The national forum on honor crimes
announced the ripeness of circumstances to abrogate the articles
which encourage murder on the pretext of honor in Syria
By: Yahya al-Aous
Translated by: Amanda Johnson
The Syrian Council for Family Affairs gathered on the theme for three days from the 14th until the 16th October 2008, and it is possible to describe this as the largest meeting to discuss the phenomena of crimes perpetrated on the pretext of honor in Syria. It included a large number of religious scholars, legal experts, and educational specialists.
The forum in its three days dealt with different attitudes and legal and social justifications for honor crimes, and called for halting this type of crime in all its forms. Just as it dealt with different points of view concerning the main articles which govern this crime (the most important of which are articles 548 and 192 from the Syrian Penal Code), the conference also surveyed in detail the positions of religion and sect with all their differences on the issue.
The forum ended finally in its final recommendations with the general consensus of the attendees favoring abrogation and amending some of the articles which will lead to the prevention of the perpetrators of these crimes from escaping from punishment or receiving reduced sentences.
Reading the final recommendations of the forum:
Despite all of the things that permeated the conference, from differing opinions and some inducements to amend the articles and not abrogate them, the conference succeeded in calling for the establishment of the rule of law and the observation of justice and equality between men and women as is guaranteed by the Syrian constitution.
Mufti of the Republic, Dr. Ahmad Badr Eddin Hassoun:
It is chaos... honor is not restricted to a small corner of people’s lives. Firstly, what fells one's honor is the inability to believe one's own words, and this comes before any honor in existence. The definition of honor is much wider that its restriction by this point of view, for who raised these women or youths or children in this way? It is chaos... Are we a part of the west or a part of the past? Not this or that. The values that were planted in our land have to advance to remain valuable and in order to give us the right meaning.
Patriarch Hazim: Let us open the door of repentance…
In his opening statement Patriarch Hazim Ignatius IV said: We satisfy ourselves pretending that we know what is right, and not opening the door of repentance to the sinner… It is incumbent upon you to open to all of humanity the door of repentance, be they sinner or pious. Human law carries on but divine judgment shall remain. All men and women are created in the image of god and no one can erase that, whatever his or her mistakes were.
Shaykh Hussein Jerbooa': How can people appoint themselves as judges?!
Shaykh Hussein Jerbooa', a shaykh specifically from the Druze sect, said that the responsibility for this crime is not the head of religion or doctrine, for all of them have forbidden murder, so how can people appoint themselves as judges and how can they give themselves this right? I say to such people, you will receive woe from god. And all of us in our societies, the religious surroundings, sects, and geographical locations to return to justice and accountability, lowering the legal punishments against anyone who violates the law contradicts the law and the concept of legal deterrence. If the legal texts were limited then they must be amended so that if they are present they must be enforced.
Minister of Justice Mr. Mohamed: The killing of human beings which god has forbidden
The Minister of Justice said that he convened this meeting in order to discuss so-called honor crimes from legal and social perspectives. The participants wished to protect the family in light of general norms, and reinforce that god has forbidden killing human beings except by right. This concept is related to the framework of the humanitarian and legal movements which Syria has witnessed developing and modernizing.
Interviews on the fringes of the conference:
Throughout the days of the forum more than 20 speakers, both male and female, and from different specialties ascended to the podium – legal, religious, social, and educational, and human rights. All of them deserved to be at the podium and what they brought up in the meeting was very important without exception. What was presented was a summary of experiences, views, legal opinions, religious jurisprudence, and social perspectives of the people who are practitioners in this field. It was evident that there is a general desire to bring about change in the currently prevailing legal pattern especially murder on the pretext of honor. However, this is not meant to suggest that there were not various points of view expressed at the conference, the floor was open to all. Thara spoke with a number of the attendees and interviewed them about what they said in their lectures.
Dr. Jack Hakim Professor of International Law: In your opinion how is this article (permitting honor crimes) used in trials?
This article is taken as a pretext to the courts in order to escape from the application of the law because those breaking it are contradicting the law with their personal interpretation, so it is necessary that the articles which are obstructing the implementation of the constitution be abrogated. I have personally noticed unanimity among the attendees to abrogate the articles and this is the most important thing.
