Violation of Human Rights (Honor Killing of Women in Sindh and Southern Punjab): A Critical Analysis


Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom” – Preamble, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) sets out the core principles of human rights; universality, interdependence and indivisibility, and equality and non-discrimination. UDHR has inspired a rich body of international human rights law in the form of various conventions and treaties.

Violence against women is a gross violation of her basic rights. Occurrence of violence against women is a serious issue as it undermines women’s dignity, self-esteem and deprives them of their full participation in all aspects of development. World governments formally recognized violence against women as a violation of her basic human rights at the Fourth UN Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995), and declared in the outcome document of the Conference called ‘Platform for Action on Women’s Human Rights’, “violence against women constitutes a violation of basic human rights and is an obstacle to the achievement of the objectives of equality, development and peace”. It further called upon States to “take urgent action to combat and eliminate violence against women, which is a human rights violation resulting from harmful traditional or customary practices, cultural prejudices and extremism.”[1]

Honor killing is prevalent in a number of countries such as Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, Ecuador, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Turkey and Uganda. In 2000, the United Nations Population Fund estimated that ‘annual world-wide number of honor killing victims is 5,000 women’[2]. As shown by statistics, most honor killings occur in Muslim countries despite the fact that Islam does not sanction such behavior. This gives credence to the notion that honor killing is a practice steeped in cultural history and tradition.

In Pakistan’s context, human rights have multidimensional underpinnings of its peculiar religious and cultural heritage, and socio-economic conditions. Despite the fact that Islam, the State religion of Pakistan, and its Constitution safeguard women’s rights, honor killings enjoy a high level of support in Pakistan’s rural society where women are killed to redeem the family honor for acts such as marrying out of her own will, seeking a divorce, rape and also for other non-honor related motives. This practice is rooted in ancient tribal custom with a pronounced patriarchal structure.

Human Rights Watch defines honor killings as ‘acts of vengeance, usually death, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonor upon the family. A woman can be targeted by (individuals within) her family for a variety of reasons, including: refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce – even from an abusive husband – or (allegedly) committing adultery. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that “dishonors” her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life’[3].

Statement of Problem

“The right to life of women in Pakistan is conditional on their obeying social norms and traditions.” – Hina Jilani, lawyer and human rights activist

The practice of killing for redeeming the perceived honor of a family or clan allegedly besmirched by a man or woman by engaging in illicit relations is a form of violence against woman and is a serious violation to her basic human rights. Although legally proscribed by the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Bill 2004, honor killings continue with impunity within some tribal communities. This Paper will attempt to critically analyze the practice of honor killing of women in southern Punjab and Sindh.

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