An honor killing
(also called a customary
) is the murder
of a family
or clan member by one or more fellow family members, where the
murderers (and potentially the wider community) believe the victim
to have brought dishonor
upon the family,
clan, or community. This perceived dishonor is normally the result
of (a) utilizing dress codes unacceptable to the family (b) wanting
out of an arranged marriage or choosing to marry by own choice or
(c) engaging in certain sexual acts. These killings result from the
perception that defense of honor justifies killing a person whose
behavior dishonors their clan or family.
The United Nations
(UNFPA) estimates that the annual worldwide
total of honor-killing victims may be as high as 5,000.
Human Rights Watch
killings" as follows:
Honor crimes are acts of violence, usually murder,
committed by male family members against female family members, who
are held to have brought dishonor upon the family.
A woman can be targeted by (individuals within) her
family for a variety of reasons, including: refusing to enter into
an arranged marriage, being the
victim of a sexual assault, seeking a
divorce—even from an abusive
husband—or (allegedly) committing adultery.
The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way
that "dishonors" her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on
The loose term honor killing applies to killing of both males and
females in cultures that practice it. For example, during
the year 2002 in Pakistan, it is estimated that 245 women and 137
men were killed in the name of Karo-kari
These killings target women and men who choose to have
relationships outside of their family's tribal affiliation and/or
Some women who bridge social divides, publicly engage other
communities, or adopt some of the customs or the religion of an
outside group may thus also be attacked. In countries that receive
immigration, some otherwise low-status immigrant men and boys have
asserted their dominant patriarchal status by inflicting honor
killings on women family members who have participated in public
life, for example in feminist and integration politics. Women in
the family do support the honor killing of one of their own, when
they agree that the family is the property and asset of men and
boys. Alternatively, matriarchs may be motivated not by personal
belief in the misogynistic ideology of women as property, but
rather by tragically pragmatic calculations. Sometimes a mother may
support an honor killing of an "offending" female family member in
order to preserve the honor of other female family members since
many men in these societies will refuse to marry the sister of a
"shamed" female whom the family has not chosen to punish, thereby
"purifying" the family name by murdering the suspected
There is some evidence that homosexuality can also be perceived as
grounds for honor killing by relatives. In one case, a gay
Jordanian man who was shot and wounded by his brother.
In another case, a homosexual Turkish student, Ahmet Yildiz, was
shot outside a cafe and later died in the hospital. Sociologists
have called this Turkey's first publicized gay honor killing.
A recent phenomenon of Honor suicides
Turkey. There have been many cases when people order or pressure a
woman to kill herself; this may be done so that the people avoid
penalties for murdering her. A special envoy for the United Nations named Yakin Erturk, who was
sent to Turkey to
investigate suspicious suicides amongst
Kurdish girls, was quoted by The New York Times as saying that some
suicides appeared in Kurdish-inhabited regions of Turkey to be "honour killings disguised
as a suicide or an accident."
Iraqi women in Diyala
suicide, to escape the shame of having been raped.
choose to become suicide bombers to escape the shame; startlingly,
their rapes were planned in advance by 51 year old Iraqi woman
, who confessed to Iraqi
police that she organized their rapes so she could later persuade
each of them that to become a suicide bomber was the only way to
escape their shame.
According to the UN in 2002:
report of the Special Rapporteur
... concerning cultural practices in the family that are violent
towards women (E/CN.4/2002/83), indicated that honour killings had
been reported in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, the
Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey, Yemen, and other
Mediterranean and Persian Gulf countries, and that they had also
taken place in western countries such as France, Germany and the
Kingdom, within migrant communities."
There is a strong positive correlation between violence against
women, and women's social power and equality; and a baseline of
development, associated with access to basic resources, health
care, and human capital, such as literacy - as research by Richard
G. Wilkinson shows. In a male dominated society, there is more
inequality between men, and women lose out not just physically and
economically, but crucially because men who feel subordinated will
often try to regain a sense of their authority in turn by excessive
subordination of those below them, ie women. (Interestingly, he
says that in male-dominated societies, not only do women suffer
more violence, and worse health: but so do men.)
