Honor crimes are still crimes [Archives:2005/838/Culture]

May 2 2005

By Hamood Al-Hashimi
Yemen Times Staff

There are many crimes committed against woman under the excuse of cultural values such as defending pride and honor of the man. Yet the word honor is a very generic term that is understood differently by different people and basically depending on the convenience of the person taking the action. Honor crimes are a universal phenomenon although magnitude and extent vary from one culture and one community to the other.


The spark of such crimes is generally ignited by doubt. Men of Arabian countries and others with similar nature such as Turkey could be easily driven by suspicion caused by misconduct of the victim or unjustified behavior in the eyes of the man; who is the father, husband, brother or even son.

In India and Pakistan, the tribe or the clan is considers itself the defender and protector of the tribes honor and pride. Usually murder takes place because of disobedience or breaking tribal rules or simply by rejecting a marriage proposal which the tribe has decided upon according to the convention, or because the insistence of the girl to marry a person that they have refused.

In the west, for example in Italia, and Brazil, the criminal can be the husband or the boyfriend. These crimes are known by “emotional crimes” or “jealousy murders”. The husband murders his wife or girl friend out of jealousy or suspicion. In Brazil, besides the former reason, the husband could kill his wife, or girlfriend if she breaks up the relation. Men in such situations feel abandoned and rejected and this hurts their ego and degrades their social position.

The phrase “honor crimes” caused a heated debate arguing that by adding the word honor, the impact of word crime becomes softer to the ears and this may mislead judgment and the criminal could be sympathized with and even worse: justified. Moreover, the word honor has no particular meaning in most languages and the concept could be bent and modified easily according to convenience.

Laws are man made solutions designed to organize social life and relationships among people living in the same community. Not withstanding that, laws fail to overcome the many of the social misconducts especially the unpredictable behaviors which on the long run leads to having the misconduct becoming the norm or the convention.

When examining the Egyptian criminal laws for example, there is no such thing as honor crimes. All the murders are seen through the law in the same category and with the same eyes. Nevertheless, it is the judges who have the authority to convict a criminal who may see one murderer different than the other according to motives and circumstances of the crime. Judges tend to sympathize with the criminal of honor crimes and hence rule the mildest punishment there is and generally one that does not exceed one year of withheld imprisonment, and this only applies to the male suspect and not the female.

In Lebanon, the situation is slightly different. The law does not distinguish between man and woman. If one killed the other because of treason, he or she can benefit from this attitude and get away with simple punishments. Human rights activist there are lobbying against this rule in order to protect the right of life.

Jordanian laws have clearly specified the term “honor crimes” in the article number 34 of the criminal law states that the male killer is acquitted of the punishment, if he suddenly discovers his wife or one of his female relatives in an act of adulatory and then commits the crime. If the man commits the murder based on his doubts only and not first hand witnessing then the punishment is commuted. Not only that, in article number 98 of the same law if the killer fails to prove the element of surprise the killer can confess to losing control because of anger or excitement which lead to wrong judgment and hence the crime. And then he gets away with the mildest punishment.

In India and Pakistan, the tribe rarely turns to the law. They have their own laws, which they depend on for their ruling and they don't allow government's authority to intervene in their issues. That makes the situation more complex, since many murders are registered and considered suicide. Mostly they ask children or adults of the family to commit those murders to get commuting because of being underage, if the crime was convicted.