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by Ashfaq Yusufzai

Pakistan "Honor Killing" Of Women Lives On

(IPS) PESHAWAR -- In a remote valley that rises high in the Hindu Kush mountains, a loya jirga (grand council of village elders) has decided that anybody reporting so-called "honor" killings or filing a police complaint must also be put to death.

The jirga, held in Nehag Dara in the Upper Dir district three weeks ago, not only endorsed the centuries-old custom of putting to death a woman that the family considers dishonorable, but declared that those responsible were not liable for punishment.

Political parties and non-government organizations (NGOs) have slammed the controversial decree. At an April 30 meeting organized by Aurat Foundation, an NGO working with women, they approved a resolution demanding that the federal, provincial and district governments take strict action against jirga members.

"We strongly condemn the jirga's decision -- and ask the chief justice of Pakistan to take suo motu action against the members of the so-called jirga," the joint resolution stated. A second loya jirga in Nehag Dara on April 28 had again declared honor killings permissible.

Crimes of honor are a pre-Islamic practice deeply rooted in the tribal societies of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) where Upper Dir is located, Balochistan province, as well as those of Sindh and Punjab, where they are called "karo kari" (literally black man and black woman).

In these rigidly patriarchal communities, wives, daughters, sisters and mothers are killed for the least sexual indiscretion and upon the slightest suspicion of adultery.

Last year, relatives in Dir killed Zubaida Bibi, a councillor, and her daughter because she allegedly brought a bad name upon the family. The police arrested the man accused in the first information report (FIR), but he was soon released.

"The menace is so deep-rooted in society that campaigns, such as holding seminars and workshops, have made no difference at all," lamented Yasmin Begum of Shirkat Gah.

The federal government has asked the NWFP government to order an inquiry into the jirga verdict.

According to the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), 1,339 cases of honor killings were registered between 1998 and 2002. Of these, 659 were married women and the remaining were single. These were only the reported cases; most go unreported.

The perpetrators included brothers, husbands, fathers, sons and in-laws, the HRCP said. Of these, only 202 were arrested. The rest went scot-free.

Murders in the name of honor fall under the purview of the customary "qisas and diyat" law. Riddled with flaws, it makes prosecution extremely difficult.

Activists have been urging the government to reform the law but a bill seeking to bolster secular law against honor killings, presented in parliament last year, was defeated as un-Islamic.

"Drastic changes are needed," Rakshanda Naz, resident director of Aurat Foundation, told IPS. "The social mind-set, specially the attitude of the courts, needs to change. Often the courts adopt a lenient view towards an accused on the grounds of 'grave and sudden provocation' which is nowhere in the law."

Sections of the qisas and diyat law work to the advantage of the accused in the trial and appellate stages.

Under section 309 of the law, an adult wali (legal heir) of a deceased could use his right of qisas (to forgive the accused). Similarly, under section 310, the offense of murder is made a compoundable offense and any heir of a deceased could forgive an accused by compounding his right of qisas after receiving compensation.

In most honor-related murders, either a husband or parents are the heirs of the slain woman. Since the murder takes place in connivance with almost all the family members, they prefer to waive their right of qisas and pardon the accused.

Each time, the judicial response has appeared to violate the basic principles of justice, activists observed.

Uzma Mehboob, a women's rights activist, said no FIR was registered in a recent case in a remote hamlet in NWFP's Mardan district where a powerful landowner sprayed his daughter and driver, who had eloped together, with bullets.

A month ago, the Peshawar High Court set aside the death penalty awarded to Gul Zaman for the murder of his wife and three daughters for venturing out of their house without his permission. A local judge had convicted Zaman on Jan. 31, 2005. But the high court set him free after his three sons and a daughter, who were also the legal heirs of the deceased, forgave their father.

The same court commuted the death sentence of Wakeel Saeed to seven-years' imprisonment for the murder of his daughter and a cleric in the local mosque in 2002. His counsel argued that under section 306 of the qisas and diyat law, an offender could not be sentenced to death for killing his child.

Naeema Kishwar, member of the NWFP Assembly from the Jamiat Ulemai Islam (a religious party), is blunt in her criticism. "It's un-Islamic to kill a woman or man in the name of honor. We will fight the dirty tradition," she told IPS.

Zahira Khattak, vice president of the Awami National Party, has warned her partymen that they would be expelled if found to be involved in honor crimes. But the ultimate responsibility lies with the government, she warned. "The government has so far utterly failed to apply brakes on it (the custom)," she observed.

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Albion Monitor   May 11, 2006   (

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