Confronting Honour Killings
29 October, 2004
Asian Centre for Human Rights
Pakistan government bulldozed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2004
against honour killings in the National Assembly and adopted
it on 26 October 2004 without any debate amidst opposition walkout.
While the Bill has for the first time officially acknowledged the existence
of this barbaric practice of honour killings, it is far from addressing
the real issue of impunity which encourages the practice. Just when
the bill was being presented in the National Assembly, enraged villagers
in the hinterland of rural Punjab tied two persons to the railway track
for marrying against the will of the family elders and were crushed
under the wheels of a speeding train.
Hundreds of women
are killed every year for alleged misdemeanours such as adultery, marrying
without the family's consent, pre-marital sex or having been raped.
According to the Adviser to the Prime Minister on Women Development,
Ms Neelofar Bakhtiar, as many as 913 women had been killed in 'honour-
related crimes' in the country during the year 2003 with 638 cases of
honour crime committed in Sindh, 463 in Punjab, 120 in the North West
Frontier Province and 40 in Balochistan. Human Rights Commission of
Pakistan recorded honour killings of 329 women in 1998, 303 women in
1999, 315 women in 2000, 227 women in 2002 and 290 women in 2002 based
on the press reports. But many incidents are not reported in the newspapers
and the vast majority of the victims come from rural areas.
Criminal Law Amendment
Act, 2004 and its provisions:
The statement of
objects and reasons of the Bill states that the "issue of honour-killing
and other honour crimes committed in the name of 'karo-kari, siyah-kari
and similar other customs has always been a matter of concern of human
rights organizations and the public which has assumed more significance
in the recent years".
The Criminal Law
Amendment Act, 2004 which proposes amendments of the Pakistan Penal
Code (PPC), 1860 enhances punishment for the offence of murders carried
out in the name of honour. However, the word 'honour killing' has been
replaced with 'honour crime' to make it mild and acceptable to various
sections of the society.
Under amended Section
299, Act XLY of 1860 PPC, 'honour crime' will mean an offence committed
in the name of 'Ghairat' or honour or for "vindication of Ghairat
or honour and includes honour killing and the offence committed on the
pretext of karo-kari, siyah-kari or similar other customs". In
clause 'm' it seeks to add at the end the words 'other than the person
who has murdered the victim'.
Under amended section
302, Act XLY of 1860, honour crimes carry a maximum imprisonment of
25 years and not less than 10 years for the offence. Amended Sections
310 and 331 of the PPC prohibit giving a girl in marriage as 'badla-i-sullah'
and any offence under these sections carries maximum punishment of 14
years imprisonment and a minimum of not less than seven years of imprisonment.
Amendment to section
324 seeks to include the hurting of a victim as an honour crime. Similarly
'Ta'zir' shall not be less than one-third of the maximum imprisonment
provided for the hurt caused and shall not be less than half of such
imprisonment term if the hurt caused relates to honour crime.
The Bill further
provides that for investigation of an offence under section 295-C of
PPC for blasphemy, no officer below the rank of superintendent of police
(SP) will be eligible. An amendment to section 56B envisaged that no
police officer below the rank of Superintendent of Police shall investigate
the case of a woman accused of the offence of adultery.
Qisas and Diyat
The Criminal Law
(Amendment) Bill 2004 against 'honour killings', however, did not address
the real issue of waiver or compounding in which the perpetrators were
given the advantage of seeking forgiveness from the heir of the victim.
The major flaw in the Qisas and Diyat law, which covers all offences
against the human body, is that it makes such offenses compoundable
(open to compromise as a private matter between two parties) by providing
for qisas (retribution) or diyat (blood-money). The heirs of the victim
can forgive the murderer in the name of God without receiving any compensation
or diyat (Section 309), or compromise after receiving diyat (Section
Most honour killings
are usually committed by close relatives - father, brother, son, or
husband of the woman. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan,
the persons accused of honour killings between 1998 and 2002 involved
462 persons who were brothers, 395 persons who were husbands, 217 persons
who were relatives, 103 persons who were fathers, 60 persons who were
involved, 58 persons who were sons and 44 unknown persons. Often, the
victims are the most vulnerable members of the family or community.
In either case, if and when the case reaches a court of law, the victim's
family may 'pardon' the murderer (who may well be one of them), or be
pressurised to accept diyat ('blood-money') as compensation. The murderer
then goes free. Impunity has been the single most important factor encouraging
honour killings. As the Criminal Law Amendment Bill does not address
the issue of waiving and compounding, the perpetrators will continue
to be able to escape punishment.
The Supreme Court
of Pakistan in various judgements reiterated that "Neither the
law of the land nor religion permits so-called 'honour' killings and
it amounts to intentional murder ('qatl-i-amd')" noting that "such
iniquitous and vile" acts violate the fundamental rights as enshrined
in Article 9 of the Pakistan Constitution which provides that no person
shall be deprived of life or liberty except in accordance with law".
Article 8 of the Constitution of Pakistan provides that Any law,
or any custom or usage having the force of law, in so far as it is inconsistent
with the rights conferred by this Chapter (Fundamental Rights), shall,
to the extent of such inconsistency, be void. The failure to uphold
the right to life guaranteed under the Constitution is at the heart
of the crisis, not lack of provisions in the Pakistan Penal Code to
combat honour killings. Unless the Senate takes measures to amend the
Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2004 to ensure that State takes the responsibility
for registering, investigating and prosecuting the accused of honour
killings without any scope for waiver or compounding under the Qisas
and Diyat law, cosmetic gesture is unlikely to be able to curb cultural