This report is part of AGHS Legal Aid Cell’s campaign ‘Report SGBV – Break the Silence’.
August 6, 2023
While there are many social, procedural and legal obstacles to curbing honour-related crimes in Pakistan, experts agreed that an over-reliance on the FIR in trial proceedings and a lack of resources leading to poor investigations must also be addressed. This was the consensus among a panel of speakers for the webinar titled ‘Honour killings: How do they keep getting away with it?’, conducted by AGHS Legal Aid Cell.
The discussion featured Sara Malkani, legal advisor for the Centre for Reproductive Rights; Shahzada Sultan, Additional Inspector General (AIG) of Police, Operations, Punjab; and Nuzhat Shirin, Chairperson of the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women.
Providing an overview of Sindh, Shirin stated that most honour killings in the province are perpetrated due to political factors, feudal influences and/or family rivalries and that the institutions responding to such offences are absent. She held that meaningful work in curbing this social ill is only possible if the relevant institutions and organizations are made fully functional and the appropriate funds are supplied.
She also stated that the police should not be solely blamed, as the areas where honour killings are common are where politically relevant people have complete influence over things.
“Jacobabad, Ghotki and Khairpur are some of the areas where it is very common for feudal lords to set up court and give rulings, forcing girls to become samis with the excuse that she will be better protected in their custody. However, she will spend the rest of her life in servitude,” Shirin explained, expressing her view that the police should be fully empowered and emancipated from any influence and that existing systems and institutions should be strengthened.
The SCSW chair also opined that women and gender issues did not appear to be a priority for the state and its representatives.
Malkani observed that there are multiple factors for the delays in the registration or investigation of criminal cases. She explained that due to certain changes in Pakistan’s laws in the 80s and 90s, murder is now a compoundable offence, meaning that the legal heirs of a victim can enter into a compromise with the accused and forgive them.
“This is what we refer to as the Qisas and Diyat Amendment. And in honour killing cases, where the perpetrators are often family members, the qisas and diyat provisions tend to be invoked, and oftentimes before the conclusion of the trial the family members compromise,” she said, adding that the reason behind the impunity in honour killing cases is that it made a compoundable offence under murder.
“When the 2016 amendments were passed, in many places there was a belief that there were no legal provisions for compromises in honour killing cases. But when we look at the amendments, there is still room for compromise,” Malkani stated. “There is also a view that Sharia allows compromises in murder cases, and that it is not just allowed but is acceptable.”
She held that honour killing should be treated as murder, as trying to carve out an exception for it through the 2004 amendments was not successful.
“If we really want to bring a change in accountability and the conviction rate through the law, then the amendments to that law need to be as clear and unambiguous as possible. And that, in my view, can only happen when we make murder a non-compoundable offence once again.”
She however clarified that this alone would not be enough to improve convictions in honour killing cases, as there is a misconception that compromises cannot happen in non-compoundable cases as can be seen for the offence of rape.
“In case [murder] does become non-compoundable, conviction can only be secured when the evidence is strong enough for a beyond-reasonable-doubt conviction. If there are weaknesses in the investigation, and if the prosecutors are not equipped to properly fight cases, then convictions will continue to be overturned.”
Sultan explained that Pakistan’s criminal justice system is a value chain, therefore it is impossible to expect results by correcting only one aspect of that chain.
“It is my belief that our trials should not start with the first information report (FIR). We should forget about section 154 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.P.C)” he opined. “The first information report… is a ‘false information report’. Our trial should be based on section 173 of the Cr.P.C. We have thrown the police’s investigation out of the window and placed all reliance on the FIR, a motivated statement by an injured party which is, more often than not, a pack of lies, full of padding and false witnesses.”
He held that to punish one in a court of law, facts must be proven with evidence per certain standards of proof. However, in honour killing cases where the injured party is dead and the victim’s family do not deem themselves the injured party, there is a question on who will bring forth the evidence needed to convict the perpetrator of the offence.
“When the 2016 law came in, we were hopeful that people will be punished, and that there will no longer be any compromises [in such cases]. I have with me a list of cases from 2017 to 2021, and nine out of ten times the killers were let off on the basis of a compromise,” he said. “It is not just the failure of the police investigation or the prosecution to prosecute or the unwillingness of the judge. It is the whole legal framework in which we are caught.”
Malkani explained that it is a popular conception that is also often seen in courtrooms that a case begins with an FIR and ends with the FIR.
“We need to understand that this actually has no basis in our Cr.P.C… because it is the first information report, it is not necessary that all key facts and accused persons will be included in it. All facts are contained in the charge sheet, which is finalized after the investigation,” she said, adding that all charges cannot be logically included in an FIR when an investigation has yet to take place.
Sultan stated that due to the system and how it has shaped court practices, the FIR has been converted into the ‘final investigation report’ because of how thorough it has to be.
“Our entire reliance is on an FIR which as I had stated earlier is a false statement, so the police investigation is reduced to an exercise in proving a false statement in court. We have not even taught our investigators how to investigate. We have instead taught them what the court needs and how to supply them with what they need.”
He asserted that there is a need to correct investigation, the prosecution and judicial work.
“I take full responsibility for all the bad investigations that we do. It is a serious failure on our part because we are the gatekeepers, we are the first ones to reach the incident, and because of us much of the evidence can disappear,” he said. “Our approach is not investigative because we know that we must fulfil certain requirements of the FIR in order to punish the perpetrator, while the rest becomes padding. We need to get rid of the padding and get back to the truth.”
Malkani also felt that the investigative arm of the police is unfortunately deprioritized.
“We have talked about the deficiencies in investigations, and we would like to blame the investigating officer, but I have seen how they work. I have seen what resources are available to them, what their level of training is, what their workload is like and the hours they need to spend in courts,” she said, adding that it is difficult to have such expectations from them considering their working conditions.
Sultan agreed, stating that since the client in investigations is the common man, this arm of the police does not attract any investment at all.
“In 2021, I was chief of investigations in Lahore. I went to the Inspector General (IG) and told him that the reported crimes in Lahore numbered at 247,000 whilst I only had 800 investigators. This came out to 276 cases per investigator. Furthermore, the Lahore Police allocated Rs. 60 million per annum for investigation. While per a notification by the IG himself, the actual cost of investigation is Rs. 870 million. Rs. 6 million amounts to just Rs. 24 per case.”