In 2011, Belgium held its first honor killing trial, in which four Pakistani family members were found guilty of killing their daughter and sibling, Sadia Sheikh.
As a legacy of the very influential Napoleonic Code, before 1997, Belgian law provided for mitigating circumstances in the case of a killing or assault against a spouse caught in the act of adultery. (Adultery itself was decriminalized in Belgium in 1987.)
Ghazala Khan was shot and killed in Denmark in September 2005, by her brother, after she had married against the will of the family. She was of Pakistani origin. Her murder was ordered by her father to save the family ‘honor’, and several relatives were involved.
France has a large immigrant community from North Africa (especially from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia) and honor violence occurs in this community. A 2009 report by the Council of Europe cited the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, France, and Norway as countries where honor crimes and honor killings occur.
France traditionally provided for leniency in regard to honor crimes, particularly against women who had committed adultery. The Napoleonic Code of 1804, established under Napoleon Bonaparte, is one of the origins of the legal leniency in regard to adultery-related killings in a variety of legal systems in several countries around the world. Under this code, a man who killed his wife whom he caught in the act of adultery could not be charged with premeditated murder – although he could be charged with other lesser offenses. This defense was available only for a husband, not for a wife. The Napoleonic Code has been very influential, and many countries, inspired by it, provided for lesser penalties or even acquittal for such crimes. This can be seen in the criminal codes of many former French colonies.
In 2005 Der Spiegel reported: “In the past four months, six Muslim women living in Berlin have been killed by family members”. The article went on to cover the case of Hatun Sürücü, a Turkish-Kurdish woman who was killed by her brother for not staying with the husband she was forced to marry, and of “living like a German“. Precise statistics on how many women die every year in such honor killings are hard to come by, as many crimes are never reported, said Myria Boehmecke of the Tuebingen-based women’s group Terre des Femmes. The group tries to protect Muslim girls and women from oppressive families.
The Turkish women’s organization Papatya has documented 40 instances of honor killings in Germany since 1996. Hatun Sürücü’s brother was convicted of murder and jailed for nine years and three months by a German court in 2006. In March 2009, a Kurdish immigrant from Turkey, Gülsüm S., was killed for a relationship not in keeping with her religious family’s plan for an arranged marriage.
In a well-known case, a Kurdish man killed his pregnant girlfriend in Berlin in January 2015 and burned her alive. In 2016 a Kurdish woman was shot dead at her wedding in Hannover for refusing to marry her cousin in a forced marriage.
Similar to other Southern/Mediterranean European areas, “honor” was traditionally important in Italy. Indeed, until 1981, the Criminal Code provided for mitigating circumstances for such killings; until 1981 the law read: Art. 587:
He who causes the death of a spouse, daughter, or sister upon discovering her in illegitimate carnal relations and in the heat of passion caused by the offence to his honour or that of his family will be sentenced to three to seven years. The same sentence shall apply to whom, in the above circumstances, causes the death of the person involved in illegitimate carnal relations with his spouse, daughter, or sister.
Traditionally, honor crimes used to be more prevalent in Southern Italy.
In 1546, Isabella di Morra, a young poet from Valsinni, Matera, was stabbed to death by her brothers for a suspected affair with a married nobleman, whom they also murdered.
In 2006, 20-year-old Hina Saleem, a Pakistani woman who lived in Brescia, Italy, was murdered by her father who claimed he was “saving the family’s honour”. She had refused an arranged marriage, and was living with her Italian boyfriend.
In 2009, in Pordenone, Italy, Sanaa Dafani, an 18-year-old girl of Moroccan origin, was murdered by her father because she had a relationship with an Italian man.
In 2011, in Cerignola, Italy, a man stabbed his brother 19 times because his homosexuality was a “dishonour to the family”.
Anooshe Sediq Ghulam was a 22-year-old Afghan refugee in Norway, who was killed by her husband in an honor killing. She had reported her husband to the police for domestic violence and was seeking a divorce.
In Sweden the 26-year-old Iraqi Kurdish woman Fadime Şahindal was killed by her father in 2002. Pela Atroshi was a Kurdish girl who was shot by her uncle who was radical Muslim in a brutal honor killing in Sweden.
