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

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1 Nov 2002

Honor KillingsIn January 2002, two brothers from Jordan were given a three-month prison sentence for killing their sister Safa Samir on 7 July 2001. When Safa returned to her home on 6 July she confessed to her family that she had engaged in sexual activity with a man. That day her brother Anas Samir tried to kill her with an axe in the backyard of the family's home. Safa was admitted briefly to the hospital. The following day Anas reportedly told his younger brother Musa that they must kill their sister because "he could not stand people's looks or comments that their sister was not a pure woman." The brothers went to her room, tied a rope around her neck, and each of them pulled one end. When this did not kill her, they fetched a garden hose and squeezed it tightly around her neck until she suffocated to death. The brothers then turned themselves in to the police, claiming to have killed their sister to cleanse the family's honor. They were tried for premeditated murder, but the Criminal Court reduced the charge to a misdemeanor citing Article 98 of the Penal Code, which stipulates that a person "provoked" into committing a crime benefits from a reduction in penalty. "The two defendants benefit from a reduction in penalty because their sister's acts brought shame to her family," the court ruled.

Another nearly two dozen women and children have been killed in Jordan so far in 2002 in the name of family honor. The legitimacy of such crimes is rooted in a complex code of honor sanctioned by tradition and social customs, whereby a male relative must kill a woman to restore the family's good name in the community where the woman's virtue has come into question. Women may be killed by a family member for violating sexual norms, or for being victims of rape, incest, sexual abuse or sexual rumor. The United Nations reports that such killings have also occurred in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Israel, Italy, Morocco, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, Sweden, Turkey, Uganda, the United Kingdom and Venezuela. Other countries, too, are being investigated for reports of "honor" killings.

In December 2000, Equality Now issued a Women's Action on the issue of "honor" killings in Jordan calling for a change in the legislation that would abolish the legal framework that condoned the practice. In December 2001, Article 340 of the Penal Code, which exempted from punishment men who kill their wives or female relatives found committing adultery, was repealed and replaced with a provision that permits a reduction in penalty only if the murder is committed immediately on finding the victim in the act of committing adultery or "in an unlawful bed." While the amendment of Article 340 is welcomed, those committing so-called "honor" killings still benefit from the provisions of Articles 97 and 98, which allow for a reduction in sentence for those who commit a crime in a fit of fury. These Articles are still applied in cases relating to "honor" irrespective of whether the killing was planned, such as in the case of the Samir brothers who clearly premeditated the murder of their sister. Those convicted have traditionally been given very light sentences, generally ranging from between three months to one year in jail. In October 2002, for the first time, the Court of Cassation sent an "honor" crime case back to the Criminal Court for tougher sentencing on the basis that the murder was premeditated. The original 3-month sentence passed against Fawaz Syouf was increased to 10 years. The same Criminal Court however had the previous day handed down a 1-month sentence to a man who beat his sister to death in the name of "honor" and reduced charges to a misdemeanor for a man accused of attempting to poison his 12-year old sister for the sake of "honor."

Women such as these have nowhere to turn when they are under threat of an attack. There is no national women's shelter in Jordan, only state-run women's prisons where women are incarcerated for their own safety. Ironically, their release can only be secured by a male relative. At present a number of women spend indefinite periods of time in prison for their own protection. Major Ibtisam Dhmour, former director of the only women's correctional facility in Jordan, has said that women may be in prison for becoming pregnant out of wedlock or allegedly being involved in an extramarital affair. Others are victims of rape or incest. Experts stress the need for a national women's shelter that would provide immediate refuge for such women.

In response to letters generated by Equality Now's December 2000 Women's Action, former Minister of Social Development Tamam El-Ghul, in a letter dated 7 January 2001, stated her commitment to ensuring the right to life and security of each person and said that a "government-sponsored shelter for women will soon be functioning since all the necessary procedures have been taken with the involvement of both governmental and non-governmental organizations and even concerned UN agencies. Thus women who are under threat or at risk of being killed will be provided with refuge and adequate support services. They will have access to legal and psychological counseling, training and rehabilitation opportunities within the confines of a modern shelter facility." Nearly two years later there are reports that the first national women's shelter will open within six months, although talks appear still to be underway between the Family Protection Department and officials from the Ministry of Social Development to "coordinate efforts and achieve the common goal of establishing a women's shelter." In five days alone at the beginning of September 2002 three women were killed by their male relatives in the name of honor. The youngest, 17-year old Afaf Younes, was shot dead by her father despite his written promise to the authorities not to harm her. She had repeatedly run away from home to protect herself from his alleged sexual abuse of her and had only just recovered from his previous murder attempt. Reports suggest he claimed to kill her in the name of honor to cover up his alleged assault. Girls and women continue to die in Jordan without a safe haven to protect them from "honor" crimes.

In June 2000 at the Beijing + 5 Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Jordan made a commitment "to develop, adopt and fully implement laws and other measures as eradicate harmful customary or traditional practices honor crimes that are violations of the human rights of women and girls..." Jordan is also a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which proscribe discrimination based on sex.

What You Can Do: 

Please write to the Minister of Social Development, reminding her of the Jordanian government's commitment to protect the right to life and security of all its people and of the previous Minister's pledge to open a national women's shelter. Commend discussions held to date and the positive steps the government has taken to combat domestic violence, in particular under the auspices of the Family Protection Project. Urge her to support women under threat of violence and at risk of being killed by acting immediately to open shelters for women in Jordan.

Please also write to the Minister of Justice, welcoming the amendment of Article 340 and the recent decision of the Court of Cassation in the case of Fawaz Syouf, but noting with concern the continuing practice of "honor" killings and the way in which Articles 97 and 98 are used to mitigate punishment for these killings. Ask him to take steps to ensure that judges apply the law appropriately and do not use Articles 97 and 98, or Article 340, to allow the justification of "honor" killings. Request him to ensure the courts hold those who commit "honor" crimes properly accountable and that sentences handed down reflect the severity of the crime. Letters should be addressed to:

Her Excellency Dr Rowaida Maatiah
Minister of Social Development
P.O. Box 6720
Fax: +962-6-593-0687

His Excellency Faris Al-Nabulsi
Minister of Justice
P.O. Box 4060
Fax: +962-6-464-6388