Thursday, 4 November 2010

Victims of Honour

Victims are global. Victims are not solely women. Honour Killings take place on every continent; despite popular belief, the perpetrators are not limited to a particular nationality. Honour as a justification for crime has failed to be constrained by state borders or countered with national laws. It goes beyond the foggy western picture – it is a matter of ancient religious norms manifested in belief system violating human rights. 

Killing in the name of honour is simply a label for various excuses of ancient religious judgments. Actions differ in their nature of justification and realisation. Honour killings are primarily known to be a practice taken on by male relatives who kill female/male relatives in the name of family honour; suspicion of sexual activity before or outside marriage is often the trigger. Even a victim of rape is a target. However, there are other manifestations too: husbands burn their brides when the dowry given by the in-laws is not valuable enough for them; a delayed meal may be reason enough to justify an acid attack. Speaking of acid attacks; the most common cause of this violent act of disfiguring a woman with acid is that she exercised her choice to reject a marriage proposal. 

United Nations research findings state that every year 5,000 women are victims of dowry deaths in India alone. Honour killings take place all around the globe: Turkey – 300 per year, Germany – 28 in 2009, Bangladesh – 200 acid attacks in two years, Yemen – 400 honour killings in 1997, Jordan – 23 per year, more than two-thirds of all Gaza strip and West Bank murders are most likely to be cases of unrecorded honour killings. The country with the highest ratio related to inhabitants is Pakistan. These numbers are deafening but do not mirror reality. The estimated number of unreported cases is 100,000 per year. In addition many offenders are under 18, treated as heroes in their community and being under age not prosecutable under state law. Death or disfigurement by honour killing is a cruel fate for many; furthermore community approval means that the victims have a rather marginal chance of escaping the killers’ fanatic embrace.

Ameneh Bahrami after 19 operations
Iran, 2004: a woman falls victim to the acid attack of her admirer; Ameneh Bahrami, a beautiful engineer student working part-time, rejected the marriage proposal of Madschid Mowahedi, a fellow student to whom she had never spoken a word before the proposal. She rejected him because she had promised herself to marry for love and not less. The acid burned and injured her eyes, liver, stomach and digestive system. Today, after 19 operations her right eye socket is sewn up and in her left is a glass eye – she is blind. Her face is scarred but her smile remains as bright as a sunbeam. Ameneh built a new life in Barcelona, Spain. Today she is making plans for the future. Spain gives her the freedom to go to the gym, take computer courses and learn Braille. At home Ameneh is confronted with her relatives, who urge her to accept Madschid’s marriage – an offer that is still on the table. She fought for her life and for justice at first by taking her case to court in Iran. In 2008 her offender was sentenced to be blinded in both eyes with acid. Madschid opted for a death sentence for himself instead, but Ameneh refused his plea. 

Ameneh: Questioned about her own strength and ability to execute the court sentence she points out that, “If he dies, others will follow his example and nothing will change. Acid burns are a more substantial deterrent – walking through life as a blind man is a bigger punishment.” 

Ahmet Yildiz in San Francisco
In 2008, Ahmet Yildiz, a Turkish physics student, was the first recognised case of gay honour killing. He was shot soon after he represented his country at an international gay gathering in San Francisco – posing bare-chested on a poster. Out of fear of public humiliation, his family in Turkey refused to take on the responsibility of Ahmet’s funeral. The fear of losing honour in public is a major factor that fuels these crimes and leads to their cover-up. For instance, though men have been attacked by extremist armed forces in Iraq and Jordan, no official records can relate them to honour killings. Sadly, many honour crimes are disguised as accidents; the victims are transported abroad to camouflage the malice, or worse are impelled to commit suicide as their solitary escape out of a vicious circle. 

Over the last two decades crimes have been documented in Europe. The women rights organisation Terre des Femmes in Germany considers honour homicides as one of its main themes. According to their records, 88 women in the country have been killed or hurt between 1996 and 2009 in the name of honour. 28 women were targeted in Germany in 2009. 25 died and three barely survived their cruel fate. 

As the verdict in the Ameneh Bahrami case or the awarding of the death penalty to perpetrators of honour killings by a court in India earlier this year show, crimes like these are being taken seriously. However, the ‘eye for an eye’ approach raises concerns about the victim ending up in a vicious circle of violence and not gaining freedom in the end. Ameneh states that all she wants for the future is the security of money to finance more operations and to buy her parents a house as they sold theirs to pay for the operations in the past six years. Would a blind man make her future brighter?

(Images: Creative Commons/AP)

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