In 2010, a 16-year-old Pakistani girl was killed near Zurich, Switzerland, by her father who was dissatisfied with her lifestyle and her Christian boyfriend.
Every year in the United Kingdom (UK), officials estimate that at least a dozen women are victims of honor killings, almost exclusively within Asian and Middle Eastern families.
Often, cases cannot be resolved due to the unwillingness of family, relatives and communities to testify. A 2006 BBC poll for the Asian network in the UK found that one in ten of the 500 young Asians polled said that they could condone the killing of someone who dishonored their family.
In the UK, in December 2005, Nazir Afzal, Director, west London, of Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service, stated that the United Kingdom has seen:
“at least a dozen honour killings” between 2004 and 2005.
In 2010, Britain saw a 47% rise of honor-related crimes. Data from police agencies in the UK report 2283 cases in 2010, and an estimated 500 more from jurisdictions that did not provide reports. These “honor-related crimes” also include house arrests and other parental punishments. Most of the attacks were conducted in cities that had high immigrant populations.
Banaz Mahmod, a 20-year-old Iraqi Kurd woman from Mitcham, south London, was killed in 2006, in a murder orchestrated by her father, uncle and cousins.
Her life and murder were presented in a documentary called Banaz a Love Story, directed and produced by Deeyah Khan.
Another well-known case was Heshu Yones, stabbed to death by her Kurdish father in London in 2002 when her family heard a love song dedicated to her and suspected she had a boyfriend. Other examples include the killing of Tulay Goren, a Kurdish Shia Muslim girl who immigrated with her family from Turkey, and Samaira Nazir (Pakistani Muslim).
A highly publicized case was that of Shafilea Iftikhar Ahmed, a 17-year-old British Pakistani girl from Great Sankey, Warrington, Cheshire, who was murdered in 2003 by her parents However, a lesser-known case is that of Gurmeet Singh Ubhi, a Sikh man who, in February 2011, was found guilty of the murder of his 24-year-old daughter, Amrit Kaur Ubhi in 2010.
Ubhi was found to have murdered his daughter because he disapproved of her being ‘too westernised’. Likewise he also disapproved of the fact that she was dating a non-Sikh man.
In 2012, the UK had the first white victim of an honor killing: 17 year old Laura Wilson was killed by her Asian boyfriend, Ashtiaq Ashgar, because she revealed details of their relationship to his family, challenging traditional cultural values of the Asian family. Laura Wilson’s mother told Daily Mail, “I honestly think it was an honour killing for putting shame on the family. They needed to shut Laura up and they did”. Wilson was repeatedly knifed to death as she walked along a canal in Rotherham city.
In 2013, Mohammed Inayat was jailed for killing his wife and injuring three daughters by setting his house on fire in Birmingham. Inayat wanted to stop his daughter from flying to Dubai to marry her boyfriend, because he believed the marriage would dishonor his family.
In 2014, the husband of Syrian-born 25-year-old Rania Alayed, as well as three brothers of the husband, were jailed for killing her. According to the prosecution, the motive for the murder was that she had become “too westernised” and was “establishing an independent life”.
Honor killings also affect gay people. In 2008 a man had to flee from Turkey after his Kurdish boyfriend was killed by his own father.
Honor killings in Egypt occur due to reasons such as a woman meeting an unrelated man, even if this is only an allegation; or adultery (real or suspected). The exact number of honor killings is not known, but a report in 1995 estimated about 52 honor killings that year. In 2013, a woman and her two daughters were murdered by 10 male relatives, who strangled and beat them, and then threw their bodies in the Nile. Honor killings are illegal in Egypt and five of the ten men were arrested.
In Iran, honor killings occur primarily among tribal minority groups, such as Kurdish, Arab, Lori, Baluchi, and Turkish-speaking tribes, while honor-related crimes are not a tradition among Persians who are generally less socially conservative. Discriminatory family laws, articles in the Criminal Code that show leniency towards honor killings, and a strongly male dominated society have been cited as causes of honor killings in Iran. Honor killings are particularly prevalent in the provinces of Kordistan and Ilam. Discriminatory family laws, articles in the Criminal Code that show leniency towards honor killings, and a strongly male dominated society have been cited as causes of honor killings in Iran.
