Mere suspicion of an illicit affair often leads to “honour killings” - study

A quarter of all women killed in Jordan for having an illicit relationship die merely because they were suspected of involvement in such a relationship, while only 15 per cent are killed after adultery is proven, a study by UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) has revealed.

The study was unveiled on 25 November to mark the UN global campaign entitled Sixteen Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women, organised by UNIFEM.

Whether victims turn out to have been virgins or not seems to make little difference to the sentences handed down to the perpetrators; the killers often get 6-12 months, in keeping with legal precedents.

The study, designed to shed light on “honour killings”, an important social phenomenon in Jordan, included the testimonies of murderers as well as the victims of violence.

"They put me in the guest room and everybody started suggesting how I should kill myself. Even my aunt said everybody should leave the house to allow me to turn on a gas cylinder and kill myself. My brother suggested I hang myself with a rope. I tried to run away but I could not. They kept me in a cupboard under the stairs and gave me a little food every four to five days. I even called out to neighbours to give me food because it was not enough. One day my brother took me to a deserted area and began beating me with a rock," said one girl after her family tried to kill her on suspicion of being pregnant out of wedlock.

The victim's brother severely beat her and slashed her with a knife before leaving her to die in an abandoned area near Baqaa refugee camp.

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An urban phenomenon?

Most “honour” crimes were committed in the kingdom's main cities rather than in rural areas, normally dominated by conservative tribes, according to the study. Between 2000 and 2003, there were as many as 36 cases of murder in Amman, 17 in Irbid (120km north of Amman), 13 in Balqa (30km west of Amman) and 11 in Zarqa (30km east of Amman). However, the number of crimes in the conservative city of Maan, near the Saudi border, was two, and in Tafelah (200km south Amman), three.

Figures also showed that 45.1 percent of crimes were committed by the victims’ brothers, 15 percent by husbands and 14 percent by a close relative.

According to the study, at least 97 women were killed for “honour reasons” or in a family dispute in 2000-2003.

Princess Bassma, aunt of Jordan's King Abdullah and a champion of women’s rights, said during a ceremony marking the release of the study that violence against women not only caused suffering and trauma to the victims but also affected their families and society as a whole.

"Such suffering comes in different forms - fear, arbitrary deprivation of freedom to take part in private and public life, as well as psychological and physical suffering," she said.

The study showed that family members drop charges against perpetrators in at least 63.3 per cent of cases, which makes it easy for the murderer to get away with a minimum sentence.

Human rights activists have been lobbying for an amendment to the penal code so that tough penalties on “honour” killers are imposed, but their efforts have been fiercely resisted by conservative politicians.

In addition to “honour killings”, the study tackled violence against women in general. It found that nearly 25 women have been killed as a result of physical abuse by family members between 2000 and 2003.