By Joanne Bladd
Law enforcing minimum two year jail term for offenders attacked by human rights groups.
A new law in Syria that enforces a minimum jail sentence of two years for ‘honour killers’ has been attacked by human rights agencies for failing to go far enough to curb would-be murderers.
New legislation passed this month by Syrian President Bashar Al Assad abolished an existing law that waived punishment for men who killed female family members for sexual misconduct, or wives for having extramarital affairs.
Under the new rule, honour killers must serve a minimum of two years.
But activists have argued that the two-year rule still falls far short of an acceptable minimal tariff for murder.
“Two years is better than nothing, but it is hardly enough for murder,” said Nadya Khalife, a researcher with Human Rights Watch. “The Syrian government should punish all murders alike - no exceptions.”
The agency is also lobbying for the abolishment of a clause that allows judges to reduce or waive the two-year tariff in any crime thought to be motivated by honour.
“You cannot abolish one penal code provision that protects these killers and leave others intact,” said Khalife. “Now the government needs to reform all the articles in the criminal code that treat those who say they kill for ‘honour’ differently from other murderers.
“There is a long way to go to rid Syria of this vicious practice.”
There are no official statistics on the number of victims of honour killings in Syria, however the Syrian Women Observatory, an independent Syrian website for women's rights, estimates there are nearly 200 such deaths a year.
If this figure is correct, 16 Syrian women are killed by relatives each month, in a country with a population of approximately 18 million.
The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that, across the world, as many as 5,000 women a year may be victims of honour killings. In the Arab world, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt and Iraq have the highest number of reported cases, according to the Arab Human Development Report 2009.
In Jordan, article 98 of its Penal Code allows a lower penalty against someone who commits a crime when in a state of extreme fury over an unlawful act committed by the victim.
In Lebanon, article 562 of the country's Penal Code allows for reduced penalties for crimes intended to “preserve honour”.