An honor killing or shame killing is the murder of a member of a family, due to the perpetrators’ belief that the victim has brought shame or dishonor upon the family, or has violated the principles of a community or a religion, usually for reasons such as divorcing or separating from their spouse, refusing to enter an arranged marriage, being in a relationship that is disapproved by their family, having premarital or extramarital sex, becoming the victim of rape or sexual assault, dressing in ways which are deemed inappropriate, engaging in non-heterosexual relations or renouncing a faith.
Human Rights Watch defines “honor killings” as follows:
Honor killings are acts of vengeance, usually death, committed by 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.
Men can also be the victims of honor killings by members of the family of a woman with whom they are perceived to have an inappropriate relationship, or by partaking in homosexual activity.
In some cases of honor killing that were brought before German courts murder charges have been reduced to manslaughter. This has been called the “honor defense“.
The distinctive nature of honor killings is the collective nature of the crime – many members of an extended family plan the act together, sometimes through a formal “family council”. A significant feature is the connection of honor killings to the control of an individual’s behavior, in particular in regard to sexuality/marriage, by the family as a collective. Another key aspect is the importance of the reputation of the family in the community, and the stigma associated with losing social status, particularly in tight-knit communities. Perpetrators often do not face negative stigma within their communities, because their behavior is seen as justified.
According to Phyllis Chesler, there are two major categories of victims: one is female children and young women whose average age is 17; the other is composed of women averaging 36 in age.
Honor killings of older victims are often perpetrated by the husband, but in 44% of cases the killers also include family members of the either the victim or the husband. The rate of participation by relatives is higher in the Muslim world at two thirds of cases involving older victims, while in Europe the family participates in 31% of cases. Nearly half the older victims were subject to torture before they died.
Honor killings of younger women were in 81% of cases perpetrated by their family of origin and 53% of the younger victims were tortured before they died.
The incidence of honor killings is very difficult to determine and estimates vary widely. In most countries data on honor killings is not collected systematically, and many of these killings are reported by the families as suicides or accidents and registered as such. Although honor killings are often associated with the Asian continent, especially the Middle East and South Asia, they occur all over the world. In 2000, the United Nations estimated that 5,000 women were victims of honor killings each year. According to BBC, “Women’s advocacy groups, however, suspect that more than 20,000 women are killed worldwide each year.” Murder is not the only form of honor crime, other crimes such as acid attacks, abduction, mutilations, and beatings occur; in 2010 the UK police recorded at least 2,823 such crimes.
Methods of killing include stoning, stabbing, beating, burning, beheading, hanging, throat slashing, lethal acid attacks, shooting and strangulation. The murders are sometimes performed in public to warn the other individuals within the community of possible consequences of engaging in what is seen as illicit behavior.
Use of minors as perpetrators
Often, minor girls and boys are selected by the family to act as the killers, so that the killer may benefit from the most favorable legal outcome. Boys and sometimes women in the family are often asked to closely control and monitor the behavior of their sisters or other females in the family, to ensure that the females do not do anything to tarnish the ‘honor’ and ‘reputation’ of the family. The boys are often asked to carry out the murder, and if they refuse, they may face serious repercussions from the family and community for failing to perform their “duty”.
General cultural features
The cultural features which lead to honor killings are complex. Honor killings involve violence and fear as a tool of maintaining control. Honor killings are argued to have their origins among nomadic peoples and herdsmen: such populations carry all their valuables with them and risk having them stolen, and they do not have proper recourse to law. As a result, inspiring fear, using aggression, and cultivating a reputation for violent revenge in order to protect property is preferable to other behaviors. In societies where there is a weak rule of law, people must build fierce reputations.
In many cultures where honor is of central value, men are sources, or active generators/agents of that honor, while the only effect that women can have on honor is to destroy it. Once the family’s or clan’s honor is considered to have been destroyed by a woman, there is a need for immediate revenge to restore it, in order for the family to avoid losing face in the community. As Amnesty International statement notes:
The regime of honour 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 honour by attacking the woman.
The relation between social views on female sexuality and honor killings is complex. The way through which women in honor-based societies are considered to bring dishonor to men is often through their sexual behavior. Indeed, violence related to female sexual expression has been documented since Ancient Rome, when the pater familias had the right to kill an unmarried sexually active daughter or an adulterous wife. In medieval Europe, early Jewish law mandated stoning for an adulterous wife and her partner.
Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban, an anthropology professor at Rhode Island College, writes that an act, or even alleged act, of any female sexual misconduct, upsets the moral order of the culture, and bloodshed is the only way to remove any shame brought by the actions and restore social equilibrium. However, the relation between honor and female sexuality is a complicated one, and some authors argue that it is not women’s sexuality per se that is the ‘problem’, but rather women’s self-determination in regard to it, as well as fertility. Sharif Kanaana, professor of anthropology at Birzeit University, says that honor killing is:
A complicated issue that cuts deep into the history of Islamic 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.
In some cultures, honor killings are considered less serious than other murders simply because they arise from long-standing cultural traditions and are thus deemed appropriate or justifiable. Additionally, according to a poll done by the BBC’s Asian network, 1 in 10 of the 500 young south Asians surveyed said they would condone any murder of someone who threatened their family’s honor.
Nighat Taufeeq of the women’s resource center Shirkatgah in Lahore, Pakistan says: “It is an unholy alliance that works against women: the killers take pride in what they have done, the tribal leaders condone the act and protect the killers and the police connive the cover-up.” The lawyer and human rights activist Hina Jilani says, “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, the predominantly Kurdish area of Turkey, has so far shown that little if any social stigma is attached to honor killing. It also comments that the practice 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 contemporary times, the changing cultural and economic status of women has also been used to explain the occurrences of honor killings. Women in largely patriarchal cultures who have gained economic independence from their families go against their male-dominated culture. Some researchers argue that the shift towards greater responsibility for women and less for their fathers may cause their male family members to act in oppressive and sometimes violent manners in order to regain authority.
This change of culture can also be seen to have an effect in Western cultures such as Britain among South Asian and Middle-Eastern communities where honor killings often target women seeking greater independence and adopting seemingly Western values. For families who trace their ancestry back to the Middle East or South Asia, honor killings have targeted women for wearing clothes that are considered Western, having a boyfriend, or refusing to accept an arranged marriage
Fareena Alam, editor of a Muslim magazine, writes that honor killings which arise in Western cultures such as Britain are a tactic for immigrant families to cope with the alienating consequences of urbanization. Alam argues that immigrants remain close to the home culture and their relatives because it provides a safety net. She writes that,
In villages “back home”, a man’s sphere of control was broader, with a large support system. In our cities full of strangers, there is virtually no control over who one’s family members sit, talk or work with.
Alam argues that it is thus the attempt to regain control and the feelings of alienation that ultimately leads to an honor killing.
Specific triggers of honor killings
Refusal of an arranged or forced marriage
Refusal of an arranged marriage or forced marriage is often a cause of an honor killing. The family that has prearranged the marriage risks disgrace if the marriage does not proceed  and the betrothed is indulged in a relationship with other individual without prior knowledge of the family members.
Seeking a divorce
A woman attempting to obtain a divorce or separation without the consent of the husband/extended family can also be a trigger for honor killings. In cultures where marriages are arranged and goods are often exchanged between families, a woman’s desire to seek a divorce is often viewed as an insult to the men who negotiated the deal. By making their marital problems known outside the family, the women are seen as exposing the family to public dishonor.
Allegations and rumors about a family member
In certain cultures, an allegation against a woman can be enough to tarnish her family’s reputation, and to trigger an honor killing: the family’s fear of being ostracized by the community is enormous.
Victims of rape
In many cultures, victims of rape face severe violence, including honor killings, from their families and relatives. In many parts of the world, women who have been raped are considered to have brought ‘dishonor’ or ‘disgrace’ to their families. This is especially the case if the victim becomes pregnant.
Central to the code of honor, in many societies, is a woman’s virginity, which must be preserved until marriage. Suzanne Ruggi writes, “A woman’s virginity is the property of the men around her, first her father, later a gift for her husband; a virtual dowry as she graduates to marriage.”
There is evidence that homosexuality can also be perceived as grounds for honor killing by relatives. It is not only same-sex sexual acts that trigger violence – behaviors that are regarded as inappropriate gender expression (e.g. a male acting or dressing in a “feminine way”) can also raise suspicion and lead to honor violence.
In one case, a gay Jordanian man was shot and wounded by his brother. In another case, in 2008, a homosexual Turkish-Kurdish 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. In 2012, a 17-year-old gay youth was murdered by his father in Turkey in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees states that “claims made by LGBT persons often reveal exposure to physical and sexual violence, extended periods of detention, medical abuse, threat of execution and honor killing.”
