JURIST Guest Columnist Abeer Hashayka, an LL.M. Candidate from the Univeristy of Pittsburgh School of Law Class of 2012, is the author of the thirteenth entry of a 14-part series from the LL.M. students of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. She argues for eliminating gender distinctions in current Palestinian laws that provide leniency to men who perform “honor killings”…
Palestinian women have made significant progress over the past few decades in all fields, especially in education and employment. Although they still suffer from the violence and the patriarchy integral to the Palestinian community, women have worked hard to participate in public life alongside men. Women face many forms of violence in Palestine, from intellectual violence brought by exclusion and marginalization to blatant physical abuse. An “honor killing” is one of the greatest violations against women because it denies women the right to life.
The number of women killed in Palestine as the result of honor killings has been growing because of the absence of a deterrent law, the phenomenon of violence against women and the mentality that sexual freedom of women brings shame to the family. According to Lona Saadeh in Recommendations to reduce the local phenomenon of violence against women in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, statistics show that between the years 2004 to 2006, 32 women in Palestine were killed as the result of honor killings for being unfaithful. However, legal and medical evidence from criminal investigations proved that no evidence of infidelity existed in the majority of these instances. In some cases, merely having a conversation with a man merited killing. Often, families who kill their daughters because of honor were found guilty of assaulting them. Statistics from the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling showed that up to eight women were killed in 2008 as a result of being sexually abused by one of their family members.
In 1967, before the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, Jordan ruled the West Bank and Egypt ruled the Gaza Strip. As a result, the West Bank applies Jordanian law and the Gaza Strip applies Egyptian law. The legislative policy in the Jordanian Penal Code of 1960, which is applicable in the West Bank, is to protect people from any crime and to impose sanctions on perpetrators. Although the legislature has criminalized the act of killing, it has also provided honor killers with leniency. In the circumstances of an “honor killing,” the male assailant either goes free without punishment in the case of “extenuating circumstances,” or he may be imprisoned for a period of one to six months.
Article 340a of the Penal Code states that “every man who takes by surprise his wife or any female relative while committing adultery or fornication with another man and as a result kills, wounds or harms both of them or either of them is entitled to the quit circumstances.” Article 98, meanwhile, guarantees “a lighter sentence for male killers who have committed a crime in a fit of fury caused by an unlawful or dangerous act on the part of the victim.”
This law either protects men completely or allows for a lesser sentence for honor killings. However, if a woman were to kill any man in her family, such as a husband or brother, because he had had an extramarital relationship — which would also harm the family’s honor — she would not be protected by quit or extenuating circumstances.
The current Palestinian Penal Code, which is still in draft form, treats honor killing differently. This law would give both women and men equal coverage under “extenuating circumstances” when they are surprised to find their spouse in an adulterous relationship. However, Article 235 of this law states that women can only benefit from extenuating circumstances if they catch their husband committing adultery in their house and in their marital bed. However, the husband benefits from extenuating circumstances whenever he discovers his wife’s affair.
In May 2011, Aya Barde’a’s dead body was found in Hebron City in the West Bank. She was a 21-year-old university student when her uncle killed her and threw her into a well — where she remained for a year until her body was discovered. Her uncle killed her because a young man kept asking Aya’s family to allow him to marry her. His persistence led the uncle to believe that there was a sexual relationship and, for this reason, the uncle killed his niece without any evidence that she did anything wrong. The case sparked a wave of anger in Palestine, especially in the feminist movement. Honor killings became a public opinion issue and, on May 15, 2011, the President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, issued a presidential decree to annul Article 340 of the Jordanian Penal Code in the West Bank so that honor killers would not benefit from quit or extenuating circumstances. Despite the illegality of the manner in which Abbas attempted to amend the law, as such amendments require a two-thirds approval vote from the legislative council, it was nevertheless considered to be a positive step toward changing unjust laws against women.
Honor killing is not just a Palestinian matter but rather a human rights matter. Killing women because of sexual behavior is a violation of women’s right to life, which is protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 3 of the Declaration states: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” In addition, the Penal Code that applies in the Palestinian territories violates the principle of equality because it gives only men rights under quit circumstances, which contradicts Article 2 of the Declaration: “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion.”
The increase in the number of women killed in Palestine is attributable to cultural traditions embodying Palestinian society’s perception of women, the absence of deterrent laws and the failure to take necessary legal measures. To combat honor killing, Palestinians must put pressure on the government to eliminate quit and extenuating circumstances that encourage men to commit crimes against women. Therefore, the amended law must deal with honor crimes as willful killing crimes by giving the killer, whether a man or a woman, the full punishment required by the law. In addition, the government must enact laws that protect women from violence.
Abeer Hashayka is an LLM student at University of Pittsburgh. She received her bachelor’s degree in law from An-Najah National University in Nablus, Palestine in 2008. She worked as a legal assistant at the Institute of Law at Birzeit University, providing training sessions on human rights issues to Palestinian judges. Hashayka is the recipient of a Palestinian Rule of Law Program Fellowship, administered by the Open Society Foundation.
Suggested citation: Abeer Hashayka, Amending Palestine’s Laws for Honor Killings JURIST – Dateline, June 25, 2012, http://jurist.org/dateline/2012/06/abeer-hashayka-honor-killings.php.
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