Dr. Insaf Hamad
The point that I wanted to make in my working paper is that the social status of women holds sway in religious interpretation, exegesis, and jurisprudence at this time. The fundamental factor is the social aspect, and not the religious. When rigid religious judgments are adopted for adultery, but when there is not ridigity or equality in the punishment, this ignores religious commandments by imposing harsher punishments on the woman alone.
It is of course mentioned in the working paper that the religious element changes for the social good and here there is offered a pretext that is based on religion. However, in reality it is based on personal exegesis and jurisprudence that is not infallible, for they themselves change their interpretation from time to time.
Sheikh Ahmed Talib on "Lebanon":
- At any time is it possible that you could arrange for a religious proclamation (fatwa) to amend the law based on your experience in Lebanon?
This varies depending on the region the fatwa was issued and if the country took into account the role of religious leaders. There are countries where the judiciary is completely separated from religion, and there are fatwas in harmony with the judiciary and it would support them, however this is not the foundation from which to start the process of amending and changing the law.
- How do you see things in Syria?
Syria gives a role to the religious quarter and we notice that the intermarriage between civil and religious legislation is striking and stands out, there are no surprises between them but rather there is at least similarity and an attempt to harmonize with what relates to amending the law. Personally I do not find any excuse that justifies those who delay/postpone or refrain from issuing such a fatwa.
Don’t you think there is a failure on the part of the religious establishment regarding the protection of victims of violence and honor killings of women?
It is imperative on the religious establishment to join in the social work in the same way that many organizations are doing today. The religious organizations are focusing on the educational and informational side more than they are focusing on the social conditions of families, mothers, and children. We feel the negligence from the religious quarter in the social organizations which are concerned with the conditions of society and individuals. And if we had institutions, as the non-Muslims have, then it would be possible to provide ways to protect the victims of honor crimes.
Maysa al-Helaywa, a lawyer:
- What is the range of legal amendment that needs to be completed in this conference?
Amendments must also reach articles 192, 241, 24, 243, and 242. Any work that does not reach these articles has no value because this clears to way to a new path, and the law recognizes that there are escape routes and cracks in article 548 and if a murderer does not succeed in benefiting from article 548 there are still articles 192, 241, 240, 243, and 242. And there is also another point, how is it possible that there can be one crime and four punishments? And is there a punishment for the crime of adultery that is death? Also concerning rape, article 475 says that if the man confesses and agrees marry the woman, the case is dropped. And we were hoping that the punishment would be applied from the authority of society or form the law itself because it is a very serious crime. Then why put in place these laws according to the taste of these men who can apply the punishment when they will it? I see that in regards to the law women are being taken back to the age of the harem and the Syrian woman is knowingly being left behind by the law and the Syrian constitution, by necessitating article 153 which is tantamount to announcing the death of article 548.
Shaykh Kamil Nasr said:
This conference is discussing serious issues, and the most important thing in my opinion is that we deal with the problem and its causes and not its results. Planning before the crime start in the family and the raising of the children and raisin them properly regarding the world, culture, respect, and then supervising their clothes which are not modest as we see now. And their lateness coming home and our leaving them without punishment or any questions and the father or mother are the example they will imitate in their conduct and in their lives and such that it can now be said to us that this crime which I do not call an “honor crime” because honor is dignity and selflessness and honesty and we should be consoled by this however I say that the crime of poverty and class differentiation is a crime of custom and tradition obselete. It is necessary that we give freedom and watch closely this freedom for young women and discuss with them and not impose our ideas on them.
Dr. Mia al-Rahabi:
Firstly, a number of researchers have escaped the contradictions of this topic for years. They have written about and were concerned with activating official quarters, and organized on it before they even recognized the huge demand to change the laws for the judges. Personally I recommend amending all of the laws discriminating against women in Syrian law generally so that they are in agreement with the Syrian constitution which treats men and women as equal citizens regarding their obligations. And if we are able to put this law in place as a standard then we will be able to abrogate all of the articles discriminating against women except in regards to sentencing and nationality.
