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Half measures against honour killings not enough – HRW

Palestinian women can be murdered for having sex before or outside marriage under the guise of 'family honour'.
(Tom Spender/IRIN)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has welcomed Syria’s move to enforce a minimum jail sentence of two years for honour killers but said it was not enough as all murders should be dealt with equally.

"Two years is better than nothing, but it is hardly enough for murder," Nadya Khalife, Middle East and North Africa women's rights researcher at the watchdog, said in a press release on 28 July. "The Syrian government should punish all murders alike - no exceptions."

Article 548 of Syria’s Penal Code had previously allowed for a complete “exemption of penalty” for the killing of female family members who had been found committing “illegitimate sex acts”, and for the murder of wives having extramarital affairs.

On 1 June, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad replaced this Article with one reading: "He who catches his wife, sister, mother or daughter by surprise, engaging in an illegitimate sexual act and kills or injures them unintentionally must serve a minimum of two years in prison."

Rights activists have welcomed the move but say the Article should be abolished altogether. They are also campaigning for the amendment of Article 192, which lets judges waive or reduce the punishment for any crime motivated by honour.

"You cannot abolish one penal code provision that protects these killers and leave others intact," Khalife said. "Article 548 was a start. Now the government needs to reform all the articles in the criminal code that treat those who say they kill for ‘honour' differently from other murderers."

Number of honour killings unknown

There are no official statistics on the number of victims of honour killings in Syria although the Syrian Women Observatory, an independent Syrian website for women’s rights, estimates there are nearly 200 such deaths a year.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that, across the world, as many as 5,000 women a year may be victims of honour killings. In the Arab world, Jordan, Lebanon, OPT, Egypt and Iraq have the highest number of reported cases, according to the Arab Human Development Report 2009.

In Jordan, rights activists continue to press the government to repeal Article 98 of its Penal Code, which mandates a lower penalty against someone who commits a crime when in a state of extreme fury over an unlawful or dangerous act committed by the victim.

In Lebanon, activists say Article 562 of the country’s Penal Code, which allows for reduced penalties for crimes intended to “preserve honour”, makes committing crimes against women easier and allows men to literally get away with murder.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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