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Honour Killings – Myths and Motives

This legal opinion has been written to shed light on the motives behind honour killings that have been reported in the Middle East and South Asia.

The opinion is written for lawyers and activists so that they may use the arguments contained herein, to debunk popular myths of how and why honour killings occur. The question of how and why honour killings occur is important because we can then analyse what the honour defence provision under the Penal Code protects; and who or in what circumstances. For instance, is it true that in reality the defence is used to protect innocent individuals who commit murder in the moment of an emotional trauma when witnessing an incident of infidelity? This legal opinion will interrogate the reality behind the ulterior motives of honour killings.

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

  1. Retain property rights;
  2. Gain compensation from the individual accused;
  3. Settle a personal vendetta; to prevent women from claiming inheritancerights;
  4. Hide the exposure of incest.

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

To read more, click here: Honour Killings – Myths and Motives

Legal Framework for Evidence in Rape

This legal framework was developed after a preliminary review of rape cases brought before international courts and tribunals, as well as, courts in South-Asia. The selection of issues was based on what typically arise in court cases on rape and sexual assault and their impact on women as complainants and defendants. In this guide, we reiterate arguments that have been successfully used by human rights lawyers on controversial legal questions. We have made this framework a practical tool of reference by offering suggestions for case strategy in like cases.

This framework refers mainly to the jurisprudence developed by international and human rights courts and committees; the CEDAW Committee, the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, to mention a few. They are instructive on gender-analysis and the use of evidence in rape cases. The cases we have selected are based on their precedence and frequent citation by international bodies like the CEDAW Committee.

Finally, references have been made to Pakistani law due to their relevance and proximity to the cases that appear in Muslim-majority jurisdictions. Some English legal standards were used due to the abundance of material on the law of evidence in the English language. They were also included due to their rigorous methods of standard-setting.

Admittedly, these standards in the absence of law, are not binding upon any court. However, it is envisaged that through the strategic use of these ‘standards,’ gender stereotypes and narratives in Court can be exposed and challenged logically and persuasively. Though meant for lawyers, the arguments can also be developed further for lobbying, law reform, and activities.

 Read the framework here: Legal Framework for Evidence in Rape

Honour Defence Mitigation from Criminal Jurisprudence Perspectives

Why honour killings fall short of standards required in criminal law

Mitigation is a small element in the judicial toolkit acknowledging the frailties of human nature. While intent (mens rea) bears criminal liability, the law adopts a softer view on impulsive reactions. But this is not a boundless discretion bestowed upon courts.

Honour killings are tantamount to encouraging summary executions by private individuals based on communal and/or personal affronts. The defence of Provocation is different. An essential ingredient of ‘provocation’ is loss of self-control. In most legal systems, the standard is higher where provocation requires immediacy and intensity. There are temporal and proportionality constraints built into it. This means the defence of provocation is limited by proximity of time between the provocating incident and reaction; the reaction must be immediate. It is also limited in terms of proportionality: the reaction must be proportional to the provocating incident. These concepts are by no means new to the Afghan legal system.

 Legal safeguards are necessary for people who do not, or cannot understand the implications of their actions on account of mental incompetence generally (eg. insanity) or within a given period (eg. inebriation). Similarly, provocation defence assumes that reasonable and deliberate choices would have been made, but for, a sudden lapse in judgment in the moment of intense emotions. That is to say, mitigation is only permitted to a moment and context, where an otherwise non-criminal mind disintegrates enough to perform a criminal act. Implied in this reasoning is that the Court has to find that:

a) there was a change of state from a sound mind to an unsound mind;

b) that the change occurred immediately;

c) that the change resulted from a serious provocation;

d) that the response was proportional to the provocation;

e) and failing which, the subject would be held criminally liable.

However in an honour killing defence, mitigation is not premised on points (a)-(e). The mitigation applies regardless, i.e. even a man of sound mind possesses a default right to kill in the event dishonour, whether perceived or real.

The threshold of ‘sudden and grave provocation’ differs on a case-to-case basis. But the defence of honour is fundamentally different in nature. It rests on cultural norms while the perpetrator is fully aware of his actions. Just as personal prejudices are not permitted as a valid legal defence, communal or tribal tradition cannot be entertained by law if they infringe upon others’ lives and safety. Such a localized and regressive legal system will defeat the purpose of generally accepted principles of human behaviour. In addition, honour killings are never precipitated by provocation (as required by law) to constitute an adequate defence. Instead they are premeditated acts of homicide committed by conscious minds that calculate the consequences of ‘dishonour’, analyse its subjective effects upon themselves and then proceed to inflict a deliberate loss of life upon a member of the family.

Read More: Honour Defence Mitigation from Criminal Jurisprudence Perspectives

Written by:

Deborshi Barat

Supervising Lawyer

Natasha Latiff

Founder & Legal Advisor