‘Honour Crimes’: killing in the name of honour

None of the world’s dominant religions condone honour related crimes.

Honour crimes, or honour killings is a term used to describe murders, or acts of violence by a family member, or others in the name of ‘honour’ as it is seen that a life without honour is not worth living. Honour killing is an ancient tribal custom and any type of allegation against a woman can be enough to defile a family's honour and justify her murder.

There have been a reported 12 honour killings made within the UK every year, and from the 2002 case of Heshu Yones, a teenager who was murder by her father due to her conformity to western practices, a special police task force was set up in 2003. The aim of the task force was researching honour crimes and murder files spanning the last decade in an effort to find common links.

Police also believe that families may have hired contract killers or bounty hunters, and killings have also involved the victim being sent back to the family's "home nation" to be killed there.

In Europe the reported rate of honour crimes is also on the rise. European police held a meeting in The Hague in 2004 to discuss ways to tackle the problem and pledged to set up a pan-European unit in the hope of cracking down on honour crimes.

Cases of honour killing have been reported in the UK, Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, Germany, India, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Palestine, Sweden, Turkey, and Uganda.

The practice is common in Pakistan, and police believe that up to 4,000 people, mostly women, have died in brutal honour killings in the years between 2000 and 2004. Also hundreds of women are raped or killed there each year in direct relation to honour attacks for behaviour including extramarital affairs or marriage without a family's consent.

The Pakistan government allied with Islamists to reject a bill that sought to strengthen the laws against the practice of honour crimes, by declaring it un-Islamic. There is a bill in place that was introduced last December, but many have argued that it is not sufficient enough to stop the crimes from taking place. Under Islamic legislation enacted by General Zia ul Haq in the1980’s, proven killers could seek or buy pardon from the victim's family under the Islamic principles of compromise. There is even Karo-kari, which is a tradition whereby a man can kill a woman, claiming that she brought dishonour to the family, and still expect to be pardoned by her relatives.

Killing in the name of honour is often considered to be a private matter for the affected family. It’s only been in more recent years, that more and more cases have reached the UK courts but many crimes still remain unresolved or even undetected. The reason that reported cases are hard to find, is due to the fact that some acts are disguised as suicides, or accidents. However there was a case in May 2009 within the UK, where Sandip Singh Rooprai, 20, allegedly poured petrol through the letter box of the Bristol home of the priest who conducted the wedding ceremony of his sister and set it alight, then firebombed the car and house in Swindon of the witness at the marriage. Jurors were told he believed his family had been dishonoured in the Sikh community after his 22 year-old sister, Pardip, married Hindu Gaurav Kapoor, 29, without their permission.

Another cased reported in November 2008, saw the murder of a 19 year old girl who was strangled to death by her boyfriend’s flatmate who opposed the relationship due to their religious backgrounds.

The case is still ongoing, and highlights a theme that can be seen from many honour killings that have been made, and in this instance it is an objection to another religion.

Honour crimes have sometimes used the defence of religion as a way to justify actions that have been taken, however none of the world’s dominant religions condone honour related crimes, and many religious leaders deny the relation between honour crimes and religion.

Honour Killings violate the most basic of human rights, the right to life, as well as every other article in the International Convention on Human Rights. There is also the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights, which looks at penalising courts in certain countries who seem to be more lenient on honour crimes that have been committed. Honour crimes also violate The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which seeks to equalise the view, and feeling of men and women.

There are however discriminatory laws that exist throughout Latin America, Africa and Asia, which not only contradict international law but national constitutions whereby women and men are to be treated equally in all matters concerning the law, and certain laws even provide additional incentives for male relatives to encourage or force those under the age of 18 to murder their mothers, aunts and sisters.

There are actions being taken to hinder the amount of honour crimes being committed not just within the UK, but many other countries including Sweden, and Turkey as well. In Sweden there is the Anti-violence project that was launched in 2003, which tries to educate young men from diverse backgrounds in values regarding women, and human rights.

In Turkey a paper has been produced on the dynamics of honour killings and the prospects for action that can be taken, which was produced in 2008. This paper acts as a study collating information highlighting causes, consequences and recommendation to help stop honour killings within the country.

There is the Kurdish Women’s Rights Watch, also known as KWRW. This group was set up to promote and monitor the interests of Kurdish women with regards to honour crimes, and civil and human rights. Their aims are to raise awareness of the human, social and civil rights of Kurdish women, and to monitor any violations of those rights, whilst monitoring and combating domestic, honour-based and all other forms of violence and discrimination against women as well as promote the health, education and social well-being of Kurdish women.

And in Britain a helpline was launched in February 2009 to help victims that are either being forced into marriage or honour based crimes. The helpline was set up by the police and all staff received training in recognising and dealing with instances of honour based violence and forced marriage to ensure that the safety of victims and witnesses are paramount and that any offences are fully investigated.

There has been has been no sufficient evidence to suggest that the numbers in honour crimes has decreased, but due to the difficulties involved in investigating these particular acts, it’s hard to see whether they ever will.

By David O'Neill

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