Honor killings

This paper titled “Honor Killings” in Turkey, was presented at the “Strategies to Address Crimes of Honor” meeting in London, UK organized by the CIMEL, University of London, and INTERRIGHTS on February 15-17, 2002 by Leylâ Pervizat.

I chose to involve with “honour killings” shortly after coming back from the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing because of this following incident. It was late in February 1996; a young girl named Sevda Gök was publicly executed in the market area of the city of SanliUrfa around 16.00 hours. Her adolescent cousin stabbed her repeatedly with a knife while her two brothers held her arms down. According to the limited information we have, her family accused her of running away from home and her name was ‘out in the street’. Even though the crime occurred in a very busy area and time of a day, there were no witnesses to be found . Forensic examination concluded that she was a virgin. At the time of murder, the defendant was 14 years old, and the victim was 16 years old .

As a feminist researcher, after witnessing this incident of extra judicial execution in the media, I wanted to conduct qualitative research. But before that, I needed to collect court cases to see how the Justice system in my country is handling these cases at the court of law. I collected summaries of cases from four different cities in Turkey. The timeline of the cases vary in each city. It is usually within a three-year span of time. They are composed of cases relating to the ‘honour killings’, execution of men in the name of honour, forced suicides as well as forced abortions, and murder of the newborns by their own mother on the grounds that conceiving occurred out of wedlock or in dishonourable circumstances. I found four cases of murder of newborns by their own mothers out of concern for having had sex out of wedlock. I was very surprised to find even one single case. Because all these infant murders happen quietly and no one talks about them, the simple fact that some of these murders find their ways into the legal system is quite interesting . Thus, finding four such cases is very unusual. There were also cases of suicides and forced abortions as well. I also found out that substantial number of marriages conducted thorough Berdel, which is the exchange of young girls between families instead of dowry.

Although there are no special clauses in the Murder Section of the Criminal Code referring to the “defence of honour”, the honor factor as an excuse of defense is widely cited in the reasoning process of the Judges in 200 cases I collected from 4 different cities. Whether it is premeditated or not, the executions are usually viewed with great leniency, in other words the whole system grants impunity to men committing such crimes. I also found that substantial number of marriages conducted thorough Berdel .

It may be noted that these cases are just the tip of an iceberg and the real picture has more horrendous details than these cases represent. More importantly, what was documented in the court and what really went on in the actual cases are assumed to be very different. The witnesses lie, the prosecutors do not prosecute, and the Judges fail to try cases in its due and just manner. In other words, the whole justice system simply may fail to use due diligence in bringing justice when these crimes are concerned. What is written in the cases and what really happens are two different things. Not all cases go to the police and not every murder becomes a legal case for investigation. There are many questionable suicides . When a woman disappears, no one talks about it. Not all executions or forced suicides are publicized.

Before I move on describing how the murders are committed, I would like to give my definition for crimes committed in the name of honour. “Honour killings” as one of the most horrendous forms of women’s human rights violations and a form of extra judicial execution, is subjected on individuals who believe or are perceived to believe in values and standards which are at odds with the social mores of the society in which they may live. The definition is not mine. It was given to define “particular social group” within the meaning of Article 1A(2) Under the Refugee Convention after a Pakistani woman’s application on the grounds of asylum for fear of murder in the name of honour.’ I adopted their words into defining honour killings in my research.

The following few paragraphs is on how this horrendous human rights violation is practiced by private individuals in Turkey. Once it is decided that a woman has transgressed social and community norms, family members, usually male members, but the women may aide in the killing of women in different ways , come together to discuss how and who will execute the woman. Usually what happens is that the father or an elderly member of the family gathers the male members of the family, known as aile meclisi in Turkey, to decide on how and who will execute the woman who disobeyed the family’s orders or dishonoured the family.

It is important to understand that the gathering is never about deciding on whether to execute the women or not, but it is about working on the details of the act. The decision to execute the woman is already made prior to the gathering once it has been known that she acted or failed to act in certain way, and now she is a damaged good. In some families and in some areas, the woman is usually given the choice of committing suicide thereby saving the family name. More often than not she chooses to do so.

