Syria: Change in Penal Code Addressing Honor Killings
Monday, August 17, 2009 11:04 AM

On July 1st, 2009, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad eliminated by decree Article 548 of the Penal Code, which withheld punishment for men who were found guilty of honor killing. Honor killings often occur when a man believes a female relative or his wife has engaged in “illegitimate sex acts.” The now-repealed Article 548 not only allowed men to walk free after committing these murders, but also reduced punishment if a murder was believed to be founded on a “suspicious state” regarding the female relative.


A new Article 548 has replaced the former provision. The new article calls for a minimum two year sentence, stating: “He who catches his wife, sister, mother or daughter by surprise, engaging in an illegitimate sexual act and kills or injures them unintentionally must serve a minimum of two years in prison.”


The Syrian Women Observatory, a Syrian website that discusses violence against women, claims that there are approximately 200 honor killings in Syria every year. In response to the revised article, Nadya Khalife, a Middle East and North Africa women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said “Two years is better than nothing, but it is hardly enough for murder. The Syrian government should punish all murders alike – no exceptions.”


The National Forum on Honor Crimes was sponsored by the Syrian Commission for Family Affairs (SCFA), as well as the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Religious Endowments, in 2008 to create recommendations for the government regarding honor killings. The Forum's recommendations include amending Article 192, which allows a judge to reduce the sentence if a killing was based on “honorable intent.” Another article, Article 242, allows a judge to minimize a sentence if “a murder is committed in rage and motivated by an illegal act provoked by the victim.”


Human Rights Watch has called on the Syrian government to consider all murders the same, and discontinue the practice of making exceptions for honor killings.


Compiled from: Syria: No Exceptions for ‘Honor Killings’, Human Rights Watch (28 July 2009).