Iraqi Activists Hailed in Wake of Honour Killing Case
|Publisher||Institute for War and Peace Reporting|
|Publication Date||November 2010|
|Cite as||Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Iraqi Activists Hailed in Wake of Honour Killing Case , November 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ceb92311e.html [accessed 20 June 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Women's rights activists in Kurdistan played a key role in helping to bring about a British court's conviction last week of two Kurdish men for an "honour" killing, it has emerged.
Omar Hussein and Mohammed Ali were sentenced at London's Old Bailey court to minimum jail terms of 21 and 22 years respectively on November 10 for the murder of their cousin Banaz Mahmod in 2006.
The verdict brings to a close a grisly, high-profile case that has helped bring so-called honour killings among some conservative ethnic communities out of the shadows.
In Kurdistan, the verdict has been celebrated by the women's rights groups that worked to keep the story in public arena and lobbied for Ali and Hussein to become the first suspects ever to be extradited from Iraq to Britain.
Caroline Goode, the senior British police investigator in the case since 2007, said that the bravery of the Kurdish women activists "cannot be overstated".
Campaigners hope the success of the Mahmod trial will bolster efforts to raise awareness of the crime, and strengthen political will among political leaders in the region to tackle it.
"Despite all the challenges that we faced from day one in finding the fugitives, we are finally getting justice for the victim. It will encourage us to work for other cases and push the authorities to bring honour killing fugitives to justice," said Hana Shwan, deputy director of the Sulaimaniyah-based Women's Media and Cultural Centre, and editor-in-chief of the Rewan newspaper.
Cousins Hussein and Ali were the last of five men from Mahmod's family to be convicted for killing the 20-year-old from Mitcham in south London, who was apparently murdered for entering into a romance with an Iranian-Kurdish immigrant. Her father and uncle were sentenced to life in prison in 2007 for ordering the murder, and another cousin pleaded guilty to helping Ali and Hussein carry it out.
Three months after Mahmod's disappearance, police found her half-naked body stuffed in a suitcase buried underneath a house in Handsworth, Birmingham. According to police records, a bootlace used to strangle her was still around her neck.
Police and court reports found that Mahmod's murder involved humiliation, torture and possibly rape. A prosecutor in the case believed that the fatal strangulation may have lasted as long as 30 minutes.
During the interviews used as evidence in the 14-week trial that led to a unanimous jury conviction of the first three men on March 5, 2007, the names of Ali and Hussein emerged. Arrest warrants were issued, but the two men apparently fled to Iraq and led authorities on a search that stretched from the suburbs of London to the wilds of Iraqi Kurdistan.
According to local authorities in Sulaimaniyah, the suspects were able to elude the authorities because of strong tribal connections and access to remote Kurdish villages along the Iranian border.
In 2008, Ali was sentenced to a year in a Kurdistan jail for a fatal car accident. He knocked a young man off his motorbike and left him to die in the road.
"He did not serve the full year and I believe he was about to be released from custody. A women's rights group wrote to the judge, explaining that he was wanted for [Mamod's] murder in the UK. This, in turn, caused the Kurds to contact me and the rest is history," said Goode, who came to Sulaimaniyah to present evidence for Hussein's extradition.
Thanks in part to the letter from Shwan's centre, Ali was extradited in August 2009. About six months later, Hussein was identified in a local hospital with a gunshot wound he said he sustained in a shootout with his brother over what he called "family tensions".
Runak Faraj, a veteran women's rights activist in Sulaimanyah, said she had come across hundreds of honour killings in Kurdistan. Gender-based violence, forced marriages and female genital mutilation are also still common.
"When a girl has a relationship with a man her family doesn't accept, the family will kill to uphold what they see as the family's honour," he said. "I hate it when I hear that people call this a matter of honour. It has nothing to do with dignity and honour. No one has the right to kill people."
Following the convictions last week, Goode once again hailed the work carried out by women's rights campaigners in the region.
"I was very touched by and grateful to the women who came to court to offer their support when I attended for Omar Hussain's extradition hearing," she said. "Being in Kurdistan gave me an insight into the reality of living with [these crimes] on a daily basis and the absolute helplessness that victims must face in a society where it is almost the norm or where, at least, it is far, far more difficult to access help, justice and protection.
"The bravery of those women's rights workers in bringing themselves to notice cannot be overstated."
Charles McDermid is an IWPR editor. Hemin H Lihony is an IWPR-trained journalist.