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Hundreds of Arab women are murdered by their families each year in the name of family honor. With most of those crimes going unreported, and hence unpunished, it is very difficult to get any accurate statistics or even estimates about this phenomenon, which is to a large extent justified in the eyes of some societies (Chahine, 2004). Honor killing is the practice of the killing of a woman by one of her male relatives, usually her father or brother, for committing or being suspected of committing illicit sexual acts (Nanes, 2003). Honor killings are done for a wide range of offenses, marital infidelity, premarital sex, unlawful pregnancies but also honor crimes are committed for the slightest issues such as flirting, going out on a date, falling in love, rape (believing that the girl/woman allowed herself to be raped), and even merely receiving a phone call from a man (Chahine, 2004). According to medics of the National Institute of Forensic Medicine, honor killings are usually based on rumors and that examinations often reveal that the victims were virgins. In addition, others who undergo virginity tests and are found to be virgins may still be killed. On many occasions, simply examining women to check their virginity is considered a license to kill (Halaby, 2000). The majority of murdered women in honor killings are virgins. In the following paragraphs, I will address this major social problem and the legal perspectives in some of different countries of the Middle East looking at a number of various literatures.
From a legal perspective, leniency toward family-honor murderers is the rule and is also written in the penal laws/codes of most the of Arab countries: Under article 562 of the Lebanese penal code, "a man who surprises his wife, daughter or sister practicing adultery or illicit intercourse and killed or harmed one of the two partners without premeditation shall receive a commuted sentence" and under the article 340 of the Jordanian law "any man who kills or attacks his wife or any of his female relatives in the act of committing adultery or in an "unlawful bed" benefits from a reduction in penalty (Recommendation: To the Government of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan). These crimes are perceived as excusable and understandable (Chahine, 2004).
It has appeared to me while researching through a number of academic journal articles, magazines and websites that very few, if any, was recently published or written on this major social issue, and that the majority of the written literature was on Honor Crimes in Jordan.
In an article by Nanes (2003), she spoke about the group of youthful Jordanians that have created a Movement "Campaign to Eliminate the So called Honor Crimes" and how their attempts were eventually crushed by the poor collaboration of the government and by a Parliament vote. She adds, this campaign's purpose was for fighting the phenomenon of Honor killings in which "women who are suspected of sexual deviance are killed by a male family member to "protect" the family's honor" (Nanes, 2003). Even though Islamic Shari'a forbids Muslims from erroneously condemning others and requires very accurate evidence for such solemn condemnations, various people still relate this specific procedure with Islamic teachings. In fact it is more of a tradition than of religion, she added. The campaigners collected signatures of Jordanians in an effort to revoke the bylaw that allows lessened punishments to men found guilty of perpetrating crimes of honor (Article 340 of the Jordanian Penal Code) (Nanes, 2003). The main target of the campaign was Article 340 of the Penal Code of the Jordanian Law, which states "1) he who catches his wife or one of his female unlawful committing adultery with another and he kills, wounds or injures one or both of them is exempt from any penalty. 2) he who catches his wife, or one of his female ascendants or descendants or sisters with another in an unlawful bed and he kills, wounds or injures one or both of them benefits from a reduction in penalty" (Nanes, 2003). Precise statistics of crimes of honor are difficult to estimate, however, they make up around one quarter to one third of all murders executed in the entire city. Investigations have been made that most of the girls that have been murdered in the name of honor were found to be virgins at the time of their death. The main purpose of this article is to tell about the "Campaign to Eliminate" honor killings and to insist on the abolition of Article 340 which discloses an innovative but restricted progress of social society in Jordanian politics.
