Pakistani 'Honor Killings' Condemned by Activists

By Suryamurthy Ramachandran | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

New Delhi ( - As an international conference on equal rights for women opens in New York Monday, at least two women in Pakistan will lose their lives on that same day - killed by relatives seeking to redeem their family honor.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reports that more than 1,000 women are murdered in the country each year in crimes dubbed "honor killings."

The HRCP said the annual figure was based on reported cases, but not all cases were publicized. "This means the quantum of violence against women is much higher than is known to the public," said an HRCP official.

Most of the victims are women who marry men of their own choosing, rather than comply with their families' wishes in the matter.

Others are women who marry or divorce without their parents' consent or are accused of having sex before marriage.

The victims and perpetrators are Muslims, although the ritual has been condemned as "un-Islamic."

A recent media report recounted how a bridegroom had emerged from his bedroom on his wedding night to announce to his family that his 18-year-old wife had confessed to having an earlier sexual relationship.

"The whole family declared the girl Kari [blackened]," the report continued.

"The groom's eldest brother fired the first shot, then two of his other brothers and then he himself. Soon the girl, still in her red bridal dress, lay in a pool of blood."

The tribal tradition of designating a man or a woman suspected of adultery as "blackened" is still practiced in Pakistan. It decrees death for the woman.

The military ruler of Pakistan, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, recently condemned "honor killings" and called for greater awareness of the issue. But women's rights advocates say no steps have been taken to bolster criminal investigations or prosecutions.

Musharraf also lacks the support of lawmakers. Pakistan's upper house of parliament earlier rejected legislation that would have made it a crime to murder a woman accused of dishonoring the family's name.

Nighat Taufeeq, a representative of the Shirkat Gah women's resource center in Pakistan, decried the situation: "When women are fighting for their rights around the world we here are still in the chains of tribal ritual of the dark ages which is un-Islamic."

"It is an unholy alliance that works against the woman: the killers take pride in what they have done, the tribal elders condone the act and protect the killers and the police connive in the cover-up," she said.

Such cases are usually settled by the jirga, a tribal council, which announces a verdict.

Often the girl's family is compensated and pressurized not to make an official complaint. If tried in court, the killers often escape with lesser punishments by pleading that the murders were unpremeditated, and committed in "sudden and grave provocation."

Taufeeq said the killings would continue "until society is rid of the curse of feudalism."

Human rights activist and lawyer Zia Awan said the community ends up sanctioning the crime "because of the tribal and feudal system."

Another activist, Shireen Mazari said: "I think the word 'honor' should not be used to justify what is basically barbarism. There is no such think as honor killing. Murder can never be honorable and I think this is absolutely disgusting."

Beginning Monday, the five-day U.N. Special Session on Gender will assess the progress nations have made in implementing their commitment to gender equality.

"Women 2000: Gender, Equality, Development and Peace in the 21st Century" will bring together representatives of 189 nations which met in Beijing in 1995 and adopted a "platform for action for women's equality."

Also see:
Middle East Women Campaign Against 'Family Honor' Killings (Mar 8, 1999)