Rana Mohammed, who is sixteen years old, is eager to go home and start on her homework as she hears the school bells ringing. Rana lives in a small village inside of a moderately sized, Arab-majority country. Rana has no idea what is in store for her when she walks out of the school’s front doors. Once she walks down the school steps, her classmate, Abdullah, offers to carry her books and walk her home. They exchange many laughs and enjoy walking together. But Abdullah is not the upstanding individual she thinks he is.
When they reach her home, Abdullah offers to bring her books inside. She thinks there is no harm in permitting this, even though her parents are not home from work yet. Once inside, Abdullah begins to become aggressive. He touches Rana inappropriately, kisses her, and eventually, forcibly rapes her. Subsequently, Abdullah leaves a devastated Rana and walks home.
Rana knows this will bring great shame to her family, so she keeps it a secret. Her parents or her brother could never know about these events. But the next day at school, Abdullah tells all of the boys in her class about the sexual experience he had with Rana. She is humiliated and knows the repercussions will be severe. She would run to a shelter for women, but they don’t exist. She also considers moving to the United States, but the asylum laws make it almost impossible for Rana to prove her life is in danger if she is ever returned. Plus, she doesn’t have any family in America or money to use if she were able to go.
Since Rana is unable to leave her country, she has to face the wrath of her parents when, not if, they find out. Rana finds out the bad news once she gets home from school that day. Her father had been contacted at work and told of the incident. He then called the police, who were waiting for her at home. They forcibly take her to police headquarters and perform a virginity exam against her will. They determine she is no longer a virgin and report this back to her father. For her own safety, she is kept in detention as an “administrative prisoner” and not allowed to leave. They deprive her of due process and fail to provide an administrative hearing. Six months later, her father arrives at the police station, tells the district commissioner that he forgives his daughter and promises not to harm her. Subsequently, the police release her from their protection.
Once Rana returns home, she goes to her bedroom to sit on her soft bed for the first time in six months. Rana’s relaxation is interrupted by Omar, her fifteen-year old brother, who walks in her bedroom and points a gun at her. He then shoots her fourteen times. Rana’s father and uncle had asked Omar to perform the act to defend the family’s honor. They are both relieved that Rana is dead and the family’s honor has been restored from her indiscretion. As for her brother, he is tried and found guilty of murder. However, under the common Arab law of this country, the oldest and closest related male of the victim is allowed to commute the sentence for the transgressions against their family member. Since her father is given this privilege, he asks for leniency. Omar is only sentenced to six months in prison as a result. Rana’s father and uncle fail to even receive a slap on the wrist.
This is a fictional portrayal but also a realistic re-enactment of what frequently happens to women in many countries in the Arab world. Women are not given the same treatment under the law or in the eyes of society in many countries. They are also held to unattainable standards that many Americans would never understand. This discussion will first explain what honor killings are. It will go into depth at how Arab society and religion influences these tragic murders. Next, it will go through a thorough comparative analysis of honor killings and women’s rights in Jordan. It will then briefly touch on honor killings and women’s rights in other Arab countries.
This discussion will briefly touch on possible policies and efforts to combat honor crimes. Then, will discuss the weakness of United States Asylum law. Finally, it will provide a recommendation for United States lawmakers to help curb honor crimes abroad and to ensure the safety of those seeking asylum in America is no longer a question, but a guarantee.
II. THE HONOR KILLINGS OF WOMEN ARE INFLUENCED MOST BY ARAB CULTURE, TRADITIONS, AND RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISM.
Honor killings are not a myth, but a “worldwide phenomenon,” heavily concentrated in the Middle East. Religion is a motivating factor for honor killings, but the primary motivation is culture. While religion plays some role in influencing honor killings, that role is not completely defined. While many in the Arab world are Muslim and the stereotype is that honor killings occur in mostly Muslim families, they are a global practice not isolated to the religion of Islam. For instance, a September 2006 poll conducted by the BBC found that in a group of five hundred Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and Hindus, one in ten believed there were adequate justifications for honor killings. While the accuracy of this survey is not entirely known, there is an element of uniqueness when it comes to honor killings in Islamic and Middle Eastern societies because of their “emphasis on a woman’s actions and the impact these actions have on the family honor.”
A. An honor killing occurs when a family wants to cleanse their name from the disgrace a woman has created by her prohibited conduct.
Honor killings are “murders carried out by family members against girls and women who are believed to have committed a sexual indiscretion or have caused gossip related to sexual behavior” that reflects a negative light onto the family’s standing in their community. Honor crimes also occur in the following situations: when a victim seeks a divorce; commits adultery; has premarital sex; is pregnant out of wedlock; refuses to have sex with their spouse ;not fulfilling the demands of a male family member; interrupting male-to-male conversations; being seen alone with a non-male member of the family; dating without permission; refusing to engage in an arranged marriage; smoking; failing to serve a meal on time; being employed without permission; looking at a male the wrong way; attending the movies; and finally, having a love song dedicated to them on the radio. Even when a woman is raped against her will, families, in the name of honor, often put her to death because she is seen as the offender and not the victim. What is even more staggering is that a woman can be killed if her husband merely has a dream she was unfaithful. Finally, they often occur because of economic motivations, like when a male wants to increase his share of the family inheritance. These murders often occur even when there is only suspicion of dishonoring the family name. Honor murders often come as a result of mistaken and false accusations, without any proof the female has done wrong.