In an another article, from The Economist, focuses on the issue of Honor Crimes in Syria, in 2009, the President of Syria, Bashar Al Assad, has made a significant change in the decree relating to honor killings. He has made it harder for men to kill their female relatives for the sake of honor. Initially the maximum sentence was a year, but now the killers must face at least 2 years in prison (The Economist, 2009). UNFPA estimated that, across the world, as many as 5,000 women are victims yearly of such killings (The Economist, 2009). This issue has been heavily debated in Syria for a period of time now, the article adds. A request has been made for an improvement to Article 192 and a command to revoke of Article 548, "which exempts men from the usual sentences for murder and assault if provoked by "illegitimate sex act"" (The Economist, 2009). The president was convinced to modify the article 548 but has left Article 192 untouched. The author states that in most of the countries in the Middle East, such crimes get mild punishments in respect to other kinds of killings. In Lebanon, the law still applies light punishments for honor killings. With the admiration of this Syrian improvement, supporters of human rights clearly tackle that the law in Syria or any other Arab country is still very lenient towards crimes of honor, and thus pushes for drastic transform in the mentalities and approaches of the law writers. Another article, published by BBC News, also discusses the change that was made by the decree of the President of Syria (BBC News, 2009).
Feldner (2000) in his article "Honor" Murders - Why the Perps Get off Easy, he mentions that crimes of honor are typically widespread in Muslim countries. In his article, he examines the religious, social and legal conditions of crimes of honor in Jordan, where according to official statistical reports, 20 -25 die yearly of honor killings (Feldner, 2000). The real number is definitely much higher but unrevealed and concealed under accidents or suicide. He also refers to the same Campaign initiated in 1999 that Nanes (2003) discussed about (paragraph above) to get rid of the reduced punishments of crimes of honor. The article also brings examples from Palestine and Egypt. According to Feldner, there are two types of honor in a traditional Arab society. A distinction is necessary for them, Sharaf & Ird. Sharaf, according to Feldner, "relates to the honor of a social unit, such as the Arab tribe or family, as well as individuals, and it can fluctuate up or down", it basically mean "dignity" for the west. "ird relates only to the honor of women and its value can only decrease. It translates roughly as the Western concept of "chastity" or "purity"" (Feldner, 2000). He adds, that the main reason why a man murders a women, is due to the social and psychological pressure he feels, usually encouraged by members of the family to commit such an act. He gives an example about an Egyptian who choked his pregnant bachelor daughter, to decease and then chopped her body in eight pieces and threw them in the toilet: ""Shame kept following me wherever I went [before the murder]. The village's people had no mercy on me. They were making jokes and mocking me. I couldn't bear it and decided to put an end to this shame"". (Feldner, 2000). Feldner adds that killing by itself has its anticipated social effect, allowing the family to recover its initial social position. In most Arab states, he says, clemency toward family-crimes killers is the standard and is also codified in the penal law. He also refers to Article 98 & Article 340 of the Jordanian Penal Law. In addition, honor killers receive the support of the majority of the Jordanian society. A report in 2000, issued by the United Nations came close to founding honor crimes as "violation of basic human rights" (Feldner, 2000). He concludes his article, stating that a crime of honor is a trend that has become a social disease in many Muslim countries.
A report published by Amnesty International in 2005, gives a general view about such killings in different parts of the world and states that although honor crimes are generally reported in areas all over South Asia and the Middle East, these crimes occur in countries as diverse as Jordan, Iran, Israel, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Uganda, Italy, Brazil, Ecuador, Sweden, India, Egypt, Iraq, Turkey, Morocco, and the UK (Amnesty International USA, 2005). The report mentions that in Egypt, 47% of the women were murdered after the female had been raped. In Lebanon and Jordan, 70-75% of these committers of these crimes of honor are the women's brother. The report focuses on the concept of Honor, which is founded on the faith, intensely entrenched in some societies, of women as items and properties, not as individuals with souls, human beings that are entitled to equal rights with men and mere dignity. (Amnesty International USA, 2005). In addition, women are regarded as the commodity of male relatives and are seen to represent the respect and honor of the men to whom they are tied to. The report also addresses the issue of what can bring on a crime of honor. (Amnesty International USA, 2005). Crimes of such kind can be committed for different behaviors, as stated earlier, if a girl or a woman is suspected to be having a conversation with a stranger male, illicit sex outside matrimony, raped, wanting a divorce, or even rejecting to get married to the man selected by one's family (Amnesty International USA, 2005). Even the thought of misbehavior of any kind may lead to a murder. Also, the report covers the areas of the social, religious, and institutional reasoning for such crimes. It adds that such killings take place in cultures in which there is relationship between unfair tribal customs of justice and legislative law. Amnesty International ends its report with a call:
The murder of women in the name of "honor" is a gender-specific form of discrimination and violence. In societies where so-called honor killings are allowed to occur, governments are failing in their responsibility to protect and ensure women their human rights. "Honor" killings should be regarded as part of a larger spectrum of violence against women, as well as a serious human rights violation. Amnesty International calls on you to help bring an end to "honor" killings, and to demand that governments take steps to ensure that women and men enjoy equal treatment under law. (Amnesty International USA, 2005).
