What is honour killing?

Every year, hundereds of women are killed in the name of honour by their family members because they have brought shame to the family and the community.

Honour killing is defined murdering a member of the family in the name of honour, it is usually the female who is murdered for bringing shame to the family. In rare cases, men are also murdered if they bring dishonour to their family or community.

It is believed that honour killing is a private family affair and it should remain between the four walls of the house, no accurate statistics are available on this social evil. It should be noted that honour killing is a gender-neutral concept but overwhelming majority victims are women.

The only fundamental difference is that the male accussed of dishonouring might be given a chance to explain his situation before the triabl leaders and can escape the death penalty by giving compensation to the family who has been ‘dishonoured’. Women are rarely given oppurtunaties to explain their side of the story and the only possible way to restore the honour is by killing the women who has brought shame to the family.

Where does it take place?

Pakistan consists of four provinces known as Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab and North West Frontier Province(NWFP). The menance known as honour killing frequently all four provinces of Pakistan. In Sindh, the practise of honour killing is known as “Karo Kari”, meaning ‘black female’ and ‘black male’. In Balochistan it is known Siahkal. The majority of the honour killings take place in rural areas, however, there have been some reported incidents of honour killings in urban cities of Pakistan such as Karachi and Lahore.

How can one be dishonoured?

Honour killings for a choosing a marriage partner

According to the article 16 of Universal Declaration of human rights, both men and women of full age, irrespective race, religion and nationality can enter into marriage with any partner of their choice. It is our fundamental to marry a partner of our choice, however in Pakistan, women are not encouraged to have this right because women are seen as personal property of a man, therefore women should exercise their right.

Women are seen as commodity owned and controlled by their fathers, husbands and brothers. Women are not suppose to express any desires and feelings contrary to the wishes of their fathers, husbands, and brothers.

Traiditionally women are not allowed to choose their partners for marriage. The head of the family, usually the father, chooses the groom. the bride does not have any say in the process and any defiance against the process is considered a taboo.

Women who have been succesful in marrying partners of their choice are often threatened by their father that charges of zina(unlawful sexual relations) would be brought against them. Under the islamic law of marriage, the wali(the closest male adult relative) has the responsibilty and authority with respect to marriage, the wali is usually the father and if it can be proved that the father did not give consent to the marriage then it will be considered invalid, if marriage is invalid then any sexual relations which took place between the man and the women would amount to zina. Most of the time, family members take matters into their own hands instead of going to court. A women who married a man of her choice was murdered outside Peshawar court by her brother in the name of honour.

Women seeking divorce

The article 16 of Universal declaration of human rights states that men and woman should have equal rights regarding dissolution of marriage. Under Islamic marriage law, a man is allowed to divorce his wife anytime, the divorce can be given verbally but a women cannot divorce her husband, she can apply for Khula(Separation) in the court of law. Divorce is seen as a very serious problem in the muslim world and muslim women are enouraged to avoid divorce at any cost, even if it means by putting up with a severely abusive husband.

In 1999, Saima Sarwar was shot dead in a lawyers office because she attempted to obtain divorce from her husband severely abusive husband. The killing was instructed by her uncle but he was soon released Qisas and Diyat laws which states that the person(s) involved in killing will go free if he is pardoned by the Wali of the victim.Her uncle went unpunised as he was pardoned by her husbad and father in the capacity of Wali. It should be noted that Saima Sarwar belonged to a upper-class prominent family, her father is a entrepenuer and the mother is a doctor, this case shows the social evil in question is a cause of concern for both rural and urban population.

The local newspapers in the region overwhemingly supported the killing, arguing that it was accordance to the tradition and therefore it cannot be a crime.

Honour killings for rape

A woman brings shame to the family if she becomes a victim of rape. In 1999, a 16 year old mentally-retarded girl was raped on many occasions by junior clerk of the local government department of agriculture in hotel in Parachinar, NWFP. The uncle of the girl lodged a complain, the accussed was taken into protective custody and the girl was handed to her tribe. The Jirga(tribal court) decided that she has brought shame to her tribe and the honour can only be restored by killing her. She was shot dead in front of tribal gathering.

