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Russia: Stop Forced Dress Code for Women in Chechnya

Harassment on the Rise Against Women


Russia should put an end to local rules forcing women in Chechnya to
observe an Islamic dress code, Human Rights Watch said today.

Since the start of Ramadan in mid-August, Human Rights Watch has
received numerous reports from Chechnya about women being harassed in
the streets of Grozny, the republic's capital, for not covering their
hair and/or wearing clothes deemed too revealing.

"Forcing women to wear religious or traditional clothing violates
their right to personal autonomy, and the Kremlin should end this
interference with their private life," said Tanya Lokshina, Russia
researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Chechen women, like other Russians,
should be free to choose how they dress."

In the first days of Ramadan, groups of men in traditional Islamic
dress (loose pants and tunic) claiming to represent the republic's
Islamic High Council (muftiat) started approaching women in the
center of Grozny, publicly shaming them for violating modesty laws and
handing out leaflets with detailed description of appropriate Islamic
dress for females. They instructed women to wear headscarves and to have
their skirts well below the knees and sleeves well below the elbow.

The alleged envoys from the Islamic High Council were soon joined
by aggressive young men who pulled on the women's sleeves, skirts, and
hair, touched the bare skin on their arms, accused them of being dressed
like harlots, and made other humiliating remarks and gestures. In two
cases reported to Human Rights Watch, members of the Chechen law
enforcement were among the attackers.
For several years, women in Chechnya have been the target of a
quasi-official virtue campaign. The Chechen authorities have banned
women who refuse to wear headscarves from working in the public sector.
Female students are also required to wear headscarves in schools and
universities. Though these measures have not been codified into law,
they are strictly enforced and publicly supported by the republic's
president, Ramzan Kadyrov.

In June 2010, Human Rights Watch received credible reports of
individuals, including law enforcement agents, pelting uncovered women
on the streets with paintball guns. At least one of the women had to be
hospitalized as a result. In an interview with the television station
"Grozny" on July 3, 2010, Kadyrov expressed unambiguous approval of this
lawless practice by professing his readiness to "award a commendation"
to the men engaged in these activities. He also stated that the targeted
women's behavior deserved this treatment and that they should be
ashamed to the point of "disappearing from the face of the earth."

"When a public official like Ramzan Kadyrov praises this cruel
violence, he is openly encouraging physical assault and public
humiliation of women," said Lokshina. "It's time the federal government
stood up for the rights of Chechen women."
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
guarantees people's right to freedom of religion, including stating that
"no one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his [or her]
freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his [or her]
choice." Asma Jahangir, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on
freedom of religion or belief, and her predecessor, Abdelfattah Amor,
have both criticized rules that require the wearing of religious dress
in public. Imposing Islamic dress on women is also inconsistent with
Russia's constitution, which guarantees freedom of conscience.

Human Rights Watch has criticized the governments of Germany, France and Turkey
for violating religious freedoms by banning religious symbols in
schools and denying Muslim women the right to choose to wear headscarves
in schools and universities. By the same token, women and girls should
be free not to wear religious or traditional dress.

Amor urged that dress should not be the subject of political
regulation. Jahangir has said that the "use of coercive methods and
sanctions applied to individuals who do not wish to wear religious dress
or a specific symbol seen as sanctioned by religion" indicates
"legislative and administrative actions which typically are incompatible
with international human rights law."

Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.