SOAS University of London

Centre of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law

Contents & Abstracts


Introduction: Honour, Rights and Wrongs
Lynn Welchman and Sara Hossain

Abstract: The introduction begins with an overview of the CIMEL/INTERIGHTS Project on Strategies to Address 'Crimes of Honour', the project under which this book was initiated. The introduction sets out several recurring themes that have run through the project as a whole, and in the ongoing work by project partners within their particular contexts, including the uses and meanings of the phrase 'honour crimes', before proceeding to consider comparisons that are made with 'crimes of passion' and the issue of the partial defence of sexual provocation. Consideration is then given to the current popular association of 'crimes of honour' with Muslim majority societies or communities, despite the widespread incidence of such crimes, and recent struggles to combat them, among Christian majority communities in Latin America or Southern Europe, as well as more ongoing efforts among Hindu and Sikh communities in India. The complications that such associations bring for the work of local actors engaging in combating violence against women is examined, and the particular challenges to addressing 'honour crimes' occurring among religious minorities within multicultural societies. The antecedents of such crimes in colonial legislation and the latter's continuing impact is also assessed. The paper concludes by raising questions, seeking responses to which informed the beginning of the project, and which are of continuing relevance in the struggle to eliminate violence against women.

The United Nations and International Advocacy on 'Crimes of Honour'
Jane Connors

Abstract: This paper provides an overview of the approach to violence against women by the UN, indicating how specific forms of violence against women have been addressed within its framework. It describes developments in this area since the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in September 1995 and traces the emergence within the UN of efforts to address 'crimes of honour' as a single-issue concern. In particular the paper draws on the work of the bodies monitoring the implementation of the major human rights treaties, as well as examining the work of extra conventional mechanisms such as the Special Rapporteurs of the UN Commission on Human Rights, before moving on to consider the role of UN political bodies such as the General Assembly.

Honour, Culture and Alliances
Purna Sen

Abstract: This paper begins by noting the widespread international concern around 'crimes of honour' and the apparent association with Islam, particularly in the post September 11th context. However the paper asks if there are in fact features of crimes and killings of honour that are actually specific to given contexts and cultures and how can this be said in such an unfavourable climate? And if they are indeed specific to given cultural contexts how, if at all, is it possible to have international co-operative work against such practices? In addressing these questions, this paper recalls relatively recent western interest in codes of honour and a continuing current interest from diverse quarters in the value of honour. It traces the elements of colonial problematising of native gender relations, which cemented both the assumed moral superiority of the west over the rest and the existence of an intense eye upon 'other' cultures that were deemed to be in need of changing their gender relations to become modern and enlightened. Such discourses continue to shape and complicate the possibilities for not only international alliances but also for the safety and reception of indigenous voices that contest crimes of honour. Despite these difficulties, and perhaps illustrating some of them, the illegitimacy of crimes of honour has surfaced strongly within the human rights framework, which the paper briefly traces. These difficulties are explored and a number of ways in which alliances are and can profitably be forged to address the practice are presented.

The Role of 'Community Discourse' in Combating 'Crimes of Honour': Preliminary Assessment and Prospects
Abdullahi An-Na`im

Abstract: This paper seeks to develop a clearer understanding of the possibilities of initiating and promoting internal community-based dialogue about the values and social institutions underlying 'crimes of honour'. The paper explores the need for identifying agents of positive social change, and encouraging and supporting them in their efforts to challenge the legitimacy of social norms and practices associated with 'honour crimes'. The central aim of the paper is to contribute to a scholarly understanding of advocacy for social change in relation to 'honour crimes'.

'Honour Killings' and the Law in Pakistan
Sohail Warraich

Abstract: This paper reviews case law on 'honour killings' in Pakistan, where under the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance heirs of a victim of murder are entitled to pardon the murderer. The paper reflects, through an in-depth analysis of case law, criticisms made of the legal system and the judiciary in the failure to extend the protection of the law to women in these circumstances. The paper begins with an examination of the historical and socio-legal context of 'honour crimes' in Pakistan, including consideration of the British colonial power's endorsement of patriarchal tribal values in the Penal Code of 1860 and judicial interpretations of these provisions until their repeal in 1990. Next the paper discusses the current provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code 1898 applicable to cases of 'honour crimes', discussing problems in prosecuting such cases arising from the limitations of statutory laws and judicial decisions. Particular problems are highlighted, notably those arising in the investigation and prosecution of 'honour crimes' and the state's failure to proactively utilise provisions in the new law to prevent 'honour crimes.' The final section of the paper provides an overview of the responses to 'honour crimes' in civil society, and analyses state rhetoric and the continued duality of the higher judiciary on 'honour crimes' issues.

