Rehman Chishti is the MP for Gillingham and Rainham and a former Adviser to Benazir Bhutto
Honour violence cuts across cultures, faith groups and nationality with the highest number occurring within South Asian, Middle Eastern and East European communities. While there is some distribution of this violence across Sikh and Hindu groups, incidences where Muslim women are the victim of their fathers, brother or cousins are tragically high. I come from a Muslim background, and I must say there is nothing in Islam to support such horrendous acts of evil. References to the faith of those involved in honour violence incidents may, for some observers, offer a possible explanation or even justification for the act violence. However, I reiterate, there is no justification for such violence and it is important to distinguish between cultural norms and religious belief.
I remember the shocking case of a Sikh man, Mr Dosanjh, who was jailed for 14 years after being found guilty of plotting to murder his daughter, her Jewish boyfriend and the man he mistook for the lover's father in a so-called honour killing. The 51-year-old man tried to hire an assassin because he believed his daughter had brought disgrace on his family by moving in with her Jewish boyfriend. Fortunately the plot was foiled when the man and his accomplice approached an undercover policeman to carry out the killings. This all happened just a few miles away from where I live in Gillingham.
The motivations behind committing honour based violence are varied, but all stem from a belief that the victim has in some sense brought ‘shame’ upon the family or even the wider community and is carried out in order to defend or uphold the family reputation. While the victims are predominately women, men are also affected and there are a varied range of supposed reasons as to why the victim has ‘shamed’ the family which may be attributed to social and cultural changes. These reasons include resisting an arranged marriage, seeking divorce or engaging in Western behaviours such as going out, wearing make-up, dressing in a Westernised manner and dating. It is a conflict of cultural moralities.
Honour violence is largely perpetrated by brothers against sisters, male cousins against female cousins, or fathers against daughters although it does sometimes involve the wider community in committing these crimes. There are a wide variety of ways in which this violence might manifest and while there are no specific offences of honour based crimes, these offences are prosecuted using existing legislation and the Crown Prosecution Service lists in its guidance notes the type of violence that may occur:
‘Honour Based Violence’ can be distinguished from other forms of violence, as it is often committed with some degree of approval and / or collusion from family or community members”.
Examples may include murder, un-explained death (suicide), fear of or actual forced marriage, controlling sexual activity, domestic abuse (including psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional abuse), child abuse, rape, kidnapping, false imprisonment, threats to kill, assault, harassment, forced abortion. This list is not exhaustive.
It has to be welcomed that The Crown Prosecution Service is committed to fairly and effectively prosecuting those who are found to harm others in the name of ‘honour’. This commitment is embedded in the CPS Violence against Women strategy. This Legal Guidance is designed to assist specialist CPS prosecutors in cases of honour based violence including crimes associated with forced marriage. It has to be recognised that the Crown prosecution service has from April 2010, been undertaking a flagging system, in which cases of Honour Violence are recorded in its COMPASS case management system. These are examples of good practice which other countries around the world where such behaviour occurs can adopt.
According to a recent report by the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO) at least 2,823 incidents of honour based violence occurred in Britain last year. The report stated, however, that the statistics fail to provide the full picture of the levels of honour violence in the UK, but are the best national estimate so far. In the UK such violence appears to be on the increase and other studies suggest this is also the case in North America. Another report by Phyllis Chesler, Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies at the City University of New York, analysed 230 incidents of honour killing around the world. She found that 100 victims were from the West, including 33 in North America and 67 in Europe and 130 victims were from in the Muslim world, and between 1989 and 2009 the number of incidences increased significantly.
There are measures in place to tackle and prosecute those who perpetrate such violence here in the UK, and I welcome the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims (Amendment) Bill 2010-11, which seeks to extend the offence of a household member causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult to include situations where the victim has been seriously harmed. However, this Bill does not make reference to the specifics of honour based violence and there are additional steps that need to be taken. We urgently require a multi-agency national strategy to combat honour-based violence. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has said they are working hard to offer support to victims, and front-line staff have been specially trained to deal with complaints. In addition I believe that it should be obligatory for all police forces to record incidents of honour based violence; IKWRO’s research revealed that 8 police forces do not record incidents of honour violence. Without information about the scale of the problem in their local areas, police forces and other bodies cannot adopt informed responses.
By the time a complaint regarding honour based violence is made it is often too late. The government and communities must do more to aid the intervention and prevention of honour-based violence and this ought to be a priority. Systemic training should be given to social and youth workers, police officers, teachers and midwives to help spot the signs of honour violence and how they can assist the victims. There are a number of charities available including IKWRO, Karma Nirvana, Freedom Charity and SHARAN project who provide help and advice to the victims.
The communities in which honour violence occurs need to confront this abuse and set out specific plans for dealing with it in partnership with the police and local authorities. They must take ownership of this problem, accept it occurs and set a strategy for dealing with it. Imams at Friday prayers must assert that such behaviour, which contravenes all religious beliefs, is unacceptable. The same applies to other places of worship namely Gurdwaras, Temples, Synagogues and Churches. Additionally people within communities should be more vigilant against such violence and report any suspicions to the police. In the past some cases have come to light only as a result of neighbours calling the police on behalf of the victims.
Countries which receive International Aid from our Government should be forced to introduce legislation to ban honour violence and, if such laws already exist, they must be enforced. Safe houses should be established to protect women fleeing persecution and education programmes introduced to change mind sets. These measures should form the basis of mutually agreed conditions attached to aid, based on a countries national development strategies.
Many of the countries from which this barbaric act originates have signed up to one of many United Nations conventions which protect Human Rights, yet have done very little to implement them. It is vital that not only lip service is paid to these Human Rights obligations but that they are implemented in practice. Many people in communities in which this kind of behaviour occurs often travel back to their countries of origin to see their extended families, it is important that when they are there they reinforce that such horrendous behaviour is outlawed in their adopted communities attracting severe penalties.
Change leads to growth. We live in a society where liberal freedoms are a given fact and should not be used to further oppressive behaviour. It is difficult to help people unless they are willing to help themselves. I believe this demands self-reflection within communities and the courage to speak out about right and wrong. If we ignore this issue women will continue to be persecuted in this way. People who want to come to our country should abide by our countries’ norms on ethics and morality, which totally condemn this behaviour.