An honor killing is the murder of a family or clan member by one or more fellow family members, when the murderers (and potentially the wider community) believe the victim to have brought dishonour upon the family, clan, or community, normally by (a) utilizing dress codes unacceptable to certain people or (b) engaging in certain sexual acts. These killings result from the perception that defense of honour justifies killing a person whose behavior dishonours their clan or family.
The United Nations Population Fund estimates that the annual worldwide total of honour-killing victims may be as high as 5,000.
Human Rights Watch defines "honor killings" as follows: Honor crimes are acts of violence, usually murder, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonor upon the family. A woman can be targeted by (individuals within) her family for a variety of reasons, including: refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce” even from an abusive husband” or (allegedly) committing adultery. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that "dishonors" her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life. It should be noted that the loose term honor killing applies to killing of both males and females in cultures that practice it. For example, during the year 2002 in Pakistan, it is estimated that 245 women and 137 men were killed in the name of Karo-Kari in Sindh. These killings target women and men who choose to have relationships outside of their family's tribal affiliation and/or religious community.
Some women who bridge social divides, publicly engage other communities, or adopt some of the customs or the religion of an outside group may thus also be attacked. In countries that receive immigration, some otherwise low-status immigrant men and boys have asserted their dominant patriarchal status by inflicting honor killings on women family members who have participated in public life, for example in feminist and integration politics. Women in the family do support the honor killing of one of their own, when they agree that the family is the property and asset of men and boys. Alternatively, matriarchs may be motivated not by personal belief in the misogynistic ideology of women as property, but rather by tragically pragmatic calculations. Sometimes a mother may support an honor killing of an "offending" female family member in order to preserve the honor of other female family members since many men in these societies will refuse to marry the sister of a "shamed" female whom the family has not chosen to punish, thereby "purifying" the family name by murdering the suspected female.
There is some evidence that homosexuality can also be perceived as grounds for honor killing by relatives. In one case, a gay Jordanian man who was shot and wounded by his brother. In another case, a homosexual Turkish student, Ahmet Yildiz, who was shot outside a cafe and later died in hospital. His friends believe that he "was the victim of the country's first gay honor killing."
A recent phenomenon of Honour suicides occurs in Turkey. There has been many cases when people order or pressure a woman to kill herself; this may be done so that the people avoid penalties for murdering her. A special envoy for the named Yakin Erturk, who was sent to Turkey to investigate suspicious suicides amongst Kurdish girls, was quoted by The New York Times as saying that some suicides appeared in Kurdish-inhabited regions of Turkey to be "honour killings disguised as a suicide or an accident."
Over 80 Iraqi women in Diyala province committed suicide, to escape the shame of having been raped. They choose to become suicide bombers to escape the shame; startlingly, their rapes were planned in advance by 51 year old Iraqi woman Samira Jassam, who confessed to Iraqi police that she organised their rapes so she could later persuade each of them that to become a suicide bomber was the only way to escape their shame.
According to the UN in 2002: "The report of the Special Rapporteur ... concerning cultural practices in the family that are violent towards women (E/CN.4/2002/83), indicated that honour killings had been reported in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Punjab, Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey, Yemen, and other Mediterranean and Persian Gulf countries, and that they had also taken place in western countries such as France, Germany and the United Kingdom, within migrant communities. "There is a strong positive correlation between violence against women, and women's social power and equality; and a baseline of development, associated with access to basic resources, health care, and human capital, such as literacy - as research by Richard G. Wilkinson shows. In a male dominated society, there is more inequality between men, and women lose out not just physically and economically, but crucially because men who feel subordinated will often try to regain a sense of their authority in turn by excessive subordination of those below them, i.e. women. (Interestingly, he says that in male-dominated societies, not only do women suffer more violence, and worse health: but so do men.)
According to Widney Brown, advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, the practice "goes across cultures and across religions."
In 2005 Der Spiegel Newspaper reports: 'In the past four months, six Muslim women living in Berlin have been brutally murdered by family members', and goes on to cover the case of Hatun - killed by her brother for not staying with her husband of forced marriage, but 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 which, among other things, 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's brother and murderer, was convicted of murder and jailed for nine years and three months by a German court in 2006.
Every year in the UK, about 13 women are victims of honour killing, occurring almost exclusively to date within Asian and Middle Eastern families and often cases are unresolved due to the unwillingness of family, relatives and communities to testify. A 2006 BBC poll for the Asian network in the UK found that 1 in 10 of the 500 young Asians polled said that they could condone the murder of someone who dishonoured 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. While precise figures do not exist for the perpetrators' cultural backgrounds, Diana Nammi of the UK's Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation is reported to have said: "about two-thirds are Muslim. Yet they can also be Hindu, Sikh and even eastern European."
Another well known case was of Heshu Yones, who was stabbed to death by her father when her family heard a love song dedicated to her and suspected she had a boyfriend. (Some news sources attribute this to a different woman, and others claim that she was killed after being lured to Pakistan.) Another girl suffered a similar fate in Turkey.
In April 2008 it came to light that some months prior, a Saudi woman was killed by her father for chatting on Facebook to a man. The murder only came to light when a Saudi Cleric referred to the case in an attempt to demonstrate the 'strife' that the website 'causes'.
A June 2008 Report by the Turkish Prime Ministry's Human Rights Directorate, says that in Istanbul alone, there is one honour killing every week; and reports over 1,000 during the last 5 years. It adds that metropolitan cities are the location of many of these.
UNICEF reported that in the Gaza strip and the West bank that "According to 1999 estimates, more than two-thirds of all murders were most likely 'honour' killings."
