Skip to main content

End impunity for honour killings

Share this:

Jimmy Carter and Hina Jilani speak to the BBC World Service about the murder of Farzana Parveen, who was stoned to death by members of her own family outside the High Court in Lahore, Pakistan, on Tuesday. Listen to the interview and read the full transcript.

"I tried to save my wife's life, but I failed."

These are the words of Mohamed Iqbal, the Pakistani husband whose pregnant wife was killed - stoned to death by her family - yesterday in Lahore. Her so-called crime: marrying a man she was in love with, against the wishes of her family.

For more reaction, Newsday's Nuala McGovern has been speaking to two members of a group known as 'The Elders': former US President Jimmy Carter, who has just written a book about violence and discrimination against women, and Hina Jilani, Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and human rights activist.

Jimmy CarterJimmy Carter: In Pakistan there are two or three cases of this kind every day of the year, and this takes place in India and around the world – in the Middle East and also in the Western world, including Great Britain as a matter of fact.

A lot of it is due to this custom and not because of any ordainment from religious beliefs, so honour killings are especially obnoxious, primarily because most governments give the family impunity.

They think that because of ancient custom that it’s something that the family deserves the right to do, that is to kill a daughter, who sometimes can be raped by a complete stranger against her will. If she is raped – and she’s completely innocent and just a victim – then the family kills her anyway because she’s brought, they think, dishonour to the family.

Nuala McGovern: Hina Jilani, you’re an Advocate of the Supreme Court in Pakistan. When you hear some of the examples brought up by President Carter, what do you think?

Hina JilaniHina Jilani: I think many of us around the world have been very, very concerned about the inability of societies as well as states to protect women, their dignity and their lives.

In the context of Pakistan, I must mention that this is at least the second incident that I remember happening in front of the Lahore High Court. It’s a problem, a long-standing problem. The legal framework does not end impunity against honour killings, and that’s largely because of the law that we have. Those who kill women in the name of 'honour' first conspire to kill her, and then conspire to forgive each other, as her heirs. Now the question is: will the democratic institutions of Pakistan act to save women?

Jimmy CarterJimmy Carter: Because most of the countries have now passed laws that protect women, for instance from genital mutilation – there’s a law against that in Egypt. But 90 per cent of all the women and girls who live in Egypt now have been genitally mutilated, and this is against the law.

It’s not required in the Koran or any other religious book; it’s just an ancient custom and this custom is perpetrated by the women and mothers themselves, who want their girls to be treated the same way they were when they were children. So it’s not just a matter of 'bad people' doing this, it’s a matter of misinterpretation of the Koran and other religious books.

Hina JilaniHina Jilani: Take this particular case that we are looking at, what do you think was the responsibility of the judge? Whoever the judge was, they must know that when women in this situation are brought before them, they are at risk. Why did the judge not have the sensitivity to know that it is his responsibility to make a direction with regard to her protection?

It’s an interesting observation – both the judge who you feel was not sensitive to the situation, but also there were onlookers outside the court that were not moved to do anything. When you hear that President Carter, what’s your response?

Jimmy CarterJimmy Carter: Well the news reports say there were thirty men who watched the assassination take place. Twenty of them participated – the women was stoned with bricks, and this takes place in many other countries around the world.

In Jordan for instance, the King of Jordan has tried very hard to get the laws changed there, but the courts have passed a special provision that a member of the family, if they appeal for forgiveness for someone in the family, then that will have, supreme consideration by the court. But the fact of the matter is that the family members are the ones who kill the girls so this is a gross distortion of the law.

Hina JilaniHina Jilani: Look I would say this is a prime example, a shameful example of public insulation against violence against women. I would also say it’s an example of public mischief, if you ask me. But more worrying is the attitude of the law enforcers who were present there, and who abdicated from their responsibility to protect that woman, and this where I think the State of Pakistan has to take very serious notice of what happened yesterday outside the High Court.

It’s interesting, I have some of the figures: a thousand Pakistani women killed every year by their families in honour killings – that’s according to a Pakistani rights group, the Auret Foundation. We’ve talked about that loophole in the law that means that killers can often walk free, but do you think that that law may be changed any time soon? Is there really an appetite for it? What do you expect to happen?

Hina JilaniHina Jilani: It’s much more than a thousand women a year let me tell you. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan for instance reported nine hundred cases for 2013, but they also said these are only the reported cases. There are many more that are not reported, and women are buried in the silence of the night without anybody knowing who’s buried in a particular grave.

There is an apathy and a lack of attention given by the legislature that is composed largely of the kind of men who would indulge in honour killing. There has to be now a serious effort to make sure that women’s rights are protected, that the judiciary, the legislature and the public in general understands that women are not willing to accept this anymore.

Share this article

Keep up to date with The Elders’ COVID-19 digest:

Sign up to receive regular updates about The Elders’ activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. We will never share your email address with third parties.

Keep up to date with The Elders latest News and Insight:

Sign up to receive monthly newsletters from The Elders. We will occasionally send you other special updates and news, but we'll never share your email address with third parties.


I would like to find: