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Official inertia over shameful killings of Palestinian women

In this posting: 1) Ma’an report on PA lack of legal reform; 2) and 3) 2011 reports from Guardian and Huff Post of killing of Aya Baradiya. 4) Links to reports of honour punishments in UK.


Fatima Baradiya, mother of Aya Baradiya, with a picture of her daughter Photograph by Gali Tibbon. See items 2 and 3.

Abbas aide: No plans to outlaw ‘honor killing’

By Soraya Al-Ghussein and Hannah Patchett, Ma’an news
December 24/26, 2012

RAMALLAH — President Mahmoud Abbas has no plans to amend laws that reduce sentences for suspects who claim an “honor” defense for murdering women, his legal adviser says.

“Why change it? This would cause serious problems,” Hassan al-Ouri told Ma’an, adding that such a reform would “not benefit women.”

In May 2011, the president pledged to amend the law to guarantee maximum penalties for “honor killing” in response to protests over the killing of university student Aya Baradiya in Hebron.

The decision was announced in a phone call to a primetime show on state TV, drawing tears among crowds of mourners shown in a live link-up from the Ramallah studio to Baradiya’s hometown.

Abbas suspended Article 340, which offers a pardon for murder if the perpetrator committed the crime on finding his wife in bed with another man.

The reform was cosmetic: Article 340 had never been used in Palestinian courts since it was legislated in 1960.

“So why did we change the law? To garner public opinion,” al-Ouri said in an interview in the presidential compound in Ramallah.

“I, personally, was against the amendment because the crimes that happen in the street have no relevance to Article 340,” the legal adviser added.

Al-Ouri says the president will not change the go-to clauses for lawyers seeking leniency for clients who claim they committed murder to defend family “honor.”

Articles 97 to 100 of the Jordanian Penal Code, in force in the West Bank, still offer reduced sentences for any act of battery or murder committed in a “state of rage.”

“The (law) only addresses 1 percent of the problem. What we need is a new culture,” al-Ouri said.

Other officials insist the penal code is the problem.

The law “privileges the killer,” Interior Ministry official Haitham Arrar told Ma’an.

“It encourages some people to commit crimes against women, which will go (as far as) killing them,” said Arrar, who heads the ministry’s democracy and human rights unit.

Abbas fears ‘conservative forces’
The Palestinian Legislative Council has not met since 2007, when Hamas and Fatah split, but women’s rights expert Soraida Hussein dismisses arguments that reforms must wait until parliament reconvenes.

“For us, for women, all this is irrelevant,” said Hussein, general director of the Women’s Technical Affairs Committee, an umbrella group of women’s organizations. “Until now, our lives — in law and in practice — are seen as less than men’s.”

The president should issue a decree that “anybody killing anyone else will be sentenced to the highest sentence possible, whether it is a woman or a boy,” says Hussein.

“The minute the law is changed and applied, the minute people will think twice,” she says. “It’s simple and it’s not done.”

Hussein suggests Abbas is hesitant to pass legal reforms because “he is not ready yet to confront conservative forces.”

In 2009, Abbas ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, but al-Ouri, the legal adviser, says it will only be implemented “so long as it doesn’t contravene Islamic code.”

“Look, we are for total equality but if there is a basic tenet of Islamic code that we would be forced to change under CEDAW, then people would revolt and brand us as non-believers,” al-Ouri said.

‘Dressing up honor’
Lax laws encourage murder suspects to claim “honor” in their defense, officials and women’s rights activists say.

“Because the penalty is one or two months, they consider killing her and dress it up as honor,” Minister of Women’s Affairs Rahiba Diab told Ma’an.

Khawla al-Azraq, who runs a women’s counseling center in Bethlehem, notes that femicide is a global issue but “now in Palestine, they call this honor killing.”

“Sometimes these girls are abused by someone in the family and they need to cover this (up) and they kill her; sometimes because they need her money,” she says. “These are the real reasons for killing.”

“In Palestine, this is the gap, that until now we don’t have our own legislation that really can protect women.”

The Independent Commission of Human Rights says 13 women have been killed this year, but the real figure is likely to be higher.

“There has been historically a problem of documentation,” says Hussein, the women’s rights expert. The cause of suspicious deaths of women was often recorded as “fate,” which could refer to forced “suicides” or being pushed from a building, she explained.

Despite repeated requests since September, the Ministry of Interior did not provide Ma’an with the official number of women whose deaths were recorded as “fate” in 2012.