The majority of Arab cultures place a strong emphasis on the sexual purity of unmarried females; subsequently, connecting this purity to a family’s social standing as a result. When a woman is impure, it destroys the reputation of her family members, especially the men. The victims of honor crimes are normally “young and unmarried women, daughters or sisters.” There are also two different motives for being carried out. Honor crimes against unmarried women are generally committed to protect her virginity, while crimes against married women are to normally protect her chastity. Families that commit these crimes genuinely believe they are washing away their family’s shame with the blood of their female family member. One problem is that women are never given a chance to prove their innocence. What is even worse is that they are deprived of anything remotely close to due process in the face of these horrible and often mistaken allegations.
There is a consistent pattern with honor killings across the Arab world. This pattern shows that families who commit these murders act as their own judge, jury, and executioner without seeking the help of the judicial system. In fact, they believe the person who tarnishes the family’s honor should be punished by this extrajudicial system composed of those whose honor has been tarnished. These extrajudicial executions of women most often take place in extremely traditional, conservative families. While they are often dismissed as part of tradition, they are clearly human rights abuses.
It is difficult to determine when a decision to kill a woman in the name of honor is made. Usually, a family seeks swift revenge once they have discussed and determined their honor has been tarnished. This decision is made by a group of family elders who decide to punish the woman and define how this punishment will be executed. It is rare for honor killings to occur on the spot in the “heat of passion.” In fact, “honor killings are conducted with cool deliberation, rendering it difficult to convince a jury that an ordinary, reasonable person would have experienced a strong passion while committing the act of killing in that circumstance.” Men are generally not afraid of the consequences of killing their female relatives. Furthermore, to prevent any type of legal action against the murderer, families often sanction teenage family members to commit the honor killing because of the much lighter prison sentence of three months to a year.
There are many ways in which the lives of women are ended because of an honor killing. A woman can be shot, beheaded, dismembered, flogged, or even burnt with fire. She may also be stabbed or beat to death. One of the worst examples of the family carrying out this extrajudicial punishment is when they give their female relative rat poison or a rope, locking her in a room to commit suicide. In conclusion, these crimes are often covered up from the law enforcement of each country because families are proud to be cleansed from the “supposed” shame. They often do not co-operate with police, resulting in inconclusive investigations that never bring justice for deceased victims.
B. Honor killings are not a modern trend, but are ancient and directly related to Arab culture and traditions relating to male domination and female submission.
Honor killings are ancient in nature, and are older than most written religions. “Centuries ago in desert tribes, custom regarded women and their chastity as representative of family honor,” which resulted in men protecting the family’s honor by killing female relatives who were engaged in dishonorable conduct. Many areas of the world, including the Middle East, view honor as a form of “social currency.” Honor is most often used to restrict women’s behavior.
Honor crimes come from two important social views. The first is viewing the female as a dependent and not a dominant member of the household. The second is “based on the concept of honor being synonymous with the chastity and the sanctity of a woman’s body and sexuality.” This honor system is based on “purda” which calls for women to comply with their society’s values and laws by avoiding dishonorable acts and contact with those who are not permitted to speak with them. This system is the basis for the Arab modesty code, which presents the idea that “men can be contaminated by women.”
An Arab woman, in this culture, belongs to her family and has no honor of her own. If there is any personal honor given to a woman, she is not in control of it because societal policy and the laws of the community already control it. The men in her family own her honor and choose to distribute it as they desire. This societal policy specifies that a woman must be chaste before marriage, which means she has to refrain from social conduct that would take away that chaste or else her family’s name will be tarnished. Some of the social conduct a woman must comply with daily is the following: she must live alone; should be conservatively attired and wear a headscarf in most cultures; she must not speak or be heard in public and cannot date before marriage; finally, she must prove her virginity on her wedding night. The hypocrisy in this code lies in the much different treatment of men. Men who engage in premarital sex are not looked down upon or criticized because they hold the superior place to women in Arab society.
As a result of these anti-feminist ideas, a woman who is property becomes a collective object of value to the men in her family and tribe because a man’s honor is displayed by wealth and property. Furthermore, a man can even lose his masculinity in the eyes of his tribe if he does not control this property. A man’s village will often label him as feminine and weak if he does not respond adequately to a woman’s “disobedient” acts. This idea, that women are objects to be controlled and not humans to be partnered with, has turned women into an economic product, allowing them to be exchanged, bought, and even sold. It is the man’s job to ensure the chaste is protected so that the honor of the family and the value of their assets can be preserved.
An Arab woman’s life depends on her obeying these social, tribal norms, including her place as a social and economic object for her family without anything of value for herself. This social code seems to point that a woman’s only value is “what is between her legs.” The moment these values are compromised, the woman becomes burdensome on the family’s honor and must be punished to restore it. In Conclusion, tribes and many cultures do not view honor killings as crimes, but as a legitimate punishment for going against the traditional order of Arab society. These customs and traditions result in victimization rather than protection.
C. While many Arabs are Islamic, Islam is not the sole cause of honor killings.
One of the biggest questions when discussing the honor killings of women in the Arab world is, “Does Islam play a role in the honor killings of women or is it just a myth?” Former Advocacy Director of the Human Rights Watch, Widney Brown, said: “In countries where Islam is practiced, they’re called honor killings…the women are killed by male family members and the crimes are perceived as excusable or understandable.” He appears to allude that honor killings are a mostly Islamic issue. It is true that the majority of all honor crimes cases occur in Muslim countries. It would be a mistake to say that countries with large Muslim populations have very few honor killings, but the data is inconclusive whether Islam actually promotes these killings or not. Another interesting point is if these killings are specifically an Islamic problem, then how can it be explained that very few honor crimes occur in the largest non-Arab Islamic country, Indonesia, and in Saudi Arabia, the most conservative Arab, Muslim country.