Get rich quick scheme?

"Ratio of honor killings is higher in those provinces where agriculture lands are abundant. Land is the main reason behind a majority of honor killing incidents in Sindh and Punjab."

In overwhelming majority of cases, there is always a ulterior motive such as lust for money, land, lust for another women or to conceal other crimes.

Many individuals exploit the concept of honour killing for gaining compensation or land. If both accused of karo kari are murdered then the matter usually ends but if only kari is killed and karo escapes, the karo has to compensate the affected man by giving him money, land or another women.

Nafisa Shah, a leading human rights activist describes honour killing as industry which has range of stakeholders including tribes people, police administration and tribal mediators, honour killing is used as an excuse to hide sins and gain money. Police accept bribes of about 7000 rupees(equivalent to £70) for not investigating claims of honour killing.

The International Law

International human rights law recognises “honour crimes” as a form violence against women, therefore it is a direct violation women’s right to life and security; freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; and the right to equality before the law and equal protection of the law.

Honor crimes" also violate rights guaranteed to women by the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), such as the right to freely choose one’s spouse and the right to equality in marriage. CEDAW’s General Recommendation Number 19 defines gender-based violence as a form of discrimination against women and makes explicit reference to "honor crimes." CEDAW obligates States to protect women from gender-based violence, including violence committed by family members and to prevent, investigate, and punish acts of violence against women.

The Convention also requires States to disqualify "honor" as a legal defense for acts of violence against women. The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women echoes these obligations and states that, "States should condemn violence against women and should not invoke any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination" (Article 4).

International human rights law is enforced through the state and by way of treaties. A state becoming the party to a international treaty will be bound by th treaty and it is the state’s responsibility and duty to protect the rights of the citizens. Pakistan is a party to a “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women”, the treaty has been ratified and as a result of that, the Pakistani government ammended the Criminal Act 2004 which makes “Honour killing” a punishable offence.

Apart from making the ammendment to Criminal Act 2004, Pakistan has taken several other intitaves to curb honour killings and domestic violence against women:

Establishment of Gender Crime Cell

Gender Crime Cell was established in National Bureau on 1st April 2006 to curb violence against women. The function of the Cell is to gather, collate and analyse data on cases of violence against women. The cell will act as central repository of relevant data on cases of violence against women and it will assist top-policy makers in developing holistic and effective policy countermeasures to control the social evil volence against women.

Gender and Human Rights Sensitization

To sensitize the police and to further improve law enforcement response to human rights situations, a comprehensive program has been included in the cirruculum of police training schools, police training colleges and national police academy.

Cooperation/Collaboration with NGOs/ Civil society

National Police Bureau has welcomed visits from NGOs who monitored severall police stations across the country, the main aim was to look into the business procedures, handling of public complaints against police, infra-structure, and facilities in lock-up of the stations.

According to the Government of Pakistan, all these measures will help directly or indirectly contribute against curbing crimes against women.

After reading the responses submitted to UN by the Government of Pakistan regarding the issues relating to violence against women, one would get the impression that Pakistan is trying to tackle the problem, some measures have been to curb the problem mentioned but the measures taken are not adequate enough to protect women, controversial laws such as Qisas still exist which are often exploited by murderers.

Qisas Law

Qisas law is relates to offences involving bodily injury or loss of life. The aim of the Qisas law is to put the victim’s family in control, ir is up to the family members of the victim to decide whether to bring an action against the murderer or pardon the murderer. Under the law, murdering a family member virtually carries no punishment as the other family members have the right to pardon the killer. In June 2002, Zakir killed 18- year Sabiha on suspicion that she had become pregnant, Zakir was pardoned by uncle of Sabiha, therefore his crime went unpunished.