Death in the West Bank: the story of an ‘honour’ killing

The brutal murder of a young Palestinian woman shocked a nation and helped change the law over so-called ‘honour’ killings.

By Harriet Sherwood, Guardian
June 30, 2011

As Ibrahim Baradiya recounts the events surrounding the last moments of his daughter’s life at the bottom of a dark well, the agony of grief is drawn across the face of his wife, Fatima. She says almost nothing. Her eyes are half-closed. She shakes her head with small, rapid movements. A deep frown furrows her forehead. When the story is finished, she fetches her daughter’s trinkets – beads, bangles, a hair clasp, a key ring, a purple pom-pom – and spreads them over the table and she weeps.

The story of Aya Baradiya’s murder is like an incomplete jigsaw puzzle whose full picture may never be known; a dark and disturbing tale of death, lies, rumour, ruptured family relations, shame, despair and anger.

But the killing went far beyond a family affair. After the discovery of Aya’s body more than a year after the 20-year-old university student went missing, her uncle confessed to Palestinian police, claiming it was an “honour” killing. Widespread protests against such crimes, led by students and women’s organisations, erupted. In response, the Palestinian president last month scrapped historic laws that permitted leniency for the perpetrators of so-called “honour” killings.

Aya’s father – a 56-year-old carpenter who works long hours to pay for the education of his 12 surviving children, five of whom are at university – begins the story with the day Aya went missing: 20 April 2010.

She left the family home in the West Bank town of Surif for an exam in English Literature at the nearby Hebron university. When she didn’t return, Ibrahim and Fatima notified the police that she was missing and an investigation was launched.

Then the rumours began. Ibrahim heard variously that she was married, or had been spotted “in Ramallah, Nablus, Qalqilya, Jenin, Israel”. Every time he heard of a possible sighting, Ibrahim went to look for his daughter, distributing photographs. At the time, the family never suspected Aya was dead.

Ibrahim now believes those rumours were all put about by his brother Okab, 37, currently in custody awaiting sentence for Aya’s murder. “Okab said she had sent an SMS saying she was afraid to come back. All the rumours were spread by him. He tried to divert the security services.”

In the previous months, Aya had received a marriage proposal from a man 17 years her senior. At first, worried about the age difference, Ibrahim had refused permission. “He came in an official way to ask, he did it properly. My daughter convinced me and then I agreed, but I said she could not marry until after her studies.”

Aya’s suitor was held by police for 35 days following her disappearance. Ibrahim begged him to reveal any information he had about her whereabouts. “He said: ‘I don’t know where she is. But your daughter disappeared after being with her uncle.’”

According to the family’s account, Okab took Aya to his home a few days before her disappearance. While his wife was out, Okab made Aya coffee, they used the computer and Okab took a shower. Until Aya vanished, Ibrahim says his relationship with his brother was good. “After Aya disappeared, they stopped visiting. Even my sisters stopped coming. They were insulting my wife, saying: ‘Now your daughter has run away, who will come and ask for your other daughters in marriage?’”

The suggestion that Aya had brought shame to her family’s reputation had a powerful impact within conservative Palestinian society. The family was ostracised by their neighbours; Fatima rarely left the house during the 13 months between her daughter’s disappearance and the discovery of her body.

Ibrahim, Fatima and their other children, whose ages range from four to 29, were distraught at Aya’s disappearance, but they never gave up hope. However, says Ibrahim: “It was very hard for us. We were living in hell.”

Then, last month, bones were discovered by chance in a well about four miles from the family home. Initially, it wasn’t clear whether the remains were human or animal. “Even when the police in Hebron said it was a human body, I didn’t think it was my daughter. I never thought she had been murdered.”

But the police also found Aya’s identity papers in a bag. Ibrahim and three of his sons were called to identify the remains. “We collapsed,” he says.

The police went to the family home to give Fatima the devastating news as Ibrahim and other male family members were held for questioning – “harsh interrogation” – for three days. Ibrahim and his adult sons were released when Okab confessed to killing Aya. Okab and his accomplices had put a plastic bag over the young woman’s head and thrown her, alive, to the bottom of the well. According to reports, he told police that he disapproved of her relationship with her fiance.

Aya’s murder was immediately branded an “honour” killing. Under a 1960 Jordanian penal code, part of which still applies in the West Bank, which Jordan ruled between 1948 and 1967, perpetrators of such crimes are treated with leniency as they are deemed to have mitigating circumstances. The maximum sentence is six months, according to police. A clause in a 1936 British Mandate law, still in effect in Gaza, also allows for leniency in the punishment of “honour” killings.

