Women activists in Iraqi Kurdistan condemn
tribal settlement of murder cases
February 13, 2012
Women's rights activists meet in Sulaimani to
discuss a campaign by clerics against a
Parliamentary bill on domestic violence, 2011. Photo
courtesy of Khanim Rahim.
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Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — In 1990, a man accused
his wife, the mother of three children, of having an
affair and killed her. His in-laws didn’t file any
charges against him in court. Instead, they said the
death of their daughter was an accident. The man
remarried and had two more children.
Kurdistan Women’s Union investigated this case and
its secretary-general, Vyan Sileman, says, “In 2000,
the same man killed his second wife, again accusing
her of having an affair.”
The man is currently serving time in prison in
“If the man had been punished when he killed his
first wife, he wouldn’t have had the chance to
remarry and kill another woman,” Sileman said.
Sileman blamed tribal methods of solving social
issues, saying, “If it was not for tribal-family
agreements, the second woman wouldn’t have died and
five children wouldn’t have become orphans.”
Often in the Kurdish community, killing women is not
taken seriously. Families simply seek a tribal
agreement to settle the murder. Sometimes, families
give false testimonies in court in order to hide the
truth. They report the murder as an accident.
“It is only for God to take lives,” Sileman said.
“The court must punish the criminals. These families
seek an agreement because of their social relations
with each other.”
Sileman believes that one reason people get away
with murder is the inefficiency of public
prosecution in Kurdistan.
Iraqi laws stipulate that family settlement can be
done through the court or outside the court.
However, crimes punishable with more than a one-year
sentence cannot be resolved through tribal or family
The court can still take action against murderers
even if families want to forgive the crime.
Shwan Sabir, an attorney in the Erbil court, told
Rudaw that finding evidence is the most important
thing, not testimonies.
“The social associations and tribal elders who seek
agreements for murder are against the law,” he said.
“Someone who testifies in court but later changes
his testimony due to a social agreement should not
be allowed to do so unless he admits that he has
made false statements.”
Zhilamo Abdulqadir, a police officer who oversees
cases of violence against women, believes that
tribal settlements no longer have an impact on
“It is different now,” he said. “People cooperate
more with the courts. People testify against
criminals in court. We had a case where the victim
was a woman. One of her brothers testified against
his own brother, who killed their sister. The man is
now serving time in prison.”
Sileman said families justify their tribal
settlement by saying, “She (the murdered woman) is
already gone. Let’s not ruin someone else’s life.”
“Based on this phrase, families get together to
bargain for someone’s life,” Sileman added. “But
based on what right was her life taken from her? Why
should the murderers have the right to live? Such
tribal and social agreements only encourage
Sabir said that the court does not only depend on
the testimonies of people who claim killings are an
“The court launches its own investigation to collect
evidence and find the truth,” Sabir said.
“Compromise wouldn’t change the degree of the crime.
According to the law,www.ekurd.net
anyone who tries to deceive the court will face
charges. However, the court standard in Kurdistan is
not up to par. The court, public prosecutors and the
attorneys have their own weaknesses.”
Sabir admitted that it is not easy to find out the
whole truth about these murders, especially when
families of the victim and the murderer act together
to mislead the authorities.
“Some families, after they kill their daughter,
claim that she is missing or has run away,” he said.
“They won’t say she is dead.”
Sabir added, “The police cannot prevent tribal
agreements. In the case of murder, the public
prosecutor must launch an investigation. Killings
that happen among families are hard to discover
because the families don’t cooperate.”
In some cases, the police go as far as exhuming a
body for autopsy as evidence, Sabir said.
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