Forbidden male partners
In many honor based cultures, a woman maintains her honor through her modesty. If a man disrupts a woman’s modesty, through dating her, having sex with her (especially if her virginity was lost), talking to her, the man has dishonored the woman, even if the relationship is of consent. Thus to restore the woman’s lost honor, the male members of her family will often beat and kill the offender. Sometimes, violence extends to the offender’s family members, since honor feud attacks are seen as family conflicts.
There are multiple causes for which honor killings occur, and numerous factors interact with each other.
Views on women
Honor killings are often a result of strongly misogynistic views towards women, and the position of women in society. In these traditionally male-dominated societies women are dependent first on their father and then on their husband, whom they are expected to obey. Women are viewed as property and not as individuals with their own agency. As such, they must submit to male authority figures in the family – failure to do so can result in extreme violence as punishment. Violence is seen as a way of ensuring compliance and preventing rebellion. According to Shahid Khan, a professor at the Aga Khan University in Pakistan: “Women are considered the property of the males in their family irrespective of their class, ethnic, or religious group. The owner of the property has the right to decide its fate. The concept of ownership has turned women into a commodity which can be exchanged, bought and sold”. In such cultures, women are not allowed to take control over their bodies and sexuality: these are the property of the males of the family, the father (and other male relatives) who must ensure virginity until marriage; and then the husband to whom his wife’s sexuality is subordinated – a woman must not undermine the ownership rights of her guardian by engaging in premarital sex or adultery.
Cultures of honor and shame
The concept of family honor is extremely important in many Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communities. The most frequently quoted figure published by the United Nations in 2000 is an estimate of 5,000 killings worldwide each year, most of them in Islamic regions of South Asia, North Africa and the Middle East. The family is viewed as the main source of honor and the community highly values the relationship between honor and the family. Acts by family members which may be considered inappropriate are seen as bringing shame to the family in the eyes of the community. Such acts often include female behaviors that are related to sex outside marriage or way of dressing, but may also include male homosexuality (like the emo killings in Iraq). The family may lose respect in the community, and may be shunned by relatives. The only way the shame can be erased is through a killing. The cultures in which honor killings take place are usually considered “collectivist cultures”, where the family is more important than the individual, and individual autonomy is seen as a threat to the family and its honor.
Legal frameworks can encourage honor killings. Such laws include on one side leniency towards such killings, and on the other side criminalization of various behaviors, such as extramarital sex, ‘indecent’ dressing in public places, or homosexual sexual acts, with these laws acting as a way of reassuring perpetrators of honor killings that people engaging in these behaviors deserve punishment.
In the Roman Empire the Roman law Lex Julia de adulteriis coercendis implemented by Augustus Caesar permitted the murder of daughters and their lovers who committed adultery at the hands of their fathers and also permitted the murder of the adulterous wife’s lover at the hand of her husband.
The Napoleonic Code did not allow women to murder unfaithful husbands, while it permitted the murder of unfaithful women by their husbands. The Napoleonic Code Article 324 which was passed in 1810 permitted the murders of an unfaithful wife and her lover at the hand of her husband. It was abolished only in 1975. On 7 November 1975, Law no. 617/75 Article 17 repealed the 1810 French Penal Code Article 324. The 1810 penal code Article 324 passed by Napoleon was copied by Middle Eastern Arab countries. It inspired Jordan’s Article 340 which permits murder of a wife and her lover if caught in the act at the hands of her husband. France’s 1810 Penal Code Article 324 also inspired the 1858 Ottoman Penal Code’s Article 188, both the French Article 324 and Ottoman article 188 were drawn on to create Jordan’s Article 340 which was retained even after a 1944 revision of Jordan’s laws which did not touch public conduct and family law so Article 340 still applies to this day. France’s Mandate over Lebanon resulted in its penal code being imposed there in 1943–1944, with the French inspired Lebanese law for adultery allowing the mere accusation of adultery against women resulting in a maximum punishment of two years in prison while men have to be caught in the act and not merely accused, and are punished with only one year in prison.
France’s Article 324 inspired laws in other Arab countries such as:
- Algeria’s 1991 Penal Code Article 279
- Egypt’s 1937 Penal Code no. 58 Article 237
- Iraq’s 1966 Penal Code Article 409
- Jordan’s 1960 Penal Code no. 16 Article 340
- Kuwait’s Penal Code Article 153
- Lebanon’s Penal Code Articles 193, 252, 253 and 562
- These were amended in 1983, 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1999 and were eventually repealed by the Lebanese Parliament on 4 August 2011
- Libya’s Penal Code Article 375
- Morocco’s 1963 amended Penal Code Article 418
- Oman’s Penal Code Article 252
- Palestine, which had two codes
- Jordan’s 1960 Penal Code 1960 in the West Bank and British Mandate Criminal Code Article 18 in the Gaza Strip
- These were respectively repealed by Article 1 and Article 2 and both by Article 3 of the 2011 Law no. 71 which was signed on 5 May 2011 by president Mahmoud Abbas into the 10 October 2011 Official Gazette no. 91 applying in the Criminal Code of Palestine’s Northern Governorates and Southern Governorates
- Syria’s 1953 amended 1949 Penal Code Article 548
- Tunisia’s 1991 Penal Code Article 207 (which was repealed)
- United Arab Emirate’s law no.3/1978 Article 334
- Yemen’s law no. 12/1994 Article 232
Forced suicide as a substitute
A forced suicide may be a substitute for an honor killing. In this case, the family members do not directly kill the victim themselves, but force him or her to commit suicide, in order to avoid punishment. Such suicides are reported to be common in southeastern Turkey. It was reported that in 2001, 565 women lost their lives in honor-related crimes in Ilam, Iran, of which 375 were reportedly staged as self-immolation. In 2008, self-immolation “occurred in all the areas of Kurdish settlement (in Iran), where it was more common than in other parts of Iran”. It is claimed that in Iraqi Kurdistan many deaths are reported as “female suicides” in order to conceal honor-related crimes.
Restoring honor through a forced marriage
In the case of an unmarried woman or girl associating herself with a man, losing virginity, or being raped, the family may attempt to restore its ‘honor’ with a ‘shotgun wedding’. The groom will usually be the man who has ‘dishonored’ the woman or girl, but if this is not possible the family may try to arrange a marriage with another man, often a man who is part of the extended family of the one who has committed the acts with the woman or girl. This being an alternative to an honor killing, the woman or girl has no choice but to accept the marriage. The family of the man is expected to cooperate and provide a groom for the woman.
Widney Brown, the advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, said that the practice “goes across cultures and across religions”.
Resolution 1327 (2003) of the Council of Europe states that:
The Assembly notes that whilst so-called “honor crimes” emanate from cultural and not religious roots and are perpetrated worldwide (mainly in patriarchal societies or communities), the majority of reported cases in Europe have been among Muslim or migrant Muslim communities (although Islam itself does not support the death penalty for honour-related misconduct).
According to a study by Phyllis Chesler, in the 1989–2009 analysis of 172 honor killing incidents worldwide involving 230 victims, 91% of the perpetrators were Muslims. In North America, most killers (84%) were Muslim. In Europe, Muslims constituted an even larger majority (96%). All except two victims had the same religion as their murderers. The study concluded that although other religious groups such as Sikhs and Hindus do sometimes commit such murders, honor killings, both worldwide and in the West, are mainly Muslim-on-Muslim crimes. Hindu honor killings in India (mainly related to concerns about caste purity) have also been reported (Chesler notes that while Muslim honor killings are underreported in Western media, Hindu honor killings receive much more coverage in Western media). However Hindus who have emigrated to Western countries do not continue the custom in the West.
Many Muslim commentators and organizations condemn honor killings as an un-Islamic cultural practice. There is no mention of honor killing (extrajudicial killing by a woman’s family) in either the Qur’an or the Hadiths, and the practice violates Islamic law. Tahira Shaid Khan, a professor of women’s issues at Aga Khan University, blames such killings on attitudes (across different classes, ethnic, and religious groups) that view women as property with no rights of their own as the motivation for honor killings. Salafi scholar Muhammad Al-Munajjid asserts that the punishment of any crime is only reserved for the Islamic ruler. Ali Gomaa, Egypt’s former Grand Mufti, has also spoken out forcefully against honor killings.