According to Widney Brown, advocacy director for Human Rights
Watch, the practice "goes across cultures and across
In 2005 Der Spiegel
'In the past four months, six Muslim women living in Berlin have
been brutally murdered by family members', and goes on to cover the
case of Hatun Sürücü
killed by her brother for not staying with her husband of forced
marriage, but of 'living like a German'. Precise statistics on how
many women die every year in such honor killings are hard to come
by, as many crimes are never reported, said Myria Boehmecke of the
Tuebingen-based women's group Terre des Femmes which, among other
things, tries to protect Muslim girls and women from oppressive
families. The Turkish women's organization Papatya has documented
40 instances of honor killings in Germany since 1996.
Hatun Sürücü's brother and murderer, was convicted of murder and
jailed for nine years and three months by a German court in
In March 2009, Turkish immigrant Gülsüm S. was killed for a
relationship outside her family's plan for an arranged
Every year in the UK, a dozen women are victims of honor killings,
occurring almost exclusively to date within Asian and Middle
Eastern families and often cases are unresolved due to the
unwillingness of family, relatives and communities to testify. A
2006 BBC poll for the Asian network in the UK found that 1 in 10 of
the 500 young Asians polled said that they could condone the murder
of someone who dishonored their familyIn the UK, in December 2005,
Nazir Afzal, Director, West London, of Britain's Crown Prosecution Service
that the United Kingdom has seen "at least a dozen honour killings"
between 2004 and 2005. While precise figures do not exist for the
perpetrators' cultural backgrounds, Diana Nammi of the UK's Iranian
and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation is reported to have
said:"about two-thirds are Muslim. Yet they can also be Hindu, Sikh
and even eastern European."
Another well known case was of Heshu Yones, who was stabbed to
death by her father in London in 2002, when her family heard a love
song dedicated to her and suspected she had a boyfriend. Another
girl suffered a similar fate in Turkey.
In April 2008 it came to light that some months prior, a Saudi
woman was killed by her father for chatting on Facebook to a man.
The murder only came to light when a Saudi cleric referred to the
case in an attempt to demonstrate the strife that the website
A June 2008 Report by the Turkish Prime Ministry's Human Rights
Directorate, says that in Istanbul alone, there is one honor
killing every week; and reports over 1,000 during the last 5 years.
It adds that metropolitan cities are the location of many of
UNICEF reported that in the Gaza strip and the West bank that
"According to 1999 estimates, more than two-thirds of all murders
were most likely 'honour' killings."
In 2003 James Emery (adjunct professor of anthropology at
Metropolitan State College of Denver and expert on Afghan politics
and the Taliban) wrote: In the Palestinian communities of the West
Bank, Gaza Strip, Israel, and Jordan, women are executed in their
homes, in open fields, and occasionally in public, sometimes before
crowds of cheering onlookers. Honor killings account for virtually
all of the murders of Palestinian women in these areas.
As many as
133 women were killed in the Iraqi city of Basra alone in
2006—79 for violation of "Islamic teachings" and 47 for honor
killings, according to IRIN, the news branch of the U.N.'s Office
for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
International claims honor killings are also conducted by armed
groups, not the government, upon politically active women and those
who did not follow a strict dress code, as well as women who are
perceived as human rights defenders.
Jordan, considered one of the most liberal countries in the Middle
East still witnesses instances of honor killings. In Jordan there
is minimal gender discrimination and women are permitted to vote
but men receive reduced sentences for killing their wives or female
family members if they have brought dishonor to their family.
Families often have sons who are considered minors, under the age
of 18, to commit the honor killings. A loophole in the juvenile law
allows minors to serve time in a juvenile detention center and they
are released with a clean criminal record at the age of 18. Rana
Husseini, a leading journalist on the topic of honor killings,
states that “’[u]nder the existing law, people found guilty of
committing honor killings often receive sentences as light as six
months in prison’”. There has been much outcry in Jordan for the
amendments of Article 340 and 98. In 1999, King Abdullah created a
council to review the gender inequalities in the country. The
Council returned with a recommendation to repeal Article 340.
