Saturday, September 6, 2008

Karo-Kari, Part 4

We begin this part by continuing our review of a 1999 Amnesty International report entitled PAKISTAN: Honour killings of girls and women; we are still in the introduction to the report:

Abuses by private actors such as honour killings are crimes under the country's criminal laws. However, systematic failure by the state to prevent and to investigate them and to punish perpetrators leads to international responsibility of the state. The Government of Pakistan has taken no measures to end honour killings and to hold perpetrators to account. It has failed to train police and judges to be gender neutral and to amend discriminatory laws. It has ignored Article 5 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which it ratified in 1996, which obliges states to "modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women" to eliminate prejudice and discriminatory traditions.

Since that report was written in 1999, the Government of Pakistan has made an effort to end honor killings. From Honour killing and "karo kari" in Pakistan by Qaiser Felix, July, 2004, we catch a glimpse of the legal battle that ultimately led to a law on the books:

Islamabad (AsiaNews) Honour crimes are an archaic practice in Pakistan. Although precise figures are hard to obtain, especially for the more remote rural and tribal areas, Pakistan is thought to hold the world record in honour crimes.

Karo kari is a compound word literally meaning "black male" and "black female," metaphoric terms for adulterer and adulteress. Being so labelled leads more often than not to the murder of both man and woman allegedly guilty of having an illicit affair. This is especially true in the rural areas of the southern province of Sindh. In other parts of the country, women are more likely to be accused of sexual improprieties and murdered in order to wash the sullied family honour.

Official data recently published by the Pakistani Senate show that more than 4,000 people died in the last 6 years as result of karo-kari. Of the victims almost 2,800 were women and just over 1,300 were men. Thus twice as many women as men lose their lives to this most barbaric social custom.

The data show that the highest number of karo kari killings were perpetrated in Punjab province followed by Sindh, the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), and the south-western province of Baluchistan. Some non governmental and media sources suggest that prior to 1998 Sindh topped the list.

Of the 2,774 murdered women, 1,578 were killed in Punjab, 751 in Sindh, 260 in NWFP and 185 in Baluchistan. Of the 1,327 murdered men, 675 were killed in Punjab, 348 in Sindh, 188 in NWFP and 116 in Baluchistan.

Although 4,101 people were victims of honour killings only 3,451 cases were brought before the courts: 1,834 in Punjab, 980 in Sindh, 361 in NWFP and 276 in Baluchistan.

Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat and Law Minister Raza Hayat Hiraj speaking before the Senate said the government would soon table a bill banning honour crimes and karo kari. Parliament began debating on Tuesday, July 20, an amendment to the Penal Code introduced by the Pakistan People's Party-Parliamentarians (PPPP) that would impose long sentences to anyone guilty of honour crimes and karo kari. The PPPP's action was also intended to block attempts by other parties to leave the matter outside the purview of the Law.

The PPPP's Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, speaking in favour of the amendment, said the Pakistan Penal Code should be changed so as to rid the law books of honour crimes and karo kari. He insisted that honour killings are murders and guilty parties should be punished with a life sentence. He urged legislators belonging to the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a six-party Islamic alliance, as well as religious groups to support the amendment. He insisted that it was high time that Shariah law come under closer scrutiny to stop it from being abused.

Back now to PAKISTAN: Honour killings of girls and women:

Some apologists claim that traditional practices as genuine manifestations of a community's culture may not be subjected to scrutiny from the perspective of rights contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Against this, the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action stated: "All human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated" and asserted the duty of states "to promote all human rights and fundamental freedoms". The United Nations General Assembly in 1993 adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women which urges states not to "invoke custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligation" to eliminate discriminatory treatment of women. While recognizing the importance of cultural diversity, Amnesty International stands resolutely in defence of the universality of human rights, particularly the most fundamental rights to life and freedom from torture and ill-treatment. The role of the state is to ensure the full protection of these rights, where necessary mediating 'tradition' through education and the law.

This report is the fourth in a series issued by Amnesty International on the rights of women in Pakistan; it is the first to look at abuses of women's rights by private actors.

Killings in the name of honour

Ghazala was set on fire by her brother in Joharabad, Punjab province, on 6 January 1999. According to reports, she was murdered because her family suspected she was having an 'illicit' relationship with a neighbour. Her burned and naked body reportedly lay unattended on the street for two hours as nobody wanted to have anything to do with it.

Ghazala was burned to death in the name of honour. Hundreds of other women and girls suffer a similar fate every year amid general public support and little or no action by the authorities. In fact, there is every sign that the number of honour killings is on the rise as the perception of what constitutes honour -- and what damages it -- widens, and as more murders take on the guise of honour killings on the correct assumption that they are rarely punished.

Often, honour killings are carried out on the flimsiest of grounds, such as by a man who said he had dreamt that his wife had betrayed him. State institutions -- the law enforcement apparatus and the judiciary -- deal with these crimes against women with extraordinary leniency and the law provides many loopholes for murderers in the name of honour to kill without punishment. As a result, the tradition remains unbroken.

The methods of honour killings vary. In Sindh, a kari (literally a 'black woman') and a karo ('a black man') are hacked to pieces by axe and hatchets, often with the complicity of the community. In Punjab, the killings, usually by shooting, are more often based on individual decisions and carried out in private. In most cases, husbands, fathers or brothers of the woman concerned commit the killings. In some cases, jirgas (tribal councils) decide that the woman should be killed and send men to carry out the deed.

The victims range from pre-pubescent girls to grandmothers. They are usually killed on the mere allegation of having entered 'illicit' sexual relationships. They are never given an opportunity to give their version of the allegation as there is no point in doing so -- the allegation alone is enough to defile a man’s honour and therefore enough to justify the killing of the woman.

According to the non-governmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), 286 women were reported to have been killed for reasons of honour in 1998 in the Punjab alone. The Special Task Force for Sindh of the HRCP received reports of 196 cases of karo-kari killings in Sindh in 1998, involving 255 deaths. The real number of such killings is vastly greater than those reported.

Pakistani women abroad do not escape the threat of honour killings. The Nottingham crown court in the United Kingdom in May 1999 sentenced a Pakistani woman and her grown-up son to life imprisonment for murdering the woman's daughter, Rukhsana Naz, a pregnant mother of two children. Rukhsana was perceived to have brought shame on the family by having a sexual relationship outside marriage. Her brother reportedly strangled Rukhsana, while her mother held her down.

The country bringing us this, and whose government takes no serious action to stop it all, is our ally in the War on Terror -- and it has nuclear weapons.

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