Honour Killings

This is a great article from the Telegraph entitled My family were chasing me. We knew they wouldn’t stop. This is their law’: Inside Pakistan’s hidden world of honour killings The rest of the article can be extracted as follows: The moment Rukhsana Bibi woke up, she knew her father had come to kill her. On a hot summer’s night in Pakistan, the newlyweds had pushed their bed out into the courtyard to sleep. But it was a noise from inside the ramshackle house that caused her, just sixteen, in love and pregnant, to wake with a start. “I shouted ‘Younis Younis. Wake up! Men are inside our home’,” she remembered. “Younis woke up and tried to grab one of them. But two people held him, while another shot two bullets at me. They both hit me in my chest. Younis was resisting, so they shot him too, in the arms, legs and chest. They shot him 11 times.” Four months earlier, Rukhsana had defied her family by eloping with her teenage love. An imam’s daughter and a top student who dreamed becoming a doctor, Rukshana had waited until the day of her 10th-grade biology exam before running away with the young man from her tribe, fleeing her engagement to her first cousin. They had driven in secret from Mansehra to Peshawar, where they exchanged vows, she still in her school uniform.

The men who had tracked her down to her remote hideaway home were her father, uncle and cousins, she said – they had come to kill her for defying tribal law and dishonouring her family by marrying the man she loved.

“We knew my family were chasing me. We knew they wouldn’t leave us alone. This is their law,” said Rukhsana. “But because we lived in a remote area, we thought we could remain secret at least for a few years.”

“We often discussed being chased. But whenever I said that someone will kill us one day, Younis would tell me not to worry. He said: ‘If someone comes, first I will use my body to stop the shooting, and he will have to cross my body to reach you.’” As it turned out, Younis did die protecting his young wife, who survived after being rescued by neighbours who heard her screams. Their baby later died just one day after it was born, severely disabled.

Their story is just one of Pakistan’s many so-called “honour killings”.

Last week, Samia Shahid, a British woman who was visiting her Pakistani family, was found dead with a bruise on her neck. Syed Mukhtair, her second husband, alleges that the family was unhappy with his wife’s divorce and remarriage to him, and killed her. The family strongly deny the claims.

A fortnight earlier Qandeel Baloch, a controversial female Pakistani celebrity, was choked to death in her sleep by her own brother, triggering a public outcry. He too claimed she had brought shame on their family.

But in Pakistan, honour-related killings are a daily occurrence. Between 500 and 1,000 cases are reported every year. Activists say the true number of such crimes is closer to 12,000.

Deeply rooted in centuries-old tribal traditions, most are triggered by “love marriages”, against one or both families’ wishes.

And although reliable statistics are not available, activists believe the number of cases is on the rise.

“My own sense is that there is even more violence now, the reason being that violence against women is at a reactive stage,” said Farzana Bari, a leading Pakistani woman’s rights activist.

“Even in rural areas, tribal and feudal structures are eroding. More girls are using technology, mobile phones to talk to men, but if they’re caught they get killed. They want to marry of their own choice, running away from home, but if they’re caught they get killed. It is a form of control.” Convictions for “honour killings” in Pakistan remain incredibly rare. Ms Bari said she had been working on the subject for 25 years, but has only ever seen two “serious convictions” awarded.

“In most of these cases the evidence is already so manipulated right from the initial phases that even liberal judges can’t convict,” she said. “We also cannot rule out the fact that a lot of our higher judiciary is very male dominated with a patriarchal mindset.” Across the country, there are some signs of progress. Eight years ago, a senator from Balochistan publicly defended the burying alive of three teenage girls in his province, saying it was “our tribal custom” and should not be discussed. Today, politicians would not dare to openly support such killings, said Ms Bari, although they may remain silent to appease deeply conservative voters.

More importantly, within the next few weeks, Pakistan’s parliament will vote on a new “honour killing bill”.

This long-awaited change to the law, widely expected to pass, is the result of years of lobbying and growing public anger.

Nawaz Sharif, the country’s prime minister, who has said “there is no honour in honour killing”, pledged to close a heavily criticised loophole in the law which allows victim’s family members to legally forgive the murderer – who is, in the majority of cases, another member of the same family.

The new “honour killing bill” seeks to close this loophole, which arose when military dictator General Zia ul-Haq “Islamised” Pakistani law in the 1970s, introducing the twin Islamic concepts of Qisas (eye-for-an-eye) and Diyat (compensation).

  • Up to 1,000 honour killings are reported each year in Pakistan
  • Activists say the real figure is closer to 12,000 per year
  • The victim is killed because they are perceived to have brought shame upon their family
  • In many cases the victim is killed after marrying against their family’s wishes
  • Honour killers can sometimes be pardoned by the victim’s family due to a loophole in Pakistan’s legal system

“How can the judge say ‘This is an honour killing?’ They have to depend on the evidence put before them by police,” said the source. “They won’t take the burden on themselves.”

For women like Rukhsana, any help from the state will be welcomed. In many ways, her story echoes that of Saba Qaiser, another rare survivor, which was told in last year’s Oscar-winning film A Girl in the River.

But while Saba’s father and uncle, who admitted shooting her and throwing her into a river, were released after she, under intense family pressure, pardoned them in court, Rukhsana is not ready to forgive.

Of the five men Rukhsana identified, one was swiftly found innocent by the police investigation, another acquitted due to lack of evidence, and three absconded. Rukhsana and her murdered husband’s family say they are too afraid to appear in court to pursue the case further.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph three years on at an undisclosed location, because she still lives in hiding and receives deaths threats from her own family, she said she was still waiting for justice.

“There is no happiness left in my life, and I demand that this tribal law should be abolished,” she said. “It ruins dozens of lives, young boys and girls, who also have no happiness or choice of how to spend their own lives.”

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