“[T]he cabinet approved the recommendation, the measure was
presented to parliament twice in November 1999 and January 2000 and
in both cases, though approved by the upper house, it failed to
pass the elected lower house”. In 2001 after parliament was
suspended, a number of temporary laws were created which were
subject to parliamentary ratification. One of the amendments was
that “husbands would no longer be exonerated for murdering
unfaithful wives, but instead the circumstances would be considered
as evidence for mitigating punishments”. Also to continue with the
efforts of creating gender equality, women were given the same
reduction in punishment if found guilty of the crime. But
parliament returned to session in 2003 and the ratifications were
rejected by the lower house after two successful readings in the
Israel, in contrast to its neighbors, sentences convicted
perpetrators of honor killings to life in prison, as was the case
in a 2008 incident where two Arab-Israeli brothers murdered their
study by Dr. Amin Muhammad and Dr. Sujay Patel of Memorial
University, Canada, showed how Islamic honor killings have
been brought to Canada.
He wrote: "When people come and
settle in Canada they can bring their traditions and forcefully
follow them. In some cultures, people feel some boundaries are
never to be crossed, and if someone would violate those practices
or go against it, then murder is justified to them." He also noted
that there are hundreds of cases annually in his native Pakistan.
He added that "In different cultures, they can get away without
being punished -- the courts actually sanction them under religious
An article in the Spring 2009 edition of Middle East Quarterly
the United States is far behind Europe in acknowledging that honor
killings are a special form of domestic violence, requiring special
training and special programs to protect the young women and girls
most subject to it. The article suggests that the fear of being
labeled "culturally insensitive" prevents US government officials
and the media from both identifying and accurately reporting these
incidents as "honor killings" when they occur. Failing to
accurately describe the problem makes it more difficult to develop
public policies to address it.
killings are known locally as karo-kari.
International's report noted "the failure of the authorities to
prevent these killings by investigating and punishing the
perpetrators." Recent cases include that of three teenage girls who
were buried alive after refusing arranged marriages. Another case
was that of Taslim Khatoon Solangi, 17, of Hajna Shah village in
Khairpur district, which became widely reported after the graphic
account of her father 57-year-old Gul Sher Solangi, who allegedly
tortured and murdered his eight months’ pregnant daughter on March
7 on the orders of her father-in-law, who accused her of carrying a
child conceived out of wedlock.
. Statistically, honor killings enjoy high
level of support in Pakistani society, despite widespread
condemnation from human rights groups. In 2002 alone, over 382 people, about 245 women and 137
men, became victims of honor killings in the Sindh province of
the course of six years, over 4,000 women have fallen victim to
this practice in Pakistan from 1999
.More recently (in 2005
average annual number of honor killings for the whole nation ran up
to more than 10,000 per year.
According to woman rights advocates, The
concepts of women as property and honor are so deeply entrenched in
the social, political and economic fabric of Pakistan that the
government, for the most part, ignores the daily occurrences of
women being killed and maimed by their families." Frequently, women
murdered in "honour" killings are recorded as having committed
suicide or died in accidents.
Hindu historic practice of sati, or widow-burning,
in parts of India and South Asia can be considered a form of honor suicide in those instances when (at
least theoretically) the act is voluntary, with a deceased man's
widow immolating herself on his
funeral pyre as an act of pious devotion and to preserve her and
her family's honor.
The justifications for sati, as well as
its actual prevalence and acceptance, are subject to much
historical and religious debate, however. Evidence suggests that in
some instances, sati was not "voluntary", but was compelled, both
historically and in modern times. Ever since the British ruled
India, sati has been banned and is now considered murder. Sati has
occurred in modern times in Northern India as recently as the
1990s. Sati still occurs occasionally, mostly in rural areas. About
40 cases have occurred in India since independence in 1947, the
majority taking place in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan.