Reliable statistics are hard to come by, but it is thought there are around 20 such crimes in the West Bank and Gaza each year. Women who have been raped or molested, or are victims of incest, are considered to have stained a family’s reputation. Such acts of violation are rarely admitted by the victim’s family.

Following the discovery of Aya’s remains, 20,000 people attended her funeral, Ibrahim says. “They knew how innocent she was, they were demanding death for the criminals.” There were protests against the “honour” killing laws at Hebron university, and Aya was commemorated as a “martyr”.

During a live Palestinian television programme on Aya’s case, a government official called in to say President Mahmoud Abbas was watching and intended to change the law. Abbas, who later met with Aya’s family, signed the decree last month.

Pressure for a change in the law had been building before Aya’s death. “The Palestinian women’s movement has been struggling for many years on so-called ‘honour’ killings,” says Amal Khreishe of the Palestinian Working Woman Society for Development. Her organisation submitted a petition signed by 8,000 women to the president’s office this March demanding new legislation.

“We sent a message to the president that this is the time to cancel the articles in the penal law which encourage people to kill women and ignore the human rights and dignity of women,” says Khreishe. She welcomes the president’s move, but says it is a small step and “more political will is needed to enhance gender equality”.

In Surif, Yasmine Alheeh, 29, minding a clothes shop, says she approves of the legal change. “There are a lot of things that are hard for a woman to do [in Palestinian society]. A woman has no personal freedom. It’s OK to work, but you can’t make personal choices.”

Nearby, in a vegetable shop, Jalal Danah, 25, says women’s actions are limited by Islam. “Our religion does not allow a woman to go out and practise her life without restriction. This would lead to corruption,” he says.

Ibrahim Baradiya believes Okab and his accomplices “should be thrown in a well to suffer the same as my daughter suffered”. He approves of the president’s change to the law, but knows that it cannot bring Aya back nor heal his family rifts. Even his youngest daughter, Ranim, four, notices her mother’s grief – her insomnia, dramatic weight loss and weeping – he says. “[My brother] stole part of me and part of my wife. He has destroyed the whole family.”


Palestinian Woman Aya Baradiya’s ‘Honor’ Killing Sparks Tougher West Bank Laws

By Nasser Shiyoukhi and Karin Laub
May 19, 2011

SURIF, West Bank — A 20-year-old Palestinian woman who was thrown into a well and left to die in the name of “family honor” has not become just another statistic in one of the Middle East’s most shameful practices.

The killing of Aya Baradiya – by an uncle who didn’t like a potential suitor – sparked such outrage that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas scrapped laws this week that guaranteed sentences of six months or less for such killings.

And in another sign of changing attitudes, the young college student is being mourned as a “martyr” and her grieving parents are being embraced, not shunned, by neighbors.

So-called “honor killings” are committed regularly in traditional Arab societies that enforce strict separation between the sexes and view an unmarried woman’s unsupervised contact with a man, even by telephone, as a stain on the family’s reputation. There were nine such killings in the West Bank last year, and Jordan reports about 20 every year.

Women’s activists hailed Abbas’ decision as a milestone in what they say is still a long road toward protecting women from such abuse.

“Such a tragic event managed to send a message that change is needed,” said rights campaigner Hanan Ashrawi. “We have traction and we are going to move.”

Suha Arafat, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s widow, emerged from self-imposed seclusion to praise Abbas. Speaking in an interview with The Associated Press, she said she tried to persuade her husband many times to take such a step, but was told the Palestinian people faced other pressing problems that needed to be dealt with first.

One of 13 siblings, Baradiya lived in the West Bank town of Surif near the city of Hebron, where she majored in English literature at Hebron University. She wore the traditional Muslim headscarf and classmates described her as chaste and noble-minded.

“She was lovely. She was intelligent. She had a big heart,” said the woman’s mother, Fatma, calling her daughter “the dynamo of the household.”

She disappeared on April 20, 2010, and was killed that same day, though her body was not discovered until 13 months later, on May 6, after her 37-year-old uncle, Iqab Baradiya, confessed to the crime.

On the day of the killing, the uncle and two accomplices snatched the woman and tied her hands and feet, Hebron police chief Ramadan Awad said. The suspects told interrogators she screamed and demanded to know why they wanted to kill her, but the uncle said only that she deserved to die, he said.

She told them she had done nothing wrong, then her attackers dumped her into the well.

