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Divergent court verdicts in honour killing cases

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in its annual report 2011 mentioned that at least 943 women were killed in the name of honour. The data is based on media monitoring and field reports from the HRCP volunteers, and the number of victims of honour-related violence could be much higher as such cases often go unreported.

The report made public in early March states that the purported reasons given for this were illicit relations in 595 cases and the demand to marry of their own choice in 219 cases. In 180 cases the murderers were a brother and in 226 cases husband of the victim. Only 20 women killed in the name of honour were reported to have been provided medical aid before they died.

Though changes have been made in the relevant laws, but a lot more is still needed to check this practice. Still a mindset exists in the society which supports this practice on different pretexts. On this issue there is a clear divide in the society, which is also evident from judgments emanating from the superior courts. In some of the cases the courts favoured accused persons on the ground of “grave and sudden provocation” whereas in other decisions the courts did not accept this ground for an honour-related murder.

In one case reported in 2008, the Lahore High Court ruled that killing over question of family honour on provocation had been accepted as an extenuating ground for grant of lesser punishment. It was added that murder committed on account of “ghairat” (honour) being not equivalent to “qatl-e-amd” (intentional murder) accused was entitled to same concession.

In that case the accused/appellant was convicted by the trial court for killing two of his women family members and was sentenced to death. The high court ruled that conviction of the accused under section 302 (a) of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) was consequently altered to section 302 (c) and his death sentence was reduced to 20 years rigorous imprisonment.

In another case in 2006 the LHC ruled that family honour killings were to be discouraged, but it did not mean that the benefits of mitigation were not to be given at all to the accused in whose house someone had trespassed and invaded privacy to fulfill his lust. The same year in another judgment the LHC simply ruled that record having established that it was a case
of family honour, award of capital sentence to accused was not justified.

In another verdict the LHC ruled in 2007 that “human life was very sacred, but at the same time prevalent social setup, traditions and customs could not be ignored where men would sacrifice their lives to safeguard the honour of their womenfolk, which was not considered a big sacrifice in any manner.” It was added that no religion allowed widespread immorality to destroy the fabric of a family life.

Contrary to these verdicts, the courts in some other cases ruled that honour-related murder could not be termed as mitigating circumstances which warrant lesser punishment to perpetrators. A bench of the Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that “it is correct that in our society, the illicit liaison of a female is not tolerated but mere suspicion of such relations cannot be an excuse to commit murder and claim mitigating circumstances for lesser punishment”.

In one of the cases in 2009 the LHC ruled that the murder based on “ghairat”, was not a mitigating circumstance for awarding a lesser sentence. It observed that nobody has any right nor can anybody be allowed to take law in own hands to take the life of anybody in the name of “ghairat.”

It was observed that neither the law nor religion permits so-called “honour killing” which amounts to murder (qatl-i-amd). “Such inquisitive and vile act is violative of fundamental rights as enshrined in Article 9 of the Constitution, which provides that no person would be deprived of life or liberty except in accordance with law and any custom or usage in that respect is void under Art.9(1) of the Constitution,” the court ruled.

Presently, the PPC does not contain any provision which can mitigate the offence of honour-related killing.

Experts believe that all the stakeholders, including the judiciary, civil society and media, have to play their active role in creating awareness of the law so as to check this illegal practice.