Honour killings in Syria
The law changes. Will attitudes?
Jul 16th 2009
From The Economist print edition
Half way to stopping a nasty tradition
BASHAR ASSAD, Syria’s president, has made it a bit harder for men to kill their daughters and sisters for the sake of “honour”. The crime had previously carried no minimum sentence; the maximum was a year. Now, a presidential decree has made a small but significant change: honour-killers must face at least two years in prison.
It is still common, in Syria and throughout the Middle East, for men to murder female relatives deemed to have besmirched the family’s moral standing—for example, if they have had sex outside marriage or wear immodest clothes. No one knows exactly how many women die in this way, because many cases go unreported. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that, across the world, as many as 5,000 women a year may be fatal victims.
The issue has been debated in Syria for some time. Last year the government gave the nod to a workshop that looked into changing the penal code. Those who debated the issue then called for a reform to Article 192, which lets judges waive or reduce the punishment for any crime motivated by honour. It also demanded the repeal of article 548, which exempts men from the usual sentences for murder and assault if provoked by “illegitimate sex acts” or “the suspicious state” of female relatives. Mr Assad was persuaded to change Article 548 but so far he has kept Article 192 intact.
Governments throughout the region have been loath to punish the perpetrators of honour crimes. In many countries, the penalty for this sort of killing is still softer than for other kinds. Jordan’s parliament has repeatedly blocked a law that would impose harsher penalties on men who kill their female relatives for the sake of honour; the lawmakers say it would encourage adultery. Despite campaigns by local lobbies and charities, the penal code in Lebanon still imposes lighter sentences for crimes of honour.
While praising the Syrian amendment, human-rights advocates point out that the law in Syria and elsewhere still accepts the basic notion that you can kill for honour, and argue for a more fundamental change in the attitudes of those who write the law and implement it.
Read an analysis of the North American situation that differentiates between domestic violence and honor killing here.