As a more generic statement reflecting the wider Islamic scholarly trend, Jonathan A. C. Brown says that “questions about honor killings have regularly found their way into the inboxes of muftis like Yusuf Qaradawi or the late Lebanese Shiite scholar Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah. Their responses reflect a rare consensus. No Muslim scholar of any note, either medieval or modern, has sanctioned a man killing his wife or sister for tarnishing her or the family’s honor. If a woman or man found together were to deserve the death penalty for fornication, this would have to be established by the evidence required by the Qur’an: either a confession or the testimony of four male witnesses, all upstanding in the eyes of the court, who actually saw penetration occur.”
Further, while honor killings are common in Muslim countries like Pakistan or the Arab nations, it is a practically unknown practice in many other Muslim countries too, such as Bangladesh, Indonesia or Senegal. This fact supports the idea that honor killings are to do with culture rather than religion.
Matthew A. Goldstein, J.D. (Arizona), has noted that honor killings were encouraged in ancient Rome, where male family members who did not take action against the female adulterers in their families were “actively persecuted”.
The origin of honor killings and the control of women is evidenced throughout history in the cultures and traditions of many regions. The Roman law of pater familias gave complete control to the men of the family over both their children and wives. Under these laws, the lives of children and wives were at the discretion of the men in their families. Ancient Roman Law also justified honor killings by stating that women who were found guilty of adultery could be killed by their husbands. During the Qing dynasty in China, fathers and husbands had the right to kill daughters who were deemed to have dishonored the family.
Among the Amerindian Aztecs and Incas, adultery was punishable by death. During John Calvin’s rule of Geneva, women found guilty of adultery were punished by being drowned in the Rhone river.
Honor killings have a long tradition in Mediterranean Europe. According to the Honour Related Violence – European Resource Book and Good Practice (page 234): “Honor in the Mediterranean world is a code of conduct, a way of life and an ideal of the social order, which defines the lives, the customs and the values of many of the peoples in the Mediterranean moral”.
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 Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon (the Lebanese Parliament abolished the Honor killing in August 2011), Morocco, Pakistan, the Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey, Yemen, and other Mediterranean and Persian Gulf countries, and that they had also taken place in western countries such as France, Germany and the United Kingdom, within migrant communities.
In addition, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights gathered reports from several countries and considering only the countries that submitted reports it was shown that honor killings have occurred in Bangladesh, Great Britain, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, Sweden, Turkey, and Uganda.
According to Widney Brown, advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, the practice of honor killing “goes across cultures and across religions.”
In the West in the 1989-2009 period, 76 individual or groups of perpetrators murdered 100 victims. Of these perpetrators, 37% came from Pakistan, 17% had Iraqi origin, 12% had Turkish origin and 11% had Afghanorigins. The remaining 25% came from Albania, Algeria, Bosnia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Guyana, India, Iran, Morocco and Palestine (West Bank).
The issue of honor killings has risen to prominence in Europe in recent years, prompting the need to address the occurrence of honor killings. The 2009 European Parliamentary Assembly noted this in their Resolution 1681 which noted the dire need to address honor crimes. The resolution stated that:
On so-called ‘honour crimes’, the Parliamentary Assembly notes that the problem, far from diminishing, has worsened, including in Europe. It mainly affects women, who are its most frequent victims, both in Europe and the rest of the world, especially in patriarchal and fundamentalist communities and societies. For this reason, it asked the Council of Europe member states to ‘draw up and put into effect national action plans to combat violence against women, including violence committed in the name of so-called ‘honour’, if they have not already done so.
The Honour Based Violence Awareness Network (HBVA) writes:
Certain Eastern European countries have recorded cases of HBV [honor based violence] within the indigenous populations, such as Albania and Chechnya, and there have been acts of ‘honour’ killings within living memory within Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Greece.
The majority of honor killings are committed by first generation immigrants against second and third generation to prevent them from becoming Westernized.
Honor based violence has a long tradition in Albania, and although it is much rarer today than it was in the past, it still exists. The Kanun is a set of traditional Albanian laws and customs. Honor (in Albanian: Nderi) is one of the four pillars on which the Kanun is based. Honor crimes happen especially in northern Albania. In Albania (and in other parts of the Balkans) the phenomenon of blood feuds between males was more common historically than honor killings of females; but honor based violence against women and girls also has a tradition.
In 2011, Belgium held its first honor killing trial, in which four Pakistani family members were found guilty of killing their daughter and sibling, Sadia Sheikh.
As a legacy of the very influential Napoleonic Code, before 1997, Belgian law provided for mitigating circumstances in the case of a killing or an assault against a spouse caught in the act of adultery. (Adultery itself was decriminalized in Belgium in 1987.)
Ghazala Khan was shot and killed in Denmark in September 2005, by her brother, after she had married against the will of the family. She was of Pakistani origin. Her murder was ordered by her father to save her family’s ‘honor’ and several relatives were involved. Sentences considered harsh by Danish standards were handed out to all nine accused members of her family.
The first case of an honor killing in Finland happened in 2015, when an Iraqi man was sentenced to 2 years in prison for planning to murder his 16-year-old sister. He was also sentenced for assault. He and their mother had forbidden his sister from meeting people her own age and leaving the home beyond going to school.
In 2019, a 48-year-old Iraqi attempted to murder his 40-year-old ex-wife because she associated with other men. The stabbing was done at an educational institution where both were studying. When she turned around, he stabbed her in the back. She was seriously wounded but survived. According to the accused, he was ridiculed by his friends because the couple had arrived in Finland in 2015 and divorced shortly after arriving.
France has a large immigrant community from North Africa (especially from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia) and honor based violence occurs in this community. A 2009 report by the Council of Europe cited the United Kingdom, Germany, Belgium, France, and Norway as countries where honor crimes and honor killings occur.
France traditionally provided for leniency with regard to honor crimes, particularly when they were committed against women who had committed adultery. The Napoleonic Code of 1804, established under Napoleon Bonaparte, is one of the origins of the legal leniency with regard to adultery-related killings in a variety of legal systems in several countries around the world. Under this code, a man who killed his wife after she had been caught in the act of adultery could not be charged with premeditated murder – although he could be charged with other lesser offenses. This defense was available only for a husband, not for a wife. The Napoleonic Code has been very influential, and many countries, inspired by it, provided for lesser penalties or even acquittal for such crimes. This can be seen in the criminal codes of many former French colonies.
Investigating criminal records for partner homicides from the years 1996–2005, the German Federal Criminal Police Office concluded that there were about 12 cases of honor killings in Germany per year, including cases involving collective family honor and individual male honor, out of an average about 700 annual homicides. An accompanied study of all homicides in Baden-Württemberg show that men from Turkey, Yugoslavia and Albania have a between three and five times overrepresentation for partner homicides, both honor and non-honor releated. The causes for the higher rate was given as low education and social status of these groups along with cultural traditions of violence against women.
In 2005 Der Spiegel reported: “In the past four months, six Muslim women living in Berlin have been killed by family members”. The article went on to cover the case of Hatun Sürücü, a Turkish-Kurdish woman who was killed by her brother for not staying with the husband she was forced to marry, and for “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 Tübingen-based women’s group Terre des Femmes. The group 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 was convicted of murder and jailed for nine years and three months by a German court in 2006. In 2001, Turkish immigrant Mikdat Sacin murdered his 18 year old daughter Funda Sacin as she refused to marry her cousin from Ankara, Turkey in a forced marriage and secretely married her boyfriend instead. Mikdat S. has fled to his home country Turkey and has yet to come before a court. In 2005, 25 year old Turkish man Ali Karabey murdered his sister Gönul Karabey for having a German boyfriend. “She brought shame upon the family” he testified and he felt called upon to punish her with death. He was sentenced to life imprisonment by a German court in 2006.  In 2010, Turkish immigrant and devout muslim Mehmet Özkan murdered his 15 year old daughter Büsra Özkan because she refused to live an Islamic lifestyle and would chat with a young man she recently met. In 2016 a Kurdish Yazidi woman was shot dead at her wedding in Hannover for allegedly refusing to marry her cousin in a forced marriage.
Similar to other Southern/Mediterranean European areas, honor was traditionally important in Italy. Indeed, until 1981, the Criminal Code provided for mitigating circumstances for such killings; until 1981 the law read: “Art. 587: He who causes the death of a spouse, daughter, or sister upon discovering her in illegitimate carnal relations and in the heat of passion caused by the offence to his honour or that of his family will be sentenced to three to seven years. The same sentence shall apply to whom, in the above circumstances, causes the death of the person involved in illegitimate carnal relations with his spouse, daughter, or sister.” Traditionally, honor crimes used to be more prevalent in Southern Italy.
In 1546, Isabella di Morra, a young poet from Valsinni, Matera, was stabbed to death by her brothers for a suspected affair with a married nobleman, whom they also murdered.
