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Honor Killing: It’s Not Honor; It’s Murder

Honor Killing
Every year there are 5,000 murders called ‘honor killings’

Sadly, the above news headlines are not uncommon.  According to the United Nations, it is estimated that globally there are 5,000 murders called ‘honor killings’ every year.  Women’s advocacy groups have estimated the number of victims is closer to 20,000 annually because many of these murders are covered up as accidents or suicides.  With the difficulty of reporting these crimes, official statistics are known to be significantly under reported.[2]

While a significant percentage of these murders happen in India and Pakistan, it is a global problem with the concern that this horrific practice is getting worse. It may be that increased awareness has made these crimes more recognized and reported, or social media and the internet allow more families to obtain information they consider to be inappropriate behavior which leads them to kill the family member.

What is an Honor Killing?

According to a study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice:

Honor killing occurs when the family’s honor has been damaged. Honor killings are pre-planned and may be carried out by parents, husbands, siblings, or extended family. An honor killing is perceived by the perpetrator to be a way to restore honor to the family in the face of perceived severe damage.

When confronted with killing his sister Qandeel Baloch in Pakistan, Muhammad Waseem declared, “I am proud of what I did… I drugged her first, then I killed her. She was bringing dishonor to our family.”  He also stated, “Girls are born to stay home.” [3]

What is known is that the “victims of these murders are buried alive, burned, shot, smothered, stabbed, stoned and strangled to death” for a variety of reasons, including: “talking to an unrelated man, tweeting or Facebooking, refusing an arranged marriage, seeking a divorce, or disobeying her husband or father.”[4]

In a 2013 study of Jordanian teenagers, one-third of them believed such killings were morally right.  The United Nations Population Fund found that 68 percent of young Iraqi men believed an honor killing is a proper response to a perceived aspersion to their family name.

Sadly, the vast majority of the victims are young women in their late teens and early twenties.  The perpetrators are usually male relatives: brother, father, uncle.

Honor Killing
Because of the global outcry, laws are being changed albeit at a snail’s pace

The Global Outcry

While there are still a large number of individuals who believe such killings are justifiable, global organizations and countries everywhere are speaking out and saying: No More!  The United Nations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others have all decried this crime, recognizing that it is all tied to the belief that women are property and a man has the right to do what he wants with “his property.”

Because of the global outcry, laws are being changed albeit at a snail’s pace.  In 2009, Syria abolished a law that waived any punishment for an “honor killing.”  It now imposes a two-year minimum sentence; while that sentence is less than would be imposed for “murder,” it is a step forward.  In 2011, Lebanon repealed a sentencing provision that allowed for shorter sentences for honor killings.

It is not just international organizations and countries speaking out about this appalling act. Global mainstream Islamic leaders have also condemned any honor killings being done in the name of Islam.  But we need to understand that these killings are not found just in Islamic societies.  This type of murder occurs within a variety of cultures.

Bottom line: this crime is ultimately about violence against women and it must be fought at all levels: within the family, in the community, in every country and across the globe.

What to Do?

One of the initial discussions has to do with choice of language. Should we eliminate the phrase “honor killing”? According to the Honour Based Violence Awareness Network (HBVAN), an organization designed to inform and combat this crime and other honor based violence, the answer is yes.  While recognizing that calling these murders ‘Honor Killing,’ is using the same term the killers use. HBVAN argues that using those words is speaking the same language within the various impacted communities and allows for more effective communication with potential victims.

Honor Killing
There must be a global, country, local, and family effort to end this crime

With the high-profile murder of Qandeel Baloch, described as a social media celebrity in Pakistan, that country’s laws are in the news.  A critical step Pakistan can take is to reform its laws and end the ability of families to pardon a killer.  Under current law, the family of the victim can request clemency and when the victim and the killer are in the same family, it means the killer suffers no consequences for his vicious crime. Pakistan is currently considering a bill that would remove that option from its laws. We need to encourage the passage of that bill. It will be another step forward.

But with honor killing being a global dilemma, there must be a global effort to end this crime, in every country, local community, and family.  Countries everywhere must impose appropriate laws; law enforcement agencies must investigate and determine the cause of these murders; and, courts need to hold these individuals accountable for their actions and sentence them like any other murderer.

Just as importantly, we must educate and inform everyone that such killings have nothing to do with honor.  We must raise awareness, meaning we must speak up and share the message that this crime has to end.  There must be a change in the mentality that allows for such action and a transformation in the community that allowed it to remain behind closed doors for so many generations.

As has been famously declared, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights.”  These crimes have nothing to do with honor and everything to do with the self-serving interest of small-minded men, and it is time that the people who commit these murders are held to the same standard as any other murderer. It is time to understand that we all have human rights no matter where we live or what gender we are.


[1] A number of countries use the British spelling of “Honor” with a u at the end.

[2] Written statement submitted by International Humanist and Ethical Union, a non-governmental organization in special consultative status, submitted to the Human Rights Council, United Nations General Assembly, February 17, 2014.

[3]  See more at the Muslim Guy

[4] Written statement submitted by International Humanist and Ethical Union, a non-governmental organization in special consultative status, submitted to the Human Rights Council, United Nations General Assembly, February 17, 2014.


1 Comment

  1. I agree that laws in different countries should be changed. Murder is murder in every country. I think its too late to change the name “honour killings”. It is recognised in most countries and we all know the true meaning behind that name. But their is still some cultures that still think women have no rights. That’s why families of the victims still request clemency. Its always their daughters that are murdered not sons. Their are cases of teenage girls burning themselves to get out of their marriage. For those who are lucky enough to escape, they are hunted down by their families and placed in jail indefinitely. I can’t see these cultures changing their views in the near future. But we do have a voice in majority of countries in the world. Hopefully by coming together on this subject, these women can see that people care and might give them strength to take back their lives…

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