It was reported that in 2001, 565 women lost their lives in honor-related crimes in Ilam, Iran, of which 375 were reportedly staged as self-immolation.
In 2008, self-immolation:
“occurred in all the areas of Kurdish settlement (in Iran), where it was more common than in other parts of Iran”.
In 2008, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) has stated that honor killings are a serious concern in Iraq, particularly in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Free Women’s Organization of Kurdistan (FWOK) released a statement on International Women’s Day 2015 noting that “6,082 women were killed or forced to commit suicide during the past year in Iraqi Kurdistan, which is almost equal to the number of the Peshmerga martyred fighting Islamic State (IS),” and that a large number of women were victims of honor killings or enforced suicide – mostly self-immolation or hanging.
About 500 honor killings per year are reported in hospitals in Iraqi Kurdistan, although real numbers are likely much higher. It is speculated that alone in Erbil there is one honor killing per day.
The UNAMI reported that at least 534 honor killings occurred between January and April 2006 in the Kurdish Governorates.
It is claimed that many deaths are reported as “female suicides” in order to conceal honor-related crimes. Aso Kamal of the Doaa Network Against Violence claimed that they have estimated that there were more than 12,000 honor killings in Iraqi Kurdistan from 1991 to 2007. He also said that the government figures are much lower, and show a decline in recent years, and Kurdish law has mandated since 2008 that an honor killing be treated like any other murder.
Honor killings and other forms of violence against women have increased since the creation of Iraqi Kurdistan, and “both the KDP and PUK claimed that women’s oppression, including ‘honor killings’, are part of Kurdish ‘tribal and Islamic culture’”.
The honor killing and self-immolation condoned or tolerated by the Kurdish administration in Iraqi Kurdistan has been labeled as “gendercide” by Mojab (2003).
As many as 133 women were killed in the Iraqi city of Basra alone in 2006. 79 were killed for violation of “Islamic teachings” and 47 for honor, according to IRIN, the news branch of the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Amnesty International says that armed groups, not the government, also kill politically active women and those who did not follow a strict dress code, as well as women who are perceived as human rights defenders.
17-year-old Du’a Khalil Aswad, an Iraqi girl of the Yazidi faith, was stoned to death in front of a mob of about 2000 men in 2007, possibly because she was allegedly planning to convert to Islam.
There are still “honor” killings in Jordan. A 2008 report of the National Council of Family Affairs in Jordan, an NGO affiliated with the Queen of Jordan, indicated that the National Forensic Medicine Center recorded 120 murdered women in 2006, with 18 cases classified officially as crimes of honor.
In 2013, the BBC cited estimates by the National Council of Family Affairs in Jordan, an NGO, that as many as 50 Jordanian women and girls had been killed in the preceding 13 years. But the BBC indicated:
“the real figure” was probably “far higher,” because “most honour killings go unreported.”
Men receive reduced sentences for killing their wives or female family members if they are deemed to have brought dishonor to their family. Families often get sons under the age of 16—legally minors—to commit honor killings; the juvenile law allows convicted minors to serve time in a juvenile detention center and be released with a clean criminal record at the age of 16.
Rana Husseini, a leading journalist on the topic of honor killings, states that “under the existing law, people found guilty of committing honor killings often receive sentences as light as six months in prison”. According to UNICEF, there are an average of 23 honor killings per year in Jordan.
There has been public support in Jordan to amend Articles 340 and 98. In 1999 King Abdullah created a council to review the sex inequalities in the country. The Council returned with a recommendation to repeal Article 340. “[T]he cabinet approved the recommendation, the measure was presented to parliament twice in November 1999 and January 2000 and in both cases, though approved by the upper house, it failed to pass the elected lower house”.
In 2001, after parliament was suspended, a number of temporary laws were created which were subject to parliamentary ratification. One of the amendments was that “husbands would no longer be exonerated for killing unfaithful wives, but instead the circumstances would be considered as evidence for mitigating punishments”. In the interest of sex equality, women were given the same reduction in punishment if found guilty of the crime. But parliament returned to session in 2003 and the new amendments were rejected by the lower house after two successful readings in the upper house.
