PAKISTAN: To stop honour killings there must be a bigger crackdown on illegal Jirgas – Getting away with murder in Pakistan

October 24, 2008

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

PAKISTAN: To stop honour killings there must be a bigger crackdown on illegal Jirgas – Getting away with murder in Pakistan

Several months ago eight women, three of them minors, were buried alive in Balochistan, reportedly by the same men. Those responsible have close ties to the provincial government and to the police, and investigations into the case have gone through a Kafkan array of delays and setbacks. For information on these cases please refer to: AHRC-UAC-182-2008 and AHRC-STM-234-2008. These brutal cases and the bungled follow up is a good example of how murder cases are dealt with in Pakistan’s feudal north – especially those that involve women. It is an illustration of the government’s ineptitude in combating two illegal practices: honour killings and Jirgas, the tribal courts that order them.

Over 4,000 people have died in Jirga sanctified murders over the last six years and two thirds of them have been women. Their deaths have often under the most barbaric of circumstances. Many are charged with having a relationship out of marriage which is often a fabricated claim and others are suspected of planning love marriages (in direct opposition to the marriages planned by their families). It is believed that these killings have become a way of resolving property disputes, particularly by male family members who resent losing property to another family through marriage.

In the feudal, fiercely patriarchal north, women’s lives are worth little. It is a matter of prestige to have more than one wife, and young girls are often sold into marriage to settle disputes. In one case earlier this month, under the orders of a Jirga and with the knowledge and apparent acquiescence of the police, three young girls (aged 10, 12, 13) were handed over as compensation to a man who claimed that their father (as two of the girls were children of his brothers he was also the uncle) had slept with his wife. The complainant had openly killed the wife, as he had his previous wife.

Those that commit such ‘honour crimes’ or karo-kiri are supposed to be punished with a life sentence, but the true culprits are rarely punished. Supported by tribal chiefs and traditional Jirga law, the practice is increasing. More people are being extra judicially murdered than ever before.

To conquer these practices, which go against the nation’s constitution, Pakistan needs to look deep into its own system and make strong, confident changes. It is time for the government to show its seriousness about becoming a respectable twenty-first century power, and safeguarding the rights of its people. As noted by Dr Farzana Bari and Sarwar Bari in a statement last month, “many think that with such a misogynist and criminal mindset of our public representatives, what hope do we have to survive as a nation and pull ourselves out of multiple crises?”

Actions needed:
Creating new laws will not do much good, since many of the existing laws are not implemented. Instead there must be a bigger crackdown on illegal Jirgas and those conducting them must be brought before the law and punished without exception. Those who have killed through Jirgas must be tried for murder; a country must have only one law for murder, without distinctions or impunity.

Many men serving in parliament today have been a part of Jirga courts and a serious resolution of the issue will never be met with such men in power. Those who have conducted Jirgas should be banned from holding public office, and those already in office must be ejected. Political will is required for curbing this menace; a clear signal should be sent that the constitutional law of Pakistan needs to be respected.

Honour killings are murder and the legal rights of the relatives of the victims must be recognized and acted on. This includes the right to an investigation and trial. Under Article 2 of the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), which Pakistan has signed, the state is under obligation to take measures to protect rights and provide remedy for victims of rights violations. Those who carry out extra-judicial violence must be made to see that it will no longer be tolerated. Victims and their families must understand that there is a process by which they can seek justice.

To make sure that these steps are taken an independent monitoring body needs to be established, funded and given free reign.

It is a government’s responsibility to educate; a strong educational network must be created that can work against what has become an entrenched practice, particularly in the tribal northern areas which remain isolated, ideologically, from the rest of the country. If the government is genuinely serious about tackling honour killings and modernizing its legal system, this is the very least it can do.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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