By Barrister M. A. Muid Khan
“…There is absolutely no honour in so-called in so-called honour killings. It is violence and a criminal …for women to be murdered by their male relatives on the grounds of defending family honour…” (Theresa May, Prime Minister of United Kingdom)
An honour killing is an act of vengeance, usually death committed by a family or the members of a family against another family member, due to the perpetrators’ belief that the victim has brought shame or dishonour upon the family, or has violated the principles of a community or a religion. In the UK 11,000 of incidences of self styled ‘honour crimes’ have been reported over the last five years, for reasons that can include refusal to enter an arranged marriage, a relationship that lacks approval, or even being a rape victim. It is reported in the Guardian Newspaper that some 500 women are killed each year in Pakistan at the hands of family members over perceived damage to “honour” that can involve eloping, fraternising with men or any other infraction against conservative values that govern women’s modesty.
The recent death of Samia Shahid, 28 who was murdered by her former husband in the name of so called “honour killing” has again sparked an outpouring of grief on BBC, Sky, CNN, Twitter and other social media websites and reignited the widespread honour killings in Pakistan.
Honour Killing of Samia Shahid
The first unfortunate incident of honour killing was reported on 31 July 2016 in the lead BBC News. It was reported that Samia Shahid, 28, from Bradford, died whilst visiting her relatives in northern Punjab. Her second husband reported to Police alleging that his wife was killed because her family disapproved of their marriage. He alleged that she was murdered in an ‘honour killing’ because her family disapproved of their marriage after she left her first husband and cousin.
Samia’s relatives reportedly said she died from a heart or asthma attack and buried her in the village. However, the photographs of Ms Shahid’s body showed a 7.5 inch red mark around her neck and saliva and blood oozing from her mouth and nostrils. Later on Pakistani Police launched a murder inquiry and started their investigation against the claim that the family bribed officials to cover-up the post-mortem.
Shahid’s first husband and her father, Mohammad Shahid were arrested by Pakistani police on suspicion of murder. Some 500 women are killed each year in Pakistan by relatives who feel their family has been shamed by a daughter or sister fraternising with men. Following the police investigation and interrogation, Ms. Shahid’s first husband/ex-husband has admitted strangling her in “an honour-killing”.
Strangled to death – Qandeel Baloch
In the second incident, Qandeel Baloch, 26, another British Pakistani female celebrity was strangled to death by her brother. She had shot to fame in recent months with a series of divisive publicity stunts starkly at odds with the country’s conservative values, most notably promising to strip for Pakistan’s cricket team if it beat India in the recent cricket T20 World Cup.
Her unfortunate death also appeared an another highest profile honour killing in Pakistan.
Murder by stabbing – Samaira Nazir
In the third unfortunate incident of honour killing, on 23rd April 2005, Samaira Nazir, a 25-year-old British Pakistani woman, was murdered by members of her family in an honour killing. Nazir was a graduate of Thames Valley University and worked as a recruitment consultant. She fell in love with an Afghan migrant in Britain and planned to marry him, against her family’s wishes. She had rejected the suitors her family wanted her to marry. Her family rejected the Afghan because he was from a different caste.
It was reported that after an argument, her brother Azhar Nazir (30) and a cousin, Imran (17), murdered her by stabbing her more than 18 times using four knives. The attack was performed in front of other family members, including two of her nieces, aged two and four. On July 14, 2006 an Old Bailey Judge judge sentenced Azhar Nazir and Imran Mohammed to life imprisonment. Her father was also charged but died before the trial.
Despite the fact that the perpetrators/killers of Samaira Nazir, were given exemplary punishment with life imprisonment, yet it did not prevent the death toll of honour killings in the UK and in Pakistan.
A close look into the above three unfortunate incidents would reveal that female family members are the main victim of this crime. A woman can be targeted by (individuals within) her family for a variety of reasons. These victims were killed by their own family members who believed that they have brought dishonour upon the family.
The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that “dishonors” her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life. A woman could become as a victim of honour killing for several reasons such as: refusing to enter an arranged marriage, being in a relationship that is disapproved by their family, having sex outside marriage, becoming the victim of rape, dressing in ways which are deemed inappropriate, engaging in non-heterosexual relations or renouncing a faith
In most of the unfortunate incidents of honour killing, methods used are stoning, stabbing, beating, burning, beheading, hanging, throat slashing, lethal acid attacks, shooting and strangulation. We have also witnessed that the murders were sometimes performed in public to warn the other women within the community of possible consequences of engaging in what is seen as illicit behaviour.
If we analyse the above three unfortunate incidents of honour killings, we would be able to see that most honour killings are connected with forced marriage. Question might arise – what is a forced marriage?