If not, one of her younger male relatives would be chosen to kill the woman. Adolescent boys are chosen by the family since they get shorter sentences in the court of law for homicide. Sometimes these young boys take great pride in this hideous act they commit. Usually the behavior is further endorsed by their inmates in the prison. The inmates wash these young boys’ feet and tell them that now they are “complete” men. The act is regarded as a rite of passage into manhood in some areas of the country. Afterwards the execution is expressed loudly in the local area. In the city of Gaziantep, after the murder of a woman or a girl, the family painted their house in white to show that they cleaned their honor. In Black Sea region, entire Northern part of the country, the sexual organ of the man is cut and displaced by the bodies to indicate that it is an honour killing. As the leading Forensic Scientist indicated the way the murder is conducted says many things about this sexualized crime. Shooting towards genital organs is as a way of declaration of “cleaning one’s honor”. It has also been reported by a journalist Mehmet Farac of Cumhuriyet, a daily Turkish newspaper that sometimes lawyers are hired prior the execution committed so that the offender will get a shorter sentence at the court of law.

In some cases, while women were being executed, they did not fight for their life and just stood there and wait for the murder to happen. They knew what was coming and this sign of great hopelessness should be a clue for us all in eradicating this violence. After the execution customary religious and traditional practices are not always followed, the family sometimes does not claim the body of the deceased. Sometimes they are not involved with the funeral procedures. The locals do not visit the deceased’s family for expressing the condolences; on the contrary they visit the family, especially the murderer(s) and the male members of the family to express their get-well wishes. In these cases, it is the man’s honour cleaned and he needs to be congratulated on the act it was committed.

It is impossible to list all of the findings of my research here, however, I would like to touch upon some crucial findings of my research on the legal angle of this horrendous practice . First of all, I’m sure you are all aware that Turkey is secular, we use secular law not shari`a law. Our Penal Code copied that of the Italians. In our Penal Code, murdering or attempting to murder one’s family member is punishable by life imprisonment but in my research none of the defendants got this sentence. A dichotomy in the court’s reasoning can be found in many arguments such as citing the community as a social constraint factor on the perpetrator and ignoring the family committee decision in analyzing these cases. The language used in the summaries show how Justice Department in Turkey is masculine and patriarchal.

At this point, I would like to talk about one of the biggest misconceptions on Penal Code. Article 462, one of the most controversial clauses in the law, has the attention of feminist scholars and activists in Turkey. This Article has been singled out as one of the most problematic reasoning in the judicial system. Unfortunately, at some quarters of the Women’s Movement in Turkey, there is a misunderstanding towards the Article 462. The Article 462 is thought to be the source of the problem and is held entirely responsible for the big injustice towards women. Article 462 reads as “if a relative surprises one of the family members at the time of adultery, or just immediately before the act, or immediately after the act”, there will be a significant reductions in the punishment the defendant will receive. Although this Article itself is a gross violation of human rights, and should be removed promptly from the Code, it is almost an inactive part of the Law .

However, in my research I found that Article 462 is the Scapegoat. Very few of the cases I gathered are tried by the judges with this Article in mind. On the contrary to the established belief the reason for lack of usage of this Article is not only the burden of proof. The reason is that the Judges have great level of power under their authority in deciding these culturally sanctioned crimes. They are able to set the male perpetrators free by using many other discrepancies in the law. In other words, in this case the Judges’ decision to refer to this particular article is the exception rather than the rule. According to the Judicial Statistics of the State Institute of the Statistics, among 22.323 homicide felonies in 1995, only one of them was tried under the Article 462 at the court of law. Moreover, only 3 cases out of the 200 cases are tried under this Article.

There are two proposals made by the Women’s Status and Problem Department (KSSGM) to the Justice Department in reforming the Penal Code for the advancement of women’s human rights. The Minister suggested that paragraph 12 under Article 450 of the Turkish Penal Code, the premeditated murder article, should be added. Paragraph 12 will suggest that “if an act is committed for honour”, then a higher sentence must be awarded. The other proposal concerns Article 453 regarding the killing of a newborn baby, and seeks to provide a defense in such cases of post-natal trauma, which would change the sentence to four to ten years.

Even though these proposed changes in law are good and seems timely, what is necessary in Turkey is gender sensitivity training for the judiciary. Although we all know that the Turkish Penal Code is not a perfect and flawless document, the primary objective should be about focusing on gender sensitivity training of the judiciary. We must all remember that current patriarchal system and its malestream members will reform the current document. So let us be careful what we are asking for. I would rather see the using the current text and implementing the law to its highest level than busying myself with reforming it.

Kilde: Foredrag afholdt på konference på University of London, arrangeret af CIMEL og INTERRIGHTS

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