How to end legitimizing and perpetuating the violence of honour killing in northeastern Syria?
Enab Baladi – Diana Rahima
“Yes, I agree to marry so-and-so according to the Holy Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Prophet.”
In Syria, this sentence usually ushers a couple into a new happy life together. However, this was not the case for Eida al-Hamoudi al-Saeedo, a minor girl from al-Hasakeh governorate. Eida married her cousin by force.
Then, her life was ended by her father, her brother and a handful of people who claimed that they were defending the honour of al-Saeedo’s family, which Eida had tarnished when she ran away from her husband’s house and eloped with a young man she allegedly loved and was not of her tribe.
In a video documented by one of Eida’s pursuers, Eida was dragged to an abandoned house and shot by her tribe. She fell victim to the long tradition of ‘honor killings.’
Eida was killed by 11 people, including her father and brother, after they took her to an abandoned house in the Zohour Neighborhood in the countryside of al-Hasakeh.
A source told the Kurdish news agency Rudaw on 6 July that Eida was killed after she ran away from her husband’s house 20 days after her wedding. She agreed with her lover and his mother to escape together to Iraqi Kurdistan.
However, Eida could not make it because her family caught her while the man she had fallen in love with and his mother reportedly managed to escape from the tribe for fear of reprisal.
‘Honour killings’: society stands idle
Several Syrian communities, especially rural ultra-conservative ones, still embrace the eib, or honor-shame, culture. However, this culture applies strictly to women, whereby the family’s honor and status are associated with the women’s bodies, not their honesty, integrity, or success that are supposed to define status in society, social researcher Talal Mustafa told Enab Baladi.
Under the patriarchal regime, the concept of honor is bound up with female “sexuality.” Accordingly, all males have the right to determine the lifestyle of the women of the family.
Seemingly, in a patriarchal society, men are the exclusive owner of women’s bodies; men have the right to control women’s bodies and their behaviors, judge them and finally take the appropriate actions.
‘Honour crimes’ include the murder of a woman or girl by male family members due to the perpetrators’ belief that this female has brought dishonor or shame upon the family name and reputation.
‘Gender-related killings,’ including femicide and ‘honor-related killings,’ are often met with understanding and silence by the local community because their perpetrators are often male family members (father, brother, cousin…etc.).
‘Honour crimes’ are the most severe manifestations of harmful practices against women. They are acts of violence, including murder, predominately committed by male family members who are supposed to be associated with the victim in friendly and warm social-psychological relations.
Mustafa suggests that to stop tolerating and legitimizing ‘honor-related crimes’ in society, a fundamental change must be made in societal concepts. A new vision of women must be built via developing new civilized sociological ideas and breaking the wall of silence established by members of society on these brutal crimes that are not based on religious or moral values. These crimes, in fact, are mere outdated illusions. An initiative must take place to generate a culture of change by stigmatizing the perpetrator of such crimes and perceiving them as “dishonorable.”
Eido is not the last victim of ‘honor crimes’
Only a few days after the video of Eida’s murder spread on social media, a 16-year-old girl was strangled to death by her father in another ‘honor killing’ after a relative raped her.
Aya Khalifo was imprisoned for a year in her own home. She was prevented from leaving it because her cousin raped her, the local North Press agency reported.
Khalifo was killed after the court of the Syrian government in al-Hasakeh sentenced her cousin, who was convicted of raping her, to 30 years in prison. The father believes that his daughter was responsible for her cousin’s imprisonment, local resources stated.
Feminist organizations called on the Internal Security Forces (Asayish) to hold Eida al-Hamoudi al-Saeedo’s killer accountable and bring him to justice. However, the father is hiding inside the security square controlled by the Syrian regime forces in al-Hasakeh.
People of Raqqa objected to the murders committed against the two girls in the city of al-Hasakeh. Several people took to the street, protesting those crimes in the name of so-called honor near the National Hospital in the city center.
The demonstrators demanded the concerned authorities follow up the cases firmly so that perpetrators of such crimes are punished and to help prevent future occurrences of these crimes.
‘Honour killing’ in Syria, a legal point of view
The Syrian regime’s Ministry of Justice posted on its official Facebook account that it investigated the perpetrators of ‘honor killings’ and issued arrest warrants against them on 7 July. Yet, the ministry indicated that the crime took place in the area controlled by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES).
Therefore, these arrest warrants are considered formal because the ministry does not have executive authority in these areas.
The Minister of Justice, Ahmed El-Sayed, said that the Public Prosecution initiated investigations and caught about 22 people involved in the crime. Bassam al-Ahmad, a Syrian human rights defender and co-founder and executive director of Syrians for Truth and Justice, told Enab Baladi that the laws applied in the AANES-linked areas consider ‘honor crime’ a “complete crime.” In other words, it is a criminal offense and has nothing to do with honor killings’ mitigating excuses or the like.
The perpetrator of such crimes can be sentenced to between three to 20 years imprisonment while the accomplice is held accountable for a period of up to nine years. Technically, these laws are considered good, as they do not give the perpetrator an excuse to commit any form of such crime.