Woman Murder in Lebanon: 'Crimes of Honour', Between Reality and the Law
Danielle Hoyek, Rafif Rida Sidawi and Amira Abou Mrad

Abstract: This law-based paper, drawing on a research study of the Lebanese Council to Resist Violence Against Women, explores the extent to which perpetrators rely on the pretext of 'crimes of honour' to seek reduction in sentences as compared to conviction of deliberate and intentional murder, and the attitude of the courts in such cases. As the paper demonstrates, the Lebanese judiciary rarely, if ever, rely on the article of the Penal Code which specifically deals with 'crimes of honour' – article 592, which, following amendment in 1999 now provides for a reduction in sentence rather than no penalty, in certain circumstances. However, other more general articles of the Penal Code are applied to reduce sentences in cases of 'honour killings', including articles 252 and 193. The study, which reviews cases decided up until 1999, is also compared to two previous studies on the Lebanese courts (conducted in the 1960s and 1980s) allowing examination of any changes that may have occurred, as well as assessment of the situation since the change in the law.

'Crimes of Honour' as Violence Against Women in Egypt
Centre for Egyptian Women Legal Assistance (CEWLA)

Abstract: This paper begins with a description of the work of CEWLA, particularly in relation to 'honour crimes'. The first section of the paper sets out the social context against which 'crimes of honour' are committed in Egypt. The second section focuses on the legal system in general, noting the gender bias in the law, and in particular article 17 of the Penal Code which provides for judicial discretion to reduce punishment in certain circumstance, an article which is frequently used in cases of 'honour killings'. In contextualising the legal system's approach to the perpetrators of 'honour killings' this section of the paper also highlights the gender-discriminatory nature of relevant provisions of Egyptian law, particularly those which relate to the sexual behaviour of women and the control afforded to men. The following section provides a view from the former Head of the Supreme Constitutional Court - His Honour Awad al-Morr -- which analyses a selection of criminal prosecutions of perpetrators of 'honour killings'. The next section of the paper provides a view from the media, regarding the occurrence and reporting of cases of 'honour crimes' in Egyptian and other Arabic and English language newspapers. Finally this paper concludes with several recommendations for future work, drawing on the outcomes of several conferences held by CEWLA in Egypt.

Researching Women's Victimisation in Palestine: A Socio-Legal Analysis
Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian

Abstract: The author begins by asking whether in Palestine, during the current politically formative period of state-building and of resistance to various forms of oppression, the Palestinian legal system (both formal and informal) can be reconstructed to promote legal and social human rights and protect victims of domestic violence from "legalised" violence. In discussing this question, the paper conceptualises domestic violence against women and children, including concepts of 'honour', concluding that in contemporary Palestine, there are formidable obstacles to the construction of humane victim-sensitive reactions to sexual abuse. The paper then presents two field studies to illustrate the way these concepts are expressed in the legal system, the first analysing official statistics on femicide and the second assessing interviews with police and tribal personnel and social workers, concluding that the criminal justice system and its professionals are failing the victims of violence. The paper concludes with several recommendations, including training for physicians, medical and legal; holistic reform of the law, especially of civil codes, penal codes and personal status codes; and the need for both inter and intra networking to develop successful strategies for promoting sexuality and bodily rights as human rights.

Culture, National Minority and the State: Working against the 'Crime of Family Honour' within the Palestinian Community in Israel
Aida Touma-Sliman

Abstract: This paper documents a long process of progress in the struggle conducted within the Palestinian community in Israel against 'honour crimes' and begins with a case study of a victim of an honour killing. The political context is set, noting that under the minority struggle seeking unity of the community at any price, women's issues – including 'crimes of honour' as violence against women - were marginalised and ignored for the sake of the general cause. The paper outlines the ways in which activists challenged the taboo, and the strategies they adopted to address the issue within their own particular socio-political reality. The paper examines how the Palestinian community in Israel, particularly the political, social, and religious leadership, approach 'crimes of honour'; how the police deal with cases of Palestinian women whose lives are threatened; how the legal system, including the prosecution and the judiciary, deals with cases of femicide and 'honour crimes'; the nature and modalities of 'honour crimes' among the Palestinian community inside Israel, including an examination of the profiles of perpetrators; and the effects of activism by women's and human rights groups in the last decade on preventing such crimes. The paper further reviews selected Arabic and Hebrew newspapers exploring the nature of press coverage of cases, victims and murderers, any statements made by public figures, and assessing the level of importance attached to the issue. The work of al-Badeel, a coalition of organisations combating 'crimes of honour' initiated in 1993, is also discussed. The paper concludes by noting that whereas al-Badeel was a catalyst for action in the 1990s, the impetus has significantly decreased since 2000 due to the Israeli reinvasion of Palestinian territories and the difficulty of maintaining the coalition itself. However, the coalition and the work of others has ensured that there is considerable ground to build on.