A 2013 survey of “856 ninth graders – average age of 15 – from a range of secondary schools across Amman – including private and state, mixed-sex and single gender” showed that attitudes favoring honor killings are present in the “next generation” Jordanians: “In total, 33.4% of all respondents either “agreed” or “strongly agreed” with situations depicting honour killings. Boys were more than twice as likely to support honour killings: 46.1% of boys and 22.1% of girls agreed with at least two honour killing situations in the questionnaire.” The parents’ education was found to be a significant correlation: “61% of teenagers from the lowest level of educational background showed supportive attitudes towards honour killing, as opposed to only 21.1% where at least one family member has a university degree.
Kuwait is relatively liberal (by Middle East standards), and honor killings are rare, but not unheard of – in 2006 a young woman died in an honor killing committed by her brothers. In 2008, a girl was given police protection after reporting that her family intended to kill her for having an affair with a man.
There are no exact official numbers about honor killings of women in Lebanon; many honor killings are arranged to look like accidents, but the figure is believed to be 40 to 50 per year. A 2007 report by Amnesty International said that the Lebanese media in 2001 reported 2 or 3 honor killings per month in Lebanon, although the number is believed to be higher by other independent sources.
On 4 August 2011, however, the Lebanese Parliament agreed by a majority to abolish Article 562, which for the past years had worked as an excuse to commute the sentence given for honor killing .
The Palestinian Authority, using a clause in the Jordanian penal code still in effect in the West Bank, exempts men from punishment for killing a female relative if she has brought dishonor to the family . Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, issued a decree in May 2014 under which the exemption of men was abolished in cases of honor killings.
According to UNICEF estimates in 1999, two-thirds of all murders in the Palestinian territories were likely honor killings. The Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights has reported 29 women were killed 2007–2010, whereas 13 women were killed in 2011 and 12 in the first seven months of 2012. According to a PA Ministry of Women’s Affairs report the rate of:
‘Honor Killings’ went up by 100% in 2013, “reporting the number of ‘honor killing’ victims for 2013 at 27”.
In 2008 a woman was killed in Saudi Arabia by her father for “chatting” with a man on Facebook. The killing became public only when a Saudi cleric referred to the case, to criticize Facebook for the strife it caused.
Some estimates suggest that more than 200 honor killings occur every year in Syria. The Syrian Civil War has been reported as leading to an increase in honor killings in the country, mainly due to the common occurrence of war rape, which led to the stigmatization of victims by their relatives and communities, and in turn to honor killings.
A report compiled by the Council of Europe estimated that over 200 women were killed in honor killings in Turkey in 2007. A June 2008 report by the Turkish Prime Ministry’s Human Rights Directorate said that in Istanbul alone there was one honor killing every week, and reported over 1,000 during the previous five years. It added that metropolitan cities were the location of many of these, due to growing immigration to these cities from the East.
The mass migration during the past decades of rural population from Southeastern Turkey to big cities in Western Turkey has resulted in “modern” cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, and Bursa having the highest numbers of reported honor killings.
A report by UNFPA identified the following situations as being common triggers for honor killings: a married woman having an extra-marital relationship; a married woman running away with a man; a married woman getting separated or divorced; a divorced woman having a relationship with another man; a young unmarried girl having a relationship; a young unmarried girl running away with a man; a woman (married or unmarried) being kidnapped and/or raped.
In Turkey, young boys are often ordered by other family members to commit the honor killing, so that they can get a shorter jail sentence (because they are minors). Forced suicides – where the victim who is deemed to have ‘dishonored’ the family is ordered to commit suicide in an attempt by the perpetrator to avoid legal consequences – also take place in Turkey, especially in Batman in southeastern Turkey, which has been nicknamed “Suicide City”.
In 2009 a Turkish news agency reported that a 2-day-old boy who was born out of wedlock had been killed for honor in Istanbul. The maternal grandmother of the infant, along with six other persons, including a doctor who had reportedly accepted a bribe to not report the birth, were arrested. The grandmother is suspected of fatally suffocating the infant. The child’s mother, 25, was also arrested; she stated that her family had made the decision to kill the child.