In general, contemporary Muslims do not support the idea of honor killings. Ahmad Hassoun, the Grand Mufti Islamic cleric of Syria, believes these crimes are not Islamic at all, in fact, un-Islamic. Other Islamic scholars called these practices “contrary to the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.” Finally, Grand Ayatollah of Lebanon, Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, called honor killings, “a repulsive act” and suggested they should be banned. It is apparent that many Islamic leaders are extremely troubled by the relation of honor killings to their religion.
Kecia Ali, writer for The Feminist Sexual Ethics Project at Boston University, does not believe honor killings are a “logical extension of traditional Islamic gender practices,” but are antithetical to “Islamic morality.” Professor Tahira Shahid Khan, writer of Chained to Custom, takes it a step further by saying that the customs of Islam promote the idea of women as property, but the Islamic Qur’an is completely silent on honor killings. Perhaps it is the overwhelming desire of Islamic men to control their “property” in the name of Islam, which causes these honor killings. But still, there appears to be a lack of direct support in the Qur’an for these types of irrational killings. The proof that Islam does not sanction honor killings is further displayed in the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights, which says ‘Human life is sacred and inviolable and every effort shall be made to protect it.”
The concept that Islam sanctions honor killings disturbs many Islamic leaders like Sheikh Hassan and Fadrallah. Another Sheikh that is disturbed by the distortion and relation of Islam to Honor Killings is Sheikh Ibrahim, of the Naqshabandi Sufi order. He says “Men who kill their female relatives are playing the role of God, putting themselves in his place…they think they are granted the right to sentence someone to death just like that…this has nothing to do with Islam.” Furthermore, he says that “in Islam, a judge needs to call in four witnesses who have watched the adulterous couple commit adultery…no man or woman in their right mind would commit something like that in front of four witnesses standing by and watching them.” According to Palestinian Appeals Court Judge Thabet, there is not a punishment for adultery in Islamic law even if a crime is proven. Even those who are the most critical of Islam know there is nothing in the Qur’an or in Sharia law about honor killings. If true, this means that Islamic honor killers are going rogue and killing their female relatives in direct contravention of their religion and those who lead their religion. There appears to be a fundamental misunderstanding of Islam or either the religion of Islam has a fundamental misunderstanding of their own followers.
Islamic law appears very specific about how its followers should conduct themselves. This law is known as “Sharia” and it teaches, “Respect for human life and human dignity” and not to gossip or to interfere with the personal affairs of others. Sharia law, supposedly, gives every accused person a right to an official trial with the intent of providing overall fairness in the process. Any type of punishment outside of the judicial system is not permitted. Only an official representative of government or some type of “sovereign” can carry out a punishment on the person who is found guilty of a crime.
It is truly remarkable that some Arab Muslims kill their innocent female family members, based on mere speculation, while openly defying the Qur’an. The Qur’an says that if there are not witnesses brought forward to defend the allegations against a chaste woman, the accuser should be “lashed eighty times” and will never be believed in what they say again, until they admit to the act and ask for forgiveness. As suggested above, Sharia law requires four witnesses to have been present at the time of a disputed sexual crime, in order to prosecute it. While females are not usually allowed to provide testimony, if the number of witnesses, “is less than four, then the witnesses are liable for defamation.” The purpose of such a high burden of proof is to protect women from having their reputations tarnished.
While Islam may not be the direct cause of honor killings, but a great number of Muslims are performing these acts anyway. The question then moves to, “which Muslims are committing these atrocities?” One Syrian teacher says “Our religion encourages learning and working together, but so many people use our religion in a bad way to make excuses for their madness.” She is referring to the growing Islamic fundamentalism seen throughout the Arab world. Honor killings occur in countries that have a strong fundamentalist Muslim presence. In fact, fundamentalist Islamic communities are known for their strict adherence to tradition and culture, which eventually lead to violence against innocent women and honor crimes. The U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices specifically says that these crimes and murders occur largely in the Middle East and in a majority of Islamic communities. If Islam does not sanction these crimes, then the fundamentalist Islamic sects must be acting outside of Islam or within a given culture or traditional practice instead.
Fundamentalist Muslims are more likely to view the Qur’an sanctioning honor killings by misquoting this book. One way in which fundamentalism trumps the true message is in one passage that speaks of a boy being killed because he was oppressing “his parents with rebellion and disbelief,” resulting in his parents deserving a child that was “better in purity and nearer to mercy.” Some argue that the Qur’an even suggests one hundred lashes for adultery. The Islamic Fundamentalist’s argument in favor of honor crimes is that the Qur’an specifically supports punishment for disobedience, rebellion, and sexual deviances. In conclusion, modern Islamic scholars appear strictly opposed to the notion that Islam instigates the merciless killing of women in the name of family honor. In fact, it appears that many contemporary Islamic scholars are doing all they can to separate themselves from crimes of honor and the atrocities the fundamentalist Muslims are committing in the name of a religion that does not sanction these murders. In conclusion, it is religious fundamentalism, not the individual religious tenets that contribute to the honor killings of women.
