I promised to return to the subject of honour killings after posting the story of the crime of passion in Buffalo (USA). This week, the topic has become unavoidable – there have been several cases reported in the news from different parts of the world:
* In Germany, a Turkish man admitted to stabbing his 15 year old daughter because she did not follow Islamic customs. The act was seen to be premeditative, rather than a crime of passion because the teenager lay asleep when her father stabbed her several times with a kitchen knife.
* In Jammu/Kashmir, a Brahmin father poisoned and strangulated his 22 year old daughter for marrying a Dalit boy in a secret wedding. The young woman told her father of marriage when he was arranging her marriage with another man.
* In Belgium, two Pakistani brothers were arrested on suspicion of killing the wife of one of the men. Her beaten body was found in suitcase in a canal in northern France. A third brother was thought to have fled to Pakistan. The deceased was in process of filing for divorce and custody of their child prior to her murder.
* In Saudi Arabia, two sisters were shot dead by their brother after they were arrested by the religious police for fraternising with unrelated men. The two young women were shot as they were being released into their father’s custody from a women’s shelter. The Society for Defending Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia blamed the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice for sparking the brother’s anger over his family’s honour by arresting the women. The Society said “arresting women for mingling with unrelated males should be stopped because it puts many Saudi women in danger and sometimes costs them their lives.” The man will face the death penalty unless his family forgives him. If he is spared capital punishment he will still face jail time served in the name of the public right.
* In Jordan, a 29 year old man, who had killed his raped sister by shooting her 12 times in the name of honour after she returned home from a government shelter, had his sentence halved by the court. Over the past two decades, dozens of women were reportedly killed in Jordan annually in the name of defending family honour. Two such cases have been reported since Thursday in Jordan.
Now the last time this topic was raised on this blog, a frequent reader, robg, raised many questions on the penal codes of the countries where these crimes are more frequent. At the time I admitted my relative ignorance and I appealed to robg and Kimyashafinaaz to help with their esteemed knowledge. I hope that they will contribute with comments on this post. In the mean time I read up a little bit (to address my ignorance)... there were certainly interesting points I came across but I thought for the purpose of today’s post I’d stick with the contemporary – that which seems to have occurred quite recently.
Jordan has long faced protests against the penal code that favours the perpetrators of honour killings. Even the Royal Family has protested against the act but to date Parliament has been reluctant to change the law that shows leniency in these cases. Legal experts and religious leaders insist that there should be no exemption for the so-called honour crimes under the law. The government of Jordan this week said that they were taking a number of 'legal and preventive measures' to ensure a drastic drop in the number of such crimes. Currently some defendents who murder their female relatives in the name of family honour could get a minimum of six-months in prison if the court decides to invoke Article 98 of the Penal Code, which stipulates a minimum of three months and a maximum of two years in prison for a murder that is committed in a fit of fury caused by an unlawful act on the part of the victim. According to the Jordanian Minister of Social Development, Hala Latouf, the government takes honour crimes seriously, as they “contradict all religious, human and cultural values.”
Syria this week scrapped a law “limiting the length of sentences handed down to men convicted of killing female relatives” (BBC News). President Bashar al-Assad issued a decree repealing Article 548 of the Syrian Penal Code and replaces it with a more severe sentence. In Syria, it is estimated that between 200 to 300 honour killings are committed annually, although official statistics show the figures as much less. While some are hailing the repeal of the Article, some Human Rights activists are not as optimistic and believe that the change in the law is still not a strong enough deterrent. Also, Article 242 of the Syrian Penal Code still states that “those who commit crimes of passion resulting from the unacceptable or illegal actions of the victim can benefit from the excuse of mitigating circumstances.” Last year the Syrian government sponsored a national forum on honour killings that both religious figures and jurists participated in. The forum’s final recommendation was to call for religious edicts (fatawa) to be issued forbidding honour killings and forbidding those that commit such crimes from making use of Article 242. The forum further recommended a prison sentence of no less than 15 year to be imposed on perpetrators of such crimes.
It will likely take a really long time for the customs and traditions to be repealed, even if the laws are. Practise in many parts of the world, is still forgiving of crimes of passion. There is certainly a movement to protect the rights of the women who are unfairly judged by their societies and accused of bringing dishonour to their families but from some of the stories above, the shelters seem to only delay the crime, which then becomes premeditated. Education and respect for women is needed. Regardless of differing opinions on honour killings, one thing should always be borne in mind – these crimes are tragic but they have no basis in Islam (as argued in the previous post).