Laws against honour killings ineffective

An edited version of this story was first published in The Express Tribune on Nov 30, 2012.

Islamabad – A 2005 anti-honour killings bill has not brought about any real relief for women.

In fact, a separate law – Qisas and Diyat – is allowing perpetrators of honor killings to get off scot-free due to the familial nature of these crimes, Hina Jillani, lawyer and human rights activist, said on Thursday.

“First, the family members conspire to kill the women and then they conspire to pardon the murderers,” Jillani said.

She was speaking at an event organised by the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) in Islamabad as part of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence.

The Qisas and Diyat law, passed in the early ’90s, allows relatives of the deceased to either pardon the murderer or ask for monetary compensation in return.

Since most honor killings are committed by brothers, fathers or other male relatives of the women, Jillani said, the murderers go unpunished because they are pardoned by other family members.

“There is total impunity for honour killings,” she said.

Talking to the Express Tribune after the event, Jillani said it is slightly easier to demand women rights in the current democratic set-up compared to the Ziaul Haq’s regime, when some of the most discriminatory laws against women were first passed.

But there are hurdles, still.

“The amount of political pressure on the civil government, especially in areas where the military has not let go of the reins completely, makes it difficult (to get rid of discriminatory laws),” Jillani said. She, however, appreciated that the ruling party at least “makes a commitment” to promoting women rights.

Nasreen Azhar, member of WAF, said WAF believes in universal human rights regardless of religion, race or gender.

Earlier, the event, held under a canopy and tents in front of the France Colony in F-7/4, started with a performance by singer Abida Aijaz. Among the poems she sang was Habib Jalib’s famous “Ab dehr mein bay yaar-o madadgar nahi hum.” Jalib had read the poem during the first mass protest by women in Lahore in 1983 against anti-women laws passed under Ziaul Haq’s dictatorship.

Incidentally, the call for that protest three decades ago was given by Jillani.

Harris Khalique, writer and poet, talked about the lack of tolerance and the growing sectarian divide in Pakistan.

“The problem is not of tolerance, it is of acceptance and inclusion,” Khalique said. “Tolerance is a first step of bearing with people who have a different ideology or religion than yourself, but society’s progress is only truly achieved when the people who are a minority are guaranteed security, inclusion in decision-making and the right to freely make decisions regarding their lives.”

He said it is ironic that the country which was formed on the basis of minority rights and decentralisation of power has struggled to achieve either of those goals.

“As long as people’s rights are denied under a policy of division and segregation, sectarianism will continue to rise,” he said.

Khalique recited his Urdu poem written about Asiya Bibi, as well.

Singer Arieb Azhar also performed at the event which was attended by WAF members, supporters of women rights, students and residents of the France Colony.

Nageen Hayat, working committee member of WAF, said the event was an attempt to spread the organisation’s message to many and all.

“The idea is to get people from all walks of life involved and to get youth engaged in the women’s movement as well,” Hayat said.

WAF is a national nonhierchical, nonprofit human rights organisation, formed in 1981. It focuses on women rights and opposes discriminatory practices against vulnerable groups.

The 16 days of activism campaign started on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and will continue till December 10, the United Nations’ Human Rights Day. This year, Pakistani social media users are also participating in the campaign, especially on Twitter using the hashtag #16days.

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