III. THE OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORY, AND BAHRAIN HAVE THE MOST DIVERSE DIFFERENCES AND MOST COMMON SIMILARITIES WHEN IT COMES TO THE HONOR KILLINGS OF WOMEN.
Some estimate that five thousand honor killings are committed around the world each year. This number is likely much greater because this statistic is based on a narrow definition of honor and because most of these crimes go unreported. Countries like Jordan, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Yemen, and the Occupied Palestinian Territory all provide reduced sentences for honor crimes. A crucial moment in the history of women’s equality and protection from violence against women occurred in 1979 when the United Nations drafted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). This treaty provides multiple ways of enforceability, like a dispute arbitration process and the regular submission of country reports to ensure the convention can monitor each member country. However, one of the biggest problems with the treaty is that a country can pick and choose which provisions they will abide by and which they will opt out of. Moreover, while the treaty looked promising, many of the signors, like Jordan, continue to have lenient laws for those who commit violent acts against women in the name of honor, which completely contradicts CEDAW.
International law does not permit a country to discriminate against their citizens based on gender. In fact, one important area of international law that reflects the dire situation in the Arab world is the requirement that sexual relationships between consenting adults be decriminalized. However, many of the countries in the Arab world do not honor these laws. In fact, many countries are diverse in their response to honor killings and women’s rights, like Jordan.
A. The Kingdom of Jordan is one of the foremost leaders in equal rights for women but also one of the most controversial countries because of their lenient penal laws, which do little to deter the honor killings of Jordanian women.
Jordan has secular laws, which may be influenced by, but are not directly Islamic laws found in many other nations. The laws tend to be more liberal and are even less protective of women’s rights than Islamic law. According to one account, the Royal Kingdom of Jordan has the highest rate of honor killings in the world. Rami M. Al-Kharabsheh, Consul/Political Officer/Third Secretary of the Embassy of Jordan in Washington, D.C., says that honor killings are “not an adopted policy,” are “not a trend,” and are over exaggerated by the media.
In a 2010 account, fifty-five percent of documented crimes against women and twenty-five percent of all homicides in Jordan were honor killings. A 2005 report said that twenty-percent of murders in Jordan were honor killings. In the year 2000, sixteen percent of all murders in Jordan were honor killings. Since the initial 2000 report, honor killings increased by a staggering nine-percent. This number has actually risen in recent years. It does appear to be a trend. However, in the Kingdom’s defense, the actual number of honor deaths per year is unknown because the killings often go unreported. The honor killings in Jordan are also not state sanctioned, but most often concentrated within the rural areas, conservative members of the country, the lower class, and some even say within the Palestinian population.
According to one source, honor crimes in Jordan are a result of their loophole-filled penal code and their blind eye to Islamic Law. The other reason they occur is because the judicial system and courts fail to apply the law accurately, which results in expanding defenses rather than being stricter in punishing offenses. Honor crimes are an example of how written regulations in Jordan and the judiciary’s application of these regulations are in conflict with each other. Subsequently, these new defenses have been created in ways the legislative branch and the King never intended.
Women have been killed for a list of reasons, including being seen with and speaking with a non-related male Sadly, those who commit these crimes are proud of it and often go to the Jordanian police station and turn themselves in, knowing of the light punishment they will receive. Just like the process in most countries, many women fall victim to mere suspicion of an alleged act. Dr. Momen Hadidi, head of Jordan’s National Institute of Forensic Medicine, confirms this belief by claiming that most female victims are found to be virgins in their autopsies after being killed in the name of honor.
The law in Jordan is also extremely complex and filled with loopholes that weigh in favor of the defendant. For instance, even if a brother kills his sister, Jordan will not pursue the prosecution for the deceased woman if her family drops the charges. This results in a very minimal sentence, less than ten years, for the murderer. This is ironic because the very people who get to drop the charges are the ones who sanction the crime. Even in the case of rape, a man can marry a woman and escape prosecution completely. This is an unfortunate scenario but is a way to escape being murdered.
The Jordanian Penal Code (JPC) has also failed to attack honor crimes and provide adequate punishment to these murderers. Article 340 and Article 98 are the two most common provisions of the JPC invoked in honor crime cases. Article 340 states that a man is exempt from punishment if he finds or even suspects that his wife or female relative is committing adultery or is in the “illegitimate bed” of another and kills them. Article 340 is a provocation defense. It “allows the defendant to claim that he acted in an uncontrollable rage,” which also permits the court to be lenient in his sentencing. Therefore, the majority of honor crimes are not crimes of passion; they are a result of premeditation and careful planning and should never fall under Article 340 of the JPC.
Many liberals and members of the royal family, including late King Hussein and current Queen Rania, support the repeal of Article 340. But there is a great deal of opposition to this repeal effort. The opposition lies mostly in the very conservative parts of society and within the Islamic Action Front political party. Those who oppose Article 340’s repeal claim that the article lines up with Islamic Shari’a law and is great for a society following Islam. The pro-retention movement of Article 340 also argues that removal would result in the following: an outbreak of sexual immorality; the toppling of the Jordanian government because of the outside forces pushing this removal; and it would take away Jordanian men’s control over women. However, these arguments are strongly countered by the many Jordanians who believe Article 340 should be removed because: it conflicts with their image of being a modern society; prevents women from being treated equally under the law; gives men the prerogative to kill outside of the law; violates Jordan’s treaty obligations; and finally, a lack of circumstances that provide justification to kill women. Queen Rania championed this repeal and a temporary law was created to fix Article 340 rather than repeal it, but the Jordanian Parliament has refused to ratify it.
