The Perpetuation Of Honor Killings Through Legal Systems 0 30

I remember the first time I had seen widespread awareness of honor killings. I was 16, and the woman who was murdered was a Pakistani actress by the name of Qandeel Baloch. Although this was one of the first time I had actually seen global awareness of a South Asian woman being brutally slaughtered in the name of honor, the rhetoric of familial honor being placed upon the women of our families was not unknown. As I was growing up and becoming a teenager, I saw that many girls were afraid of the dire consequences of any actions that were deemed by our community as ‘dishonorable.’ These actions mainly included talking to boys, even platonically, or being sexually active. As South Asian women, we have seen honor killings within the United States and internationally, forcing us to comply with a rigid set of social norms that would be necessary to hold up our familial honor. These sociocultural norms are also deeply integrated within many countries’ legal institutions; moreover, violence against women, particularly honor killings have also been historically excluded within these legal systems. Honor killings continue to be perpetuated due to the failures of the legal system, from a lack of implementation of the upholding of international human rights treaties to the faulty natures of these treaties.

Honor killings mainly involve the killing of a girl or woman by a family member, either male or female due to “an actual or assumed sexual or behavioural transgression, including adultery, sexual intercourse or pregnancy outside marriage – or even for being raped.”[1] The murder of Qandeel Baloch is exemplary of an honor killing, especially due to the fact that the murder was carried out by Baloch’s brother in the name of honor. Qandeel Baloch was known as Pakistan’s “Kim Kardashian”, with her risque posts and actions, working as an actress and model[2]. She came from an underprivileged family and was married off to her cousin at the age of 17[3]. She then had a child and fled to a women’s shelter to escape the abuse she faced at the hands of her husband. At the shelter, she ended up realizing that she wanted to be independent and make her own life; she began to pursue a career in entertainment[4].

Due to her rising independence and fame, she started to vocalize her opinion on female rights, thus going against every cultural and religious norm that was present in Pakistan. She eventually was killed when she visited her family back in July of 2016 in a rural village in Pakistan, where she was murdered in her sleep by her brother. He stated he killed her because “she was ‘bringing disrepute’ to the ‘family’s honour[5]’”; this statement of intent clearly shows that this was an honor killing. Her murder was one of the most well-known honor killings in South Asia due to Baloch’s status in the entertainment world.

Unfortunately, Baloch’s killer has yet to be brought to justice, even though it has been three years since her murder. Since her death, laws in Pakistan have changed to remove loopholes that allow the murderers to walk free if they are forgiven by the family members of the victim[6]. One can see through this that honor killings are heavily ingrained within the Pakistani culture, as well as it’s legal systems. According to the World Health Organization, “there are reports of people using the ‘honour defence’ as a way to receive community and legal acceptance of a non- ‘honour’ murder.”[7]

These murders are specifically discriminatory towards women and are due to culturally embedded notions that justify such violence against women. These practices have gone on for centuries and are still widely used due to the acceptance of the protection of familial honor as a means to justify the murder. These flaws within the legal system, in turn, end up protecting murderers and tolerate the slaughtering of women based on cultural norms. Legal systems often accept this because they view honor killings to be stemming from culturally-based traditions.[8]

According to “International Accountability For Honour Killings As Human Rights Violations” by Katja Luopajärvi, the UK and Sweden conducted studies that show that “social service and criminal justice systems have often characterized these murders as ‘cultural traditions’ rather than as extreme”[9]. This has led to a perpetuation of violence against women and the upholding of misogynistic norms worldwide. The labeling of these crimes as being culturally motivated disregards women’s narratives in the legal system and is particularly discriminatory to these women.

Furthermore, the purpose of humans’ rights law is to protect people from systematic forms of violence or pain perpetrated by individuals associated with the state. Due to this, abuses perpetrated by ordinary citizens are seen as private actors have not been addressed in most international humans rights laws[10]. Violence against women is seen as an example of this, where the gender-based violence due to socio-cultural norms by individuals is not legally seen as a breach of humans rights by most international doctrines.

Not only are international treaties flawed in their handling of honor killings, but domestic handling of these crimes also leads to a lack of justice. Honor killings are often not investigated or prosecuted due to the discriminatory attitudes of the police and the legal system. An example of this is the leniency offered to men who commit honor killings, especially if “ a man who kills his wife for reasons of adultery or … if a man kills his sister or other female relatives for ‘illegal sexual relations’” in many middle eastern countries.[11] Furthermore, one of the main reasons that Qandeel Baloch’s killer has not been brought to justice is due to the provisions of Islamic Law in many countries that allow for a murderer to evade punishment if the family members of the victim are forgiven[12]. Qandeel Baloch’s parents have publicly forgiven their son for killing her, and the lack of justice that has been brought for the past three years is indicative of the sway of this practice.

Another reason as to why Qandeel Baloch’s killer has not been charged is due to “a system of tribal justice [that] operates alongside the official courts and deals with a considerable amount of cases of honour crimes and killings, usually without any consideration for the official laws or guarantees for a fair trial.”[13] This is very much prevalent in Pakistan, as well as many other countries. These courts often even authorize these honor killings as a means to bring back familial honor. One can see the ramifications of the flaws within the international treaties that do not bring perpetrators of honor killings to justice. This phenomena of honor killings is very much widespread and the norms that are used to justify these crimes shape the legal system to excuse people that uphold the norms.

