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 Australian links in honour killing of Pela Atroshi

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Australian links in honour killing of Pela Atroshi  26.4.2008 
By Sian Powell

 






April 26, 2008

Mortally wounded and bleeding profusely, Pela Atroshi covered her head with her hands, pleading "please don't shoot me, please don't shoot me". As her sister and her mother screamed, her uncle Rezkar Atroshi raised his gun and killed her. The family's honour had been cleansed.

Rezkar had already shot Pela twice in the back in the upstairs room. Helped downstairs by her mother and her younger sister, the 19-year-old Kurdish Swede was confronted by four resolute men - her father and his three brothers. The men pulled the women apart. Her youngest uncle then finished the job, shooting Pela in the head. The bullet went through one of her fingers and into her brain.

The decision to kill her was made by a council of male relatives, led by Pela's grandfather, Abdulmajid Atroshi - a Kurd who lived in Australia.

One of his sons, Shivan Atroshi, helped pull the women away from Pela so his younger brother could get a clean shot. Shivan, too, lived in Australia.      

Pela Atroshi, 19-year-old Swedish-Kurdish girl, shot dead in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1999
It is the first time an officially confirmed honour killing with a connection to Australia has ever publicly come to light, but it is likely there have been other Australian-connected honour crimes that have been kept hidden within the tight-lipped Australian Kurdish community.

Pela Atroshi's murder in Dohuk, in Iraqi Kurdistan, was officially deemed an honour killing by both Iraqi and Swedish authorities.

The Swedish detective inspector who investigated the murder, Kickis Aahre Algamo, said she had since heard of another honour crime with a connection to Australia - this time the attempted killing of an Australian Kurd that went awry when the girl escaped.

She told The Weekend Australian that from 2000 the Swedish authorities were in communication with Australian authorities and the Swedish embassy in Canberra about the 1999 murder of Pela Atroshi.

Breen Atroshi, Pela's younger sister, Inspector Algamo said, was still prepared to testify in any prosecution of her Australian grandfather or uncle. But it is unclear whether Pela's grandfather and uncle still live in Australia.

An Interpol investigation in 2000 found that Shivan Atroshi was not at the time living in Australia, although he may have since returned. One person in Sydney's Kurdish community said he believed the Atroshi grandfather - once a freedom fighter - had hidden in Kurdistan,
www.ekurd.net but had sporadically returned to Australia in recent years. Abdulmajid Atroshi had travelled to Stockholm with his son Shivan in 1999 to finally decide on Pela's fate.

She had made the mistake of leaving home for a time, frustrated by her family's adherence to restrictive Kurdish traditions.

"Pela's uncle, the oldest son of Abdulmajid, said if any of the unmarried girls is away from home for one night, she has to be killed," Inspector Algamo said on the phone from Stockholm.

Pela was an intelligent and good-looking girl. When she emigrated with her family to Sweden in 1995, she took to Swedish ways - eventually leaving the family home in January 1999. But after a time she missed her parents and six younger brothers and sisters and returned, agreeing to an arranged marriage in Kurdistan. It was a front - the men in her family had decided to kill her in their home town of Dohuk, northern Iraq, where honour killings were considered minor crimes, and where the Atroshi clan commanded immense respect.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Yakin Erturk, in a report last year to the Human Rights Council, said she had been told that a "family council of male relatives living in Sweden and Australia decided that Pela had to die to cleanse the family honour".

The men of the family - Pela's father, Agid, and her three uncles, Australian Shivan, and Swedish Rezkar and Dakhaz - arranged for Pela to go to Kurdistan in June 1999 so they could kill her. Her grandfather remained in Sweden, saying, according to the testimony of Pela's younger sister Breen, "I will not set foot in Kurdistan until Pela is dead".

In October 1999, in Iraq, Agid and Rezkar were convicted of her murder, and sentenced to one-year suspended jail terms. The court referred to a medical report that said "her hymen was broken" and to the "defendants' honourable motivation".

A higher court later ordered that the sentences be served, but by that time, the two Swedes, Rezkar and Dakhaz, had returned to Stockholm, where they were arrested. Inspector Algamo and a fellow officer had travelled to Turkey to bring a key witness,
www.ekurd.net Pela's sister Breen, back to Sweden. Breen was the first to raise the alarm, ringing the Swedish police from Dohuk to report her sister's murder.

Breen was brought by a delegation of Kurds to the Swedish embassy in Ankara, Turkey. "I got a couple of minutes alone with her, and she said, 'I want to go home and I want to testify for my sister Pela'," said Inspector Algamo, who is now compiling a report on honour crimes.

"We rushed her away to a waiting embassy car and drove as fast as possible to the airport."

In Sweden, Breen testified in the trials of her uncles - who had been arrested in January 2000 and who were liable to prosecution because Pela's murder was planned in Stockholm. Breen condemned her elders in court. She now lives in hiding.

On January 12, 2001, the Stockholm City Court convicted both men of murder and sentenced them to life imprisonment. Their sentences were confirmed on appeal. Pela's father Agid remained in Kurdistan. He is still wanted for murder in Sweden.

"When we counted all the ones involved in the planning (of Pela's murder) there were 11," Inspector Algamo said. "But some of them were Australian citizens and some of them were Iraqi citizens - we could only prosecute three of them."

Swedish deputy chief prosecutor Agnetha Hilding Qvarnstrom explained that while there had been contact with the Australian authorities regarding the Atroshi case it had not culminated in an official extradition request.

Since the murder was planned in Sweden and committed in Iraq, it also seems unlikely Australia could take any action.

In Australia, Muhammad Kamal, a lecturer in philosophy at Melbourne University, remembers Pela's grandfather, Abdulmajid Atroshi - the patriarch.

In the early 1990s, Dr Kamal had been broadcasting a Kurdish program on SBS radio, and Atroshi was behind a campaign to have the program taken off air because he believed it was preaching immorality.

"He was a practising Muslim and a tribal man," Dr Kamal said, adding that religious leaders in Kurdistan never condemned honour crimes because they believed it was an essential bulwark against immorality. "I haven't heard any statement from clergy in the region to say honour killing is wrong," he said.

In recent years, with the diaspora from tribal regions, there are honour killings connected to a number of nations in Europe - and now to Australia. Inspector Algamo has also been told that in 2004 or 2005 an Australian girl connected to the Atroshi clan was in the same position as Pela.

"I was told by my informers that the Australian girl was taken to Kurdistan in the summer on vacation," Inspector Algamo said. "She had a forbidden love or something, they were also planning to kill her." The girl discovered the plans and fled, assisted by an American soldier who helped to smuggle her out of the country.

She said the Australian Kurdish community staged two demonstrations in front of the Swedish embassy in Canberra insisting on the Atroshi men's innocence.

Unni Wikan, a Norwegian academic who has written a recent book on honour crimes titled In Honour of Fadime, has looked carefully at the Atroshi case. She said the horrors persisted. "In Sweden there is a development now called balcony suicide," she said, adding the deaths were really camouflaged honour killings.

Inspector Algamo said her research into honour crimes had been difficult. "So many murders, so many girls who fall from the balcony, so many false suicides," she said.

"There is huge pressure on girls to take their own lives. They don't have the right to their own bodies, because their bodies are owned by the clan."

Copyright, respective author or news agency, theaustralian.news.com.au

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