Article 98 of the JPC is invoked more regularly than Article 340. Article 98 says that a person who “commits a crime in a fit of fury caused by an unrightful and dangerous act on the part of the victim, benefits from a reduction of penalty.” This law turns a pre-mediated murder into a crime of passion. The US 7th Circuit Court in Sarhan v. Holder found that honor murderers in Jordan often receive a sentence of only six months. Article 98 also allows the victims’ family to waive their complaint, resulting in the charges sometimes being halved, which allows the victim to leave the court with time served. The other major issue with Article 98 is how it turns a woman into the responsible, guilty party and not a murdered victim. As a result, this reduction of penalty is given to the murderer because he is seen as the actual victim. To make things worse, Article 98 does not require evidence of engaging in the act or a “sudden provocation.”
The police practices and the procedure for protecting women from violent men are just as astounding. The police often do not adequately investigate an honor crime or potential honor crime. In fact, they normally look past the family’s complicity with the crime and only look at the person who was threatening to kill or did kill the respective victim. If a woman is afraid she will become a victim of an honor killing, she will often go to the police. The problem is that the district governor will then place a threatened woman in prison for an unlimited duration and call them, “administrative prisoners.” These “administrative prisoners” are not allowed to leave at any time. In fact, they have to stay in custody until a district governor decides it is safe for their release. Unfortunately, many women are killed when they return home from being released.
The history of Jordan proves that the problem of honor killings needs to be tackled, first, inside of the country. Many in the country detest the provisions of CEDAW and believe they are a “wrongful influence from Western nations.” Furthermore, because the country is so conflicted internally, exemplified by the ongoing debate with ratifying the temporary law to amend Article 340, there must be progress inside the country before the world can intervene any further.
Many may doubt that honor killings actually occur in Jordan. Some dismiss them as myths. But they do happen and are very real. One example is when a sixteen-year-old, from Amman, Jordan was impregnated after being raped by two relatives. After she delivered the child, she was shot nine-times by her father. Another example is when one Jordanian family’s daughter, Basma, ran away with another man for six years. The community tormented their family and said their other eight daughters were not marriageable as a result. So, Basma’s sixteen-year-old brother killed her to regain his masculinity and the honor for his other sisters. A final example is when Samir Ayed shot and killed his sister after seeing her walking with two, non-familial men. The Amman Criminal Court invoked Article 98, calling this crime a misdemeanor, reduced Samir’s sentence to one year, and then reduced it to six months after his family waived the complaint.
In Conclusion, there is no doubt that honor killings are prevalent in Jordan. There is a movement to combat them and eradicate the country from these senseless murders. As Mr. Rami Al-Karabsheh says, “you can never move ahead with a project in a country by alienating fifty percent of your population.” The fight for women is on in Jordan and many of the leaders realize the injustice that is caused by a legal system that fails to protect one hundred percent of the members of their society.
B. Turkey has a history of honor killings and injustice towards women and is currently not taking steps to remedy these problems.
The Turkish government consistently fails to protect its citizens against gender-related discrimination and does not appear to care about the international criticisms of this practice. Honor crimes are prevalent in the Turkish Kurdish regions, where there are poor and uneducated people, and have also risen drastically in Turkish Muslim communities. Those who commit honor crimes can often depend on light sentences, just like they can in Jordan, because the local judges in Turkey refuse to comply with international standards or Turkish legal reforms.
One of the worst problems in Turkey is the lack of protection for the women who seek safe haven. There are approximately thirty shelters in turkey, which is not enough to take care of all of the women who seek assistance. Furthermore, the police and government officials often sexually abuse, torture, and rape the women who come to them for protective custody. Finally, a woman facing an honor crime is not going to stay with her family somewhere else in Turkey because they are the very ones who want to kill her. Therefore, there is not much a woman can do to protect herself form being an honor crime victim in Turkey.
One example of honor killings in Turkey is when a twenty-five year old woman married a man her father did not approve of. As a result, the father taught his sixteen year old how to shoot and pressured him into killing his sister. The teenager only received a sentence of eleven months, which resembles the type of punishment seen in Jordan for this similar crime. Another example of honor crimes in Turkey is with a girl named Derya. Derya was seventeen and had a romantic relationship with a boy at school. When the family found out, they pressured her to commit suicide to cleanse the family from this “shame.” Derya could not handle the pressure anymore and attempted suicide multiple times. However, she never succeeded and eventually escaped to one of the scarce women’s shelters in Turkey.
In conclusion, Turkey needs to take honor crimes just as seriously as Jordan. The government’s lack of focus on protecting women’s rights is leading to women like Derya being persecuted. Unlike the Jordanian government, Turkey has failed to champion more protection against the honor killings of their female citizens.
C. Iran holds women in low regard, resulting in their murder in the name of honor.
Dr. Maryam Hatami says that 25% of all murders in the Iranian provinces of Khuzestan, Sistan, Baluchestan, and Kurdistan are honor killings of women. Karon Karami, native of Iran and Iranian Legislative Adviser for House Foreign Affairs Member, Rep. Joe Wilson, says that honor killings are more “socially accepted” in suburban areas and villages because of the differences in culture, education, and the lower income of these people. Furthermore, they are often practiced among tribal people and those who live in normal society but maintain strong tribal bonds.
