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 UK: 'Honour' killings, why aren't we doing more to save them?

 Source : The.Guardian
  Kurd Net does not take credit for and is not responsible for the content of news information on this page

 


UK: 'Honour' killings, why aren't we doing more to save them?  13.6.2007 
By Emine Saner

 




Banaz Mahmod was murdered by her family. Each year, 12 British women like her die in 'honour' killings. Why aren't we doing more to save them?

June 13, 2007


London, UK, -- Unlike many women under the threat of "honour" violence, Banaz Mahmod didn't suffer in silence. In December 2005 and January 2006, this 20-year-old Kurdish-born woman from south London told police at least four times that threats had been made on her life. She had left an abusive arranged marriage and started a relationship with another man, and, as a result of this, she believed her father wanted to kill her. She even wrote a list of young Kurdish men she suspected he had hired to carry it out.

On New Year's Eve 2006 she told police that her father had tried to kill her himself and pleaded for their help. The officers didn't take her claims seriously. (Her father had forced Banaz to drink alcohol, before acting in a threatening manner.

She escaped when he left the room, before smashing a window to raise the alarm and then running into a restaurant, covered in blood.) The woman police officer who she told concluded she had made up the story to get attention from her boyfriend.

At the end of January last year, Banaz disappeared. Three months later, her body was found, crammed into a suitcase and buried in a pit in the garden of a house in Birmingham. She had been strangled with a shoelace. Last Monday, her father and uncle were found guilty of her murder; a third man, Mohamad Hama, had pleaded guilty earlier.

Jasvinder Sanghera, director of Karma Nirvana, a women's project and refuge in Derby, says that "in terms of the police response, this is not uncommon, unfortunately. The women who ring us for support have said, 'We've been to the police and they don't understand and they're sending us back'. What the police don't seem to be able to get their heads around is that they're sending them back to the perpetrators. In their mindset, the police don't like to think a mother or father could harm someone in the way these women are describing. 'Honour'-based violence is far more complex than 'typical' domestic violence and the police are not being trained in how complex it is."

Sanghera says that although refuges such as hers are there to support victims, the police need to help protect them.
"We can't do it without them. Very often, we find ourselves entering into long conversations with police officers trying to get them to understand. What they don't recognise is that, while we're having those long conversations, somebody's life is at risk. I believe Banaz's death could have been prevented, but I believe it will happen again. There will be girls going into police stations in the UK today and I'm not confident that the police response will be one that will keep them safe."

"Honour" crimes include abduction, imprisonment, physical and emotional abuse, forced abortions and rape, as well as murder. Most of the cases involve families from south Asia, but they have also included Nigerian, Turkish, Algerian, and, as in Banaz's case, Kurdish families. 

Banaz Mahmod Babakir Agha, Found dead The daughter,  who had left her husband



A combination of undated handout images showing (L) Ari Mahmod and Mahmod Mahmod, released to Reuters on June 11, 2007. Mahmod Mahmod was convicted in a London court on Monday of murdering his 20-year-old daughter in a so-called "honour killing" because she had left her husband and fallen in love with another man. Reuters


Flash Video - Sky News

Over the years, there have been a raft of horrific stories in Britain. In 1998, for instance, Rukhsana Naz, 19, was murdered by her mother and brother while seven months pregnant. In 2003, Heshu Yones, 16, was stabbed to death by her father, for being "westernised" and having a Christian boyfriend. In 2005, Samaira Nazir, 25, was murdered by her brother for wanting to marry her Afghan boyfriend. These are just some of the cases that have been successfully prosecuted, but there are many more disappearances which haven't been investigated or even reported.

Around 12 women are said to be the victims of "honour" killings each year, although campaign groups and support workers say the figure is likely to be much higher (the suicide rates for young Asian women are three times the national average and are likely to be concealing even more). In 2004, the Metropolitan Police announced they would be reviewing murder cases going back 10 years and identified at least 18 they believed had been "honour" killings.

Heshu Yones' father was the first person to be convicted of an "honour" killing, and, subsequently, the Met police began a review of the way it handles such cases. But there is still no national training scheme for officers, something that campaigners would like to see.

"I haven't seen any evidence that any work done by the Met has filtered down to other forces," says Sanghera. "These 'honour' killings are happening across the UK; it is not just a Met issue. I see 14 victims a week of forced marriages or 'honour' crimes, from all over the country. I know that I will hear of at least two cases today where my team have dealt with women who have experienced poor police responses. There are some forces that are trying, and a handful of officers who take it very seriously, but they have to have support from senior officers. They also need to have the confidence to engage in this work ... this is not a cultural issue to be dealt with sensitively."

Diana Sammi, director of the Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation agrees. "Most of the families who are involved in 'honour' crimes are Muslim but there is nowhere in the Qur'an where it condones 'honour' killing," she says. "The majority of Muslims would consider 'honour' crimes to be wrong, but there are fundamentalists, in a very patriarchal culture, who believe they are right. We need to challenge 'honour' killings and violence in the community, challenge that mindset and raise awareness that it is unacceptable.

The British government has a duty to do that, and the police have to intervene. They may be worried that they will be seen as racist if they interfere in another culture, but, on the contrary, I believe it's racist if they do nothing. It doesn't matter if this is happening in a Kurdish community or a white British community - it is still a crime."

Last year, the government rejected a bill that would have provided new measures to protect women from forced marriages (which are strongly linked to "honour" killings) dismaying many campaigners, as well as police officers, who said that it sent the wrong message. This decision was reversed two months ago, and it is likely that the bill will be passed by the end of the year. It was co-authored by Southall Black Sisters (SBS), a pressure group and support service, and, for instance, it allows women - and men - to apply for a court order to prevent a marriage.

"It will send a strong message that forced marriage is unacceptable and will raise awareness that victims have more tools to use when they're fighting it," says Hannana Siddiqui, the joint coordinator of SBS. She believes that unless communities are held accountable for "honour" crimes, they will not stop. "The problem is that frontline police officers often adopt a historical stance - they think that this is a part of a minority culture and they don't want to interfere ... They leave these communities to police themselves - and these communities are dominated by conservative male forces.

The community has to address the problems, but they have been left to address them on their own and that has meant that women have not been protected. Of course, we want to see education, changes in attitudes and empowerment of women, but in the meantime women need immediate help. We need better responses and far more funding and specialist support. Once we've got real practical solutions for victims, we can campaign for longer-term change."

The police will be holding an internal investigation into how they failed Banaz Mahmod, but Siddiqui says there needs to be a proper investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. "Unless that happens, the public - and especially the women who are at risk from 'honour' crimes - can't have confidence in the police," she says. "We need to learn lessons to prevent this from happening time and time again."

guardian co.uk 

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