.Monday, November 22, 2004 Updated: 03:56 am .
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Confronting honour killing

Suhas Chakma

While adoption of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2004 against "honour killings" by Pakistan's National Assembly on October 26, 2004, may improve President Pervez Musharraf's image as a reformist, in practice the Bill is unlikely to change the plight of the victims of honour killings. The Bill has failed to address impunity which encourages honour killings. Just when the Bill was being presented in the National Assembly, enraged villagers in rural Punjab tied a couple to the railway tracks for marrying against the will of their family elders, and were crushed under the wheels of a speeding train.

Hundreds of women are killed every year for "bringing" dishonour for alleged misdemeanours such as adultery, marrying without the family's consent, pre-marital sex or having been raped. According to Ms Neelofar Bakhtiar, adviser to the prime minister on Women Development, as many as 913 women had been killed in "honour- related crimes" in the country during the year 2003 with 638 cases of honour crime committed in Sindh, 463 in Punjab, 120 in the North West Frontier Province and 40 in Balochistan. Pakistan Human Rights Commission recorded honour killings of 329 women in 1998, 303 women in 1999, 315 women in 2000, 227 women in 2002 and 290 women in 2002, according to press reports. But many incidents are not reported in newspapers and the vast majority of the victims are from rural areas.

Apart from enhancing punishments for honour crimes, the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2004 have nothing new to it. Under the amended Section 299, Act XLY of 1860 PPC, "honour crime" will mean an offence committed in the name of "Ghairat" (honour) or for "vindication of Ghairat and includes honour killing, and the offence committed on the pretext of karo-kari, siyah-kari or similar other customs". Under amended Section 302, Act XLY of 1860, honour crimes carry a maximum imprisonment of 25 years and a minimum of not less than 10 years. Amended Sections 310 and 331 of the PPC prohibit giving a girl in marriage as badla-i-sullah and any offence under these sections carries the maximum punishment of 14 years of imprisonment and a minimum of not less than seven years.

Amendment to Section 324 seeks to include hurting of a victim as honour crime. Similarly Ta'zir shall not be less than one-third of the maximum imprisonment provided for the hurt caused and shall not be less than half of such imprisonment term if the hurt caused relates to honour crime.

The Bill further provides that for investigation of an offence under Section 295-C of PPC for blasphemy, no officer below the rank of superintendent of police will be eligible. An amendment to Section 56B envisaged that no police officer below the rank of superintendent of police shall investigate the case of a woman accused of adultery.

The root of the crisis is the parallel justice system of criminal justice system inherited from the British and the Sharia that exits in Pakistan. The Qisas and Diyat laws, which cover all offences against the human body, make offenses like honour crimes compoundable (open to compromise as a private matter between two parties) by providing for qisas (retribution) or diyat (blood-money). The heirs of the victim can forgive the murderer in the name of God without receiving any compensation or diyat (Section 309), or compromise after receiving diyat (Section 310).

Most honour killings are usually committed by close relatives - father, brother, son or husband of the woman. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, those accused of honour killings between 1998 and 2002 involved 462 persons who were brothers, 395 husbands, 217 relatives, 103 fathers, 60 others, 58 sons and 44 unknown persons. The victims are the most vulnerable members of the family or community. In either case, if and when the case reaches a court of law, the victim's family may pardon the murderer (who may well be one among them) or be pressurised to accept diyat (blood-money) as compensation. The murderer then goes free. As the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2004 does not address the issue of waiving and compounding under the Qisas and Diyat law, the perpetrators of honour killing will continue to escape punishment.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan in its various judgements reiterated that "neither the law of the land nor religion permits the so-called honour killings and it amounts to intentional murder (qatl-i-amd)" noting that "such iniquitous and vile" acts violate the Fundamental Rights as enshrined in Article 9 of the Constitution of Pakistan, which provides that no person shall be deprived of life or liberty except in accordance with the law. Article 8 of the Constitution provides that "Any law or custom or usage having the force of law, in so far as it is inconsistent with the rights conferred by this Chapter (Fundamental Rights), shall, to the extent of such inconsistency, be void".

The failure to uphold the right to life guaranteed under the Constitution of Pakistan is at the heart of the crisis, and not due to lack of provisions in the Pakistan Penal Code to combat honour killings. Unless the Senate takes measures to amend the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2004 to ensure that the State takes the responsibility for registering, investigating and prosecuting the accused of honour killings without any scope for waiver or compounding under the Qisas and Diyat law, cosmetic gesture will not be able to curb cultural cruelties.
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