One can see that there is a lack of accountability towards honor killings when it comes to international doctrines and thus leading to the evasion of justice. These doctrines, such as the Universal Declaration of Humans Rights, promote the right to life as being fundamental for international humans’ rights; they also include “the freedom from torture and inhuman treatment, the right to personal liberty and security of person, and the right to privacy”[14]. Although there is a sufficient basis of honor killings being humans rights violations, these crimes are not directly considered violations in international documents save for the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women and UN Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Violence against Women.[15] This is one of the main reasons that honor killings are still prominent and go unprosecuted. It is clear that honor killings are violations of all of these mandates, as they strip women from their right to live and have a private sex life.

Furthermore, according to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, “an illegal act which violates human rights and is not … imputable to a State (for example, because it is the act of a private person…) can lead to the international responsibility of the State, not because of the act itself, but because of the lack of due diligence to prevent the violation or to respond to it”.[16] This promotes the notion that states must respect the rights of their citizens, as well as, protect it. It highlights that it is also the states obligation to protect citizen’s inalienable rights from even individual agents. This applies to honor killing because although these acts are committed by private individuals, such as a family member, it is still infringing upon the right to life of another human being. Unfortunately, although there are domestic laws that condemn honor killings, states continuously fail to protect women from these heinous crimes. As mentioned before, these states often do not investigate these cases, do not prosecute or offer leniency to the killer, painting the killing as a crime of passion. Unfortunately, one of the biggest factors that contribute to this perpetuation of honor killings is due to the lack of implementation of the international organizations’ mandates.

In countries, such as Pakistan, where honor killings occur, the government has not implemented “international human rights treaties under which they could be held responsible for their failure to protect the right to life or to eliminate discrimination against women”[17]. An example of this is in 2002 when over 400 women were killed and the killers could not be  held responsible because it is not “ a party to the ICCPR[18]” and because individual complaints are not taken to account when it comes to humans rights violations. Furthermore, even if a state is able to implement these international treaties, instruments to carry these out may not be implemented, thus still perpetuating these deaths[19].  

As a South Asian woman who is personally affected by norms that impose the notion that honor lies on the shoulders of the women in a family, I would like to see more changes to International Doctrines that particularly state honor killings as an egregious breach of humans rights. Furthermore, I would like to see mandates state that the countries should be held responsible to change laws that excuse the murderers due to archaic and misogynistic norms of honor. Changing these laws would touch the lives of many women around the world and bring justice to cases like Qandeel Baloch’s.


[1] Tribune.com.pk. “Qandeel Baloch: How She Became Unforgettable.” The Express Tribune, 15 July 2017, tribune.com.pk/story/1458646/qandeel-baloch-became-unforgettable/.

[2] Tribune.com.pk. “Qandeel Baloch: How She Became Unforgettable.” The Express Tribune, 15 July 2017, tribune.com.pk/story/1458646/qandeel-baloch-became-unforgettable/.

[3] Tribune.com.pk. “Qandeel Baloch: How She Became Unforgettable.” The Express Tribune, 15 July 2017, tribune.com.pk/story/1458646/qandeel-baloch-became-unforgettable/.

[4] Tribune.com.pk. “Qandeel Baloch: How She Became Unforgettable.” The Express Tribune, 15 July 2017, tribune.com.pk/story/1458646/qandeel-baloch-became-unforgettable/.

[5] Tribune.com.pk. “Qandeel Baloch: How She Became Unforgettable.” The Express Tribune, 15 July 2017, tribune.com.pk/story/1458646/qandeel-baloch-became-unforgettable/.

[6]  World Health Organization, 2012, “Understanding and addressing violence against women”

[7] World Health Organization, 2012, “Understanding and addressing violence against women”

[8] World Health Organization, 2012, “Understanding and addressing violence against women”

[9] Katja Luopajarva. 2003. International Accountability For Honour Killings As Human Rights Violations. International Pakistan Violence Against Women

[10] Katja Luopajarva. 2003. International Accountability For Honour Killings As Human Rights Violations. International Pakistan Violence Against Women

[11] Katja Luopajarva. 2003. International Accountability For Honour Killings As Human Rights Violations. International Pakistan Violence Against Women

[12] Katja Luopajarva. 2003. International Accountability For Honour Killings As Human Rights Violations. International Pakistan Violence Against Women

[13] Katja Luopajarva. 2003. International Accountability For Honour Killings As Human Rights Violations. International Pakistan Violence Against Women

[14] Katja Luopajarva. 2003. International Accountability For Honour Killings As Human Rights Violations. International Pakistan Violence Against Women

[15] Katja Luopajarva. 2003. International Accountability For Honour Killings As Human Rights Violations. International Pakistan Violence Against Women

[16] Katja Luopajarva. 2003. International Accountability For Honour Killings As Human Rights Violations. International Pakistan Violence Against Women

[17] Katja Luopajarva. 2003. International Accountability For Honour Killings As Human Rights Violations. International Pakistan Violence Against Women

[18] Katja Luopajarva. 2003. International Accountability For Honour Killings As Human Rights Violations. International Pakistan Violence Against Women

[19] Katja Luopajarva. 2003. International Accountability For Honour Killings As Human Rights Violations. International Pakistan Violence Against Women

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Yusra Siddique is a 2nd year Political Science major with an emphasis in International Affairs at University of California-Riverside. She is passionate about Higher Education and Title iX policies and has advocated on the local, state and federal level. She has also had the opportunity to be a contributor to CNN. Yusra also enjoys traveling and going to museums! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email her at ysidd004@ucr.edu. IG: @yusrasiddique Twitter: @yusrasiddique98

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