Honor killings in Iran, just like in neighboring countries, are organized by a male family member and are carried out by, preferably, a single man. He is supported until acquittal because he performed a good work by murdering a woman who was corrupt and perverted. These cases are only followed up when a male guardian requests it, which is extremely rare. No one feels sorry for the woman and as a result, the murderer pays a small fine and serves a few months in prison just like they do in Jordan and in Turkey.
The social inequalities and the poor view of women in Iran are to blame for these honor killings. The leadership is also a serious hindrance to protecting women. Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran would not support a voting rights bill for women and later killed many women who protested this decision. Dr. Hatami says that there used to be a fifty-percent acceptance rate to Tehran University Medical School until there was an outcry. Now, as a result, the leadership has instituted a thirty-percent acceptance rate, decreasing by twenty-percent.
As for the social inequalities, she says that women are considered much lower than men. Dr. Hatami remembers when she had a patient that would only admit to having three boys, when he had ten daughters as well. Another example, she explained, is that men refuse to call her doctor. Finally, she says that men are allowed to divorce their wives, but women are not allowed to divorce their husbands.
In conclusion, Iran has a long way to go. Recently, the greatest fear women have in Iran is that ex-partners will take revenge on them with acid attacks. While this is not an honor killing, a woman losing her face is like losing her life. Iran shares the same problems that all countries in the Arab world share, even if they consider themselves more Persian than Arab.
D. Palestinians claim to be some of the most progressive in relation to women’s rights, but honor killings still occur in the Occupied Palestinian Territory despite the pro-women and progressive government led by the Fatah Party.
In a 2007 poll, fifty percent of Palestinian men believed that “disobedience by a woman would justify battery.” According to many NGO’s and researchers, there is a lack of reporting and statistics to determine the actual number of honor crimes occurring here. Nadia Ghannam, from the General Delegation of the PLO, says, “Honor killings are a perversion of the religious law.” She says that “honor killings are generally not spoken of” because everyone agrees they are a bad practice. Palestinian law does not provide strict punishment for honor crimes and sometimes, no punishment at all because of their adoption of some Jordanian law. Article 18 of Penal Code no. 74 of 1936 provides reduced punishment and leniency in punishment “for crimes that offenders have committed in order to avert consequences, which could cause irreparable damage to their honor, money, or the honor of those such offenders are obliged to protect.” The overbreadth of this article is what allows murderers to obtain leniency.
Many blame lack of a genuine judicial process for these honor crimes. The rise of Hamas has also not helped strengthen the government of the Palestinian Territories. However, the rise of Hamas has not stopped President Mahmoud Abbas of Occupied Palestinian Territories from taking brave and heroic action in attempting to amend this article by adding the sentence, “with the exception of murdering women under the pretext of family honor.” Just like it was prevented from being apart of Jordan’s penal code, it was also prevented from being added to the Palestinian code because of the political division between Abbas’ Fatah and Fatah’s rival, Hamas.
One example of honor killings here is when a Christian father killed his daughter in 2005 by beating her to death because she decided to marry a Muslim. Yes, a Christian father did this, not a Muslim. Another example is when Faten, a twenty-two year old Palestinian Christian, had an illegitimate relationship. After she was returned to her father after promising a large tribe in Jericho, where she fled, not to kill her, he reneged and defended his family’s honor with her blood.
In Conclusion, at least the primary leadership of the Occupied Palestinian Territories is trying to give this displaced group of women, who have the “highest literacy rate in the middle east” and share many of the same values as Americans, equal rights under the law. Nadia Ghannam says, “Palestinian women are the epicenter of society as a whole. They are the driving power force.” This leads to the conclusion that the proactivity of women and their respected place in society within the confines of the Palestinian Territories should prove for a fertile ground to battle honor killings in a way other countries have not been able to combat them.
E. Bahrain provides another example of progressivism but still has much room for improvement.
According to Bahraini Ambassador to the United States, Houda Nonoo, Bahrain is the most progressive country in the Arab world when comparing it to Turkey, Jordan, Iran, and even the Occupied Palestinian Territories. “Women have the same rights as men; they have no restrictions.” She says that violent acts by a man are treated the same as violent acts by a woman. Furthermore, women have voting rights, can wear what they desire, receive equal salary in the workplace, and even have a Jewish female Ambassador to the United States. However, Ambassador Nonoo says that men in villages with less income tend to demand more control over women.
Ambassador Nonoo is correct. Bahrain’s judicial system guarantees equal access to justice and a free trial. But while the law gives this guarantee, there is still a major element of bias in the justice system that prevents this guarantee against gender discrimination from being fully enforced. While Article 344 of the Bahraini Penal Code (BPC) states that having sex with a woman against her will is punishable by life in prison, Article 353 prevents punishment if the man marries the woman if she is unmarried. Article 333 gives a life sentence or death sentence for the crime of murder, but Article 334 reduces this sentence if a man commits the crime in the heat of passion.
Many families refuse to report crimes against women because of the shame it will brings on them in their community. Women are also denied the right to divorce her husband if she is a victim of domestic abuse because many Islamic Shari’a judges believe their religion and laws permit it. At least many harmful traditional practices, like genital mutilation, are no longer practiced in the region. However, the Bahraini government has turned a blind eye in making the laws more favorable to women and to close up more of the loopholes into conformity with the standards adopted by CEDWAW. Another troublesome problem is that the government has refused to sign a portion of CEDAW that would allow women to register complaints with the CEDAW committee if they cannot achieve the justice they deserve in Bahrain.