The water would have reached to her neck, Awad said, adding: “We can’t be sure … if she died immediately or it took her a long time to die.”

Aya Baradiya’s parents, Ibrahim and Fatma, said they reported their daughter missing within hours after she failed to come home from university but did not learn her fate until this month.

Fatma Baradiya said she barely left the house during her daughter’s unexplained absence because she sensed her neighbors’ disapproval. In Arab society, women live with their parents until they marry, and a sudden absence from home quickly causes gossip.

The police chief said suspects in honor killings often come forward immediately because they don’t face serious punishment and a confession is part of the “cleansing” of family honor. However, Aya Baradiya’s uncle remained silent, even saying at one point that his niece had called him and told him she just decided to go away.

Palestinian media say the uncle disapproved of the woman’s suitor, who had approached the family through traditional channels, asking for her hand in marriage. One accomplice said the men talked about the alleged relationship as they planned the killing.

The woman’s father, Ibrahim, said he had given his blessing to the union but wanted her to wait until she finished university.

Iqab Baradiya, who has been in custody since his confession, showed remorse in a television interview, saying he was influenced by town gossip about his niece, though he did not elaborate on what drove him to kill her. “I feel like a criminal,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking.”

As the horrific details emerged, Surif residents and students at Hebron University staged rallies, demanding the death penalty for the killers. They held up signs calling Aya Baradiya a “martyr,” the ultimate badge of honor in Palestinian society.

Palestine TV dedicated a program to her last weekend, and a senior Abbas aide, Tayeb Abdel Rahim, called in, saying the Palestinian president was watching and was saddened by the case. He said Abbas planned to scrap the laws guaranteeing leniency for such slayings.

Ashrawi, a former legislator, said Abbas had promised women’s groups several years ago to scrap the laws, but put the issue on ice until the most recent killing.

Abbas delivered on the promise Sunday, signing a decree that scraps provisions that make killing for family honor a mitigating circumstance, Abdel Rahim told AP. Suspects could now even face the death penalty, he said.

Leniency for honor killings dates back to a 1960 Jordanian legal codex, parts of which are still in effect in the West Bank; the area was under Jordanian rule until it was captured by Israel in 1967. Awad, the Hebron police chief, said that under the old system, someone who killed for family honor would get a maximum of six months in prison.

In 2010, there were nine family honor killings in the West Bank, Awad said. In most cases, “family honor” was just a pretext, he added: Men would kill to clear the path for remarriage, get their wives’ gold or because of problems in the family. The tougher new laws will likely reduce the number of such killings, he said.

In Hamas-ruled Gaza, at least 10 women were killed by male relatives over the past three years, according to a local activist, Majda Ibrahim. She said punishment is generally light, though in one case, a man was sentenced to death for killing his cousin after she rejected his marriage proposal. The man is on death row.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II and his wife Queen Rania, a women’s rights activist, have faced an uphill battle with the country’s conservative tribal parliament to impose stricter penalties for honor killings. Even though perpetrators now face up to 15 years in prison, judges still hand out lenient sentences.

Arafat’s widow, Suha, said that when she lived in the Gaza Strip with her husband in the 1990s, she used to hide women feeling threatened by male relatives and would help smuggle them to safer areas.

She said she and the wives of other leaders in the region, including Jordan’s then-Queen Noor, tried in vain to persuade their husbands to do more to protect women. “I said, `Yasser, we have to do something’,” Arafat recalled in a telephone interview from the Mediterranean island of Malta.

Jordanian activist Rana Husseini said change is coming, even if slowly. “I am really happy to see governments are moving,” she said. “It’s not the movement we are expecting, but better than nothing.”

In Surif, Aya Baradiya’s family wants the death penalty for her killers.

Her 29-year-old brother, Rami, welcomed the promise of tougher punishment, saying he hoped it would serve as a deterrent. “This is a victory for all of us,” he said.

Laub reported from Ramallah, West Bank. Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City and Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan contributed to this report.


Honour Crimes
Analysis by Clive Field, British Religion by Numbers, March 19, 2012

This says there are about 10-12 known honour killings in the UK a year; support for honour punishment is found in a small minority of Christians, Sikhs and Muslims from West Asian backgrounds. Suppport for honour punshments is highest amongst Asian Christians.It is not confined to the older first generation immigrants.

‘Honour’ attack numbers revealed by UK police forces
3 December 2011
This shows an increase in honour punishments in the UK, usually of young women, usually involving beatings, acid-throwing, imprisonment at home.

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