In 2003 James Emery (adjunct professor of anthropology at Metropolitan State College of Denver and expert on Afghan politics and the Taliban) wrote: In the Palestinian communities of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Israel, and Jordan, women are executed in their homes, in open fields, and occasionally in public, sometimes before crowds of cheering onlookers. Honor killings account for virtually all of the murders of Palestinian women in these areas.
As many as 133 women were killed in the Iraqi city of Basra alone in 2006 -- 79 for violation of "Islamic teachings" and 47 for honour killings, according to IRIN, the news branch of the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Amnesty International claims honour killings are also conducted by armed groups, not the government, upon politically active women and those who did not follow a strict dress code, as well as women who are perceived as human rights defenders.
In Israel, an Arab honour killer was punished in March 2008 by being sentenced to jail for 16 years over [the] 'honour killing' of his sister" in the Hamda Abu Ghanem case.
Jordan is considered to one of the most liberal countries in the Middle East yet they still allow honor killings to be practiced. Under articles 340 and 98, there is very little justice shown to women. In Jordan there is minimal gender discrimination and women are permitted to vote but men are not punished or have a minimal punishments for killing their wives or female family members if they have brought dishonor to their family. Families often have sons who are considered minors, under the age of 18, to commit the honor killings. A loophole in the juvenile law allows minors to serve time in a juvenile detention centre and they are released with a clean criminal record at the age of 18. 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. There has been much outcry in Jordan for the amendment of Article 340 and 98. In 1999, King Abdullah created a council to review the gender inequalities in the country. The Council returned with a recommendation to repeal Article 340. The 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 murdering unfaithful wives, but instead the circumstances would be considered as evidence for mitigating punishments. Also to continue with the efforts of creating gender equality, women were given the same reduction in punishment if found guilty of the crime. But parliament returned to session in 2003 and the ratifications were rejected by the lower house after two successful readings in the upper house.
A 2007 study by Dr. Amin Muhammad of
Honour killing as a cultural practice
Sharif Kanaana, professor of anthropology at
A July 2008 Turkish study by a team from Dicle University on honor killings in the Southeastern Anatolia Region has so far shown that little if any social stigma is attached to the act. It also comments that the practise 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 gradates or at the very least, literate."
Honour killing in national legal codes
According to the report of the Special Rapporteur submitted to the 58th session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (2002) concerning cultural practices in the family that reflect violence against women (E/CN.4/2002/83):
The Special Rapporteur indicated that there had been contradictory decisions with regard to the honour defense in Brazil, and that legislative provisions allowing for partial or complete defense in that context could be found in the penal codes of Argentina, Ecuador, Egypt, Guatemala, Iran, Israel, Jordan, span id="SPELLING_ERROR_54" class="blsp-spelling-error">flagrante delicto (but without premeditation) include:
Syria: Article 548 states that "He who catches his wife or one of his ascendants, descendants or sister committing adultery (flagrante delicto) or illegitimate sexual acts with another and he killed or injured one or both of them benefits from an exemption of penalty."
Countries that allow husbands to kill only their wives in flagrante delicto (based upon the Napoleonic code) include: Morocco: Revisions to Morocco's criminal code in 2003 helped improve women's legal status by eliminating unequal sentencing in adultery cases. Article 418 of the penal code granted extenuating circumstances to a husband who murders, injures, or beats his wife and/or her partner, when catching them in flagrante delicto while committing adultery. While this article has not been repealed, the penalty for committing this crime is at least now the same for both genders. In two Latin American countries, similar laws were struck down over the past two decades: according to human rights lawyer Julie Mertus "in Brazil, until 1991 wife killings were considered to be noncriminal 'honor killings'; in just one year, nearly eight hundred husbands killed their wives. Similarly, in Colombia, until 1980, a husband legally could kill his wife for committing adultery."
Countries where honour killing is not legal but is known to occur include:
Turkey: In Turkey, persons found guilty of this crime are sentenced to life in prison. There are well documented cases, where Turkish courts have sentenced whole families to life imprisonment for an honour killing. The most recent was on January 13, 2009, where a Turkish Court sentenced five members of the same Kurdish family to life imprisonment for the "honour killing" of Naile Erdas, 16, who got pregnant as a result of rape.
Iraqi Kurdistan: In Kurdistan, women are killed nearly every day for 'dishonoring' their families] Honor killing was legal until 2002 in Iraq
Pakistan: Honour killings are known as Karo Kari. The practice is supposed to be prosecuted under ordinary murder, but in practice police and prosecutors often ignore it. Often a man must simply claim the killing was for his honor and he will go free. Nilofar Bakhtiar, advisor to Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, stated that in 2003, as many as 1,261 women were murdered in honor killings. On December 8, 2004, under international and domestic pressure, Pakistan enacted a law that made honour killings punishable by a prison term of seven years, or by the death penalty in the most extreme cases. Women's rights organizations were, however, wary of this law as it stops short of outlawing the practice of allowing killers to buy their freedom by paying compensation to the victim's relatives. Women's rights groups claimed that in most cases it is the victim's immediate relatives who are the killers, so inherently the new law is just eyewash. It did not alter the provisions whereby the accused could negotiate pardon with the victim's family under the Islamic provisions. In March 2005 the Pakistani parliament rejected a bill which sought to strengthen the law against the practice of honour killing. However, the bill was brought up again, and in November 2006, it passed. It is doubtful whether or not the law would actually help women.
Egypt: A number of studies on honour crimes by The Centre of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law, at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, includes one which reports on Egypt's legal system, noting a gender bias in favor of men in general, and notably article 17 of the Penal Code : judicial discretion to allow reduced punishment in certain circumstance, often used in honour killings case.