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According to Human Rights Watch , “honor crimes are acts of violence, usually murder, committed by male family members against female family members who are perceived to have brought dishonor upon the family.” The misconduct in question may be actual or alleged. A woman may be targeted because she has been raped, has been seen talking to a man outside of the family, has refused to enter an arranged marriage, or even left an abusive husband. Any acts by the victim that may have brought dishonor or shame to the family can trigger attacks on the woman in question.Human Rights Watch. “Integration of the human rights of women and the gender perspective: Violence Against Women and “Honor” Crimes,” 5 April 2001. Honor killings is more prevalent in Muslim majority countries, even though the practice has been condemned by Muslim leaders who deny that religion condones the practice.
According to Devers and Bacon, “women who deviate from traditional gender roles are more likely to be subject to informal social regulations because they cross social boundaries that are deemed as taboo in their culture. Fatal forms of social controls towards women […] are the result of this subjugation”.Nevers, Lindsey and Sarah Bacon. “Interpreting Honor Crimes: The Institutional Disregard Towards Victims of Family Violence in the Middle East,” International Journal of Criminology and Sociological Theory, Vol. 3, No.1 (June 2010), pp. 359-371. Since honor is linked to one’s purity and chastity, as well as modest and traditional behaviors, the honor of the family rests on the behaviors of the family’s women. Additionally, countries that witness numerous honor killings are countries that have a tradition of female subordination. In these countries, women are seen as properties of men who deem they have the right to control women’s freedom and sexuality. As such, murdering the perpetrator is seen as a way to salvage family’s reputation.
United NationsFPA estimated that 5,000 women are murdered by family members every year in the name of honor.UNFPA State of World Population, 2000. In Pakistan , the government has estimated that 4,000 deaths of women and men between 1998 and 2003 were linked to honor killings. According to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Civil and Political Rights, killings have been reported in Bangladesh , Brazil , Ecuador , Egypt , India , Israel , Italy , Jordan , Morocco , Pakistan , Sweden , Turkey , Uganda , and the United Kingdom.United Nations. 2000. Civil and Political Rights, Including Questions of: Disappearances and Summary Executions: Report of the Special Rapporteur, Ms. Asma Jahangir. New York: Commission on Human Rights, United Nations. E/CN.4/2000/3
The extent of the problem is quite unknown as some countries’ apathy has prevented the collection of data and empirical studies. Honor crimes are underreported in many countries or classified as accidents or suicides, making the estimation of this problem almost impossible.
Honor killings take many forms, but all cases involve extreme forms of violence. A case in Egypt involves a father killing his daughter, beheading her, and parading her head shouting “I avenged my honor”.United Nations. 2000. Civil and Political Rights, Including Questions of: Disappearances and Summary Executions: Report of the Special Rapporteur, Ms. Asma Jahangir. New York: Commission on Human Rights, United Nations.E/CN.4/2000/3). The victims are often killed by family members, mostly men, who, aware that there is a slim chance they will face serious legal consequences for their actions, proudly confess their crimes. The perpetrators’ actions are supported by the community which, in some cases, treat the killing as an heroic action.
Many countries retain legislation that reduces the sentences or exempts prosecution of criminals that kill in the name of honor. According to this line of thought, lesser punishment is granted on the grounds of the victim’s provocation as a justification for the killings. As such, men often turn themselves into the police to show their family’s honor because they are confident that they will receive leniency from the judge. Ironically, instead of imprisoning perpetrators of honor crimes, some Governments “protect” women that feel threatened by confining them in prisons or custodial homes. Jordan’s penal code provides a great example of the impunity perpetrators face.
Article 340 of the 1961 Jordanian Penal Code states:
- “He benefits from an exculpatory excuse who surprise his wife or one of his female unlawful [muharim, a woman related to him by a close enough degree to preclude marriage between them] in the act of adultery with another man and kills, wounds, or injures one or both of them.”
- “The perpetrator of a killing, wounding or injury benefits from a mitigating excuse if he surprises his wife or one of his female ascendants or siblings with another in an unlawful be.”
Article 98 states: “He who commits a crime in a fit of fury resulting from a wrongful and dangerous act on the part of the victim shall benefit from a reduced penalty”.
Following outcry at Articles 340 and 98 and King Abdullah’s creation of a council charged with reviewing gender equality, the Council recommended the repeal of Article 340. The repeal measure was passed in the Parliament’s lower house in 1999 and 2000, but has failed to pass the lower house. In 2003, when parliament returned to session, ratifications were once again struck down in the lower house.Reuters Foundation. “Jordan: Special report on honor killing,” 18 April 2005.
Even after the removal of section 300(1) of the Pakistan Penal Code in 1990, which had provided mitigating circumstances for perpetrators (Culpable homicide is not murder if the offender, whilst deprived of the power of self-control by grave and sudden provocation, causes the death of the person who gave the provocation), judges still find extenuating circumstances to reduce the criminal’s sentence.Amnesty International. Pakistan: Honour Killings of Women and Girls. Furthermore, Pakistan has recently shown its tolerance of honor killings through the refusal by the Senate of Pakistan to sign a resolution condemning honor killings and the refusal by the Government of Pakistan to condemn such crimes.