Following steep rise in "honor killings,"
Abbas orders review
of "laws that discriminate against women"
and preparation of "the necessary amendments"
by Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik
Following a steep rise in the number of "honor killings" of Palestinian women, Mahmoud Abbas has announced plans to improve protection of women's rights. The official PA daily stated that Abbas "ordered the government to establish a legal committee to comprehensively review all sections of the various laws that discriminate against women, and to prepare the necessary amendments." [Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 7, 2014]
Palestinian Media Watch reported recently that the Palestinian society has seen a 100% rise in the so-called "honor killings" during the last year.
This is not the first time, however, that Abbas has promised to change the laws that endanger and discriminate against women. For years, voices in the Palestinian Authority have complained about the leniency granted to murderers who claim their crimes were committed for "family honor," and in2012, Abbas appointed a similar committee "to examine the law of personal status and others... [and] improve the laws and amend them, so Palestinian women's rights will be protected and defend them from oppression, violence, and discrimination." [Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Aug. 10, 2012]
Despite his promises, Abbas has failed to bring about this change. PA law still grants clemency to the perpetrators of crimes of "family honor" killings in 2014.
PA law follows the clauses in Jordanian law that show leniency toward people who commit crimes defined as "honor killings." According to Article 98 of Jordanian Penal Act 16, perpetrators "shall be liable to a lesser penalty" for crimes committed in "a state of great anger" in response to "a wrongful and dangerous act on the part of the victim" (an act which the law leaves undefined). Article 340 states that someone who "surprises his wife or one of his ascendants or descendants in the crime of adultery" "shall benefit from the mitigating excuse". ['Honour': Crimes, Paradigms and Violence Against Women; Eds. Sara Hossain, Lynn Welchman; Zed Books Ltd.; 2005]
In March this year, Abbas' legal advisor, Hassan Al-Awri, said that Abbas "had emphasized the urgency of proposing the necessary recommendations and amendments, which will allow for the protection of women's rights and the provision of necessary legal protection, as well as for increasing the severity of the penalties for crimes against women."
The need is certainlypresent. As PMW reported in February, Director of Coordination in the Ministry of Women's Affairs Nabila Rizq "revealed that the number of women who were murdered in 2013 in Palestine due to 'family honor' rose to 27, compared to 13 women murdered in 2012." Similarly, the official PA daily reported in November 2013 that "at least one Palestinian woman is murdered every month" for "family honor" reasons, and some sources say more than two:
"On average, at least one Palestinian woman is murdered every month for this reason (i.e., family honor) by her relatives and the penal code in force shows leniency in punishing the perpetrators and gives them reduced sentences that anger supporters of women's rights and causes. However, there are sources that say that more than two women are murdered every month." [Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Nov. 26, 2013]
In February, member of the PLO Executive Committee Hanan Ashrawi repeated the call to change PA law and put an end to "extenuating circumstances for murder of women." Ashrawi called on all political, governmental and media frameworks to "stand up against this phenomenon and eradicate it once and for all" and to stop treating such crimes as "family matters" of "family honor," which she described as an "excuse":
"Women are not a symbol of men's or families' honor, but are an equal member [of society], like all other individuals in society. Categorizing these dangerous crimes under misleading titles is an exploitation that provides cover and protection for those who carry out these crimes and encourages them to carry out additional attacks and crimes against women."
[Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Feb. 23, 2014]
The following is a longer excerpt of the report on Abbas' pledge to reexamine and amend the laws regarding women's status in the PA:
"Yesterday [March 6, 2014], [PA] President Mahmoud Abbas ordered the government to establish a legal committee to comprehensively review all sections of the various laws that discriminate against women, and to prepare the necessary amendments.
The President's legal advisor, Hassan Al-Awri, said that the President's orders state that a legal committee will be established by the government, in coordination with the relevant bodies and civil institutions.
He added that the President had emphasized the urgency of proposing the necessary recommendations and amendments, which will allow for the protection of women's rights and the provision of necessary legal protection, as well as for increasing the severity of the penalties for crimes against women.
Al-Awri noted that the President's orders also called for amending any section open to interpretation, or [any section] which implies that the criminal may use mitigation arguments to lessen the severity of the penalty or avoid punishment altogether, in cases in which the victim is a woman.
Al-Awri emphasized that the President is providing all possible means for the protection of women, and stressed the need for official and unofficial bodies to take responsibility for them [by], among other things, creating a legal apparatus that will provide full protection for women, especially in view of the rise in violence against them, [which goes] by various names."
From WAFA, official PA news agency
[Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 7, 2014]