In 2006, 20-year-old Hina Saleem, a Pakistani woman who lived in Brescia, Italy, was murdered by her father who claimed he was “saving the family’s honour”. She had refused an arranged marriage, and was living with her Italian boyfriend.
In 2009, in Pordenone, Italy, Sanaa Dafani, an 18-year-old girl of Moroccan origin, was murdered by her father because she had a relationship with an Italian man.
In 2011, in Cerignola, Italy, a man stabbed his brother 19 times because his homosexuality was a “dishonour to the family”.
Anooshe Sediq Ghulam was a 22-year-old Afghan refugee in Norway, who was killed by her husband in an honor killing in 2002. She had reported her husband to the police for domestic violence and was seeking a divorce.
The Swedish National Police Board and the Swedish Prosecution Authority define honor related crime as crimes against a relative who, according to the perpetrator and his family’s point of view, has dishonored the family. These crimes are intended to prevent the family honor being damaged or to restore damaged or lost family honor.
The most serious honor related crime is often organised and deliberate and not limited to killing. Incidents include torture, forced suicides, forced marriages, rapes, kidnapping, assault, mortal threats, extortion and protecting a criminal.
In Sweden the 26-year-old Iraqi Kurdish woman Fadime Şahindal was killed by her father in 2002. Kurdish organizations were criticized by prime minister Göran Persson for not doing enough to prevent honor killings. Pela Atroshi was a Kurdish girl who was shot by her uncle in an honor killing. The murder of Pela and Fadime gave rise to the formation of GAPF (the acronym stands for Never Forget Pela and Fadime), a politically and religiously independent and secular nonprofit organization working against honor-related violence and oppression. The organization’s name is taken from Pela Atroshi and Fadime Sahindal which are Sweden’s best-known and high-profile cases of honor killings.
The honor killing of Sara, an Iraqi Kurdish girl, was the first publicized honor killing in Sweden. Sara was killed by her brother and cousin when she was 15 years old. According to statements by her mother, Sara’s brother believed that she “was a whore who slept with Swedish boys”, and that even though he himself also slept with Swedish girls that “was different, because he is a male, and he would not even think of sleeping with Iraqi girls, only with Swedish girls, with whores”. These three prominent cases brought the notion of honor killings into Swedish discourse.
In 2016 ten out of the 105 murder cases were honor killings, with 6 female and 4 male victims. The 6 female victims represented a third of the 18 murders of women in Sweden that year.
In May 2019 the court of appeals found a man guilty of murdering his wife in front of the Afghan couple’s children who were minor at the time. He was sentenced to life in prison, deportation and a lifetime ban against returning to Sweden.
In 2010, a 16-year-old Pakistani girl was killed near Zurich, Switzerland, by her father who was dissatisfied with both her lifestyle and her Christian boyfriend. In 2014, a 42-year old Syrian Kurd killed his wife (and cousin) because she had a boyfriend and wanted to live separately. The suspect defended himself by claiming that honor killing is part of Kurdish culture.
Every year in the United Kingdom (UK), officials estimate that at least a dozen women are victims of honor killings, almost exclusively within Asian and Middle Eastern families. Often, cases cannot be resolved due to the unwillingness of families, relatives and communities to testify. A 2006 BBC poll for the Asian network in the UK found that one in ten of the 500 young Asians polled said that they could condone the killing of someone who had dishonored their families. In 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.
In 2010, Britain saw a 47% rise in the number of honor-related crimes. Data from police agencies in the UK report 2283 cases in 2010, and an estimated 500 more from jurisdictions that did not provide reports. These “honor-related crimes” also include house arrests and other parental punishments. Most of the attacks were conducted in cities that had high immigrant populations.
Banaz Mahmod, a 20-year-old Iraqi Kurdish woman from Mitcham, south London, was killed in 2006, in a murder orchestrated by her father, uncle and cousins. Her life and murder were presented in a documentary called Banaz: A Love Story, directed and produced by Deeyah Khan.
Another well-known case was Heshu Yones, stabbed to death by her Kurdish father in London in 2002 when her family heard a love song dedicated to her and suspected she had a boyfriend. Other examples include the killing of Tulay Goren, a Kurdish Shia Muslim girl who immigrated with her family from Turkey, and Samaira Nazir (Pakistani Muslim).
A highly publicized case was that of Shafilea Iftikhar Ahmed, a 17-year-old British Pakistani girl from Great Sankey, Warrington, Cheshire, who was murdered in 2003 by her parents. However, a lesser-known case is that of Gurmeet Singh Ubhi, a Sikh man who, in February 2011, was found guilty of the murder of his 24-year-old daughter, Amrit Kaur Ubhi in 2010. Ubhi was found to have murdered his daughter because he disapproved of her being ‘too westernised’. Likewise he also disapproved of the fact that she was dating a non-Sikh man. In 2012, the UK had the first white victim of an honor killing: 17-year-old Laura Wilson was killed by her Asian boyfriend, Ashtiaq Ashgar, because she revealed details of their relationship to his family, challenging traditional cultural values of the Asian family. Laura Wilson’s mother told the Daily Mail, “I honestly think it was an honour killing for putting shame on the family. They needed to shut Laura up and they did”. Wilson was repeatedly knifed to death as she walked along a canal in Rotherham.
In 2013, Mohammed Inayat was jailed for killing his wife and injuring three daughters by setting his house on fire in Birmingham. Inayat wanted to stop his daughter from flying to Dubai to marry her boyfriend, because he believed the marriage would dishonor his family. In 2014, the husband of Syrian-born 25-year-old Rania Alayed, as well as three brothers of the husband, were jailed for killing her. According to the prosecution, the motive for the murder was that she had become “too westernised” and was “establishing an independent life”.
Middle East and North Africa
Honor killings in Maghreb are not as common as in the Asian countries of the Middle East and South Asia, but they do occur. In Libya, they are particularly committed against rape victims.
In a poll with respondents across countries in the Arab world such as Algeria (27%), Morocco (25%), Sudan (14%), Jordan (21%), Tunisia (8%), Lebanon (8%) and the Palestinian territory of the West Bank (8%), it was found that honour killings were more acceptable than homosexuality.
Honor killings in Egypt occur due to reasons such as a woman meeting an unrelated man, even if this is only an allegation; or adultery (real or suspected). The exact number of honor killings is not known, but a report in 1995 estimated about 52 honor killings that year. In 2013, a woman and her two daughters were murdered by 10 male relatives, who strangled and beat them, and then threw their bodies in the Nile. Honor killings are illegal in Egypt and five of the ten men were arrested.
In Iran, honor killings occur primarily among tribal minority groups, such as Kurdish, Arab, Lori, Baluchi, and Turkish-speaking tribes, while honor-related crimes are not a tradition among Persians who are generally less socially conservative. Honor killings are particularly prevalent in the provinces of Kordistan and Ilam, Iran. Discriminatory family laws, articles in the Criminal Code that show leniency towards honor killings, and a strongly male dominated society have been cited as causes of honor killings in Iran. It was reported that in 2001, 565 women lost their lives in honor-related crimes in Ilam, of which 375 were reportedly staged as self-immolation. In 2008, self-immolation, “occurred in all the areas of Kurdish settlement (in Iran), where it was more common than in other parts of Iran”.
In 2008, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) has stated that honor killings are a serious concern in Iraq, particularly well documented in Iraqi Kurdistan. There are conflicting estimates on the number of honor killings in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Free Women’s Organization of Kurdistan (FWOK) released a statement on International Women’s Day 2015 noting that “6,082 women were killed or forced to commit suicide during the past year in Iraqi Kurdistan, which is almost equal to the number of the Peshmerga martyred fighting Islamic State (IS),” and that a large number of women were victims of honor killings or enforced suicide—mostly self-immolation or hanging. According to Zhin Woman magazine, published in December 2015 in Sulaimaniya, from January to August 2015, in the three main Kurdish provinces of Sulaimaniya, Erbil, and Duhok, there were a total of 122 cases of honor killings and 124 women’s suicides. According to KRG Ministry of Interior’s Directorate-General of Countering Violence Committed Against Women, only 14 women were victims of “so-called” honor killings in 2017. The practice is reportedly declining due to increased numbers of women’s rights organizations and government initiatives. About 500 honor killings per year are reported in hospitals in Iraqi Kurdistan, although real numbers are likely higher. It is speculated that alone in Erbil there is one honor killing per day. The UNAMI reported that at least 534 honor killings occurred between January and April 2006 in the Kurdish Governorates. It is claimed that many deaths are reported as “female suicides” in order to conceal honor-related crimes. Aso Kamal of the Doaa Network Against Violence claimed that they have estimated that there were more than 12,000 honor killings in Iraqi Kurdistan from 1991 to 2007. He also said that the government figures are much lower, and show a decline in recent years, and Kurdish law has mandated since 2008 that an honor killing be treated like any other murder. Honor killings and other forms of violence against women have increased since the creation of Iraqi Kurdistan, and “both the KDP and PUK claimed that women’s oppression, including ‘honor killings’, are part of Kurdish ‘tribal and Islamic culture’”. The honor killing and self-immolation condoned or tolerated by the Kurdish administration in Iraqi Kurdistan has been labeled as “gendercide” by Mojab (2003).