In 2010 a 16-year-old girl was buried alive by relatives for befriending boys in Southeast Turkey; her corpse was found 40 days after she went missing. Ahmet Yildiz, 26, a Turkish-Kurdish physics student who represented his country at an international gay conference in the United States in 2008, was shot dead leaving a cafe in Istanbul. Ahmet Yildiz was who was from deeply religious family was believed to be the victim of the country’s first gay honor killing.
Honor killings continue have some support in the conservative parts of Turkey. In 2005, A small survey in Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey found that, when asked the appropriate punishment for a woman who has committed adultery, 37% of respondents said she should be killed, while 21% said her nose or ears should be cut off.
A July 2008 Turkish study by a team from Dicle University on honor killings in the Southeastern Anatolia Region, the predominantly Kurdish area of Turkey, has so far shown that little if any social stigma is attached to honor killing. It also comments that the practice is not related to a feudal societal structure:
“there are also perpetrators who are well-educated university graduates. Of all those surveyed, 60 percent are either high school or university graduates or at the very least, literate.”
There are well documented cases, where Turkish courts have sentenced whole families to life imprisonment for an honor killing. The most recent was on 13 January 2009, where a Turkish Court sentenced five members of the same Kurdish family to life imprisonment for the honor killing of Naile Erdas, a 16-year-old girl who got pregnant as a result of rape.
Honor killings are common in Yemen. In some parts of the country, traditional tribal customs forbid contact between men and women before marriage. Yemeni society is strongly male dominated, Yemen being ranked last of 135 countries in the 2012 Global Gender Gap Report. It was estimated that about 400 women and girls died in honor killings in 1997 in Yemen . In 2013, a 15-year-old girl was killed by her father, who burned her to death, because she talked to her fiance before the wedding.
Honor killings in Maghreb are not as common as in the Asian countries of the Middle East and South Asia, but they do occur . In Libya, they are targeted particularly against rape victims.
In 2012, Afghanistan recorded 240 cases of honor killings, but the total number is believed to be much higher. Of the reported honor killings, 21% were committed by the victims’ husbands, 7% by their brothers, 4% by their fathers, and the rest by other relatives
Honor killings have been reported in northern regions of India, mainly in the Indian states of Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, as a result of people marrying without their family’s acceptance, and sometimes for marrying outside their caste or religion. In contrast, honor killings are prevalent to a lesser extent but are not completely non-existent in South India and the western Indian states of Maharashtra and Gujarat.
In some other parts of India, notably West Bengal, honor killings completely ceased about a century ago, largely due to the activism and influence of reformists such as Vivekananda, Ramakrishna, Vidyasagar and Raja Ram Mohan Roy.
Haryana is notorious for incidents of honor killings, mainly in the upper caste of society, among Rajputs and Jats. Honor killings have been described as:
“chillingly common in villages of Haryana dominated by the lawless ‘khap panchayats’ (caste councils of village elders)”.
In a landmark judgement in March 2010, Karnal district court ordered the execution of five perpetrators of an honor killing in Kaithal, and imprisoning for life the khap (local caste-based council) chief who ordered the killings of Manoj Banwala (23) and Babli (19), a man and woman of the same clan who eloped and married in June 2007. Despite having been given police protection on court orders, they were kidnapped; their mutilated bodies were found a week later in an irrigation canal.
In 2013, a young couple who were planning to marry were murdered in Garnauthi village, Haryana, due to having a love affair. The woman, Nidhi, was beaten to death and the man, Dharmender, was dismembered alive. People in the village and neighbouring villages approved of the killings.
The Indian state of Punjab also has a large number of honor killings. According to data compiled by the Punjab Police, 34 honor killings were reported in the state between 2008 and 2010: 10 in 2008, 20 in 2009, and four in 2010.
Bhagalpur in the eastern Indian state of Bihar has also been notorious for honor killings. Recent cases include a 16-year-old girl, Imrana, from Bhojpur who was set on fire inside her house in a case of what the police called ‘moral vigilantism’. The victim had screamed for help for about 20 minutes before neighbours arrived, only to find her smouldering body. She was admitted to a local hospital, where she later died from her injuries. In May 2008, Jayvirsingh Bhadodiya shot his daughter Vandana Bhadodiya and struck her on the head with an axe.
