Wednesday, August 03, 2011

AFP article on PalArab "honor killings" not as positive as it seems

A couple of months ago, the body of a young Palestinian Arab woman was found near Hebron, the victim of an apparent "honor killing," and it caused an uproar. It caused Mahmoud Abbas to somewhat change the Jordanian law that allowed leniency for such killings.

But as this article shows, there is a long, long way to go - and even the reporter, Samih Shahine, is clueless.

From AFP/Ma'an:
Aya's remains were found bound, decomposed at the bottom of a well more than a year after she vanished without a trace, leaving her family beside themselves with worry.

The university student's disappearance in April 2010 left her relatives increasingly ostracized in their southern West Bank village, an area known for its deeply conservative traditions and morals.

Neighbors assumed the worst -- that their daughter had run away with a lover.
Note that "the worst" is not that Aya was killed.
But the mystery was solved in May when police found her bones several miles from the family home in Surif, northwest of the city of Hebron -- and triggered an unprecedented public outcry.

Within days the story emerged in a Ma'an report: her uncle and two of his friends apparently slayed the 21-year-old student of English in what he claimed was an "honor killing" -- murder in the name of protecting a family's reputation.

The uncle, Ekab Al-Baradiya, and his alleged accomplices were arrested and are awaiting trial.

"This is an atrocious crime," said Hebron police chief Ramadan Awad.

"They tied her to the back of the car and dragged her to the well before beating her, tying her up and throwing her into the well, still alive," he said.

Such murders are not uncommon within conservative Palestinian society where close contact between men and women is frowned upon, and where the law affords leniency to a father, brother or uncle who kills a close female relative in order to "protect" the family's honor.

But an unanticipated wave of outrage followed this particular murder, and forced president Mahmoud Abbas to amend a decades-old law under which those citing "honor" as a defense could expect to receive a jail sentence of no more than six months.

Aya Al-Baradiya had been tied up and thrown down the well while she was still alive, police said, in a gruesome death sentence for a lively and ambitious young woman who loved to paint.

The news broke the family, their grief and outrage spilling out into the local community and moving them to action --- in complete contrast with the wall of silence and shame that normally surrounds such crimes.

The family have absolutely no doubt that she was wrongly accused.

Walking haltingly towards the well where her sister's remains were discovered, 25-year-old Hanin could not hold back her grief.

"Aya's honor was as pure as this cloth," she screamed, tears coursing down her face.

"She was pure -- this had nothing to do with honor," insisted her mother, Fatima. "These are a bunch of criminals."
The horrible implication is that even the mother and sister would have understood it if they felt that Aya had in fact done something to besmirch the family honor. Their rage is not because it was an honor-killing - it is because it was a wrongful honor killing.

Under the Jordanian penal code, a man who "surprises his wife or any close female relative" in an act of adultery or fornication may invoke a defense of "crime of honor" if he murders her.

If convicted, the perpetrators tend to receive a maximum sentence of six months.

The amendment, however, empowers the judiciary to decide whether or not the defendant's claim that the killing was to defend a family's "honor" is valid.
According to this article, the change in the law is not to criminalize "honor killings" but to allow a judge to determine whether it is a legitimate honor killing! The leniency is still there but the murderer can no longer assume that his claim will be accepted at face value.
"The president's decision is the culmination of the feminist struggle," said Amal Al-Jubeh, coordinator of the Women's Centre for Legal Aid and Counseling in Hebron.

"The horror of this crime, the solidarity of the people and the immediate mobilization of feminist groups, coupled with extensive media coverage, were the main factors behind this historic decision," she said.

"The case of young Aya was the straw that broke the camel's back," said Hassan Al-Awra, a legal adviser to Abbas, adding that the amendment must still be approved by the Palestinian parliament.

But Rania Al-Sinjilawi, who works in a legal aid center for women, fears the amendment "does not contribute much to stop the killings because the question of whether the motive was honor or not remains at the judge's discretion."

Women who dare to have relationships with someone the family deems unsuitable, or who marry someone that their parents disapprove of, are still facing the possibility of being murdered with little penalty to the killers. Abbas' change to the law did not erase distinctions between "honor killings" and other murders, and until that is done, such self-congratulatory articles are premature.