According to al-Ahmad, the AANES significantly relies on the laws of the Syrian government regarding the ‘honor crimes.’ The AANES deals with them identically, especially after the People’s Assembly in Syria approved the abolition of Article 548 of the Penal Code of 1949, known as “Mitigating Excuse” for ‘honor killings.’
Amendments to the Syrian Penal Code’s handling of ‘honor killing’
As per Decree No. 1 of 2011, the Syrian Penal Code abolished the mitigating excuse (Article 548 of the 1949 Syrian Penal Code), which has been exempting the murderer completely from the penalty if the murder was under the ‘honor’ motive.
The Syrian Penal Code promulgated by Legislative Decree No. 148 of 1949 had been exempting the murderer from the penalty in case he murdered in the name of ‘honor’ by giving him an excuse from the punishment. The Penal Code was first amended in 2009, making the penalty of the murderer who commits a crime under such motives to a maximum of two years imprisonment.
A penalty of a two-year prison sentence was carried out until Decree No. 1 of 2011 was issued. The Decree abolished Article 548 of the Syrian Penal Code, which stipulated that “the person who catches his wife, one of his relatives, distant relatives, or sister in the acclaimed crime of adultery or vulgar sexual intercourse with another person, then he killed or harmed them intentionally or unintentionally. The perpetrator of the killing or harm shall benefit from the mitigating excuse in case he catches his wife, one of his relatives, distant relatives, or sisters in a suspicious situation with another person.”
Article 548 was replaced by Article 15 of Decree No. 1 of 2011, which abolished the lesser punishment of the penalty of “honor” crimes. However, Article 15 omitted the factor of suspicious circumstances that may justify granting the killer an excuse for his wrongful deed, potentially leading to exculpation in the previous draft of the law.
This “suspicious situation” pretext put many women under the risk of being killed in “honor’ provoked crimes as a legal justification in case the defendant could not prove adultery.
Is the law enforced?
Bassam al-Ahmad, a Syrian human rights defender, believes that the legal framework is so important in achieving justice. But, customs, traditions, and religious and tribal heritage largely contribute to these crimes, and in order to solve them once and for all, there must be a convergence between laws and tribal heritage.
Asayish forces worked to arrest the killers of Eida al-Hamoudi al-Saeedo. However, this was not possible because the entire tribe was armed. It also threatened to commit a massacre if the perpetrators were taken, considering the case an ‘honor crime,’ and what they did not violate tribal customs, according to Bassam al-Ahmad.
The official spokesperson of the Syrian Council of Tribes and Clans, Sheik Mudar Hammad al-Asaad, who is taking a stand against the AANES, points out that there is no security silence on what happened in the area. However, the area does not have effective laws to combat and end ‘honor-related crimes.’ And when serious problems of murder take place between tribes, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the military wing of the AANES, stands still. The AANES takes action only when enlisting underage girls in their training camps.
The Syrian Tribal and Clans Council indicated that enforceable legal solutions must be implemented for these problems. Solutions must be found via “tribal customs.” There should be a promotion of family awareness of the importance of respecting women’s choices in a marriage or divorce. The parents must ask their daughters about their opinions on such topics, not forcing them to marry against their will.
Mudar Hammad al-Asaad held the de-facto authority responsible for the occurrence of ‘honor crimes’ because the AANES does not provide support services, especially in education and schools. This caused the proliferation of ignorance and poverty, even though the Jazira and Euphrates region is considered one of the richest regions with its oil wealth.
Al-Assad also called on the sheiks and judges of all the clans and tribes to intervene to stop or prevent the recurrence of such crimes because this type of crime is usually governed by law. But seemingly, tribal fanaticism has the final say in controlling the increasing rate of such crimes.
An Islamic perspective on so-called honor killing
Islamic Sharia rejects individual retribution. Cases must be returned to the competent judiciary to examine the charges brought against a person through a fair trial based on Sharia evidence and legal presumptions consistent with adequate reason and logic.
The Syrian Islamic researcher and writer, and former member of the People’s Assembly, Muhammad Habash, defines “honor crimes” as “crimes of revenge against a female or a male if they are suspected of committing an obscene act. Honor crimes are reprehensible and unacceptable, neither linguistically nor legally. The use of the term ‘ honor crimes’ is new.”
Habash also stressed that the term was commonly used “through journalistic discourse, and not through the language of Islamic scholars and jurists.”
In his study Honor Killings between Sharia and Law, Habash stated that Islam firmly prohibited adultery and considered it as an ethical and social crime, especially “when it includes marital infidelity. In this regard, the glorious Islamic Sharia preserves the stability of the Muslim family”.
According to Habash, the punishment for adultery in Sharia is not a private matter that can be executed individually and at any given time. He explained that this subject could only be addressed by legitimate authorities responsible for enforcing the law. Thus, carrying out the punishment can only occur after a given nation chooses and approves to implement such a penalty through democratic institutions.
However, the Islamic scholar pointed out that these conditions are “extremely severe and rigorous,” making them impossible to implement.
He considered ‘honor killings’ an unacceptable act according to the principles of Fiqh.
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