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Karo Kari - Honour killing in Pakistan

A form of gender-based violence, an honour killing is the homicide of a member of a family or social group by other members, due to the belief the victim has brought dishonor upon the family or community. The killing is viewed as a way to restore the reputation and honour of the family.[1]In Pakistan, honour killings are known locally as karo-kari (Sindhi: ڪارو ڪاري, Urdu: کاروکاری‎). Karo-kari is a compound word literally meaning "black male" (Karo) and "black female (Kari). Originally, Karo and Kari were metaphoric terms for adulterer and adulteress, but it has come to be used with regards to multiple forms of perceived immoral behavior. Once a woman is labeled as a Kari, family members consider themselves to be authorized to kill her and the co-accused Karo in order to restore family honour. In the majority of cases, the victim of the attacks is female with her attackers being male members of her family or community.[2]


Karo-Kari is an act of murder, in which a person is killed for his or her actual or perceived immoral behavior. Such "immoral behavior" may take the form of alleged marital infidelity, refusal to submit to an arranged marriage, demanding a divorce, perceived flirtatious behaviour and being raped.[3] Suspicion and accusations alone are many times enough to defile a family’s honour and therefore enough to warrant the killing of the woman.[2]

In patriarchal cultures, women’s lives are structured through a strict maintenance of an honour code. In order to preserve woman's chastity, women must abide by socially restrictive cultural practices pertaining to women's status and family izzat, or honour, such as the practice of purdah, the segregation of sexes.[4]Honour killings are frequently more complex than the stated excuses of the perpetrators. More often than not, the murder relates to inheritance problems, feud-settling, or to get rid of the wife, for instance in order to remarry. Human rights agencies in Pakistan have repeatedly emphasized that victims were often women wanting to marry of their own will. In such cases, the victims held properties that the male members of their families did not wish to lose if the woman chose to marry outside the family.[5]

A 1999 Amnesty International report drew specific attention to "the failure of the authorities to prevent these killings by investigating and punishing the perpetrators."[6] According to women's rights advocates, the concepts of women as property and honour are so deeply entrenched in the social, political and economic fabric of Pakistan that the government, for the most part, ignores the daily occurrences of women being killed and maimed by their families.[7] The fact that much of Pakistan's Tribal Areas are semi-autonomous and governed by often fundamentalist leaders makes federal enforcement difficult when attempted.[8]

Prevalence of honour killings

In 2011, human rights groups reported 720 honour killings in Pakistan (605 women and 115 men).[9] Some discrepancy exists between reports. For instance Pakistan's Human Rights Commission reported that in 2010 there were 791 honor killings in the country,[10] while Amnesty International cited 960 incidents of women alone who were slain in honour killings that year.[11]Over 4,000 cases were reported in Pakistan between 1998 and 2004. Of the victims, almost 2,700 were women and just over 1,300 were men; and 3,451 cases came before the courts. The highest rates were in Punjab, followed by the Sindh province. Lesser number of cases have also been reported in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and in Balochistan.[12] [13] Nilofar Bakhtiar, advisor to Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, stated that in 2003, as many as 1,261 women were murdered in honour killings.[14]

Complications in data

Data and its absence is difficult to interpret. One reason is the reluctance to report honor killings to official bodies. Another reason is that honor killings are occurring in cultural and social contexts which do not recognize the criminality of honor killings.[1] The very nature of honour killings reflects deeply entrenched notions of "honour" and "morality," in which the perpetrator is upholding justice and order when the victim commits deplorable social acts. Honour killings thus inverts the roles of "right" and "wrong." The perpetrator becomes the champion of justice while the victim becomes the perpetrator and accused of the criminal act. Furthermore, human rights advocates are in wide agreement that the reported cases do not reflect the full extent of the issue, as honour killings have a high level of support in Pakistan's rural society, and thus often go unreported.[15][16] Frequently, women killed in honour killings are recorded as having committed suicide or died in accidents.[16]

