Punishments for “honour” crimes and killings must be commensurate with the offense and sufficiently severe to deter would-be perpetrators. Drafters should ensure that laws do not impose lighter prison sentences for “honour” killings than other murders. “Honour” killings should be treated as homicides carrying the highest penalty, such as aggravated or first-degree murder, that reflects the perpetrator’s intent behind such crimes and takes into account any premeditation in the commission of the crime. Drafters should repeal any laws that allow judicial discretion in considering mitigating factors, such as the offender’s “condition” or motive or private settlements, when sentencing a defendant in an “honour” crimes case. Sentencing guidelines for “honour” crimes are also a useful tool to ensure consistency in sentencing. Such guidelines should set mandatory minimum sentences for various types of “honour” crimes.
Drafters should exclude provisions that allow for reduced sentences or impunity in cases of “honour” crimes and repeal any such existing provisions. Laws should prohibit the reduction of penalties in cases of violence against women and girls where:
Drafters should carefully review existing penal statutes and ensure that provisions that afford judges latitude in reducing penalties are inapplicable in cases of “honour” crimes. For example, Article 192 of the Syrian Penal Code permits a judge to reduce a perpetrator’s sentence if the judge finds the motive for the crime to be “sympathetic” or “honourable.” (See: Odeh, Lama Abu, Honor Killings and the Construction of Gender in Arab Societies, American Journal of Comparative Law, Vol. 58, Fall 2010, p. 911; Lynn Welchman, Extracted provisions from the penal codes of Arab states relevant to 'crimes of honour’).
Further, drafters should consider providing that the commission of a crime in the name of “honour” is itself an aggravating factor to be considered in sentencing. Such treatment emphasizes society’s intolerance for “honour” crimes and acknowledges the particularly insidious nature of such crimes, which not only harm the targeted victim but also serve as a tool to exert control over women throughout a community.
Laws should also permit judges to consider other aggravating factors when sentencing perpetrators for “honour” crimes, including the perpetrator’s abuse of a position of trust or authority over the victim, the perpetration of violence against a spouse or other person in a close relationship with the perpetrator, or the involvement of multiple perpetrators. (See: Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, Art. 46; Resolution Adopted by the General Assembly, Strengthening Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Responses to Violence against Women, U.N. Doc. A/Res/65/228, 2011, Annex: Updated Model Strategies and Practical Measures on the Elimination of Violence against Women in the Field of Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice)
CASE STUDY: Lebanon removed the reduction of sentences for “honour” killings in 1999 from its penal code. Yet, Article 252 still allows for a commuted sentence if the perpetrator committed the crime out of extreme anger because of an “unjust and dangerous act” by the victim. Similarly, Article 193 (if the motive was honorable and characterized by chivalry and decency) and Article 253 (if there are any “mitigating” circumstances) also provide for a reduction of sentence, and both articles are also applied to crimes committed on the pretext of “honour”, particularly if the perpetrator was the husband.
The Lebanese courts have held that a husband benefited from the terms of Article 252, where the husband shot his wife “under the influence of an extreme rage” after the wife left him and had an affair (she had previously requested a divorce and been denied). The court held that the husband met the three elements required for sentence mitigation by Article 252, namely that the wife committed a “wrongful” act in leaving the marital home and having an affair, that she undermined the “honour”, dignity and manliness of her husband by calling him undignified names and committing adultery, and that it was established that the crime was immediate, spontaneous and done in a rage. The court also noted that the wrongful act committed by the victim was “particularly dangerous” given the mindset and “mentality” of the perpetrator, who was an oven worker. Case no. 10/1999 – decision no. 85/1999, Criminal Court of North Lebanon, cited in Hoyek, et al, Murder of Women in Lebanon: “Crimes of Honour” Between Reality and the Law, in Sara Hossain & Lynn Welchman eds., Honour: Crimes Paradigms and Violence Against Women 124 (2005). In two other cases, the court declined to apply Article 252. In one case the court held the brother of the victim had clearly resolved to kill his sister long after the effect of rage had worn off. Case no. 582/2001, decision no. 413/2001, First Instance Chamber of Criminal Court of North Lebanon, cited in Hoyek at 124-25. In the second case, even though the brother of the victim was clearly in an extreme rage after learning of the victim’s marital infidelity, the court held that the sister’s adultery was not potentially dangerous and not enough to warrant the brother’s act in killing her. Case no. 36/1998, decision no. 11/1998, Criminal Court of North Lebanon, cited in Hoyek at 125.
In applying Article 193, the courts have found a legitimate claim to honourable motive characterized by chivalry and decency if the perpetrator is the husband, but not in cases involving other relatives of the deceased such as a mother or brother. See: Hoyek and cases cited therein at 122-23.
However, in most rulings involving claims of “honour”, the Lebanese courts apply 253 whether or not they apply 252 or 193. Article 253 allows courts simply to reduce sentences in the presence of “mitigating factors.” What constitutes a mitigating factor is not defined, leaving a great deal of discretion to the courts, and they have used that discretion to reduce the sentences of perpetrators who commit crimes under the pretext of “honour”, for example in cases involving perpetrators who kill wives, sisters, or daughters because of illegitimate pregnancies or suspected infidelity. The courts note such “mitigating” factors as the “circumstances” of the crime, or the tribal or other customs prevailing in the particular region where the crime occurred, or the “psychological agitation” of the accused when he killed his victim. (See: Hoyek and cases cited therein at 125-27)