Changing the Rules? Developments on 'Crimes of Honour' in Jordan
Reem Abu Hassan and Lynn Welchman

Abstract: This chapter begins by noting that Jordan is often spotlighted by the international community when dealing with 'honour crimes'. The title, 'Changing the Rules?' reflects the different bodies of 'law' that impact on the efforts to eliminate 'crimes of honour' in Jordan: the rules of legal texts, the rules of judicial interpretation in the courts, and the unwritten rules in different communities and sections of our society that have equal if not greater impact on the lives and freedoms of women and girls. The chapter highlights specific examples of strategies of response, including the National Jordanian Campaign to Eliminate So-Called 'Crimes of Honour' which aimed to secure the repeal of the above-mentioned article 340 of the Penal Code. The paper notes that despite the little use made of article 340 in the Jordanian courts, its repeal has been the target of sustained efforts by Jordanian human rights and women's rights groups, and the government itself which enacted a temporary law reforming the article (later rejected by the Parliament). The paper concludes by noting the controversy surrounding the book Forbidden Love, by Norma Khoury and the harmful impact of the affair to the work of those combating 'honour crimes' in Jordan.

Honour-Based Violence Among the Kurds: The Case of Iraqi Kurdistan
Nazand Begikhani

Abstract: This paper focuses on gender relations in Iraqi Kurdistan, as articulated through the phenomena of honour-based violence. The paper draws on newly conducted field research carried out in the spring of 2004 in the three main cities of Iraqi Kurdistan - Erbil, Dihok and Suleimany – and the surrounding areas. Data is drawn from key actors in the field of enquiry, in particular women activists, victims, legal, human rights and media representatives, law enforcement agents together with leading governing political parties. The first section of the paper introduces the current state of the law, in terms of its statutory provisions, systems of operation and enforcement. In outlining the present, the historical antecedence of the legal system is brought into view. In addition, the reader is provided with a sketch of the social structures and cultural reference points that combine to shape gender relations and provide the setting for 'honour killing'. The main body of the paper considers the judicial system, its functioning, its approaches and interpretation by agents of the law and official bodies. The paper highlights the dominant cultural and belief systems that must be flagged when analysing the discourse and approach of the representatives of the governing administrations in Erbil and Suleimanya to the issue of 'honour'-based crime. It then focuses on representations in the Kurdish media and the spectre of relativism in international media discourse when considering 'honour killing' amongst the Kurds. This leads to discussion about Kurdish cultural norms, the role and perception of community members and the work and methods of the various civil society and women's groups in addressing 'crimes of honour'.

'Crimes of Honour' in the Italian Penal Code: An Analysis of History and Reform
Maria Gabriella Bettiga-Boukerbout

Abstract: This paper examines the provisions of Italian law regarding 'crimes of honour' which formed part of the Penal Code until the late 1990s. The paper begins with a brief introduction to the issue of 'crimes of honour' in Italy and a timeline of the history of women's rights in Italy. The paper outlines the Italian penal system and the history and principles of the Italian Penal Code. It goes on to analyse the provisions of the Italian Penal Code of 1930 which allowed 'honour' to be considered a mitigating factor. The paper notes the dual role of 'honour' in the Italian Penal Code, namely the use of 'honour' as a plea in mitigation of crimes committed against women, specifically 'honour killing', and its invocation in mitigation of crimes committed by women, such as abortion, infanticide and foeticide. The paper concludes with an overview of the movement underpinning the changes in the law, culminating in repeal of the provisions of the Penal Code recognising the honour defence.