- In regards to defending honor, this concept calls for limitations. How would this benefit us?
I demand with starting by abrogating article 548, if the article is only amended, then I demand limiting the concept of defending one’s honor because the concept is very elastic. "Psychological desires are uncontrollable as a result of religious beliefs", and there is no text that is in accordance with this and this sentence is very very elastic and permits the judge to apply to easiest and lightest sentence on the criminal because most cases are satisfied by chauvinist modes of thoughts that we must change in our societies and not permit them to take over the arena of application of the law.
Father Anton Musalah: How do you see the manner of change that demanded by this situation?
Amending the law will not be completed except with a decision taken from this point on to change this amendment. Today we hear from individuals that speak about what comes from the legal or social perspective and even from the religious perspective through the religious men present here which clarify that these laws are not issued from a religious source or example but rather are civil legislation. Originally article 548 is from the Napoleonic Codes, from the year 1810, and these laws are still in operation until now.
- What about those people who call for removing this article which points to declining moral fabric?
This sort of talk is refused because today there are a lot of bad things for which there are not any laws, and we have forbidden them because we still hold on to our values. Therefore if we wanted to forbid depravity/baseness it is necessary that we work on the concept of the value of life and the thinking of people.
- And about the paper that you presented?
The paper that I presented talked about honor crimes form the point of view on the Christian religion. Today we have a situation on the ground that we cannot deny and secondly it is necessary to search for the underlying causes, and these causes which you admit with causing are in my opinion three:
Firstly, material inheritance, and denying young women of their inheritance, is what establishes the state of things as they are.
Secondly, young women doing shameful things like adultery, and here we are talking about young women and not young men, and of course isn't what young men are doing in this situation shameful as well? And why are not young men penalized how we penalize young women?
The third cause is mostly mixed marriage. I dealt in my paper these three situations and their causes, and the method of dealing with them according to my report and what can be supported and used to correct it.
Father Anton, summarized for us his opinion regarding the closing recommendations by saying:
The statement was good, and it was what was asked for, however what about the objections to the final statement? Are they individual objections or is there something else? Especially because these objections came from the power of members of parliament, and is this something to be sorry about?
The final session and its recommendations came out positively for each person who had wanted to change or work on these laws for a long time. And its reading was completed by the authority of Dr. Farouq al-Basha from the Syrian Council for Family Affairs, and the recommendations were completed mostly amidst objections of some of the participants who are members of parliament such as the lawyer Ghalib Aniz, who considered only the suggestions that appeared in the working paper Dr. Abboud al-Saraj and ignored the suggestions of others. At that time Usama Barhan, a member of parliament, approached strangely the difference between murder under the pretext of honor and self-defense, taking into consideration that the two are in accordance with what was stated in the final statement considering it a violation of the constitution, regarding what follows the text of the issued closing statement of the conference.
Final Recommendations of the National Conference on Honor Crimes:
October 14-16, 2008
- Abrogate article 548 from the Syrian Penal Code
- Rewrite the third paragraph from article 192 concerning the defense of honor which permits individual interpretation by judges to sentence the convicted to six months or a year at most, and to make the actual sentence imprisonment for no less than 15 years
- To make more severe the punishments for adultery for the man and woman on equal footing, as stipulated in articles 473 and 474, and the punishment for adultery stipulated in article 476 from the Penal Code
- To make public a religious proclamation (fatwa) admitting that the crime that is called a "honor crime" is a crime, and to deny benefiting from confessing to it as a cunning excuse or in order to reduce the sentence
- Increasing the continuing work of raising awareness in cooperation with the institutions and unions and associations and organizations that have a connection to establishing a culture of equality in front of the law two sexes in regards to education and learning and the media and sermons and working to establish a National Observatory to follow the work of raising awareness
- Work on issuing a regular magazine concerned with family affairs from the authority of the Syrian Council for Family Affairs
- Entrusting/charging and aforementioned council with the continuing pursuit by factions/government to actuate/apply these recommendations and bring them to the executive level of comprehensive national planning
- Establishing a National Forum to enable defense of the family
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