Honour killings remain unabated in Pakistan

Author:Finia Hilmes

Department:Pakistan Team

In 2021 alone, 470 cases of honour killings have been reported by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. However, human rights defenders estimate that this number is actually much higher, with around 1,000 women being killed in so-called honour killings in Pakistan every year (Human Rights Watch, 2022). In reality, this is likely still inaccurate, as only a few cases of such murders are reported and perpetrators rarely face trials (The Diplomat, 2022). The reason for this is because victims of honour killings are widely considered to have brought shame and dishonour to their relatives, which is also why these killings are usually carried out by family members themselves (The Diplomat, 2022). Thus, honour killings are often considered as private family matters and are therefore rarely reported (The Diplomat, 2022).
The most common reason for honour-related crimes is the violation of social norms and what is thought to be accepted social behaviour in Pakistan. This might relate to a womans choice of clothing, employment, or education, her refusal to accept an arranged marriage, getting married without familys consent, seeking a divorce, being raped or sexually assaulted or having intimate or sexual relationships before or outside of marriage, even if only alleged (The Diplomat, 2022).
Current State of Legislation
In 2016, Pakistan passed legislation stating that those convicted of killing a female relative in the name of honour can no longer be pardoned by family members in exchange for so-called blood money (The Guardian, 2016). These laws of forgiveness are rooted in the Islamic concept of Qisas or retributive justice, meaning an eye for an eye (Imran, 2021). According to this principle, a murderer can be punished with death sentence. However, there is also an option called Diyat (Imran, 2021). Diyat is compensation or blood money that can be paid by the perpetrator to the victims family for the damage and the caused suffering. The amount for Diyat can be determined by law or by the parties involved (Imran, 2021). The pardon that the perpetrator receives in exchange for the Diyat can be as just and effective as the law if the courts accept it and therefore is part of the countrys legal justice system (Imran, 2021).
The landmark bill passed by Pakistans parliament in 2016 outlines harsher punishments and partially closed loopholes for familial pardons. For example, the law guarantees mandatory prison sentences of 25 years for perpetrators of honour killings and strips families of the right to legally pardon the perpetrators (The Guardian, 2016). However, according to Human Rights Watch harsher punishments have not automatically translated into the greatest justice for women in the patriarchal country as the new law is not always enforced by courts and therefore not all perpetrators are punished (Ijaz, 2020).
Even though families are not able to pardon perpetrators completely under the 2016 legislation, they are allowed to pardon perpetrators if they face a death sentence. Nevertheless, the perpetrators will not be able to avoid a mandatory life prison sentence (The Guardian, 2016).

Recent Cases
In May 2022, two Spanish sisters of Pakistani-origin, Arooj Abbas, 24, and Anessa Abbas, 21, were tortured and shot dead in the Punjab province for refusing to take their husbands with them to Spain. Their husbands are also their cousins that they were forced to marry in 2021 (Janjua, 2022). Indeed, it is understood that the sisters were pressured to help their husbands to apply for spouse visas in order for them to travel to Europe (Janjua, 2022). The sisters were considering divorcing their husbands so that they could re-marry in Spain (Janjua, 2022). Investigations confirmed that the two were killed in the name of honour after they refused to help with the spouse visa (The Diplomat; Janjua, 2022). Among those who have been arrested are their husbands, Hassan Aurengzeb and Atiq Hanif, an uncle, Hanif Goga and their brother, Shehryar Abbas, who also confessed to the killings (Janjua, 2022). Two other men have also been arrested in connection with the killing (Janjua, 2022).
In 2016, the murder of Quandeel Baloch, whose real name was Fauzia Azeem, by her brother, Waseem Azeem, sparked national outrage and demands for changes in the law (Janjua, 2022). Waseem Azeem confessed in 2016 to killing his sister through strangulation in her home in Punjab after she shared photos on Facebook of herself with a Muslim cleric which he found shameful (USA Today, 2022). In 2019, Balochs brother was sentenced to life imprisonment but was acquitted in February 2022 on grounds of a family settlement and lack of evidence, meaning his parents granted him forgiveness, triggering legal pardon under Islamic law (George & Suliman, 2022).
Azeems imminent release has triggered outrage among human rights activists and on social media. For example, the Pakistani human rights activist, Usama Khilji stating tweeted the following: [] What message does this give to men & women in Pakistan? Men can kill with impunity. Women arent safe even in their own homes; & the law wont protect them (George & Suliman, 2022). Furthermore, Sarrop Ijaz, the senior counsel for the Asian division of Human Rights Watch stated, Many people thought that Qandeels killing and the attention it received would be a watershed moment in how the Pakistani justice system treats honour killings, however, it is clear that there is still a long way to go, [] (George & Suliman, 2022). Sarrop Ijaz also emphasised that the change in the law has to be mirrored by changes in social behaviours and that more needed to be done to end the killings and curb the ability of family members to influence prosecutions (George & Suliman, 2022). Lastly, he added that it is a realistic possibility that more honour killings will happen in Pakistan unless the authorities urgently and forcefully undertake efforts at legal, social as well as political reforms (George & Suliman, 2022).
In conclusion, in a society where honour killings are still justified and families respect and honour matters more than the wellbeing of their own children or relatives, it is very difficult to enact laws and secure court decisions against perpetrators of the crime. Therefore, the current state of the law and its enactment as well as the societal acceptance only show perpetrators that they can commit such crimes without facing severe or even any great consequences. This creates great obstacles to the prevention and minimization of honour killings in Pakistan and shows those crimes are unabated.