Specific occurrences

In one of the most publicized honour killing cases committed in Pakistan, Samia Sarwar was murdered by her family in the Lahore office of well-known human rights activists Asma Jahangir and Hina Jilani in April 1999. As Sarwar sought assistance for a divorce from her first cousin, her family arranged her murder after the shame felt in her attempt to marry a man of her choice. The police did not make any arrests or pursue prosecution as Sarwar's family is highly well known in elite, political circles. The 2000 award-winning BBC documentary, "License to Kill," covers Samia's killing in Pakistan.[17]Amnesty International reported that on 27 April 2010, Ayman Udas, a Pashtun singer from the Peshawar area, was shot to death apparently by her two brothers who "viewed her divorce, remarriage and artistic career as damaging to family honour." No one was prosecuted.[11] In 2008, three teenage girls were buried alive after refusing arranged marriages.[18]
A widely reported case was that of Taslim Khatoon Solangi, 17, of Hajna Shah village in Khairpur district, which was widely reported after her father, 57-year-old Gul Sher Solangi, publicized the case. He alleged his eight months’ pregnant daughter was tortured and killed on March 7, 2008, by members of her village claiming that she had brought dishonour to the tribe. Solangi's father claimed that it was orchestrated by her father-in-law, who accused her of carrying a child conceived out of wedlock, potentially with the added motive of trying to take over the family farm.[19][20]

International activism

Human rights are natural rights, fundamentally ensured to every human, regardless of nationality, race, gender, or ethnic group. Through the ongoing work of the United Nations, the universality of human rights has been clearly established and recognized in international law. In March 1996, Pakistan ratified the CEDAW, or the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.[27] By ratifying CEDAW, Pakistan promises to abolish discriminatory laws and establish tribunals and public institutions to effectively protect women.[1] CEDAW, as a human rights treaty, notably targets culture and tradition as contributing factors to gender-based discrimination. In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, entreating states not to "invoke custom, tradition, or religious consideration to avoid their obligation" to eliminate violence against women.

According to Amnesty International, if a government is negligent in prosecuting perpetrators, it is liable and complicit in those abuses.[28] The role of the modern nation-state is to ensure full protection of universal human rights. The prevalence of honour killings in Pakistan underscores the Pakistani’s systematic government failure in ensuring fundamental human rights to women. However, international organizations and feminists globally have been criticized for upholding a Western-centric agenda when engaging in honour-killing activism. Long-standing discourses on the universality of human rights versus cultural relativism indicate tensions in international activism for women's rights. But cultural relativism can be partially resolved when local activists make clear that cultural customs are harmful to women and in violation of international human rights standard. Cultural and religious customs are constantly evolving and it is necessary to partner with regional activists in Pakistan to be in the forefront for demanding change.[29]

Pakistani activism

Human rights activists in Pakistan have been on the forefront of change and reform to end the practice of honor killings. Emphasizing universal human rights, democracy, and global feminism, Pakistani activists seek legal reform to criminalize the practice and protect victims from abuse. Asma Jehangir, chairperson of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and Hina Jilani are Pakistani lawyers reinvigorating civil society to become critical of the Pakistani state’s failure to ensure fair rights and benefits to its female citizenry. Jehangir and Jilani founded Pakistan's first legal aid center in 1986 and a women's shelter called Dastak in 1991 for women fleeing from violence. Other notable Pakistani activists working on reporting and deterring honour killings include Aitzaz Ahsan, Anis Amir Ali, Ayaz Latif Palijo, and Shahnaz Bukhari.[30][31][32][33][34]

Legal reform

In September 2010, the Punjab law minister announced that violent crimes against women, including honour killings, would be tried under the country's Anti-Terrorism Act.[11] On December 8, 2004, under international and domestic pressure, Pakistan enacted a law that made honour killings punishable by a prison term of seven years, or by the death penalty in the most extreme cases.[35]Women and human rights organizations were, however, skeptical of the law's impact, as it stops short of outlawing the practice of allowing killers to buy their freedom by paying compensation to the victim's relatives. This is problematic because most honour killings are committed by a close relative.[26] In many cases, the family of the victim and the family of the accused are indistinguishable, so negotiating a pardon with the victim's family under the Islamic provisions becomes ineffective. Former judge Nasira Iqbal told IRIN the bill allowed close relatives of the deceased to escape punishment with ease.[36] In March 2005 the Pakistani parliament rejected a bill, which sought to strengthen the law against the practice of honour killing declaring it to be un-Islamic.[37] The bill was eventually passed in November 2006.[38] However, doubts of its effectiveness remain.[39]
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