PAKISTAN: Who is celebrating International Women’s Day in Pakistan?

A Statement by Asian Human Rights Commission

Who is celebrating International Women’s Day in Pakistan?

On 5 February 2004, Mr Bhooro Subzoai together with an accomplice first shot dead his aunt, Ms Malookan, and then Mr Ali Dost, whom he claims to have suspected of having committed adultery. However, relatives of the deceased have rejected the accusation, and have claimed that it was a ruse for the killing, which arose out of a family feud. Although two police reports were filed on the case and two separate sets of charges laid against the alleged murderers and other accomplices, the police have to date reportedly taken no further action.

Ms Malookan is one of at least a thousand Pakistani women who did not survive to celebrate March 8, International Women’s Day. She was among the thousands of women maimed or killed out of ‘honour’. And had she survived, what would there have been to celebrate anyway? Although just last month the President of Pakistan declared that the government ¡°must deal with any culprits of honor killing most harshly, with all the force available¡±, the reality is otherwise. ‘Honour killings’ there are conducted with alarming regularity, often on mere suspicion, sometimes as a pretext to settle family feud-such as in the case of Ms Malookan-and many times on the orders of the parallel judiciary in Pakistan which is otherwise known as ‘Jirga/Panchayath’ that violate the written law, basic human rights standards, and the rights of women.

In fact, the written law in Pakistan-in particular the Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and the Constitution, which are applicable in honour killing cases-isn’t even a scarecrow. The absolute failure of the rule of law and the complete success of religious injunctions, interpreted case by case, means that vested interests and powerful persons always get their way. If an influential feudal lord or his associate orders murder, the police don’t intervene, no one investigates, and fair trial is fiction. If something is done, it doesn’t result in punishment for the perpetrators. At best, a victim’s family can hope for some money in compensation, or perhaps a woman given in marriage to repay for the loss, a system known as Diyat. Women are considered as chattel. Even judges subscribe to such practices.

Among other offences, the Hudud Ordinances of Pakistan prescribe punishment for adultery. The National Commission on Status of Women has recommended that these ordinances be abolished. However, despite his rhetorical opposition to honour killings, the President has not denounced these regulations, and only acknowledged that they should be publicly debated. This is nonsense. There will be no public debate, since entering into it would expose a person to prosecution under the Blasphemy Law. And anyhow, much more than that is needed to bring about change.

The system of parallel judiciary headed by feudal lords and their accomplices permits impunity for murderers and totally undermines the rule of law in Pakistan. It must end. Jirga/Tribal/Panchayath settlments in serious crimes must be prohibited. Such crimes should be declared non-compoundable by law. In particular, the practice of settlement by giving a woman in marriage must be stopped without delay. The Hudud Ordinances must be withdrawn immediately, as suggested by the National Commission on the Status of Women. Any law that permits inhuman treatment of citizens, especially women, must be declared unconstitutional.

Ultimately, the administration of justice in Pakistan must be taken out of the hands of feudal lords. The overhaul that the judiciary and policing in Pakistan desperately needs can come about only when the diabolic nexus between these persons and the police is broken.

Without decisive government and public action, between International Women’s Day 2004 and the same event a year from now, thousands more women in Pakistan will be killed or maimed by men claiming to act out of ‘honour’. In the meantime, their killers, including those of Ms Malookan and Mr Dost, are likely to walk away unpunished, perhaps not even go to trial. Under these circumstances, it is vital that the talk on women’s rights go beyond abstract statements and fuzzy sentiments, and towards efforts to protect victims, prosecute perpetrators and do away with the institutional structures that allow for such horrific and relentless violations of women’s rights.

Asian Human Rights Commission

8 March 2004

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-04-2004
Countries : Pakistan,