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Honor killings against women increase in southeast Syrian city

Civil activists protested the lack of judiciary against domestic violence and honor killings, launching the hashtag “Our blood is on your hands” and calling on the government to consider honor killings as a crime to prevent the death of more women.

Dozens of civil and rights activists held a sit-in Nov. 19 in front of the Palace of Justice in the city of Suwayda southeast of the Syrian capital, Damascus, in protest against the rise of crimes against women and girls that perpetrators have referred to as "honor killings."

The protesters held banners reading “We will seek justice,” “The killer has no honor,” “Crime and honor do not meet,” “Killing women is not honorable,” “You killed because she was a woman,” “You killed her because you are a criminal,” “We want the rule of law” and “The law is our security and protection.”

According to media sources, the protests came in response to a significant rise of honor killings against women in Suwayda. Most recently on Nov. 7, locals told police about a man and a woman who hid the body of a woman in her 30s in a remote area after the man in question killed her by hitting her in the head with an ax. Police arrested the suspects and an investigation revealed that they were the victim’s uncle and mother.

In response, activists launched on social media an Arabic hashtag that roughly translates into “We will seek justice,” coinciding with the Nov. 19 sit-in.

Lujain Hamzah, a civil activist from Suwayda and one of the organizers of the sit-in, wrote on her Facebook page Nov. 17, “We will seek justice. … There is no honor in killing. We call on you to hold a silent vigil to protest the killing of nine women after the sanctions [against such crimes] was reduced under the pretext of honor. We will demand [justice] for the blood of the victims, especially the one who was killed in the most heinous way with an ax. Together we demand [the implementation] of strict sanctions and the protection of our community from blood and animosity. Honor is supreme, while crime is a form of decadence that cannot be compared to honor. It is the victims’ right for us to demand justice. Meeting on Nov. 19, 2020.”

Lynne Faisal, a women’s rights activist, told Al-Monitor that many women and girls in Suwayda are killed by their own brothers, husbands or other relatives to get their inheritance. The men accuse them of obscene acts to justify their crime as a so-called honor killing, she said.

“In many cases of honor killings, the coroner’s report proves that the female victim was a virgin. It turns out later that the killer killed the woman to get her inheritance,” Faisal said.

Roula Sabry, a pseudonym for a 35-year-old woman who hails from Suwayda and has been living in Germany for 10 years, told Al-Monitor about her sister who was slain five years ago in Suwayda under an honor killing pretext. “When my father passed away five years ago, my brother wanted to get his hands on my and my sister's inheritance. After she moved to live with my brother and refused to give him her part of the inheritance, he killed her under the pretext of honor and fled the country.”

Sabry added, “My sister was a virgin and the coroner said this.”

Lilia Jamil told Al-Monitor about her mother, who was killed by her father 10 years ago because she refused to give him the gold jewelry and money she had. So he killed her, claiming she had a relationship with another man.

“My father would always ask my mother to give him the gold and money that she inherited from her own father. My mom would refuse, especially since my father gambled. One day as I returned from school, my father was threatening to kill my mother if she didn’t give him her gold necklace and money to make up for the losses he incurred during gambling. When she refused, he stabbed her in the stomach and heart and claimed that he killed her under the pretext of honor,” Jamil said.

Roula Kobeiss, a rights activist, told Al-Monitor there has been a significant rise of honor killings across Syria. “Claiming that the crime against a woman was an honor killing is an attempt by the killer and society to prove the legitimacy of said crime and escape punishment.”

Kobeiss said that “honor killing” is not mentioned in Syrian law, but the latter includes several legal gaps that allow the killer to circumvent the law and commit his crime.

On March 8, on International Women's Day, the Syrian government abolished Article 548 of the Syrian Penal Code, which had allowed mitigating circumstances as an excuse for perpetrators of so-called honor killings.

Kobeiss said, “Traditions and archaic beliefs in our society are the main reasons behind the killing of women in the Syrian community. A new law that would sentence the killers to life in prison must be adopted; only then will women be spared death.”

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