A well documented case from 1987 was that of Roop Kanwar
. In response to this incident,
additional legislation against the practice was passed, first by
the state government of Rajasthan, then by the central government
People are still murdered across Northern
for daring to marry without their family's acceptance, in
some cases for marrying outside their caste or religion.
Haryana, for example, a couple of such incidents still
occur every year. Bhagalpur in the northern Indian state of Bihar has also
been notorious for honor killings.
Recent cases include a
16-year-old girl, Imrana, from Bhojpur was set on fire inside her
house on Monday in a case of what the police called ‘moral
vigilantism’. The victim had screamed for help for about 20 minutes
before neighbours arrived only to find her still smoldering. She
was admitted to a local hospital where she later succumbed to her
injuries. Another case in May 2008, Jayvirsingh Bhadodiya shot his
daughter Vandana Bhadodiya and struck with her in the head with an
As a cultural practice
Kanaana, professor of anthropology at
University states that honor killing is:
- A complicated issue that cuts deep into the history of
Arab society. .. What the men
of the family, clan, or tribe seek control of in a patrilineal society is reproductive
power. Women for the tribe were considered a factory for making men. The honour killing
is not a means to control sexual power or behavior. What's
behind it is the issue of fertility, or
An Amnesty International
- The regime of honor is unforgiving: women on whom suspicion
has fallen are not given an opportunity to defend themselves, and
family members have no socially acceptable alternative but to
remove the stain on their honor by attacking the woman.
Hina Jilani, lawyer and human rights activist
- The right to life of women in Pakistan is conditional on
their obeying social norms and traditions.
A July 2008 Turkish study by a team from Dicle University on honor
killings in the Southeastern Anatolia Region
has so far shown that little if any social stigma is attached to
the act. It also comments that the practise is not related to a
feudal societal structure, "there are also perpetrators who are
well-educated university graduates. Of all those surveyed, 60
percent are either high school or university graduates or at the
very least, literate."
In national legal codes
According to the report of the Special Rapporteur submitted to the
58th session of the United Nations
Commission on Human Rights
(2002) concerning cultural practices
in the family that reflect violence against women
Special Rapporteur indicated that there had been contradictory
decisions with regard to the honour defense in Brazil, and that
legislative provisions allowing for partial or complete defense in
that context could be found in the penal codes of Argentina, Ecuador, Egypt, Guatemala, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Peru, Syria, Venezuela and the Palestinian National
Countries where the law is interpreted to allow men to kill female
relatives in a premeditated effort as well as for crimes of
passions, in flagrante
in the act of committing adultery, include:
- Jordan: Part of
article 340 of the Penal Code states that "he who discovers his
wife or one of his female relatives committing adultery and kills,
wounds, or injures one of them, is exempted from any
penalty." This has twice been put forward for cancellation
by the government, but was retained by the Lower House of the
Parliament, in 2003: a year in which at least seven honor killings
took place. Article 98 of the Penal Code is often cited alongside
Article 340 in cases of honor killings. “Article 98 stipulates that
a reduced sentence is applied to a person who kills another person
in a ‘fit of fury’”.
Countries that allow men to kill female relatives in flagrante
(but without premeditation) include:
- Syria: Article 548
states that "He who catches his wife or one of his ascendants,
descendants or sister committing adultery (flagrante
delicto) or illegitimate sexual acts with another and he
killed or injured one or both of them benefits from an exemption of
Countries that allow husbands to kill only their wives in
(based upon the Napoleonic code
- Morocco: Revisions
to Morocco's criminal code in 2003 helped improve women's legal
status by eliminating unequal sentencing in adultery cases.
Article 418 of the penal code granted extenuating circumstances to
a husband who murders, injures, or beats his wife and/or her
partner, when catching them in flagrante delicto while committing
adultery. While this article has not been repealed, the penalty for
committing this crime is at least now the same for both
two Latin American countries, similar
laws were struck down over the past two decades: according to human
rights lawyer Julie Mertus "in Brazil, until 1991
wife killings were considered to be noncriminal 'honor killings';
in just one year, nearly eight hundred husbands killed their
wives. Similarly, in Colombia, until 1980, a husband legally could kill his wife
for committing adultery."