As many as 133 women were killed in the Iraqi city of Basra alone in 2006. 79 were killed for violation of “Islamic teachings” and 47 for honor, according to IRIN, the news branch of the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Amnesty International says that armed groups, not the government, also kill politically active women and those who did not follow a strict dress code, as well as women who are perceived as human rights defenders. 17-year-old Du’a Khalil Aswad, an Iraqi girl of the Yazidi faith, was stoned to death in front of a mob of about 2000 men in 2007, possibly because she was allegedly planning to convert to Islam. A video of the brutal incident was released on the Internet. According to the crowd she had “shamed herself and her family” for failing to return home one night and there were suspicions of her converting to Islam to marry her boyfriend, who was in hiding in fear of his own safety.
Sharaf is the honor of the family, tribe or person which can increase if the path of moral behavior is followed or decrease if it is left. ‘ird is that honor which relates only to the women in family; it can only decrease. Sharaf is outweighed by ‘ird.
To regain sharaf, ‘ird must be cleansed.
Tarrad Fayiz, a Jordanian tribal leader, explains: “A woman is like an olive tree. When its branch catches woodworm, it has to be chopped off so that society stays clean and pure.”
Murder, marriage to the person who violated the woman’s honor, or marriage to another man will all restore ‘ird.
There are still honor killings in Jordan. A 2008 report of the National Council of Family Affairs in Jordan, an NGO affiliated with the Queen of Jordan, indicated that the National Forensic Medicine Center recorded 120 murdered women in 2006, with 18 cases classified officially as crimes of honor.
In 2013, the BBC cited estimates by the National Council of Family Affairs in Jordan, an NGO, that as many as 50 Jordanian women and girls had been killed in the preceding 13 years. But the BBC indicated “the real figure” was probably “far higher,” because “most honour killings go unreported.”
Men used to receive reduced sentences for killing their wives or female family members if they are deemed to have brought dishonor to their family. Families often get sons under the age of 16—legally minors—to commit honor killings; the juvenile law allows convicted minors to serve time in a juvenile detention center and be released with a clean criminal record at the age of 16. Rana Husseini, a leading journalist on the topic of honor killings, states that “under the existing law, people found guilty of committing honor killings often receive sentences as light as six months in prison”. According to UNICEF, there are an average of 23 honor killings per year in Jordan.
On 1 August 2017, article 98 in the penal codes were amended to exclude receiving lenient punishments for being in “a state of great fury”. However, article 340 which sees reduced penalties when a man attacks or kills a female relative having found her in the act of “adultery”, is still in effect.
A 2013 survey of “856 ninth graders – average age of 15 – from a range of secondary schools across Amman – including private and state, mixed-sex and single gender” showed that attitudes favoring honor killings are present in the “next generation” Jordanians: “In total, 33.4% of all respondents either “agreed” or “strongly agreed” with situations depicting honour killings. Boys were more than twice as likely to support honour killings: 46.1% of boys and 22.1% of girls agreed with at least two honour killing situations in the questionnaire.” The parents’ education was found to be a significant correlation: “61% of teenagers from the lowest level of educational background showed supportive attitudes towards honour killing, as opposed to only 21.1% where at least one family member has a university degree.”
Kuwait is relatively liberal (by Middle East standards), and honor killings are rare, but not unheard of – in 2006 a young woman died in an honor killing committed by her brothers. In 2008, a girl was given police protection after reporting that her family intended to kill her for having an affair with a man.
There are no exact official numbers about honor killings of women in Lebanon; many honor killings are arranged to look like accidents, but the figure is believed to be 40 to 50 per year. A 2007 report by Amnesty International said that the Lebanese media in 2001 reported 2 or 3 honor killings per month in Lebanon, although the number is believed to be higher by other independent sources.
On 4 August 2011, however, the Lebanese Parliament agreed by a majority to abolish Article 562, which for the past years had worked as an excuse to commute the sentence given for honor killing.
According to UNICEF estimates in 1999, two-thirds of all murders in the Palestinian territories were likely honor killings.
In 2005, 22-year-old Faten Habash, a Christian from West Bank, was said to have dishonored her family by falling for a young Muslim man, Samer. Following their thwarted attempts to elope to Jordan, she suffered her relatives’ wrath after rejecting the options of either marrying her cousin or becoming a nun in Rome. She had spent a period of time in hospital recovering from a broken pelvis and various other injuries caused by an earlier beating by her father and other family members. Still fearing her family after her release from hospital, she approached a powerful Bedouin tribe, which took her under its care. Her father then wept and gave his word that he would not harm her. She returned to him, only to be bludgeoned to death with an iron bar days later.
The Palestinian Authority, using a clause in the Jordanian penal code still in effect in the West Bank as of 2011, exempted men from punishment for killing a female relative if she has brought dishonor to the family.The Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights has reported 29 women were killed 2007–2010, whereas 13 women were killed in 2011 and 12 in the first seven months of 2012. According to a PA Ministry of Women’s Affairs report the rate of ‘Honor Killings’ went up by 100% in 2013, “reporting the number of ‘honor killing’ victims for 2013 at 27”.
Mahmoud Abbas, president of the State of Palestine, issued a decree in May 2014 under which the exemption of men was abolished in cases of honor killings.
The Death of Israa Ghrayeb took place on 22 August 2019 in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem. Israa Ghrayeb, 21 years old, was reportedly beaten to death by her brother because she posted a selfie with her partner a day before they were supposed to get engaged.
In 2008 a woman was killed in Saudi Arabia by her father for “chatting” with a man on Facebook. The killing became public only when a Saudi cleric referred to the case, to criticize Facebook for the strife it caused.
In 2019 an apparent attempt at the “honor killing” of Saudi Rahaf Mohammed was thwarted both by the successful online outreach made by Rahaf Mohammed, and by the international media and diplomatic response to her online pleas.
The 1980 film Death of a Princess infers that the execution of Princess Misha’al in 1977 was actually an honor killing, rather than a sentence handed down by a court. 
Some estimates suggest that more than 200 honor killings occur every year in Syria. The Syrian Civil War has been reported as leading to an increase in honor killings in the country, mainly due to the common occurrence of war rape, which led to the stigmatization of victims by their relatives and communities, and in turn to honor killings.
A report compiled by the Council of Europe estimated that over 200 women were killed in honor killings in Turkey in 2007. A June 2008 report by the Turkish Prime Ministry’s Human Rights Directorate said that in Istanbul alone there was one honor killing every week, and reported over 1,000 during the previous five years. It added that metropolitan cities were the location of many of these, due to growing immigration to these cities from the East. The mass migration during the past decades of rural population from Southeastern Turkey to big cities in Western Turkey has resulted in relatively more developed cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, and Bursa having the highest numbers of reported honor killings.
A report by UNFPA identified the following situations as being common triggers for honor killings: a married woman having an extra-marital relationship; a married woman running away with a man; a married woman getting separated or divorced; a divorced woman having a relationship with another man; a young unmarried girl having a relationship; a young unmarried girl running away with a man; a woman (married or unmarried) being kidnapped and/or raped.
In Turkey, young boys are often ordered by other family members to commit the honor killing, so that they can get a shorter jail sentence (because they are minors). Forced suicides – where the victim who is deemed to have ‘dishonored’ the family is ordered to commit suicide in an attempt by the perpetrator to avoid legal consequences – also take place in Turkey, especially in Batman in southeastern Turkey, which has been nicknamed “Suicide City”.
In 2009 a Turkish news agency reported that a 2-day-old boy who was born out of wedlock had been killed for honor in Istanbul. The maternal grandmother of the infant, along with six other persons, including a doctor who had reportedly accepted a bribe to not report the birth, were arrested. The grandmother is suspected of fatally suffocating the infant. The child’s mother, 25, was also arrested; she stated that her family had made the decision to kill the child.
In 2010 a 16-year-old girl was buried alive by relatives for befriending boys in Southeast Turkey; her corpse was found 40 days after she went missing. Ahmet Yildiz, 26, a Turkish-Kurdish physics student who represented his country at an international gay conference in the United States in 2008, was shot dead leaving a cafe in Istanbul. Ahmet Yildiz who came from a deeply religious family was believed to have been the victim of the country’s first gay honor killing.
