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An honor killing (also called a customary killing) 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 Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that the annual worldwide total of honor-killing victims may be as high as 5,000.


Human Rights Watch defines "honor 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 her life.

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 in Sindhmarker. These killings target women and men who choose to have relationships outside of their family's tribal affiliation and/or religious community.

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 female.

There is some evidence that homosexuality can also be perceived as grounds for honor killing by relatives. In one case, a gay Jordanianmarker 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.

Honor suicides

A recent phenomenon of Honor suicides occurs in 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 Turkeymarker to investigate suspicious suicides amongst Kurdish girls, was quoted by The New York Times as saying that some suicides appeared in Kurdish-inhabitedmarker regions of Turkey to be "honour killings disguised as a suicide or an accident."

Over 80 Iraqi women in Diyala provincemarker committed suicide, to escape the shame of having been raped. They choose to become suicide bombers to escape the shame; startlingly, their rapes were planned in advance by 51 year old Iraqi woman Samira Jassim, 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:

"The 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 Egyptmarker, Jordanmarker, Lebanonmarker, Moroccomarker, Pakistanmarker, the Syrian Arab Republicmarker, Turkeymarker, Yemenmarker, and other Mediterranean and Persian Gulf countries, and that they had also taken place in western countries such as France, Germany and the United Kingdommarker, 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 religions."


In 2005 Der Spiegel magazine reports: '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 2006.

In March 2009, Turkish immigrant Gülsüm S. was killed for a relationship outside her family's plan for an arranged marriage.

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, stated 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.

Middle East

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 causes.

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 these.

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 Basramarker 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.Amnesty 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 upper house.

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 sister

North America

A 2007 study by Dr. Amin Muhammad and Dr. Sujay Patel of Memorial Universitymarker, 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 contexts"

An article in the Spring 2009 edition of Middle East Quarterly argues that 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.

South Asia

In Pakistanmarker honor killings are known locally as karo-kari. Amnesty 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.[432732]. 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 Sindhmarker province of Pakistanmarker. Over the course of six years, over 4,000 women have fallen victim to this practice in Pakistan from 1999-2004.More recently (in 2005), the 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.

The Hindu historic practice of sati, or widow-burning, in parts of Indiamarker 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 of India.

People are still murdered across Northern India for daring to marry without their family's acceptance, in some cases for marrying outside their caste or religion. In Haryanamarker, for example, a couple of such incidents still occur every year. Bhagalpurmarker in the northern Indian state of Biharmarker 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 axe.

As a cultural practice

Sharif Kanaana, professor of anthropology at Birzeit Universitymarker 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 reproductive power.

An Amnesty International statement adds:
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 (E/CN.4/2002/83):

The Special Rapporteur indicated that there had been contradictory decisions with regard to the honour defense in Brazilmarker, and that legislative provisions allowing for partial or complete defense in that context could be found in the penal codes of Argentinamarker, Ecuadormarker, Egyptmarker, Guatemalamarker, Iranmarker, Israelmarker, Jordanmarker, Perumarker, Syriamarker, Venezuelamarker and the Palestinian National Authority.

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 delicto in the act of committing adultery, include:
  • Jordanmarker: 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 delicto (but without premeditation) include:
  • Syriamarker: 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 penalty."

Countries that allow husbands to kill only their wives in flagrante delicto (based upon the Napoleonic code) include:
  • Moroccomarker: 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 genders.

  • In two Latin American countries, similar laws were struck down over the past two decades: according to human rights lawyer Julie Mertus "in Brazilmarker, until 1991 wife killings were considered to be noncriminal 'honor killings'; in just one year, nearly eight hundred husbands killed their wives. Similarly, in Colombiamarker, until 1980, a husband legally could kill his wife for committing adultery."

Countries where honor killing is not legal but is known to occur include:

  • Turkeymarker: 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.

  • Pakistanmarker: 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.

  • Egyptmarker: A number of studies on honor crimes by The Centre of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law, at the School of Oriental and African Studiesmarker 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 killings case.

Support and sanction

The Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov said 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."

See also


Further reading

  • "Jordan Parliament Supports Impunity for Honor Killing," Washington, D.C.marker: Human Rights Watch news release, January 2000.
  • "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, " Are 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 Press.
  • Wikan, Unni, 2002. Generous Betrayal: Politics of Culture in the New Europe. University of Chicago Press.


  1. Teen Lovers Murdered in India Honor Killing.
  2. here
  6. [1]
  7. [2]
  8. [3]
  9. "'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
  10. 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
  11. Lata Mani: Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India. Berkeley & Los Angeles, 1998
  12. Immolation - India's Secret
  13. Indian village proud after double "honor killing". Reuters. May 16, 2008.
  14. Eight beheaded in Indian 'honor killing'. United Press International. February 12, 2009.

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