Crimes Committed in the Name of "Honor"

Last updated November 2008

Human Rights Watch defines "honor" crimes as “acts of violence, usually murder, committed by male family members against female family members who are perceived to have brought dishonor upon the family.” According to a report by Dr. Sherifa Zuhar of Women for Women’s Human Rights, killings committed in the name of "honor" may be motivated by “a perceived violation of the social norms of sexuality,” or they may be “crimes of passion, wherein a husband kills his wife whom he or other family members suspect of adultery.” U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women Radhika Coomaraswamy has described "honor" killings as one of many practices that “constitute a form of domestic violence but have avoided national and international scrutiny because they are seen as cultural practices that deserve tolerance and respect.”

Motives for crimes committed in the name of "honor" have included: suspicion of adultery, premarital sex, or some other relationship between a woman and a man; being a victim of rape or sexual assault; refusing to enter an arranged marriage; seeking divorce or trying to escape marital violence; and falling in love with someone who is unacceptable to the victim’s family according to The Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women! Even seemingly minor transgressions have been identified as the reasons for carrying out "honor" killings. In one case, a teenager in Turkey had her throat slit in a town square because someone had dedicated a love ballad to her on the radio. From: Report of the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, its Causes and Consequences, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Submitted in Accordance with Commission on Human Rights Resolution 2001/49: Cultural Practices in the Family That Are Violent Towards Women, Commission on Human Rights, 31 January 2002.  Although the victims are most often women, men and boys may also be targeted for crimes committed in the name of "honor," usually when they are relatives, alleged partners, or “accomplices” of a female victim according to the Special Rapporteur Asma Jaha, Commission on Human Rights. Similarly, while men and boys are usually the perpetrators, women may be involved in, or supportive of, the commission of these crimes. From: Haryana Family Kills Couple for Honour, International Campaign Against Honour Killings, 10 May 2008.

In Pakistan, where honour crimes are very prevalent, perpetrators are rarely prosecuted and even more rarely convicted due to the cultural acceptance of honour as a legitimate basis for violence. While Pakistan has laws in place to punish murder and other crimes, many do not consider killings or violence perpetrated in the name of violence to be crimes at all. In Iran, a common type of honour killing involves the forced self-immolation of women, staged to appear to be suicide. Under the Islamic law in Iran, there is a recognized right of a man to kill his wife and her cohort if he witnesses (or claims to witness) an act of adultery. In many cultures, victims of rape are considered to be adulterers and are subject to extrajudicial killing despite their lack of consent. Honour killings are most closely associated with Muslim cultures, but have been reported in many other cultural or religious contexts, including in Latin America and Italy. (Greiff, 2010.)