In a situation like such as this, courts and law enforcement agencies cannot take further action if the pardon is granted by the family member of the victim. n 90 percent cases of honor killings, the culprits are close relatives and therefore they are easily forgiven by the family of the deceased, in order successfully tackle this social evil, Qisas and Diyat Ordinance should not be in practise at all as it allows murderers to walk away free.

It is evident that more needs to be done to tacke the menance known as honour killing, but the question what can the further steps can UN take to ensure that Pakistani Government makes further ammendments to the law to ensure that no murderers goes unpunished?

The role of United Nations

The human rights machinery in the UN systems works in three areas: information, analyis and policy development; provision of support to human rights bodies and organs; and promotion and protection of human rights. In order for this machinery to be successful, the UN has developed human rights institutions at the country level. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights(OHCHR) assigns human rights advisers to country teams and their aim is to advance human rights through legislative, judicial and other enforcement mechanisms.

The UN has created commitees to oversee implementation of implementation human rights but the commitees have a limited power to investigate or monitor violations of human rights. The UN machinery is merely way of recording information. If a state fails to comply with demands of UN then procedures usually range from coaxing to naming and shaming, it is very rare that sanctions are imposed for human rights violations because of the undesirable consequences.

UN is also having monetary problem, many of the major member states have refused to pay their assesed share of costs, the guaranteed budget of OHCHR has fallen less than half.

United nations is not effective in curbing human rights violations, it has no other to make sure that the human rights are not violated, they do not have effective mechanisms to make sure that human rights are enforced and they do not have the necessary resources. Simply by signing and ratifying a treaty does not ensure that the State will carry their duties and protect human rights. The only serious measure which the UN can take is impose sanctions. It is possible to impose sanctions solely on the basis of human rights, imposing sanctions for breaches of human rights is rare.

Should the UN impose sanctions to pressurize the Government?

UN can impose sanctions such as diplomatic isolation , restrictions on international travel, trade and financial transactions. Sanctions is regarded a tool created to ensure that States comply with demands of UN. Imposing may seem as attractive option but it can discredited on the basis of its harsh consequences on the citizens of the state. Sanctions have a bad history as they inflict undeniable pain on the citizens which the UN is trying to protect. If UN was to impose trade and financial sanctions to pressurise Pakistan to do more to curb honour killlings, then it is highly unlikely the sanction will work because Pakistan already a poor country, 17% of the population lives under $1 a day.

Pakistan economy nearly went bankrupt as a result of sanctions imposed by UN for carrying out nuclear tests. Economic sanctions means that the Pakistan economy will suffer and therefore the people of Pakistan will suffer, the overall level of poverty will increase and it is likely that honour killings will increase as well because honour killings are often carried to gain compensation or land. Sanctions will have a counter-productive effect on Pakistan, therefore it should be avoided.

The role of NGOs

Traditionally NGOs are considered to be more effective than United Nations, in the sense that they are better at monitoring than UN. NGOs tend to focus on one issue at a time compared to UN which focuses and many issues at a time, thus there is overload of work within the UN, therefore the procedure of monitoring is not effective. NGOs do not have any authority, it can pressurise Government by way of protest, NGOs can run aware campaigns and provide support and counciling services to the victims.

NGOs cannot directlty enforce human rights, for human rights to be enforced, NGOs rely on courts, there are still loopholes in the law which favour the murderer, unless the loopholes are closed, the NGOs will not be effective. Majority of ‘honour killings’ take place in remote areas such as NWFP due to poor infrastructure, as a result of poor infrastructure, it can be very difficult for NGOs to monitor remote areas of Pakistan.

According to Khawar Mumtaz, a leading human rights activist said there were many as eight NGOs working in the NWFP and for betterment of women. The organisations were targeted by religious extremists, the houses of workers and directors were destroyed. The NGOs had to close their operations and flee from NWFP because of security concerns.

Who else can help?