Honor killings continue to receive some support in the conservative regions of Turkey. In 2005, A small survey in Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey found that, when asked the appropriate punishment for a woman who has committed adultery, 37% of respondents said she should be killed, while 21% said her nose or ears should be cut off. A July 2008 Turkish study by a team from Dicle University on honor killings in the Southeastern Anatolia Region, the predominantly Kurdish area of Turkey, has so far shown that little if any social stigma is attached to honor killing. It also comments that the practice 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.” There are well documented cases, where Turkish courts have sentenced whole families to life imprisonment for an honor killing. The most recent was on 13 January 2009, where a Turkish Court sentenced five members of the same Kurdish family to life imprisonment for the honor killing of Naile Erdas, a 16-year-old girl who got pregnant as a result of rape.
Honor killings also affect gay people. In 2008 a man had to flee from Turkey after his Kurdish boyfriend was killed by his own father.
Honor killings are common in Yemen. In some parts of the country, traditional tribal customs forbid contact between men and women before marriage. Yemeni society is strongly male dominated, Yemen being ranked last of 135 countries in the 2012 Global Gender Gap Report. It was estimated that in 1997 about 400 women and girls died in honor killings in Yemen. In 2013, a 15-year-old girl was killed by her father, who burned her to death, because she talked to her fiancé before the wedding.
In 2012, Afghanistan recorded 240 cases of honor killings, but the total number is believed to be much higher. Of the reported honor killings, 21% were committed by the victims’ husbands, 7% by their brothers, 4% by their fathers, and the rest by other relatives.
In May 2017, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan concluded that the vast majority of cases involving honor killings and murders of women, perpetrators were not punished.Of the 280 recorded cases in the January 2016-December 2017 time span, 50 cases ended in a conviction. UNAMA concluded that the vast majority offences could be committed with impunity.
Honor killings have been reported in northern regions of India, mainly in the Indian states of Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, as a result of people marrying without their family’s acceptance, and sometimes for marrying outside their caste or religion. In contrast, honor killings are less prevalent but are not completely non-existent in South India and the western Indian states of Maharashtra and Gujarat. In 2015 National Crime Records Bureau data shows, 251 honor killings were reported in India, activists consider this number to be under estimation due to the misreporting of killings under general murders. According to the survey done by AIDWA, over 30 percent of the total honor killings in the country takes place in Western Uttar Pradesh. In some other parts of India, notably West Bengal, honor killings completely ceased about a century ago, largely due to the activism and influence of reformists such as Vivekananda, Ramakrishna, Vidyasagar and Raja Ram Mohan Roy.
Haryana has had incidences of honor killings, mainly among Meenas, Rajputs and Jats. Role of khap panchayats (caste councils of village elders) has been questioned. Feminist scholars who studied khaps explain that only 2% to 3% honor killings are related to gotra killings by the khap or caste panchayats, rest are done by the families, “will you ban families?” they reason. Madhu Kishwar, a professor at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, explains that, “there are plenty of tyrannical police officials, plenty of incompetent and corrupt judges in India who pass very retrogressive judgments, but no one says ban the police and the law courts. By what right do they demand a ban on khaps, simply because some members have undemocratic views? Educated elite in India don’t know anything about the vital role played by these age-old institutions of self-governance.”
In March 2010, Karnal district court ordered the execution of five perpetrators of an honor killing and imprisoning for life the khap (local caste-based council) chief who ordered the killings of Manoj Banwala (23) and Babli (19), a man and woman of the same clan who eloped and married in June 2007. Despite having been given police protection on court orders, they were kidnapped; their mutilated bodies were found a week later in an irrigation canal. In 2013, a young couple who were planning to marry were murdered in Garnauthi village, Haryana, due to having a love affair. The woman, Nidhi, was beaten to death and the man, Dharmender, was dismembered alive. People in the village and neighbouring villages approved of the killings.
The Indian state of Punjab also has a large number of honor killings. According to data compiled by the Punjab Police, 34 honor killings were reported in the state between 2008 and 2010: 10 in 2008, 20 in 2009, and four in 2010. Bhagalpur in the eastern Indian state of Bihar has also been notorious for honor killings. Recent cases include a 16-year-old girl, Imrana, from Bhojpur who was set on fire inside her house 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 smouldering body. She was admitted to a local hospital, where she later died from her injuries. In May 2008, Jayvirsingh Bhadodiya shot his daughter Vandana Bhadodiya and struck her on the head with an axe. Honor killings occur even in Delhi.
Honor killings take place in Rajasthan, too. In June 2012, a man chopped off his 20-year-old daughter’s head with a sword in Rajasthan after learning that she was dating men. According to police officer, “Omkar Singh told the police that his daughter Manju had relations with several men. He had asked her to mend her ways several times in the past. However, she did not pay heed. Out of pure rage, he chopped off her head with the sword”.
In 1990 the National Commission for Women set up a statutory body in order to address the issues of honor killings among some ethnic groups in North India. This body reviewed constitutional, legal and other provisions as well as challenges women face. The NCW’s activism has contributed significantly towards the reduction of honor killings in rural areas of North India. According to Pakistani activists Hina Jilani and Eman M Ahmed, Indian women are considerably better protected against honor killings by Indian law and government than Pakistani women, and they have suggested that governments of countries affected by honor killings use Indian law as a model in order to prevent honor killings in their respective societies.
In June 2010, scrutinising the increasing number of honor killings, the Supreme Court of India demanded responses about honor killing prevention from the federal government and the state governments of Punjab, Haryana, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh.
In 2000 Jaswinder Kaur Sidhu (nicknamed Jassi), a Canadian Punjabi who married rickshaw driver Sukhwinder Singh Sidhu (nicknamed Mithu) against her family’s wishes, was brutally murdered in India following orders from her mother and uncle in Canada so that “the family honor was restored”. Her body was found in an irrigation canal. Mithu was kidnapped, beaten and left to die, but survived.
Honor killings have been reported in Nepal, with much of them linked with the caste system that is deeply rooted in Nepalese tradition. Most honor killings are reportedly undetected. Gender-based violence has been the deadliest form of violence in Nepal as of 2017, which includes honor killings and have been rising in the country as of 2012.
In Pakistan honor killings are known locally as karo-kari. An Amnesty International report noted “the failure of the authorities to prevent these killings by investigating and punishing the perpetrators.” Official data puts the number of women killed in honor killings in 2015 at nearly 1,100. 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 was widely reported after her father, 57-year-old Gul Sher Solangi, publicized the case. He alleged his eight-months-pregnant daughter was tortured and killed on 7 March on the orders of her father-in-law, who accused her of carrying a child conceived out of wedlock. Statistically, honor killings have a high level of support in Pakistan’s rural 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 Sindh province of Pakistan. Over the course of six years, more than 4,000 women have died as victims of honor killings in Pakistan from 1999 to 2004. In 2005 the average annual number of honor killings for the whole nation was stated to be more than 1,000 per year.
A 2009 study by Muazzam Nasrullah et al. reported a total of 1,957 honor crime victims reported in Pakistan’s newspapers from 2004 to 2007. Of those killed, 18% were below the age of 18 years, and 88% were married. Husbands, brothers and close relatives were direct perpetrators of 79% of the honor crimes reported by mainstream media. The method used for honor crime included firearms (most common), stabbing, axe and strangulation.
According to women’s rights advocates, “the concepts of women as property, and of honor, are so deeply entrenched in the social, political and economic fabric of Pakistan that the government mostly ignores the regular occurrences of women being killed and maimed by their families.” Frequently, women killed in honor killings are recorded as having committed suicide or died in accidents. Savitri Goonesekere states that Islamic leaders in Pakistan use religious justifications for sanctioning honor killings.
On 27 May 2014, a pregnant woman was stoned to death by her own family in front of a Pakistani high court for marrying the man she loved. “I killed my daughter as she had insulted all of our family by marrying a man without our consent, and I have no regret over it,” the father reportedly told the police investigator. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif described the stoning as “totally unacceptable,” and ordered the chief minister of Punjab province to provide an immediate report. He demanded to know why police did nothing, despite the killing taking place outside one of the country’s top courts, in the presence of police. Scholars suggest that the Islamic law doctrine of Qisas and Diyya encourages honor killings, particularly against females, as well as allows the murderer to go unpunished. In 2016, Pakistan repealed the loophole which allowed the perpetrators of honour killings to avoid punishment by seeking forgiveness for the crime from another family member, and thus be legally pardoned.
