In the words of Aiman Umarova: “If violence is condemned to silence, that does not mean that it’s not in our lives”


Aiman Umarova. Photo: Yuliya Kozlova
Aiman Umarova. Photo: Yuliya Kozlova

Aiman Umarova is an acclaimed Kazakhstani lawyer and human rights activist who specializes in sexual offences against women and children, and crimes related to violent extremism and torture. Ms. Umarova is collaborating with UN Women during the 16 days of Activism against gender-based violence and providing expert support for UN Women’s projects on ending violence against women in Kazakhstan. She has dedicated her life to fight violence against women, despite facing threats of violence herself. There have been numerous attempts on her life, intimidation and anonymous slander.


The overwhelming majority of criminal cases I get are related to sexual violence. They are, largely, hard-to-prove offences against the most vulnerable—women, children, disabled people. Almost every case of gang violence is accompanied by threats towards the victim, and me. 

Why is it so? It’s because patriarchal customs and traditions are still prevalent in our society and they allow violence against women to be perceived as a norm. They also perpetuate women’s secondary position in the household, her subordination to the man in their everyday life, in professional field and in society. Such traditional views ultimately make this a taboo issue---something that’s not to be discussed or reported, and everyone prefers to ‘keep it in the house’. 

If violence is condemned to silence, that does not mean that it’s not in our lives. 

Additionally, existing laws often do not work in favour of violence survivors, even when such violence is reported.

Take for instance, Anna Anikina case—she is currently serving a sentence for having killed her spouse who had repeatedly abused her. Or the case of Dinara Chiderinova, whose husband tried to  kill her, but he managed to escape punishment for attempted murder because more lenient provisions were applied.   

When it comes to violent sexual crimes against women, which is covered by the Criminal Code of Kazakhstan, the quality of forensic investigation or medical review leave much to be desired. Things are even more complicated when the perpetrators or victims are minors, because the quality of interrogations in such cases matter a lot.

Yet, reporting these crimes is important. Sometimes, individual cases have a positive impact on law enforcement in the country. Such was the case when I represented the interests of a convicted woman who as a result of a gang rape in prison, gave birth to a child. In this case, the court convicted the prison warden not only for rape and abuse of authority, but, for the first time in our history, for “torture”, thereby [legally] recognizing the existence of “sexual torture”. 

I believe that interventions and prevention of these crimes will be more efficient if they are investigated by specially trained investigators, and if each city and district has a dedicated department to investigate crimes against women and children.

Combating violence is my way of establishing the truth and fighting for justice and helping those who need me. It is the women who rise against all odds to break the silence that inspire me to go on.”

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About Aiman Umarova: Aiman Umarova is a member of the Human Rights Expert Council under the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, and a co-founder of the organization, “Human Rights Lawyers”. In 2018, she became one of ten female awardees to be honoured with the US State Department’s International Women of Courage Award for exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, human rights, and gender equality.