Honor killings occur even in Delhi.
Honor killings take place in Rajasthan, too. In June 2012, a man chopped off his 20-year-old daughter’s head with a sword in Rajasthan after learning that she was dating men. According to police officer:
“Omkar Singh told the police that his daughter Manju had relations with several men. He had asked her to mend her ways several times in the past. However, she did not pay heed. Out of pure rage, he chopped off her head with the sword”.
In 1990 the National Commission for Women set up a statutory body in order to address the issues of honor killings among some ethnic groups in North India. This body reviewed constitutional, legal and other provisions as well as challenges women face. The NCW’s activism has contributed significantly towards the reduction of honor killings in rural areas of North India.
According to Pakistani activists Hina Jilani and Eman M Ahmed, Indian women are considerably better protected against honor killings by Indian law and government than Pakistani women, and they have suggested that governments of countries affected by honor killings use Indian law as a model in order to prevent honor killings in their respective societies.
In June 2010, scrutinising the increasing number of honor killings, the Supreme Court of India demanded responses about honor killing prevention from the federal government and the state governments of Punjab, Haryana, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
Alarmed by the rise of honor killings, the Government planned to bring a bill in the Monsoon Session of Parliament July 201 to provide for deterrent punishment for ‘honor’ killings. According to the survey done by AIDWA, over 30% of the total honor killings in the country takes place in Western Uttar Pradesh.
In Pakistan honor killings are known locally as karo-kari. An Amnesty International report noted “the failure of the authorities to prevent these killings by investigating and punishing the perpetrators.” Official data puts the number of women killed in honor killings in 2015 at nearly 1,100. Recent cases include that of three teenage girls who were buried alive after refusing arranged marriages.
Another case was that of Taslim Khatoon Solangi, 17, of Hajna Shah village in Khairpur district, which was widely reported after her father, 57-year-old Gul Sher Solangi, publicized the case. He alleged his eight-months-pregnant daughter was tortured and killed on 7 March on the orders of her father-in-law, who accused her of carrying a child conceived out of wedlock.
Statistically, honor killings have a high level of support in Pakistan’s rural society, despite widespread condemnation from human rights groups
In 2002 alone over 382 people, about 245 women and 137 men, became victims of honor killings in the Sindh province of Pakistan
Over the course of six years, more than 4,000 women have died as victims of honor killings in Pakistan from 1999 to 2004.
In 2005 the average annual number of honor killings for the whole nation was stated to be more than 1,000 per year.
A 2009 study by Muazzam Nasrullah et al. reported a total of 1,957 honor crime victims reported in Pakistan’s newspapers from 2004 to 2007. Of those killed, 18% were below the age of 18 years, and 88% were married. Husbands, brothers and close relatives were direct perpetrators of 79% of the honor crimes reported by mainstream media. The method used for honor crime included firearms (most common), stabbing, axe and strangulation.
According to women’s rights advocates, the concepts of women as property, and of honor, are so deeply entrenched in the social, political and economic fabric of Pakistan that the government mostly ignores the regular occurrences of women being killed and maimed by their families.” Frequently, women killed in honor killings are recorded as having committed suicide or died in accidents.
Savitri Goonesekere states that Islamic leaders in Pakistan use religious justifications for sanctioning honor killings.
On 27 May 2014, a pregnant woman was stoned to death by her own family in front of a Pakistani high court for marrying the man she loved.
“I killed my daughter as she had insulted all of our family by marrying a man without our consent, and I have no regret over it,”
Mujahid, the police investigator, quoted the father as saying. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif described the stoning as “totally unacceptable,” and ordered the chief minister of Punjab province to provide an immediate report. He demanded to know why police did nothing, despite the killing taking place outside one of the country’s top courts, in the presence of police.
Honor killings are tried by the 1990 Qisas and Diyat Ordinance of Pakistan, which permits the individual and his or her family to retain control over a crime, including the right to determine whether to report the crime, prosecute the offender, or demand diyat (or compensation). Since most honor killings are committed by a close relative, if and when the case reaches a court of law, the victim’s family may ‘pardon’ the murderer, or be pressured to accept diyat (financial compensation). The murderer then goes free.
