By Akhtar Amin
PESHAWAR: The recent killing of a girl in Abbottabad district has proven that the issue of honour killing cannot be eliminated till loopholes in the law are plugged to pave the way for punishing the culprits through the courts.
Ambreen, a grade-9 student, was killed and then burned in a Suzuki van on the orders of a jirga (council) in Makol area of Abbottabad district on April 29.Hundreds of women are being murdered in the name of honour, but it was a rare case that a girl was brutally killed on the order of a so-called jirga because she had allegedly facilitated another girl to elope.
The police have arrested 14 members of the jirga. The accused also reportedly confessed during the investigation that a few months ago Saima, a schoolgirl from the same village and tribe, eloped with her boyfriend. They admitted that Ambreen was punished because she had allegedly facilitated meetings between Saima and her boyfriend and also helped in their elopement.
In the past, the accused in such cases either got minor punishment from courts by getting benefit of “grave and sudden provocation” or they forced the victims’ families to pardon them and got their acquittal in the cases easily.
The latest case happened in Abbottabad where education ratio is relatively high. The murder took place almost one month after prominent filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy won her second Oscar award on February 28 for her documentary on the issue of honour-related violence.
The cases of honour-related violence, including murders, are not new to Pakistan. The Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) does not contain any provision which can mitigate the offence of murder committed in the name of honour. Originally, section 300 of the PPC contained a provision of “grave and sudden provocation” that provided for lesser punishment in mitigating the circumstance.
The plea of “grave and sudden provocation” was available under Exception (1) to section 300. The said exception stated: “Culpable homicide is not murder if the offender, whilst deprived of the power of self-control by grave and sudden provocation, causes the death of any other person by mistake or accident.”
To address the issue of honour killing, amendments were again made in the PPC as well as in the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) through the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, which was published in the official gazette on January 11, 2005.
Certain other amendments were also made in relevant laws. However, legal experts believe that just like the offences under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 are made non-compoundable, in the same manner honour-related killings should also be placed in that category of offences. Unless changes are made in the law, they believe, in the existing situation people would continue to carry out such offences with impunity.
Noor Alam Khan, a Supreme Court lawyer who deals with the honour killing-related cases, told The News that there were tough laws, but the customary laws strongly prevail in the society.Besides, he said, due to society pressure the police also did not prepare strong cases in honour killings and resultantly the accused avoid major penalties in the court.
He said that benefit was also given to the culprits through section 306 of the PPC, the qatl-i-amd (intentional murder) shall not be liable to qisas when an offender causes death of his child or grandchild, how low-so-ever; or when any wali of the victim is a direct descendent of the offender.
“These provisions ensured that several categories of killers can escape the qisas penalty, not on the basis of any difference in the nature of their crime, but because of their relationship to the victim or the victim’s walis. These include several of those male relatives who are the ones most commonly responsible for the murders of their female family members in the name of honour,” he added.
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 1,276 incidents of honour killings were reported in the country from February 2014 to February 2016 but the first information reports (FIRs) were registered in 400 cases only.
Moreover, the Ministry of Law, Justice and Human Rights and Human Rights Regional Offices in their official statement to the National Assembly revealed that 933 people were killed in the name of honour in two years.
Rakhshanda Naz, a women’s rights activist, said the civil society in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is extremely concerned about the killings in the name of honour.