A forced marriage is a marriage that takes place without the full and free consent of both parties and will undoubtedly involve circumstances of duress. Duress may include physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure. Traditionally, it was predominately young females who were subject to forced marriages. However, there has been a progressive increase in male individuals being forced into marriage without consent.
Several incidents of honour killings connected with forced marriages show that there are many reasons why individuals are forced into marriage. Some of the key reasons include: 1. Controlling unwanted behaviour i.e. alcohol and drug use or behaving in what is perceived to be a westernised manner; 2. Controlling unwanted sexuality i.e. perceived promiscuity, being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender; 3. Preventing unwanted relationships i.e. outside ethnic, cultural, religious or caste groups; 4. Protecting family honour and attempting to strengthen family links; 5. Achieving financial gain i.e. ensuring land, property and wealth remain within the family and 6. Obtaining immigration advantages i.e. assisting claims for UK citizenship.
UK Law to prevent forced marriage
In several incidents for decades, we have witnessed a good number British nationals became victims of honour killings which are connected with forced marriages. Hence Forced marriage is considered as a violation of human rights in the UK and is contrary to the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 which states that a marriage shall be voidable if: “either party to the marriage did not validly consent to it, whether in consequence to duress, mistake, unsoundness of mind or otherwise”
The law has introduced Forced Marriage Protection Orders (FMPO) to protect the victims of any one whether is being forced into marriage or are already in a forced marriage. The order can include prohibitions, restrictions or requirements to protect a victim from a spouse, family member or anyone involved. Involvement within the meaning of this Order can include aiding, abetting, counselling, procuring, encouraging, or assisting another person to force or attempt to force a person to marry. Forced Marriage Protection Orders were introduced in 2008 for England, Wales and Northern Ireland under the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007. Section 1 of The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 inserted provisions into the Family Law 1996 enabling the courts to make Forced Marriage Protection Orders (FMPO) to prevent forced marriages from occurring and to protect those who have already been forced into marriage. FMPO’s can last for a specified time or if the court so desires, set the FMPO for an indefinite period i.e. until varied or discharged.
The order can relate to conduct either within or outside of England and Wales. Therefore, if a British citizen becomes a victim of forced marriage, the victim is entitled to get the protection of law under FMPO
The court may make a FMPO on an application being made by: the person who is to be protected by the order or by a relevant third party. In addition a FMPO can also be obtained by any other person with the permission of the court. It is to be noted here that a Relevant Third Party is someone who is appointed to make applications on behalf of others. Relevant third parties could include organisations such as the Police and Local Authority. Both Adults and children can apply for a FMPO.
An application for a FMPO can be made at a number of county courts in England and Wales or at the High Court in London. The court may, in any case where it considers that it is just and convenient to do so, make a forced marriage protection order even though the respondent has not been given such notice of the proceedings.
The court has the power to make a FMPO to protect a person facing forced marriage or who has been forced into marriage. The court also has the power to add an attachment of a power of arrest if it considers that the respondent has used or threatened violence against the person being protected.
It is also to be noted that breach of an order made under the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 is not a criminal offence. However, where a power of arrest is attached to the order the police have the power to arrest anyone who they have reasonable suspicion to believe are in breach of the order. A person arrested for a breach of a FMPO must be brought before the court within a period of 24 hours and will be dealt with under the court’s powers of contempt of court.
Although there is no specific criminal offence of forcing a person into a forced marriage, the forcing parties may be guilty of committing other criminal offences such as: Threats to Kill, Assault, Kidnap / Abduction, False Imprisonment etc. If the person the order is made against disobeys it they can be prosecuted for breach of a court order and sentenced for up to two years.
The foregoing discussion reveals that in hundreds and thousands of unfortunate incidents of Honour Killing, we have witnessed death/murder committed by a family or the members of a family against another family member, due to the perpetrators’ belief that the victim has brought shame or dishonour upon the family, or has violated the principles of a community or a religion. Violent murder of these innocent victims by their own family members cannot be justified as an honour killing. Such killings are not honour.
This is a common principle of criminal law that where crimes are committed, the legal system of the country should make sure that victims have the confidence to report incidents and the law is rigorously enforced against the offenders. The Government should take effective steps and lead by ending the use of the word honour to describe these vile acts, in order to stop any legitimacy to the idea that women could be killed by the male members of the same family for so called “bringing shame to the family”.
Exemplary punishment should be given against the murders carried out by people professing to be acting in defence of the honour of their family. This would deter the other family members to pardon a killer. We all must stand together to shoulder to shoulder, to join in the procession to combat and uproot the incidents of honour killing and forced marriage from our society. Otherwise, the strict application of Criminal law, would fail to deter this crime and bring the perpetrators before justice.
[M.A. Muid is a Barrister of the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn, Chartered Legal Executive Lawyer of CILEX. He was declared as the Best Human Rights Lawyer of England & Wales by Bar Council, Law Society & CILEX. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org]