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