Criminalization of “honour” crimes, “honour” killings and other related offenses

Drafters should create a separate criminal offense of “honour” crimes and “honour” killings. (See: Section on Defining “Honour” Crimes and “Honour” Killings) Drafters should ensure that crimes of “honour” are non-compoundable offenses.:  Such crimes should be prosecuted regardless of whether the victim or her family has withdrawn the complaint or whether the parties have reached a private settlement. Penalties for “honour” crimes and killings should be reflective of the seriousness of the crime, and commensurate with other similar offenses, and sufficiently severe to effectively deter such crimes. (See: Section on Sentencing Provisions)

Example: For example, although Syrian President Bashar al-Assad amended Article 548 of the Syrian Penal Code to increase the sentence for “honour” killings to five-to-seven years in jail, some have observed that such a sentence is still far too lenient given the seriousness of such a crime. (See: Syria: “Honor” Killing Sentence Increased, Stop VAW, The Advocates for Human Rights, February 10, 2011)

CASE STUDY - Pakistan:

The traditional perception of women as the property of her male relatives, and thus a commodity to be bartered and sold at will is found in some Pakistani tribal societies. (See Amnesty International, Pakistan: Violence Against Women in the Name of Honour (1999))  Bride prices are still demanded for women. A woman, or even very young girls, may be traded or given away as part of the “blood money” needed to settle a family or tribal conflict, or as compensation to repair a man’s damaged “honour”, even as part of a karo kari settlement. Because “honour” in many tribal societies is tied to a man’s wealth and possessions, which include women and any property associated with a woman, the continued view of women as valuable possessions fosters a climate that condones violence against women in case she transgresses. Laws criminalizing “honour” crimes and killings should recognize the fundamental role that the commodification of women plays in these crimes, and as noted above, require prosecution of the offense regardless of any settlement between the parties. 

Pakistan’s law outlawing “honour” crimes has been criticized for not making “honour” crimes non-compoundable offenses, and allowing the “dispute” to be settled as a private matter between the offender and the victim’s heirs, either through forgiveness (qisas) or payment of compensation (diyat).  Given the traditional view of women as commodities with a value that can be settled on (like a bride price or blood money), and given that a family member is often also the perpetrator of the “honour” crime, there is significant concern that this loophole will allow many “honour” killings to go unpunished and will do little to deter “honour” crimes in Pakistan. Attempts to remove this loophole were defeated by Pakistan’s parliament in 2005 (BBC News, Pakistan Rejects Pro-Women Bill (2 March 2005).

Laws should criminalize all acts of violence committed to protect or restore “honour”, as well as related offenses that sometimes accompany the commission of an “honour” crime. These crimes include: murder, assault, torture, incest, sexual abuse, rape, kidnapping, virginity testing, forcing another to commit suicide, forced eviction, stove burning, forced marriage, acid attacks, mutilation, disfigurement, and using women and girls as compensation to atone for the crimes of others or as dispute settlement. Laws should prohibit other acts often associated with “honour”, such as false imprisonment, restrictions on free association, and denying access to identification documents and bank accounts and should guarantee women and girls equal rights with men in regard to personal civil status, freedom of association, freedom of communications, and access to information. Drafters should ensure these laws punish the offender, not the victim.

Laws should allow prosecutors to bring multiple counts against the defendant for all behaviors where the offense violates different statutes or the offense consists of multiple acts that can each be prosecuted separately.

(See: Good Practices in Legislation on “Harmful Practices” against Women, UN Division for the Advancement of Women, May 26-29, 2009, p. 18)

A state enacting “honour” crimes legislation should also seek to establish jurisdiction over “honour” crimes committed within the state’s territory as well as crimes committed by or against a resident of that state, even if the crime is committed outside the state’s territory and regardless of whether the “honour” crime is criminalized in the country in which it was committed.  This broad jurisdictional reach is key to prosecuting cases in which victims have been taken or lured out of their country of residence by the perpetrators for purposes of committing the “honour” crime in a nation where such crimes are viewed with more tolerance.  (See: Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, Article 44).