In January 2017 a Pakistani mother was sentenced to death for killing her daughter that had married against her family’s wishes.
In the 1989-2009 period In North America, most killers (84%) were Muslim and 51% of victims were tortured before their death.
Throughout the 20th century, husbands have used the “legitimate defense of their honor” (legítima defesa da honra) as justification for adultery-related killings in court cases. Although this defense was not explicitly stipulated in the 20th century Criminal Code, it has been successfully pleaded by lawyers throughout the 20th century, in particular in the interior of the country, though less so in the coastal big cities. In 1991 Brazil’s Supreme Court explicitly rejected the “honor defense” as having no basis in Brazilian law.
A 2007 study by Dr. Amin Muhammad and Dr. Sujay Patel of Memorial University, Canada, investigated how the practice of honor killings has been brought to Canada. The report explained that “When people come and settle in Canada they can bring their traditions and forcefully follow them. In some cultures, people feel that some boundaries are never to be crossed, and if someone would violate those practices or go against them, then killing is justified to them.” The report noted that “In different cultures, they can get away without being punished—the courts actually sanction them under religious contexts”. The report also said that the people who commit these crimes are usually mentally ill, and that the mental health aspect is often ignored by Western observers because of a lack of understanding of the insufficiently developed state of mental healthcare in developing countries in which honor killings are prevalent.
Canada has been host to a number of high-profile killings, including the murder of Jaswinder Kaur Sidhu, the murder of Amandeep Atwal, the double murder of Khatera Sadiqi and her fiancé, and the Shafia family murders.
Honor killings have become such a pressing issue in Canada that the Canadian citizenship study guide mentions it specifically, saying, “Canada’s openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, ‘honour killings’, female genital mutilation, forced marriage or other gender-based violence.”
Phyllis Chesler argues that the U.S., as well as Canada, do not have proper measures in place to fight against honor killings, and they do not recognize these murders as a specific form of violence, distinct from other domestic murders, due to fear of being labeled “culturally insensitive”. According to her, this often prevents government officials in the United States and the media from 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, she argues.
She also writes that, although there are not many cases of honor killing within the United States, the overwhelming majority of honor killings are perpetrated by Muslims against Muslims (90% of honor killings known to have taken place in Europe and the United States from 1998 to 2008). In these documented cases the victims were murdered because they were believed to have acted in a way that was against the religion of the family. In every case, the perpetrators view their victims as having violated rules of religious conduct and they act without remorse.
Several honor killings have occurred in the U.S. during recent years. In 1989, in St. Louis, Missouri, 16-year-old Palestina “Tina” Isa was murdered by her Palestinian father with the aid of his wife. Her parents were dissatisfied with her “westernized” lifestyle. In 2008, in Georgia, 25-year-old Sandeela Kanwal was killed by her Pakistani father for refusing an arranged marriage. Amina and Sarah Said, two teenage sisters from Texas were killed, allegedly by their Egyptian father, Yaser Abdel Said, who is still at large. Yaser is currently on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, and he has been on the list since 10 December 2014. Aasiya Zubair was, together with her husband Muzzammil Hassan, the founder and owner of Bridges TV, the first American Muslim English-language television network. She was killed by her husband in 2009. Phyllis Chesler argues that this crime was an honor killing. In 2009, in Arizona, Noor Almaleki, aged 20, was killed by her father, an Iraqi immigrant, because she had refused an arranged marriage and was living with her boyfriend.
The extent of honor-based violence in the U.S. is not known, because no official data is collected. There is controversy about the reasons why such violence occurs, and about the extent to which culture, religion, and views on women cause these incidents.
Crimes of passion within Latin America have also been compared to honor killings. Similar to honor killings, crimes of passion often feature the murder of a woman by a husband, family member, or boyfriend and the crime is often condoned or sanctioned. In Peru, for example, 70 percent of the murders of women in one year were committed by a husband, boyfriend or lover, and most often jealousy or suspicions of infidelity are cited as the reasons for the murders.
The view that violence can be justified in the name of honor and shame exists traditionally in Latin American societies, and machismo is often described as a code of honor. While some ideas originated in the Spanish colonial culture, others predate it: in the early history of Peru, the laws of the Incas allowed husbands to starve their wives to death if they committed adultery, while Aztec laws in early Mexico stipulated stoning or strangulation as punishment for female adultery.
Until a few decades ago, the marriage of a girl or woman to the man who had raped her was considered a “solution” to the incident in order to restore her family’s ‘honor’. Infact, although laws that exonerate the perpetrator of rape if he marries his victim after the rape are often associated with the Middle East, such laws were very common around the world until the second half of the 20th century. As late as 1997, 14 Latin American countries had such laws although most of these countries have since abolished them. Such laws were ended in Mexico in 1991, El Salvador in 1996, Colombia in 1997, Peru in 1999, Chile in 1999, Brazil in 2005, Uruguay in 2005, Guatemala in 2006, Costa Rica in 2007, Panama in 2008, Nicaragua in 2008, Argentina in 2012, and Ecuador in 2014.
Jim Spigelman (who served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales from 19 May 1998 until 31 May 2011) said that Australia’s increasing diversity was creating conflicts about how to deal with the customs and traditions of immigrant populations. He said: “There are important racial, ethnic and religious minorities in Australia who come from nations with sexist traditions which, in some respects, are even more pervasive than those of the West.” He said that honor crimes, forced marriages and other violent acts against women were becoming a problem in Australia.
In 2010, in New South Wales, Indonesian born Hazairin Iskandar and his son killed the lover of Iskandar’s wife. Iskandar stabbed the victim with a knife while his son bashed him with a hammer. The court was told that the reason for the murder was the perpetrators’ belief that extramarital affairs were against their religion; and that the murder was carried out to protect the honor of the family and was a “pre-planned, premeditated and executed killing”. The judge said that: “No society or culture that regards itself as civilized can tolerate to any extent, or make any allowance for, the killing of another person for such an amorphous concept as honour”.
Pela Atroshi was a Kurdish 19-year-old girl who was killed by her uncle in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1999. The decision to kill her was taken by a council of her male relatives, led by Pela’s grandfather, Abdulmajid Atroshi, who lived in Australia. One of his sons, Shivan Atroshi, who helped with the murder, also lived in Australia. Pela Atroshi was living in Sweden, but was taken by family members to Iraqi Kurdistan to be killed, as ordered by a family council of male relatives living in Sweden and Australia, because they claimed she had tarnished the family honor. Pela Atroshi’s murder was officially deemed an honor killing by authorities.
Honor killings are condemned as a serious human rights violation and are addressed by several international instruments. The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence addresses this issue. Article 42 reads:
Article 42 – Unacceptable justifications for crimes, including crimes committed in the name of so-called “honour”
1. Parties shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that, in criminal proceedings initiated following the commission of any of the acts of violence covered by the scope of this Convention, culture, custom, religion, tradition or so-called “honour” shall not be regarded as justification for such acts. This covers, in particular, claims that the victim has transgressed cultural, religious, social or traditional norms or customs of appropriate behaviour.
2. Parties shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that incitement by any person of a child to commit any of the acts referred to in paragraph 1 shall not diminish the criminal liability of that person for the acts committed.
The World Health Organization (WHO) addressed the issue of honor killings and stated: “Murders of women to ‘save the family honour’ are among the most tragic consequences and explicit illustrations of embedded, culturally accepted discrimination against women and girls.” According to the UNODC: “Honour crimes, including killing, are one of history’s oldest forms of gender-based violence. It assumes that a woman’s behaviour casts a reflection on the family and the community. … In some communities, a father, brother or cousin will publicly take pride in a murder committed in order to preserve the ‘honour’ of a family. In some such cases, local justice officials may side with the family and take no formal action to prevent similar deaths.”
In national legal codes
Legislation on this issue varies, but today the vast majority of countries no longer allow a husband to legally kill a wife for adultery (although adultery itself continues to be punishable by death in some countries) or to commit other forms of honor killings. However, in many places, adultery and other “immoral” sexual behaviors by female family members can be considered mitigating circumstances in case when they are killed, leading to significantly shorter sentences.
In the Western world, a country that is often associated with “crimes of passion” and adultery related violence is France, and indeed, recent surveys have shown French public to be more accepting of these practices than the public in other countries. One 2008 Gallup survey compared the views of the French, German and British public and those of French, German and British Muslims on several social issues: 4% of French public said “honor killings” were “morally acceptable” and 8% of French public said “crimes of passion” were “morally acceptable”; honor killings were seen as acceptable by 1% of German public and also 1% of British public; crimes of passion were seen as acceptable by 1% of German public and 2% of British public. Among Muslims 5% in Paris, 3% in Berlin and 3% in London saw honor killings as acceptable, and 4% in Paris (less than French public), 1% in Berlin and 3% in London saw crimes of passion as acceptable.