In conclusion, Bahrain is extremely progressive if compared to other Arab countries. But Bahrain is not above the problem. Women are still seen as unequal and until governments get serious about tackling these issues, there will always be a loophole that gives men a slight advantage over women in the court of Arab law.
IV. POLICY REFORM: INTERNATIONAL AWARENESS CAMPAIGNS; FUNDING FOR NGOS; SHELTERS; INTERNATIONAL LEGAL REFORMS; LEGAL CHANGES FROM WITHIN; AND AN EXPLORATION OF THE US ASYLUM LAW’S ABILITY TO PROTECT WOMEN FROM BEING THE VICTIM OF HONOR CRIMES.
“Human rights and women’s rights…are all meaningless terms until activists overcome the serious challenges they face in these fields.” Honor killings cannot be stopped and the underlying policies that give them fertile ground cannot be reformed by people just working from inside of the system. It will require major international campaigns and collaboration with the media to combat these problems in the future. Thousands of women are murdered each year so that families can defend their honor. But it is hard to accurately record factual statistics because many are never reported and a great number of these killings are covered up and called “domestic violence.” They are also difficult to understand because there is not an “adequate investigative effort” behind these reports.
The first step for combatting honor killings is for individual countries to repeal all laws and practices by their respective judiciaries that permit these crimes. For instance, Jordan, who I would argue has the eyes of Arab world on them, could amend their penal code to eliminate the loopholes that allow the court to provide leniency for honor killings. Jordan could also amend Article 340 and Article 98 of the JPC. Jordan should also pass a law that says intimate people are free from being accused of adultery. This would help prevent men from taking the law into their own hands because of the potential increase in punishment for doing so.
Lebanon, a much less influential player, has already set the example by abolishing laws that provide any form of “excuse for murder and violence.” It will require encouragement by the international community to achieve the same result in other countries that Lebanon has seen, because many of these countries believe these practices cannot be stopped; this is because stopping them is not “culturally relevant to deeply patriarchal societies” within their country. Progress could be made with more public awareness and more education about honor killings. If American and foreign leaders actually understood that honor killings were a true problem and were willing to sit down and understand the issue, some form of solution could be achieved that would begin saving lives.
To coincide with internal legal change, there should be campaigns to raise awareness about honor killings, which educates boys and men to view women as “valuable partners in life, the development of society, and in the attainment of peace.” It will require women to stop assisting in honor crimes because of fear, and to reject this mantra that has been around for centuries. If women would stand up for their rights and protest against this culture, it would go a long way in combatting these despicable killings.
Next, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) needs to be reformed in Article 27. Article 27 states that social groups are free “to enjoy their own culture.” The word “culture” is problematic because it makes honor killings valid under international human rights law. Honor killings are not cultural practices, but are grave human rights abuses. Therefore, Article 27 should be amended to add “with the exception of murdering family members in the heat of passion and murdering them to defend honor.” Adding an exception and better articulating the word “culture” would make this act less of a defense to honor killings. While treaties are good at expressing intent, Jordan and Bahrain are a good example of why a treaty-based approach may not be the best way to tackle these issues. Since Jordan picks and chooses which parts of CEDAW to abide by and Bahrain refuses to ratify all of CEDAW as well, treaties like CEDAW and the ICCPR seems to be more a suggestion rather than an actual law. Any amendment to these treaties should also require incentives for adopting the entire treaties instead of selective portions like Bahrain and Jordan have done.
The next step will be that of economic assistance. Contributing to the economic “renewal and stability of these countries” would allow reform to have the longest possible longevity. This begins with funding women’s rights NGOs in these countries that are committed to fighting, educating, and saving women who are victims or are potential victims of honor killings. Increasing the number of shelters would be an extremely effective way to utilize economic assistance inside of at-risk countries. But since women are not allowed to live independently, this could be a problem if the respective governments did not provide some form of insurance against societal retaliation. Perhaps funding more NGO’s will contribute to opening the voices of women who are victims of violence. The more voices that speak out, the more pressure to change these laws will be created. Finally, any economic assistance must also come with the assurance that NGOs are allowed to participate in political activism, which currently is not allowed in Bahrain.
A. The asylum laws in the United States lack justice for asylum-seeking women to the same degree the penal codes in Jordan take away justice for those murdered in the name of honor.
Asylum in another country, like the United States, may be the only option for a woman who is trying to protect herself from being killed in the name of honor. The United States Immigration and Nationality Act is the primary grantor of asylum to a woman in this case. The act states that a woman fearing being victimized by a crime or death in the name of honor only has to do the following: 1. Prove a “well-founded fear of persecution” or past persecution”; 2. Prove her persecution is based within one of the five categories enumerated by the INA,” which the category for potential honor crime victims is “membership in a particular social group”; 3. “Process her presence in the United States”; and finally, overcome the court’s discretionary powers in deciding whether asylum can be granted or not. If a woman is granted asylum, she can remain in the United States for the rest of her life. This is true security, unlike being held in prison for months in Jordan or being put in a temporary shelter in Turkey.