Legitimate Defence of Honour: Illegitimate Impunity of Murders, a Critical Study of the Legislation and Case Law in Latin America
Silvia Pimental, Valéria Pandjiarjian and Juliana Belloque

Abstract: This paper is a summary of an extensive study conducted by the authors (full paper to be available at in 2005). This summary considers the legal treatment of 'crimes of honour' in countries across Latin America and the Caribbean, focusing in particular on Brazil. It outlines the gender-discriminatory aspects of laws and judgments of national courts relating to violence against women, analysed from feminist, socio-legal and human rights perspectives The first part of this chapter provides an overview of relevant statutory provisions and leading judgments related to 'honour crimes' in Latin America. The second part critically analyses the social and legal reality of Brazil, focusing on leading cases from the last decade in which the 'legitimate defence of honour' was invoked.

Women's Struggles against 'Honour Crimes' in the UK
Hannana Siddiqui

Abstract: This paper draws on the work of Southall Black Sisters in analysing 'crimes of honour' in the UK and the responses of state agencies to such abuses of women's human rights. The paper begins with an analysis of 'honour', drawing on several 'honour crimes' case studies to demonstrate the dual purpose of this concept: as a rationale for men's violence against women, and as a barrier preventing women from leaving abusive relationships. 'Crimes of honour' are categorised as violence against women which is motivated, justified or mitigated by the perpetrators perspective of 'honour', thus a range of abuses are considered, including forced marriage and 'honour killings'. The paper charts the development of responses by governmental and law enforcement agencies, firstly to forced marriage and then to 'honour killings'. In critiquing these responses the paper criticises both the use of multiculturalism in underpinning certain policies and recourse to immigration-based strategies. The paper concludes by calling for greater understanding of the inter-sectionality of racial and gender discrimination suffered by black and minority women victims of 'honour crimes'. In particular, it is argued that the debate surrounding black and minority women and gender violence needs to be relocated to the mainstream of law and policy on gender violence and into the wider issues of human rights.

Forced Marriage in Bangladesh: Of Consent and Contradiction
Dina Siddiqi

Abstract: This case study reviews the law and practice on forced marriage within Bangladesh. It focuses on the questions of consent and coercion in relation to marriage and examines the practice of forced marriage largely among the Muslim community. Through an analysis of case law, legal provisions, police records and interviews with key actors such as activists, lawyers and judges, the paper reflects the limitations within the existing legal system in protecting the right to marry. In particular, the paper considers the use of culture, traditional or customary practice and family or kinship ties to deny women's rights to free choice and mobility; the interface of patriarchy and minority fears which act as constraints on women's autonomy in multi-religious and multi-cultural societies; and the cultural meaning of consent and free choice in marriage.

From Fathers to Husbands: Of Love, Death and Marriage in North India 
Uma Chakravarti

Abstract: This paper reviews a number of case studies relating to incursions on women's right to marry by the family and community within Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan in India. It sets out the legal and social context against which violations of a woman's right to exercise choice if, when and whom to marry are committed. In noting the legal context, reference is made to the various family, constitutional and criminal laws which protect women's right to exercise choice. This is complemented by an analysis of relevant case law, revealing inconsistencies in the application of the law. In noting the social backdrop against which interferences with the right are committed, the paper draws on statistical analysis of the occurrence of violations, disaggregation of those perpetrators and victims involved, and includes examination of the role of the family, community and state in perpetuating violations.

Tackling Forced Marriages in the Nordic Countries: Between Women's Rights and Immigration Control 
Anja Bredal

Abstract: This paper presents an overview of the strategies and measures implemented to combat forced marriage by the governments of the Norway and Denmark, including discussion of relevant laws and legal reforms and the availability and adequacy of support services provided in the public and NGO sectors, particularly around the issue of mediation and the need for mainstreaming. Two central points of analysis are the recent trend in using action against forced marriages as a way of legitimising tighter immigration policies and the complexity of a women's agency which cannot be defined at a culturally specific level to treat of black and minority women as a homogenous group. The paper argues that there is a need for policies, measures, and research which is sensitive to the complex and varied practice and perception of what is often labelled (cultural) customs or traditions - to be less concerned with defining force on a general level and more with responding to the various concerns of the individuals involved, and their definition of their situations. The paper argues for a sharper distinction to be made between those legal and social policy measures that are taken to strengthen individuals' right to self-determination and facilitate the empowerment of those individuals, and those that are designed to regulate or police group behaviour. In general, the paper notes that what is needed is a more sophisticated and discriminate analysis of ethnic minorities' patriarchal practices, the state interventions designed to combat them and women's responses to both.