Once such a pardon has been secured, the state has no further writ on the matter although often the killers are relatives of the victim. Scholars suggest that the Islamic law doctrine of Qisas and Diyya encourages honor killings, particularly against females, as well as allows the murderer to go unpunished.
Throughout the 20th century, husbands have used in court cases the “legitimate defense of their honor” (legitima defesa da honra) as justification for adultery-related killings. Although this defense was not explicitly stipulated in the 20th century Criminal Code, it has been successfully pleaded by lawyers throughout the 20th century, in particular in the interior of the country, though less so in the coastal big cities. In 1991 Brazil’s Supreme Court explicitly rejected the “honor defense” as having no basis in Brazilian law.
A 2007 study by Dr. Amin Muhammad and Dr. Sujay Patel of Memorial University, Canada, investigated how the practice of honor killings has been brought to Canada. The report explained that “When people come and settle in Canada they can bring their traditions and forcefully follow them. In some cultures, people feel some boundaries are never to be crossed, and if someone would violate those practices or go against it, then killing is justified to them.” The report noted that “In different cultures, they can get away without being punished—the courts actually sanction them under religious contexts”.
The report also said that the people who commit these crimes are usually mentally ill, and that the mental health aspect is often ignored by Western observers because of a lack of understanding of the insufficiently developed state of mental healthcare in developing countries in which honor killings are prevalent.
Canada has been host to a number of high-profile killings, including the murder of Jaswinder Kaur Sidhu, the murder of Amandeep Atwal, the double murder of Khatera Sadiqi and her fiancé and the Shafia family murders.
Honor killings have become such a pressing issue in Canada that the Canadian citizenship study guide mentions it specifically, saying, “Canada’s openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, ‘honour killings’, female genital mutilation, forced marriage or other gender-based violence.”
Phyllis Chesler argues that the U.S., as well as in Canada, do not have proper measures in place to fight against honor killings, and do not recognize these murders as a specific form of violence, distinct from other domestic murders, due to fear of being labeled “culturally insensitive“. According to her, this often prevents government officials in the United States and the media from identifying and accurately reporting these incidents as “honor killings” when they occur. Failing to accurately describe the problem makes it more difficult to develop public policies to address it, she argues.
She also writes that, although there are not many cases of honor killings within the United States, the overwhelming majority of honor killings are perpetrated by Muslims against Muslims (90% of honor killings known to have taken place in Europe and the United States from 1998 to 2008). In these documented cases the victims were murdered because they were believed to have acted in a way against the religion of the family. In every case, perpetrators view their victims as violating rules of religious conduct and act without remorse.
Several honor killings have occurred in the U.S. during recent years. In 1989, in St. Louis, Missouri, 16-year-old Palestina “Tina” Isa was murdered by her Palestinian father with the aid of his wife. Her parents were dissatisfied with her “westernized” lifestyle. In 2008, in Georgia, 25-year-old Sandeela Kanwal was killed by her Pakistani father for refusing an arranged marriage.
Amina and Sarah Said, two teenage sisters from Texas were killed, allegedly by their Egyptian father, Yaser Abdel Said, who is still at large. Yaser is currently on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives, and has been on the list since December 10, 2014. Aasiya Zubair was, together with her husband Muzzammil Hassan, the founder and owner of Bridges TV, the first American Muslim English-language television network. She was killed by her husband in 2009. Phyllis Chesler argued this was an honor killing.
In 2009, in Arizona, Noor Almaleki, aged 20, was killed by her father, an Iraqi immigrant, because she had refused an arranged marriage and was living with her boyfriend.
The extent of honor-based violence in the U.S. is not known, as no official data is collected. There is controversy about the reasons why such violence occurs, and about the extent to which culture, religion, and views on women cause these incidents.
Crimes of passion within Latin America have also been compared to honor killings. Similar to honor killings, crimes of passion often feature the murder of a woman by a husband, family member, or boyfriend and the crime is often condoned or sanctioned. In Peru, for example, 70 percent of the murders of women in one year were committed by a husband, boyfriend or lover, and most often jealousy or suspicions of infidelity are cited as the reasons for the murders.
