EU cannot stay silent on rampant honor killings in Pakistan

If Pakistan wants to continue enjoying the benefits of its trade partnership with the EU, it must abide by its international commitments to protect women against violence, says Maria Arena. On 9 June 2016, a 16 year-old girl named Zeenat Bibi was killed in Pakistan after being set ablaze by her parents for marrying against their will.

A few days earlier, Maria Sadaqat, a young schoolteacher, was also burned alive and suffered serious burns to 85 percent of her body. Her “crime” was that she turned down a marriage proposal from the son of the owner of a school she had been teaching at. That same month, Muqaddas Tawfeeq, who was eight months pregnant, was visiting a maternity clinic for a checkup when her mother appeared and “dragged her away” to her maternal home, where she was killed by her brother who did not approve of her marriage. In another incident in Pakistan within days of that attack, a man beat his teenage sister to death with a large wooden stick, reportedly because he didn’t want her to marry her boyfriend.

Violence against women is rampant in Pakistan, according to the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. During the first five months of 2016, as many as 212 women were killed in the name of “honor”. In 2015 alone, nearly 1100 women were murdered by relatives. Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1996. By ratifying CEDAW, Pakistan promised to abolish discriminatory laws and establish tribunals and public institutions to effectively protect women. CEDAW, as a human rights treaty, notably targets culture and tradition as contributing factors to gender-based discrimination.

Yet Pakistan has not taken adequate steps to enforce its international commitments. Amnesty International has repeatedly noted the failure of the authorities to prevent these killings by investigating and punishing the perpetrators. Honour killings are, in practice, often ignored by police and prosecutors. The Pakistani government’s failure to take effective measures to end the practice of honor killings is indicative of a weakening of political institutions, corruption, and economic decline.

In the wake of civil crisis, people turn to alternative models, such as traditional tribal customs. In some rural parts of Pakistan, the male-dominated jirga, or tribal council, decides affairs and its executive decisions take primacy over state legislation. A jirga arbitrates based on tribal consensus and tribal values among clients. Tribal notions of justice often include violence on a client’s behalf. A law passed by the Punjab province last February, criminalizing all forms of violence against women, was met with protests from more than 30 religious groups, including all the mainstream Islamic political parties.

As a result, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), a constitutional body [created over 50 years ago, that advises Pakistan’s government and Parliament on religious law], proposed legislation that would allow men to “lightly beat” their wives if they refuse sex or decline to wear outfits preferred by their husbands. Further, according to the proposal, men should use “limited violence” on their wives if they do not bathe after intercourse or during menstruation. The proposal includes punishment for men who refuse to apply such practices.

The EU cannot stay silent on this wave of “honor killings” in Pakistan. It should insist and remind the Pakistani authorities that one of the conditions for the trade benefits that Pakistan enjoys with the EU is the respect of its international commitments, including respect for women’s rights and the fight against any form of violence against women. Fear and violence shall not prevent women from claiming their place as equal citizens in the Pakistani society.

This opinion was published by www.theparliamentmagazine.eu on the 5th of July 2016