Connect to share and comment

Jordan honor killings draw tough response. Finally

Are the days of convicted murderers receiving nominal three-month jail terms over?

Muslim women in Amman, Jordan, listen to a speech at the opening ceremony of an international conference on moderate Islam titled "Jerusalem religion and history" on Nov. 11, 2009. (Ali Jarekji/Reuters)

AMMAN, Jordan — For the first time after more than a decade of activism trying to stop so-called honor crimes, Rana Husseini says she doesn’t have a lot to complain about in Jordan.

In the past, most men served less than a year for killing a woman who had “dishonored” her family. Now, more than seven months after the government restructured the legal system to deal with honor crimes as normal criminal cases, Jordan has seen at least 10 cases result in prison sentences of seven to 15 years.

The question remains: are the days of convicted murderers receiving nominal three-month jail terms in Jordan over?

"Journalists used to come and interview me and I'd say we have to do this and we have to do that, but now I’m saying totally different things," said Husseini, author of “Murder in the Name of Honor” and a local journalist. "It’s something very good, and it’s about time."

The change is being heralded as a huge step forward for Jordan that could compel others in the region to take a tougher stance on honor crimes.

However, many activists say that while it’s a positive turn of events, Jordan has stopped short of putting these changes into law. Without rewriting the law books, some worry that a new group of judges or other changes could undo the progress.

"Something really needs to happen with the legal provisions that are discriminatory," said Nadya Khalife, women’s rights researcher for the Middle East and North Africa at the Human Rights Watch office in Beirut. “Maybe there is some headway, but as long as the legal aspects
are not changed there’s no victory yet. All murders should be treated the same.”

In Lebanon, for example, honor crimes are a rare occurrence, but laws still exist that would allow perpetrators to face limited, if any, legal consequences for killing a woman in an honor crime. In Jordan, honor crimes remain a relatively limited occurrence, resulting in the death of about 20 people per year. Still, activists say that one is too many, especially if the murderer may be exempt from punishment.

After pressure from activist groups and even Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Queen Rania, in July the courts created a special judicial committee to handle honor crimes. It also began working with non-government organizations to educate legal officials about how to deal with the honor killings.

When these efforts began last summer, Husseini and many other activists doubted they would bring about much change. Since then, however, the court has yet to hand out one of the nominal prison sentences that used to be standard.

Still, in almost all honor crimes cases, families drop charges so the accused receive only half of the assigned prison sentence.