The law of Uruguay continues to tolerate crimes of passion due to adultery. However:
“while crimes of passion may be seen as somewhat premeditated to a certain extent, honour killings are usually deliberate, well planned and premeditated acts when a person kills a female relative ostensibly to uphold his honour.”
The view that violence can be justified in the name of honor and shame exists traditionally in Latin American societies, and machismo is often described as a code of honor. While some ideas originate in the Spanish colonial culture, others predate it: in the early history of Peru, the laws of the Incas allowed husbands to starve their wives to death if they committed adultery, while Aztec laws during early Mexico stipulated stoning or strangulation as punishment for female adultery.
Until a few decades ago, the marriage of a girl or woman to the man who had raped her was considered a “solution” to the incident in order to restore the ‘honor’. Indeed, although laws that exonerate the perpetrator of rape if he marries his victim after the rape are often associated with the Middle East, such laws were very common around the world until the second half of the 20th century, and as late as 1997, 14 Latin American countries had such laws, although most of these Latin American countries have now abolished them.
Such laws were ended in Mexico in 1991, El Salvador in 1996, Colombia in 1997, Peru in 1999, Chile in 1999, Brazil in 2005, Uruguay in 2005, Guatemala in 2006, Costa Rica in 2007, Panama in 2008, Nicaragua in 2008, Argentina in 2012, and Ecuador in 2014.
Jim Spigelman (who served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales from 19 May 1998 until 31 May 2011) said that Australia’s increasing diversity was creating conflicts about how to deal with the customs and traditions of immigrant populations. He said:”There are important racial, ethnic and religious minorities in Australia who come from nations with sexist traditions which, in some respects, are even more pervasive than those of the West.” He said that honor crimes, forced marriages and other violent acts against women were becoming a problem in Australia.
In 2010, in New South Wales, Indonesian born Hazairin Iskandar and his son killed the lover of Iskandar’s wife. Iskandar stabbed the victim with a knife while his son bashed him with a hammer. The court was told that the reason for the murder was the perpetrators’ belief that extramarital affairs were against their religion; and that the murder was carried out to protect the honor of the family and was a “pre-planned, premeditated and executed killing”.
The judge said that:
“No society or culture that regards itself as civilized can tolerate to any extent, or make any allowance for, the killing of another person for such an amorphous concept as honour”.
Pela Atroshi was a Kurdish 19-year-old girl who was killed by her uncle in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1999. The decision to kill her was taken by a council of her male relatives, led by Pela’s grandfather, Abdulmajid Atroshi, who lived in Australia. One of his sons, Shivan Atroshi, who helped with the murder, also lived in Australia. Pela Atroshi was living in Sweden, but was taken by family members to Iraqi Kurdistan to be killed, as ordered by a family council of male relatives living in Sweden and Australia, because they claimed she had tarnished the family honor. Pela Atroshi’s murder was officially deemed an honor killing by authorities.
Honor killings are condemned as a serious human rights violation and are addressed by several international instruments. The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence addresses this issue. Article 42 reads:
Article 42 – Unacceptable justifications for crimes, including crimes committed in the name of so-called “honour”
1. Parties shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that, in criminal proceedings initiated following the commission of any of the acts of violence covered by the scope of this Convention, culture, custom, religion, tradition or so-called “honour” shall not be regarded as justification for such acts. This covers, in particular, claims that the victim has transgressed cultural, religious, social or traditional norms or customs of appropriate behaviour.
2. Parties shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that incitement by any person of a child to commit any of the acts referred to in paragraph 1 shall not diminish the criminal liability of that person for the acts committed.
The World Health Organization (WHO) addressed the issue of honor killings and stated: “Murders of women to ‘save the family honour’ are among the most tragic consequences and explicit illustrations of embedded, culturally accepted discrimination against women and girls.” According to the UNODC:
“Honour crimes, including killing, are one of history’s oldest forms of gender-based violence. It assumes that a woman’s behaviour casts a reflection on the family and the community. … In some communities, a father, brother or cousin will publicly take pride in a murder committed in order to preserve the ‘honour’ of a family. In some such cases, local justice officials may side with the family and take no formal action to prevent similar deaths.”
This is an incomplete list of notable victims of Honor killing.