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National NOW Times >> Summer, 2000 >> Article

NOW, Nadler Unite Against "Honor Killings"

by Martha Wright, Communications Intern

What is the price of a family's honor? Sometimes, it's a woman's life.

In June, the National Organization for Women joined Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for the introduction of H.R.362, a resolution to condemn "honor crimes," the practice of burning, maiming or killing women who have been accused of bringing shame to their families.

According to Carlos Salinas, director of Amnesty International's legislative program, victims of so-called honor crimes are murdered after seeking a divorce, committing adultery or even being raped. These women are injured or killed by a male member of their family, for what are often perceived, not proven, indiscretions, much less crimes.

"Honor crimes is a dangerous oxymoron. It's a skewed moral code that says that killing a woman is an honorable act, but surviving a rape is an unforgivable taint," NOW President Patricia Ireland said. "At the root, this violence against women in the U.S. and around the world, is about men maintaining control over women's behavior."

Developed by NOW with Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, the resolution calls for inclusion of so-called honor crimes in the State Department's annual human rights report, discussion with world leaders about such crimes, and allocation of funds to law enforcement in countries where these crimes are most prevalent.

Unsanctioned by any religion, honor crimes have been studied and documented by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations. In Pakistan, Amnesty uncovered one case where a family opposed a woman's divorce from her abusive husband. At her father's request, the woman was killed by her uncle while in her lawyer's office. Though the attorney and a paralegal were present, the uncle was neither tried nor punished.

The Indian Express, a newspaper based in Bombay, reported more than 5,000 "dowry deaths" in India annually. When a husband or in-law is unhappy with the size of a new wife's dowry, she might be burned to death. The report, conducted in conjunction with UNICEF, found a dozen women die each day in "kitchen fires," a euphemism that disguises murder as an accident.

While the resolution mentions specific countries, most of which are in the Middle East, Carlos Salinas stressed that honor killings are unrelated to Islam or its practice.

"Honor killings are a tribal custom that calls for lethal violence based on the flimsiest of suspicions. Honor crimes are brutal, ruthless and wholly deserving of our attention," Salinas said.

Patricia Ireland urged members of Congress to pass the honor crimes resolution and to be vigilant about violence in the United States.

"When U.S. women are victims of violence at the hands of their partners, make no mistake about it, these are also 'honor crimes.'" Ireland said. "They may not be called by the same name, but they share the same motivation: control over women."

For more information on honor crimes and violence against women, visit www.amnestyusa.org and www.now.org. H.R.362, the resolution condemning honor crimes, was introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler on June 22, 2000, and has been referred to the House Committee on International Relations. Watch its status and take action at www.now.org/congress.



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