Apart from the United Nations and NGOs, countries such as United Kingdom can help to tackle problems such as ‘honour killings’ in Pakistan by giving them aid, which then can be used to improve the situation of human rights in Pakistan. The United Kingdom donated £2m in 2006 to set up a gender and justice protection fund, the main aim of the fund is to curb violence against women. Many critics argue that the aid which is given is not always spent on protection of human rights due to high levels of corruption within the the Government.

How can we fight this social evil?

Legal measures

The Government of Pakistan must repeal the Qisas law as it provides a loophole for murderers to exploit, the fight against the menance cannot be won unless Pakistani Government makes further ammendments to law.

Adopt a legislation which would criminalise all forms of domestic violence, The UN has developed a framework for a model legislation which can be adopted.

Honour killing should be treated as a crime against the state and Preventive measures

Run campaigns to inform citizens of their human rights througout the country. Currently Ministry of Law, Justice and Human Rights is running a human rights mass awareness campaign throughout the country. The campaign is approached through print and electronic media, the campaign is delivered in the form of jingles, talk shows, commercials, slogans and promotional material in the Newspapers.

In remote areas such as NWFP and interior Sindh, the people don’t usually have access to electronic media or newspapers. The literacy levels are low in pakistan, the literacy rate for women in 16%, this means that media is ineffective in remote areas because there is no televisions and majority of the women cannot read and write. The women who live in remote areas are most vunerable.

Honour killing crimes are under-reported, as a result it is not possible to estimate the real magnitude of the problem. Monitoring and collecting information would help the Government to understand the problem better, and therefore it will enable the Government to come up with better strategy.

Protective measures

Provide adequate protection to human rights activists and lawyers, often leading human rights activits such as Hina Jilani and Asma Jehangir. In one incident, the two daughters of Asma Jehangir were assaulted and illegally held for several hours along with their friends by armed persons because they were making a video clip. The police did eventually arrive but failed to take any action againt the perpertrators, the police asked Asma Jehangir to remain quiet otherwise the girls would be kidnapped, raped and killed.

If activists are not adequately protected by law enforcement agencies then they will not be able to fight for protection of human rights.

Long term strategies

Honour killing is not a recent phenomoen, similar practices have been known since ancient Roman times, when the Pater Familias (senior male within a household) retained the right to kill an unmarried but sexually active daughter or an adulterous wife. In order to fully eradicate this menance, we should look at the true root causes in order to curb this heinous crime against women. The three main factors are:

  • Male domination
  • Financial dependency
  • Lack of education

Male domination

Both men and women should be represented equally in all public institutions, most importantly there should be proportiante representaion of women in the Government. The National Assemebly of Pakistan(equivalent to Parliament) has a total number 342 seats and 60 seats are reserved for women, only 17.5% of seats are occupied by women, in order to protect rights of women, it is imperative they are represented proportionaly in the Government.

At the moment, there are few women in the Government who are holding key Government ministry, Sherry Rehman is the only women who is holding the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting which considered one of the important ministries. Recently Dr Fehmida Mirza was elected as the Speaker of National Assembly, she is the first woman is Pakistan to be elected as the Speaker of Natioanl Assembly.

Late Benazir Bhutto was the first female prime minister of a muslim country. To end male domination, women should participate in politics, proportiante representation would mean that it will not possible to pass discriminatory laws in future against women such as Hudood ordinance as women would have a greater say in the law making process.

Financial dependency

Agriculture is the largest of economy of Pakistan, 79.8% of rural women are engaged in some sort of agricultural work. Majority of rural women have dual responsibilties, they have to look after house and work in agricultural land as well but they are grossly underpaid, in many cases they are not paid at all. Most women living in rural areas of Pakistan are not aware of their rights such as equal pay, the Government should run campaigns to empower women and inform them of their rights.

The Government should run courses to give women vocational training, this would improve women’s capacity to earn by increasing women’s access to source of livelihood, in particular cottage industry, livestock production and agriculture.

