Women hold signs opposing honor killings in the Middle East. File photo: AFP
by Triska Sherzad
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Seen getting into an unknown car was enough for Hevin to be killed by her father, and her story is just one many, reported, or not in the Kurdistan Region.
Her father didn’t say anything to her until she went back to her room where he strangled her.
According to figures from the KRG Ministry of Interior’s Directorate-General of Countering Violence Committed Against Women, 14 women were victims of so-called honor killings in 2017.
Hevin, 14, was from Rojava who was living with her family as a refugee in the New Kasnazan neighborhood of Erbil.
Police reports show incident happened on September 1.
Her father was arrested and jailed according to article 406 of Iraqi penal code. He allegedly has told the police that he “doesn’t regret” killing his daughter.
Payman is another victim of such killings.
Payman was divorced soon after her husband found out about her affair with his own brother, Harem. The woman had returned to live with her family after the divorce. On January 11, 2017, after realizing the reason behind his sister’s divorce, her brother came to her parents’ home and shot her in the head with eight bullets.
In spite of her murder, Payman’s mother didn’t file a lawsuit against her son. Rather, she allegedly had expressed pride in what he had done.
The murderer was subsequently arrested by Bnaslawa police and allegedly had told them: “Yes, I killed my sister and I don’t regret it because I purified my honor.”
The directorate indicates that there are usually nine reasons why women and girls are killed: family, society, economy, low intelligence, romance, aggression, honor, by accident, and other unknown reasons.
Due to these reasons, 50 women were killed last year — 14 by honor killing. Of these, three were in Erbil, and 11 were in Duhok province.
No data was available from Sulaimani or Halabja provinces.
Police have opened dossiers for all 50 of the reported killings in 2017. The courts have begun investigating 12, while 15 have been closed, and 23 are still being investigated.
A law issued by the former Baathist regime made it easier for men to kill women under the guise of protecting their honor. The sentence was lenient.
This has prompted the Kurdistan Region’s parliament to amend the law, so the killing of women now amounts to homicide.
Because of honor killings, the KRG’s interior ministry established the directorate. It was initially tasked with following up on such cases.
Lately, the government changed the mission of the directorate from following up on these cases, to countering the violence committed. And the directorate now has offices in most cities in the Kurdistan Region.
There are also a number of organizations advocating for women’s rights in the Kurdistan Region.
Sarwin Mohammed, head of media office for Kurdistan Women’s Union, said that the killing of women in the Kurdistan Region has declined “due to the large number of women’s organizations established to counter violence done against women, although the phenomenon has not yet been uprooted.”
Avan Jaf is an activist, who recognized that organizations have had a role in reducing violence against women, but said, “Some of their work is repeated.”
People behind the killing of women were previously sentenced according to article 409 of Iraqi penal code.
The code reads: “A person is sentenced by imprisonment for no more than three years if he sees his wife or a family member engaged in intercourse with another person or laying down together on bed, and kills one or both of them, or attacks both or one of them and the attack results in death or disablement.”
Now people accused of killing women in the Kurdistan Region are tried according with article 406 of Iraqi penal code, and the sentence meted out can include sentences of execution.
“Compared with past years, honor killings have dropped. For example, 20 women were killed last year in Erbil province, and only three of them were honor killings,” said Zhilamo Abdulqadir, the head of the KRG directorate.
“The killing of women is treated as homicide nowadays. The sentence handed down to the culprit sometimes reaches 20 years imprisonment, and they even do not qualify for public pardons.” she added.
Despite capital punishment being on the books, it is not carried out because of a de facto moratorium that Kurdish authorities have imposed on the death penalty since 2008, which essentially blocks its use except for terror-related charges or “exceptionally heinous crimes.”
Inmates convicted of honor killings remain on death row in the Kurdistan Region.
The Kurdistan Region, unlike Iraq, rarely implements the death penalty. The last known case in which it had been carried out was in December 2016, when then President Masoud Barzani approved the execution of a man found guilty of raping and killing a female child in the Kurdish city of Duhok.