A case study was initiated by the Gendercide Organization about those crimes of honor with the focus on different countries that allow such practice. It says that most of these crimes occur in Muslim societies and what is most important is that there is no punishment for such killings is approved in Islam or the law. The case studies are about Pakistan, Jordan, Palestine/Israel and the Balkans. They question as to who is responsible for this phenomenon. Crimes of Honor mirror an ancient "patriarchal-tribal" tradition, as they state. In a strange twofold, women are seen as weak individuals who require safeguarding but also are viewed as "evil Jezebels" from whom culture needs to protect itself against. It adds that, the helplessness of women all over the world to this kind of cruelty will only be abridged when these patriarchal state of minds are disputed and efficiently challenged. In addition, it says that crimes of honor have to be looked at from a wider communal viewpoint; they originate from anticipations of women's conduct that are detained by women (sister/mother) and men equally. Women's responsibility has frequently been undervalued. Seldom, they take part directly in the murders (Case Study: "Honour" Killings and Blood Feuds).
Now that we have covered a few literatures on this issue, we notice that all the literatures talk mainly about the same problem. Honor Crimes are common in most countries of the Middle East, particularly the Muslim countries, and how these countries don't have a penal code for serious severe punishment for such crimes but on the contrary very lenient penalties. They mention Jordan as a country with a lot of cases and with a very lenient penal code that some people are trying to amend/revoke. In my opinion, this is a very serious policy issue, it is not murder of any kind but it is a crime of cruelty and torture. Also, we don't see anywhere in the literature, one of the very most important aspect, is that men and women should be punished equally in cases of murder. In addition, there is a misinterpretation for the meaning of honor. The noble values of dignity and seniority are neglected. Instead, the only focus is on the woman's body and her virginity. According to a definition by the Palestinian Human Rights Monitor, the woman is an object owned by the man who assumes responsibility for her behavior and her life (Honor Killing: Killing of Women on the Basis of Family Honor, 2002).
A Palestinian tribal leader explains: "A woman is like an olive tree. When its branch catches woodworm, it has to be chopped off so that society stays clean and pure" (Feldner, 2000).
These male murderers are let free or sentenced for few months only after the crime, what could be some solutions to this problem. First and most importantly, the penal codes of these Arab countries should be changed and there should be a harsher penalty, a first degree murder sentence for those who commit such crimes. There needs to be no tolerance at all to honor crimes. That alone is not enough though; also countries need to review their criminal codes for discrimination against women - where murder of a wife is treated more leniently than murder of a husband (Chahine, 2004 and Recommendation: To the Government of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan). Police should be trained to prevent and investigate "honor" crimes more effectively and humanely (Recommendation: To the Government of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan). The State should provide refuge for women threatened with "honor" killing by creating adequate and accessible shelters (Recommendation: To the Government of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan). There should be awareness programs with regard to honor killings, through organizing seminars, radio programs, talk shows, and other media. And there should be international pressure from women's organizations, human rights groups and other governments to put harsher penalties on honor crimes (Halaby, 2000).