It is very common for United States courts to deny protecting women seeking asylum because of the possibility of being killed in the name of honor. This persecution is usually based on an inability for the woman to prove membership in a “particular social group.” In Sarhan v. Holder, Disi Sarhan sought asylum because she believed her family would kill her when she returned home to Jordan because her husband’s sister-in-law spread a rumor that she had committed adultery. She was afraid her husband’s uncle, Besem, would be the one to kill her when she returned. The Board of Immigration Appeals said she had not shown any “clear probability that she will be killed on account of her membership in that social group” if she goes back to Jordan.
While the Board thought she could gain protection from the Jordanian government and could relocate, which is a gross misunderstanding of how women are treated abroad when becoming a potential murder victim, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals overruled them. The 7th Circuit Court said, “The board’s decision in this case looked too narrowly at the abhorrent practice of honor killings in Jordan…and failed to realize that women whose behavior violates that society’s moral norms form a coherent social group.”
In an earlier case, Taghzout v. Gonzalez, the 6th circuit upheld the immigration judge’s decision and his refusal to classify Tagzhout as a member of a “particular social group.” Tagzhout defied her family and dated a man for four years, against custom, and then married him. She explained her fear of returning to Morocco because her uncle had threatened to “separate her from her husband and child.” The judge found that she produced no evidence harm would come to her because she disobeyed custom and married against her family’s will. The sixth circuit upheld the immigration judge’s decision because Taghzout never proved that she would suffer future persecution by her family. The question is, “did taghzout fail to prove she would suffer future persecution by her family or did the judge misunderstand the concept of being a victim of honor abroad?”
These two decisions reflect a serious problem in United States asylum cases. While the 7th Circuit Court correctly ruled in favor of Sarhan in Sarhan, the immigration judge was woefully ignorant in his approach to her situation. Decision makers must become more educated and aware about the “alarming frequency and severity” of honor killings abroad. Being woefully ignorant of the potential victimization of women in the name of honor is no longer a casual issue, but should be made a qualification for an immigration judge to be considered competent in hearing these cases. In Sarhan the immigration judge’s lack of knowledge and lack of information about how and why honor killings occur was evident in his ruling that Sarhan lacked probable cause in her claim. If he were informed about the state of honor killings, he would know this is a recurring pattern that has risen in recent years and her situation is similar to every other woman who is killed in such a vile manner. Furthermore, he would have realized that she is a member of a “particular social group.”
The 6th circuit was also irresponsible in their ruling against giving Taghzout asylum. They refused to give her status as a “member of a particular social group” and refused to look into how and why honor killings occur. Anyone who is remotely informed about honor killings knows that Taghzout would be victimized if she went back to Morocco and faced her family after the disgrace she “supposedly” brought them. By not granting her asylum, the court showed a misunderstanding and ignorance to the state of honor killings abroad and in their application to current asylum laws.
In Conclusion, the Immigration and Nationalities Act does not give a “uniform definition” of a social group, there is not a particular standard in asylum cases that women can expect when they apply for this protection. In fact, as seen in Sarhan and in Taghzout, each jurisdiction may rule differently because of this lack of uniform definition. Therefore, asylum law cannot change and be more receptive to potential honor killing victims until potential honor victims are covered by the “particular social group” standard set out in the Immigration and Nationalities Act.
V. CONCLUSION: THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS NEEDS TO HOLD HEARINGS ON HONOR KILLINGS TO DETERMINE HOW TO PROCEED INTERNATIONALLY; AND TO PROTECT MORE WOMEN FROM BEING KILLED IN THE NAME OF HONOR BY AMENDING CURRENT ASYLUM LAW.
Honor killings do happen and are very much alive in the Middle East. While culture and traditions play a large role in creating the fertile dynamics for honor crimes, fundamentalist sects of religious societies often promote these crimes just as frequently. Even progressive countries need to take greater steps in battling the injustices that exist within their own laws and in their own cultures. This does not exclude the United States. The best way the United States can assist is to direct economic aid to create shelters and more powerful NGO’s to at-risk countries. Second, using American influence to pressure international organizations, like the United Nations and Arab League, to take stronger steps in combatting the policies in countries that are havens for honor crimes.
Finally, the United States House of Representatives and United States Senate Committees on Foreign Affairs and Foreign Relations, respectively, needs to hold hearings on honor crimes. These hearings should study honor crimes from around the world, host scholars to discuss the myths versus the truths, members of foreign governments, and those that have been victimized. These hearings should then result into actual legislation that will direct US AID and the United States Department of State on how funds should be spent to curb honor killings abroad. Furthermore, these recommendations should also include whether aid should be withheld in the event a country does not take proactive steps from within to combat honor crimes. Finally, at the conclusion of these hearings, each legislative body should then establish a report for the respective chambers’ judiciary committees about honor crimes and any potential recommendations or lack of recommendations for changing U.S. Asylum law.
Congressional hearings are the best solution to sort out the truth from the myths about honor killings. But a much simpler option, which may be discussed after holding hearings on honor crimes, would be amending the “particular social group” section of the Immigration and Nationality Act. This solution would give the most immediate assistance to potential honor victims looking for assistance in America. While it could bring up possible immigration issues by allowing more immigrants to get into the country by claiming to be a potential honor victim, setting stricter quotas on the number of honor victims allowed asylum could curb these issues. Until Americans become more proactive, it will be impossible to save the lives of Arab women who are facing the death penalty for just being raped. It will be impossible to stop the bloodshed if America does not lead and take immediate action in combatting these injustices.
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