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Myths and Motives in Honour Killings

Data on honour killings are not always readily available due to the secrecy surrounding these crimes and poor reporting. However, from press reports and documents gathered by lawyers and NGOs, we can draw patterns of behaviour that point to the real motives of reported honour killings.

We will briefly examine cases in Egypt, Pakistan and Palestine.

A. Egypt

In Egypt, over the period of 1998-2001, the Centre for Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA) collected documents on honour crimes cases and reported that:

  1. In 79% of the cases, the crimes were committed on the basis of “suspicion about the conduct of the victim on the part of the perpetrator”

  2. The second most common reason, at 9%, was the discovery of infidelity;

  3. In 6% of the cases, the crimes were committed to stop the victim disclosing an extramarital relationship of the perpetrator or a relative of his.

  4. Other such reasons included:

  5. The remarriage or having proceeded with an urfi marriage (6%);

  6. Brother’s sexual assault on his sister; and a father’s sexual relation with his daughter, resulting in signs of pregnancy.

B. Palestine

In the Palestinian community in Israel, women were killed for multiple reasons:

Reasons Claimed for Murder

  • Relations with a man other than husband

  • Rumours of relations with men

  • Pregnancy outside of marriage

  • Losing virginity

  • Relations with men outside of marriage

  • Prostitution

  • Dress code and living behaviour

  • Staying out late and smoking

  • Divorcing the husband

  • Leaving the house frequently

  • Refusing sexual relations in forced marriage

  • Complaints to police and professionals about violence

  • Inter-religious marriage

C. Pakistan

In Pakistan, it has also been shown that, indeed, the perception of what constitutes the defilement of ‘honour’ is being continually expanded, so that now any action by the woman can be defined as ‘dishonourable’. This may include a woman’s movements, language and actions, and particularly, defiance by a woman, which undermines male honour, family honour and community honour. Harsh punishments are reported for simply bringing food late, answering back, or for visiting relatives against the husband’s wishes.

D. Afghanistan

Issues such as these have been brought to our attention in Afghanistan as well, as seen in a recent report by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) on sexual assault and honour killings. The report cited 243 cases of sexual assault and honour killings in the reported year. The commissioner of the AIHRC stated that the primary reason for the killings were associated with allegations of out-of-wedlock sex (nearly 50%), some unproven, i.e. merely suspected cases. It was also noted that ‘runaways’ were likely victims, and that 15.4% of such killings were a result of this. 3.8% were due to forced marriages and 1.9 % due to refusing to marry.

It can therefore be seen from the combined data above, that a great number of the ‘reasons’ for committing honour crimes are based on suspicion and the woman’s perceived ‘dishonourable’ behaviour, whatever that may be interpreted as by the perpetrator. In many such cases, it was discovered that the ‘reason’ given for murder is unrelated to the act of zina and that the murder was committed for financial incentives.

2. Ulterior motives behind honour killings

It is erroneous to assume that the defence of honour emerges alone upon the witnessing of the “wife naked in bed with another man” or other more apparent prima facie evidence. Instead, the statistics above show that the honour defence is abused by murderers with ulterior motives. ‘Honour Crimes’ are also being “commercialized”, committed in an effort by families to:

  • Retain property rights;

  • Gain compensation from the individual accused;

  • Settle a personal vendetta; to prevent women from claiming inheritance rights;

  • Hide the exposure of incest.

It has even been reported that in Jacobabad, Pakistan, a man killed his wife after he had dreamed of her having an ‘illicit’ relationship.

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