Only 9% of the jobs in the services industry of Pakistan are done by women. The Government should encourgae equal employment oppurtunities, it was only 2001 when an Act was introduced which ensures equal remunaration for men and women for work of equal value.

Study carried by a NGO confirmed the widespread occurrence of sexual harrasment of women at the workplace, the Government of Pakistan been able to implement laws which adequately protect women at the workplace. Government should undertake measure to make places more safe so women could work without fear of discrimination and harassment.

Lack of education

Only 16% of women in Pakistan are literate. Illiteracy rates are very high Pakistan. The education sector in suffering from inadequate financing and infrastructure. The budget allocated to education sector is low, Pakistan is one of the twelve countries who spend 2% of their GDP on eduction sector. Education needs to be improved, more schools are needed in Pakistan so more girls could attend school.

How practical is it to enforce rights in Pakistan?

Lack of eductation and financial independence are the main factors which stop from going to relevant law authorities for protection of their human rights, low literacy rate and lack of awareness does stop women for seeking protection against violations of human rights. Also approching the judiciary through a lawyer can be a expensive proposition, therefore women do not attempt to take any action.

Democracy and human rights

It is believed that military regime are the worst offenders of human rights, from November 1999 to Feburary 2008, General Pervez Musharraf, a army general has enjoyed absolute power over Pakistan. In his term many human rights abuses took place such lal masjid killings and he sacked 12 judges out of 17 judges to install his own hand picked judges. General Pervez Musharraf’s human rights record has been poor.

Elections took place on 18th Feburary 2008, most specators believe that elections were free and fair and democracy was restored. Recently the new Government ratified a key UN human rights treaty and signed two others, this suggests that the new democratic Government is serious about human rights issues and the position of human rights should be better under the Government of Pakistan People’s Party.

For many years, a military general had absolute power over Pakistan, the military regime was rarely criticised by USA or UK because of Pakistan position against war on terror, infact he was praised by George W Bush and Tony Blair for his role despite the fact that he committed various violations of international law during his tenure, UN never imposed any economic sanctions on Pakistan, infact economic sanctions were lifted which were on Pakistan for conducting nuclear tests in 1997 after he promised support to hunt Osama bin Laden. Human rights violations in Pakistan are often ignored by major member states such USA and UK. The major member states did provide immunity to a dictator against human right violations, If USA and UK would have not supported Musharraf and would have taken steps earlier to restore democracy in Pakistan then the human rights situations would have been far improved by now.

Jirga system

Jirga is defined a tribal assembly consisting of male elders of the tribe. Majority of the cases relating to honour killings are decided in Jirga instead of a formal court. Jirga should be banned because the system is unfit to provide justice to women, male elders are biased towards women, trial by jirga is the prime protector of the tradition of 'honour killing'. The tribal assembly usually consists of uneducated male elders who do not have the knowledge and the skills to judge.

They do not have any jurisdiction to impose capital punishments. Sindh is the only province of Pakistan where the panchayat(equivalent to Jirgra system) have been banned, Jirga system still operational in Baluchistan and North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. Jirga system should be be completely banned throughout Pakistan, the only reason why Jirga system is still operational in rural parts of Pakistan because it seen as a cheaper alternative.

Any hope?

Pakistan is grappling with many crisis at the moment, the burning of judiciary is still unsolved. There is shortage flour and food prices are rising dramatically. There is severe shortage of basic neccesaties such as electricity and clean water in Pakistan. Recently, one of the most popular leader of Pakistan was shot dead.

The new Pakistani Government is facing many problems and as result of that, they are not able to fully concentrate human rights issues, honour killings have rarely received any attention from the media or the new Government. We can only hope that the new Government takes positive steps to curb this social evil, so far there has been no progress made by the new Government to address this problem.

Pakistan as a suffering from increasing unemployment, increasing inflation and growing anger and frustrations with the system, lack of opportunities, all these factors can lead to violence against women, all tend to build aggravation in men. At the end of the day, it’s the women who are at the receiving end of the vented frustration, thus violence against women occurs as a direct result.