6 December 2022

Staff Report

Over 470 cases of honour killings were reported in Pakistan last year according to state officials. However, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and other human rights defenders estimate that around 1,000 women and girls were killed in the name of honour. Few such murders are properly reported or tried as families of the victims are the perpetrators.

Victims of honour killing are perceived to have brought shame and dishonour to their relatives. According to the Human Rights Watch, the most common reason for honor-related crimes is the violation of social norms and what is thought to be accepted social behavior. A woman’s choice of clothing, employment, or education; refusal to accept an arranged marriage; getting married without family’s consent; seeking a divorce; being raped or sexually assaulted; having intimate or sexual relations before or outside marriage, even if only alleged — these are seen to be valid reasons for an honor killing.

The killings are usually carried out by the victim’s own family members. Among those who have been arrested for the Abbas sisters’ murders are their husbands, an uncle, and two brothers. Honor killings are often considered private family matters and are therefore rarely reported – making it easier for perpetrators to escape accountability.

Earlier this year, two Pakistani-origin Spanish sisters, Arooj Abbas and Aneesa Abbas, were tortured and shot dead in the Gujrat district for refusing to take their husbands — cousins from forced marriages — to Spain. The sisters were considering divorcing their husbands and were killed in the name of ‘honor’ as retaliation by the family.

In the case of Qandeel Baloch, her celebrity status brough much media and legal attention. Nevertheless despite the fact that the case was high-profile, her killer – her brother, who was awarded life imprisonment in 2016 — was recently acquitted for her murder.

According to Amnesty International, honor killings are “committed predominantly against women and girls.” The first attempt to outlaw honour killing in Pakistan was made almost two decades ago.

In 2004, Pakistan’s National Assembly passed the Honor Killing Act, which made any killing in the name of honor a punishable crime. But the law came with a loophole; it was passed as part of Section 302(c) in the criminal law (amendment) of the Pakistan Penal Code, which gives relatives of the victim the right to forgive the convict through an Islamic legal practice known as Diya. Heirs of the victim may forgive the convict and thus the penalties would not apply. This is an especially troubling practice in the context of honor killings, where often family members are the very ones committing the murder.

In 2016 following the killing of Qandeel Baloch, the National Assembly enacted the Anti-Honor Killing law. This legislation closed the loophole discussed above by mandating life imprisonment for the convict even when the victim’s relatives forgive the murderer.

The law that allows relatives of the victim to forgive the murderer is still in Pakistan’s rule books, however, and in practice. Qandeel Baloch’s brother was acquitted under this law. The mother was given the freedom to forgive her son after the judge ruled the case was not an honor killing.

This ruling and the fact that hundreds of cases of honor killings in Pakistan go unreported will continue to keep women and men vulnerable to being killed in the name of protecting the honor of the family.

Human rights and women’s rights groups continue to campaign to enforce the implementation of the Anti-Honor Killing law. However until public attitudes are changed towards honour killing it will be impossible to eradicate this heinous crime against women and girls. Consequently the men in society – brothers, fathers, uncles and cousins – will continue to violence against women for exercising their basic freedoms.



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