Jordan: National Efforts to Confront "Honor Killings" and to Protect Women from Violence

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1 Dec 2000

Honor killingsOne woman was knifed to death because she wanted to continue her education and refused to marry the man chosen for her by her family. Another woman was shot five times because she ran away from her husband who continually beat and raped her. Another was strangled on her wedding night when her husband discovered she was no longer a virgin. Another had her throat slit because her husband suspected her of adultery--he saw her speaking with a man from their village. A young girl was beaten to death by her younger brother because her older brother had raped her. These women and girls had no one to turn to and no place to hide. There is no women's shelter in Jordan. There are only state-run women's prisons, where women are incarcerated for their own safety--to be protected from their own families. Ironically, their release can only be secured by a male relative.

These murders are based on the belief that a woman is the property of her family. Should the woman's virtue come in to question, for whatever reason, or if she refuses to obey her father, husband or brother, her family's "honor" is thought to be disgraced and the woman must be killed by a male relative to restore the family's good name in the community. It is estimated by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) that as many as 5,000 women and girls are murdered by family members each year in so-called "honor killings" around the world. According to the UNFPA, these crimes have been reported in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda and the United Kingdom. In many countries they are socially sanctioned and the killers are treated with lenience. In some countries such as Jordan, "honor crimes" are also legally sanctioned. Article 340 of the Jordanian Penal Code provides for exemption from penalty if a man kills his wife or female relative after finding her "committing adultery with another." It provides for a reduction in penalty if a man kills his wife or female relative after finding her "with another in an unlawful bed." Also of concern is the way in which other articles of the Penal Code, which provide for a reduction in penalty for cases where there has been "provocation," have been used to reduce sentences in many cases of so-called "honor crimes."

The National Campaign to Eliminate So-Called Crimes of Honor, a strong and growing movement in Jordan, has been campaigning actively to stop these crimes. More than 15,000 signatures were collected on a petition, calling for the passage of a draft amendment to the Penal Code abolishing Article 340. The petition was presented to Parliament by the campaign on August 21, 1999, following a public march and rally. Members of the Jordanian royal family, including Queen Noor and Queen Rania as well as high-ranking government ministers, have condemned "honor killings" and have also called for passage of the draft amendment. In a television interview last year, Queen Rania said, "Honor crimes have no basis in religion. It was not a practice that was acceptable to the late King, nor is it to His Majesty King Abdullah." Early this year, King Abdullah instructed the Prime Minister to amend any law that "discriminates against women and inflicts injustice on them."

Recently, the Government of Jordan established a Family Protection Department within the police force to address the problems of domestic violence and sexual abuse. The Government also submitted the draft amendment to Article 340 of the Penal Code. However, Parliament has been unable to pass this amendment. Although supported by the Senate (Upper House), the Lower House has twice voted it down, most recently on January 26, 2000. In the Lower House debates, Mahmoud Kharabsheh, a member of the House Legal Affairs Committee, was quoted as saying the amendment was "an invitation to obscenity," and that "females are the ones who take the initiative and demonstrate consent to committing adultery."

Article 340 is in clear violation of international treaties that Jordan has ratified including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which provide for equality and the equal protection of women under the law. Article 340 is also inconsistent with commitments undertaken in the Beijing Platform for Action to abolish all legislation that discriminates against women. At the Beijing + 5 Special Session of the UN General Assembly, governments agreed to develop, adopt and fully implement laws, policies and programs to eliminate the practice of so-called "honor killings."

What You Can Do: 

Please write to the Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament, urging him to support and to encourage other Members of Parliament to support all necessary amendments to the Penal Code so that it guarantees equality and justice and protects the value of all human life. Note that "honor killings" are a violation of fundamental human rights, including the right to life and to security of person, and the right to equal protection under the law.

Please also write to the Minister of Social Development expressing concern over the lack of shelters and other support services for women. Urge her to protect these women by establishing shelters and allowing non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to establish shelters, and by implementing adequate support services around the country for women under threat of violence and at risk of being killed.

His Excellency Abd al-Hadi al-Majali
Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament
P.O. Box 72
Fax: 962-6-568-5970

Her Excellency Tamam al-Ghwol
Ministry of Social Development
P.O. Box 6720
Fax: 962-6-593-0687