Countries where honor killing is not
legal but is known to
- Turkey: In Turkey,
persons found guilty of this crime are sentenced to life in
prison. There are well documented cases, where Turkish
courts have sentenced whole families to life imprisonment for an
honor killing. The most recent was on January 13, 2009, where a
Turkish Court sentenced five members of the same Kurdish family to
life imprisonment for the "honour killing" of Naile Erdas, 16, who
got pregnant as a result of rape.
- Pakistan: Honor killings are known as Karo Kari ( )
( ). The practice is supposed to be prosecuted under
ordinary murder, but in practice police and prosecutors often
ignore it. Often a man must simply claim the killing was for his
honor and he will go free. Nilofar
Bakhtiar, advisor to Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, stated that in 2003, as many as
1,261 women were murdered in honor killings. On December 8, 2004,
under international and domestic pressure, Pakistan enacted a law
that made honor killings punishable by a prison term of seven
years, or by the death penalty in the most extreme cases. Women's
rights organizations were, however, wary of this law as it stops
short of outlawing the practice of allowing killers to buy their
freedom by paying compensation to the victim's relatives. Women's
rights groups claimed that in most cases it is the victim's
immediate relatives who are the killers, so inherently the new law
is just eyewash. It did not alter the provisions whereby the
accused could negotiate pardon with the victim's family under the
Islamic provisions. In March 2005 the Pakistani parliament rejected
a bill which sought to strengthen the law against the practice of
honor killing. However, the bill was brought up again, and in
November 2006, it passed. It is doubtful whether or not the law
would actually help women.
- Egypt: A number of
studies on honor crimes by The Centre of Islamic and Middle Eastern
Law, at the School of Oriental and African
Studies in London, includes one which reports on Egypt's
legal system, noting a gender bias in favor of men in general, and
notably article 17 of the Penal Code : judicial discretion to allow
reduced punishment in certain circumstance, often used in honor
Support and sanction
President Ramzan Kadyrov
that honor killings were perpetuated on those who deserved to die.
He said that those who are killed had "loose morals" and were
rightfully shot by relatives in honor killings. He did not vilify
women alone but added that "If a woman runs around and if a man
runs around with her, both of them are killed."
- "Jordan Parliament Supports Impunity for
Honor Killing," Washington, D.C.: Human Rights
Watch news release, January
- "Burned Alive: A Victim of the Law of Men." (ISBN
0-446-53346-7) Alleged first-person account of Souad, a victim of an attempted honor killing . The
authenticity of this work has been questioned, as it is based on a
repressed memory report.
- Phyllis Chesler, 2009, "
Honor Killings Simply Domestic Violence?" Middle East
Quarterly XVI(2): 61-69.
- Tintori, Karen, 2007. Unto the Daughters: The Legacy of an
Honor Killing in a Sicilian-American Family. St. Martin's
- Wikan, Unni, 2002. Generous Betrayal: Politics of Culture
in the New Europe. University of Chicago Press.
- Teen Lovers Murdered in India Honor Killing.
- "'Honour Killings' and the Law in Pakistan" by Sohail Warraich.
Chapter 4 of "Honour, Crimes, paradigms, and violence against
women" By Sara Hossain, and Lynn Welchman,Zed Books (November 10,
2005), ISBN 1842776274
- Yasmeen Hassan, The Haven Becomes Hell: A Study of Domestic
Violence in Pakistan, "The Fate of Pakistani Women.",1995 Aug. 72
p. (Special Bulletin), Johns Hopkins Bloomberg
- Lata Mani: Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in
Colonial India. Berkeley & Los Angeles, 1998
- Immolation - India's Secret
- Indian village proud after double "honor
killing". Reuters. May 16, 2008.
- Eight beheaded in Indian 'honor killing'.
United Press International. February 12, 2009.