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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Pakistan NGOs campaign against 'honour' killings

The current campaign against 'honour' killings in Pakistan led by anti-death penalty NGOs has support from lawmakers and lawyers pressing for modifications of Islamic law to prevent perpetrators from evading justice.

The NGOs take a principled stand against the death penalty under any circumstances. Some lawmakers and lawyers who support them in the struggle against 'honour' killings may not be active opponents of capital punishment, although it is inconceivable that they would back Pakistan’s death penalty for consensual sex outside marriage.

The groups have joined forces over the alleged killings of five women in Balochistan, a region known for its highly conservative and patriarchal traditions.

On July 13, five women were kidnapped by armed men objecting to three of them - Fauzia, 20, and two unnamed schoolchildren between 16 and 18 - wanting to marry men of their own choosing, according to the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).

Death for defiance

In defiance of Umrani tribal elders in the village of Babakot, the young women, accompanied by a mother of one of the teenagers and an aunt of Fauzia, were abducted as they were preparing to leave to get married at a court in Usta Mohammad, a city 80 km away.

The men forced them into a jeep with Balochistan government number plates. They were driven to a remote area where the three young women were allegedly beaten and shot.

They were still breathing when the men "hurled them into a wide ditch and covered them with earth and stones".

The two married female relatives who tried to intervene were also pushed into the ditch and all five were buried alive, according to AHRC.

On September 24, the police, under intense pressure from NGOs and lawmakers in parliament, arrested seven people.

"We have seven suspects, including the brother of two of the girls," said Balochistan police chief, Asif Nawaz Warraich. One of the arrested had allegedly confessed to the crime, although the police still had no other evidence.

"The federal government is sending a top official to Quetta [the provincial capital] to investigate the murders," he added.

Senator Mohammad Adeel said that the parliament human rights committee would be recommending legislation that would reform the Islamic Qisas and Diyat law. The committee was set up after heated exchanges in parliament over the alleged killings.

Qisas gives the victim’s heirs the right of retribution. But Diyat orders them to seek compensation rather than demand this. Both concepts are incorporated into Pakistani law.

Adeel said he was also proposing that those accused of 'honour' killings be tried by judges sitting on the anti-terrorism courts rather than the ordinary courts of justice.

"If that happens, the relatives of the deceased women will not be able to get away with the crime by invoking Diyat law."

Reforming the law

Adeel said he had told the parliamentary human rights committee that the police in Balochistan were facing difficulties investigating the case because of political interference.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and some lawyers would prefer the government to amend the 2005 law specifically outlawing 'honour'killings, reining in the rights given to the accused under Qisas and Diyat.

Since most of 'honour' killings took place within families, agreements were being reached in accordance with Islamic law which undermined the ability of the state to prosecute those guilty.

"We have been urging the government to reform the law," said Asma Jehangir, chair of the HRCP. "But when our reform proposals were presented to parliament in 2005, they were defeated as ‘un-Islamic’".

The Peshawar-based women’s rights lawyer, Noor Alam Khan, also wanted the law against 'honour' killings amended.

She predicted that no one would be punished for the alleged killings in Balochistan because the families would invoke Islamic law.

"All [those allegedly guilty] are relatives and they will be set free because of Qisas Law," she said.

Brutal acts

HRCP’s statistics on 'honour' killings show that they have been increasing, in spite of the 2005 legislation.

In 2007, there were 636 'honour' killings, of which 61 victims were under 18. In 2006, the number was 271. So far this year, HRCP has recorded 283.

"Many more cases go unreported. Almost all go unpunished," said AHRC.

Anti-death penalty NGOs say the increase in 'honour' killings is also a reflection of the growing brutalisation of Pakistani society. The death penalty, and its steady extension, has contributed to this.

"Pakistan currently has 26 criminal offences that allow for the death penalty - as opposed to just two, for murder and treason, at the time of independence in 1947," Human Rights Watch said, in an open letter to Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani in June, calling for a ban on state executions.

Over 7,000 people, including 40 women, are awaiting execution, although most of these were promised a commutation of their death sentences in June.

In 2007, 134 people were executed by the state in Pakistan.


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