According to the report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur submitted to the 58th session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 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 Brazil, and that legislative provisions allowing for partial or complete defence in that context could be found in the penal codes of Argentina, Ecuador, Egypt, Guatemala, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Peru, Syria, Venezuela and the Palestinian National Authority.
The legal aspects of honor killings in different countries are discussed below:
- Jordan: In recent years, Jordan has amended its Code to modify its laws which used to offer a complete defense for honor killings.
- Many former French colonies offer the possibility of reduced sentences in regard to adultery related violent crimes (inspired by the French Napoleonic Code).
- In Brazil, an explicit defense to murder in case of adultery has never been part of the criminal code, but a defense of “honor” (not part of the criminal code) has been widely used by lawyers in such cases to obtain acquittals. Although this defense has been generally rejected in modern parts of the country (such as big cities) since the 1950s, it has been very successful in the interior of the country. In 1991 Brazil’s Supreme Court explicitly rejected the “honour” defense as having no basis in Brazilian law.
- Haiti: In 2005, the laws were changed, abolishing the right of a husband to be excused for murdering his wife due to adultery. Adultery was also decriminalized.
- Syria: In 2009, Article 548 of the Syrian Law code was amended. Beforehand, the article waived any punishment for males who committed murder on a female family member for inappropriate sex acts. 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 a reduced penalty, that should not be less than 2 years in prison in case of a killing.” Article 192 states that a judge may opt for reduced punishments (such as short-term imprisonment) if the killing was done with an honorable intent. In addition to this, Article 242 says that a judge may reduce a sentence for murders that were done in rage and caused by an illegal act committed by the victim.
- Turkey: 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 13 January 2009, where a Turkish Court sentenced five members of the same Kurdish family to life imprisonment for the honor killing of Naile Erdas, 16, who got pregnant as a result of rape.
- Pakistan: Honor killings are known as karo kari (ڪارو ڪاري) (کاروکاری). The practice is supposed to be prosecuted under ordinary killing, 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 killed in honor killings. The Hudood Ordinances of Pakistan, enacted in 1979 by then ruler General Zia-ul-Haq, created laws that realigned Pakistani rule with Islamic law. The law had the effect of reducing the legal protections for women, especially regarding sex outside of the marriage. Women who made accusations of rape, after this law, were required to provide four male witnesses. If unable to do this, the alleged rape could not be prosecuted in the courts. Because the woman had admitted to sex outside of marriage, however, she could be punished for having sex outside of the marriage, a punishment that ranged from stoning to public lashing. This law made it that much more risky for women to come forward with accusations of rape. In 2006, the Women’s Protection Bill amended these Hudood Ordinances by removing four male witnesses as a requirement for rape allegations. On 8 December 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. In 2016, Pakistan repealed the loophole which allowed the perpetrators of honour killings to avoid punishment by seeking forgiveness for the crime from another family member, and thus be legally pardoned.
- Egypt: A number of studies on honor crimes by The Centre of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law, at the School of Oriental and African Studies 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
Actions of Pakistani police officers and judges (particularly at the lower level of the judiciary) have, in the past, seemed to support the act of honor killings in the name of family honor. Police enforcement, in situations of admitted murder, do not always take action against the perpetrator. Also, judges in Pakistan (particularly at the lower level of the judiciary), rather than ruling cases with gender equality in mind, also seem to reinforce inequality and in some cases sanction the murder of women considered dishonorable. Often, a suspected honor killing never even reaches court, but in cases where they do, the alleged killer is often not charged or is given a reduced sentence of three to four years in jail. In a case study of 150 honor killings, the proceeding judges rejected only eight of claims that the women were killed for honor. The rest were sentenced lightly. In many cases in Pakistan, one of the reasons honor killing cases never make it to the courts, is because, according to some lawyers and women’s right activists, Pakistani law enforcement do not get involved. Under the encouragement of the killer, police often declare the killing as a domestic case that warrants no involvement. In other cases, the women and victims are too afraid to speak up or press charges. Police officials, however, claim that these cases are never brought to them, or are not major enough to be pursued on a large scale. The general indifference to the issue of honor killing within Pakistan is due to a deep-rooted gender bias in law, the police force, and the judiciary. In its report, “Pakistan: Honor Killings of Girls and Women”, published in September 1999, Amnesty International criticized governmental indifference and called for state responsibility in protecting human rights of female victims. To elaborate, Amnesty strongly requested the Government of Pakistan to take 1) legal, 2) preventive, and 3) protective measures. First of all, legal measures refer to a modification of the government’s criminal laws to guarantee equal legal protection of females. On top of that, Amnesty insisted the government to assure legal access for the victims of crime in the name of honor. When it comes to preventive measures, Amnesty underlined the critical need to promote public awareness through the means of media, education, and public announcements. Finally, protective measures include ensuring a safe environment for activists, lawyers, and women’s group to facilitate eradication of honor killings. Also, Amnesty argued for the expansion of victim support services such as shelters.
Kremlin-appointed Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov said that honor killings were perpetrated on those who deserved to die. He said that those who are killed have “loose morals” and are 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.”
In 2007, a famous Norwegian Supreme Court advocate stated that he wanted the punishment for the killing from 17 years in prison to 15 years in the case of honor killings practiced in Norway. He explained that the Norwegian public did not understand other cultures who practiced honor killings, or understand their thinking, and that Norwegian culture “is self-righteous”.
In 2008, Israr Ullah Zehri, a Pakistani politician in Balochistan, defended the honor killings of five women belonging to the Umrani tribe by a relative of a local Umrani politician. Zehri defended the killings in Parliament and asked his fellow legislators not to make a fuss about the incident. He said, “These are centuries-old traditions, and I will continue to defend them. Only those who indulge in immoral acts should be afraid.”
Nilofar Bakhtiar, Minister for Tourism and Advisor to Pakistan Prime Minister on Women’s Affairs, who had struggled against the honor killing in Pakistan, resigned in April 2007 after the clerics accused her of bringing shame to Pakistan by para-jumping with a male and hugging him after landing.
Comparison to other forms of killing
Honor killings are, along with dowry killings (mostly in South Asia), gang-related killings of women as revenge (killings of female members of rival gang members’ families – primarily, but not only, in Latin America) and witchcraft accusation killings (Africa, Oceania) some of the most recognized forms of gender based killings.
Human rights advocates have compared “honor killings” to “crimes of passion” in Latin America (which are sometimes treated extremely leniently) and also to the killing of women for lack of dowry in India.
Some commentators have stressed that the focus on honor killings should not lead to ignoring other forms of gender-based killings of women, in particular those from Latin America (‘crimes of passion’ and gang related killings); the murder rate of women in this region being extremely high, with El Salvador being reported as the country with the highest murder rate of women in the world. In 2002, Widney Brown, advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, stated that “crimes of passion have a similar dynamic in that the women are killed by male family members and the crimes are perceived as excusable or understandable”.
Femicide or feminicide is a sex-based hate crime term, broadly defined as “the intentional killing of females (women or girls) because they are females”, though definitions vary depending on its cultural context. Feminist author Diana E. H. Russell was the first person to define and disseminate this term in 1976. She defines the word as “the killing of females by males because they are female.” Other feminists place emphasis on the intention or purpose of the act being directed at females specifically because they are female; others include the killing of females by females.
Often, the necessity of defining the murder of females separately from overall homicide is questioned. Intimate partner violence affects 3 in 10 women over a lifetime, and it is estimated that 13.5% of homicides globally involved intimate partners, and these percentage of killings are gendered. Opponents argue that since over 80% of all murder victims are men, the term places too much emphasis on the less prevalent murder of females; however, almost 40% of partner-responsible homicides involve a female victim, whereas only 6% involve a male victim. In addition, the study of femicide is a social challenge.
Comparison and contrast to femicide in the West
While serious domestic violence takes place in the Western world, there is no cultural pattern of fathers targeting their teenage or young adult daughters, nor do entire families of origin participate in planning, perpetrating and praising such murders of younger women and girls.
Husbands who kills his wife in a Western domestic femicide is rarely assisted by his family of origin or in-laws.
While both an honor killing and a Western femicide involves keeping a woman isolated, subordinated and dependent through the use of violence, in the West this does not reflect a widely accepted and praiseworthy Western cultural or religious value but rather the individual psychology of the batterer or murderer. In contrast, an honor killing upholds values that a family is expected to enforce.
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