Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Honor Killing; In Memory Of Du's Khalil Aswad


In Memory of Du’a Khalil

In a grainy, low-quality video, a dozen men surround a woman curled into the fetal position on the ground and kick and punch her. Hundreds of onlookers fill the village square in Bashika. The beating continues as Du'a Khalil tries to protect her head from the blows. After several minutes, a cinder block is passed through the crowd and a man uses it to smash her head. The incident was reported as an honor killing case.

"Honor killing" generally refers to acts of violence, usually murder, committed by family members or acquaintances of a woman who has allegedly brought dishonor upon her family.

A woman can be targeted by individuals within her family or her tribe, village and kinsmen for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to: refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of sexual assault, seeking a divorce — even from an abusive husband — or (allegedly) committing adultery. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that "dishonors" her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life.

Honor crimes happen more often in transitional systems, such as regions facing war, revolution, globalization or political changes. Rape is often used as a weapon of war, subjecting women to both the threat of dishonor and the brutality of sexual exploitation. Women are violated by both the authorities and their own families, especially in Islamic countries or cultures that have been dominated by Islam. In these cultures, shame takes on a more dominant role.

Women are killed for simply being in love, having an “illegitimate” relationship with someone or being suspected of having a relationship. Women’s emotions and sexuality are directly linked to shame in these cultures, resulting in the need for retaliation by the dominant powers.

The case of Du’a Khalil, and the video of her death taken by an eyewitness and subsequently published online, brought “honor killing,” especially by way of stoning, to international attention. The brutal images forced the world to look at this act of violence and begin a dialogue about crimes which are systematically ignored and hidden.

In April 2007, after speaking to several women’s rights organizations in northern Iraq, there seemed to be a clear consensus regarding Du’a’s murder. They all agreed that the killing of Du'a was one single case in a larger context of societal issues, but exceptional in the way it was prosecuted. The way she was murdered was not just absolutely terrifying, it was also public. Suddenly, it was not just a secret of a remote culture, but something brought into our homes through the Internet. We were forced to face the violence and not turn away.

The murder of Du’a does not follow the classical form of stoning, as practiced and legalized by certain Islamic sects. It forces us to ask if we consider her murder an act of stoning or a truly terrible act of mob violence. This question is asked not as a way to diminish the incident. Some may argue that how she was killed does not make a difference. But it is significant to note the procedure because it allows us to better understand the cultural motive and etiology.

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) officials are trying to understand and stop a rise in honor killings. The Kurdish government has overturned Iraqi laws that allow relatives to kill women who were perceived to have dishonored their families.

It is crucial that the KRG legally protects women and their right to life. The Kurdish Parliament must push to implement the law which regards “honor killing” as murder, rather than an excusable case.

Women’s organizations around the world must not only encourage regimes and government entities to ban this practice, but force these bodies of law to implement an end to such a horrifying act of violence.

The world must also consider the social, political, cultural and economical situations of these regions, all of which lead to a rise in these acts of violence.

At the time of this horrible incident, Amnesty International wrote a request to the KRG, asking for details of these cases, including the names of all those who have been tried for alleged "honor crimes" since the law was changed, how many were convicted and the sentences imposed in each case.

The organization has also written to the Iraqi government to seek information about investigations into the stoning of Du'a Khalil Aswad and the subsequent murder of 23 Yezidi workers, and calling for the perpetrators of these crimes to be brought to justice promptly and fairly and without recourse to the death penalty.

Amnesty International is also urging the Iraqi authorities to amend the law to ensure that "honor killings" are made a serious criminal offence and to take concrete measures to protect all those at risk of becoming victims of honor crimes.

I hope that the public will understand that crime in the name of “honor” or any kind of violence against women cannot remain solely an issue for the families involved; it is a concern of the entire society.

I am also urging women’s and human rights organizations to stand up for those women who silently suffer at the hands of those they are supposed to trust the most.

* Soraya Fallah is a human rights activist based in Los Angeles, California.