “honor killing.”

“The relatives seem to be “washing away the shame” that the girl ran away and lived “inappropriately” for the family. This option is very likely. The most reliable mechanism to protect and secure a girl from such an outcome is to make the situation public, to talk publicly about what happened. In this case, perhaps the relatives will not kill the girl,” says an employee of a human rights organization.

“If the girl is not killed, then she is closely monitored so that she does not run away again, and she is punished for her “wrong behavior” and escape. In our practice, I don’t know of a single case where a girl’s position in the family became significantly better after returning, because the relatives realized that they were wrong and decided to change their behavior,” adds Mitroshkina.

She explains that honor killings are an everyday reality for women in the North Caucasus. Even if there is no violence in their family and honor killings are not practiced, such killings are still considered the norm in society. Residents of the North Caucasus republics regularly hear that some girl was killed by her relatives because she did or said something “wrong.” Moreover, in such cases they say that the relatives “did the right thing” and that the fault for what happened lies with the woman.

“On the other hand, if a girl lives in a relatively progressive family and in some big city like Makhachkala, for example, then there is a chance that this reality does not affect her much. Because it cannot be said unequivocally that in the North Caucasus there is some kind of general set of traditions that can be applied to any family. There are families that are practically no different from the same families in Moscow or St. Petersburg,” says Mitroshkina.

Nowhere to run

Until 2022, women from the North Kazazian republics often filed complaints with the European Court of Human Rights ( ECHR). However, now, after Russia has left its jurisdiction, they cannot count on help from this authority.

“From the point of view of international law, women can only count on the provision of some kind of asylum or humanitarian documents in European countries. This is a rather complicated process, because, unfortunately, the problems of the women’s issue in the North Caucasus are not always obvious to European countries. In the eyes of European legislation, the North Caucasus is part of Russia. And in Russia in general, although women’s rights are limited, this is not critical,” says Mitroshkina.

So, in most regions of Russia, a woman facing domestic violence, even despite the absence of criminal punishment for such crimes, can still contact law enforcement agencies and receive support.

“Women in Russia are not in mortal danger in the eyes of European law. Accordingly, from the point of view of Europeans, women from the North Caucasus can pack up their things and move to Moscow, St. Petersburg, anywhere, and continue to live there, and there they will not be forced to wear a hijab, they will not be threatened with honor killing. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Regular practice shows that women from the North Caucasus are not safe in any region of Russia,” says Mitroshkina.

She explains that women can only turn to human rights activists and lawyers, go abroad and try to explain the situation to the immigration authorities of the countries in which they are seeking asylum.

The war in Ukraine and the situation in the North Caucasus

In her report, independent expert Mariana Katsarova said that the situation with human rights in Russia has deteriorated significantly since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

As Mitroshkina noted in an interview with our service, the increase in the number of complaints from residents of the North Caucasus also began after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In particular, there were much fewer cases of women being forcibly returned home before.

“This is a complex set of several factors, one of which is the invasion of Ukraine, which entailed increased repression within Russia and the provision of carte blanche for violence and lawlessness to law enforcement agencies, including regional law enforcement agencies. In essence, the federal government no longer cares what happens in the regions; local authorities and security forces are allowed to do whatever they want, simply in exchange for loyalty to the federal center,” says Mitroshkina.

“This leads to the situation in society getting worse. The relatives understand that now they can use their connections in law enforcement agencies to return the girl, and they will not suffer anything for this, since there is no reaction from either the regional or federal authorities, or any public reaction. It turns out that, unfortunately, in the regions people are gradually starting to live in a new reality, where girls and women are allowed to be treated like objects,” she adds.

*UN Special Rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to review situations in individual countries or global thematic issues. They are not employees of the UN, do not represent any other organization or government, work in a personal capacity and do not receive a salary from the UN for their work.


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