Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, India: Honour crimes, including their prevalence in both rural and urban areas; government protection and services offered to victims of honour crimes (2009-April 2013), 9 May 2013, IND104370.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/51ab3f114.html [accessed 23 June 2017]
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.
1. Motivation for Honour Crimes
The Law Commission of India, a governmental body that reviews India's laws and reports on specific issues, improvements and reforms (India n.d.), examined the issue of "'honour killings'" by request of the Ministry of Law and Justice (India Aug. 2012, 1). In their report, the Commission defines honour crimes as violence motivated by the "belief that the victim has brought dishonour upon the family or the community" (ibid.). BBC similarly explains that "honour" crimes are committed in order to preserve honour in the community and society (16 June 2010). The victim can be targeted for going against social traditions (AHRC 19 Apr. 2013) and caste traditions (Professor 9 Apr. 2013). This loss of honour is usually affiliated with the actions of female family members (Shakti Vahini n.d., Sec. 4; India Aug. 2012, 1). Shakti Vahini, a New-Delhi based NGO that advocates against honour crimes and human trafficking, explains that "honour" within a family is connected to the female members, and females who go against the social norms of marriage bring loss of honour in society to the family (Shakti Vahini n.d., Sec. 4). The Law Commission explains that "honour crimes" occur within the context of cultural and economic changes for women when the woman goes against the "male-dominated culture" (India Aug. 2012, 1, 2). Similarly, The Guardian observes that honour crimes are often a result of a clash between conservative traditions and cosmopolitanism--between "old" and "new" India (25 June 2010).
Honour crimes may occur as a result of:
inter-caste marriages (Professor 9 Apr. 2013; AHRC 19 Apr. 2013; India Aug. 2012, 3)
inter-religious marriages (Professor 9 Apr. 2013; AHRC 19 Apr. 2013; AP 15 May 2011)
marrying within the same gotra [clan, kinship group] (Professor 9 Apr. 2013; India Aug. 2012, 4; Human Rights Watch 18 July 2010)
pre-marital affairs (India Blooms News Service 17 Jan. 2012; Professor 9 Apr. 2013; AHRC 19 Apr. 2013)
extra-marital affairs (Professor 9 Apr. 2013)
same-sex relationships (ibid.; AHRC 19 Apr. 2013; BBC 20 Apr. 2011)
inter-class marriages (between rich and poor) (AHRC 19 Apr. 2013)
marriages against parents' wishes (ibid.; India Aug. 2012, 4; AP 10 May 2011)
issues related to land (Professor 9 Apr. 2013).
In a study conducted by Shakti Vahini of 560 cases from Haryana, Punjab and Western Uttar Pradesh, in which couples were threatened with violence, 83 percent of cases were related to inter-caste marriages, 2.5 percent were inter-religious, 3.2 percent were from the same gotra, while 9.8 percent were from the same caste and 3.2 percent were "other" issues (Shakti Vahini n.d., Sec. 3).
2. Prevalence of Honour Crimes
Sources indicate that honour crimes in India are "prevalent" (AHRC 19 Apr. 2013) and "widespread" (IB Times 16 Jan. 2013). There are no official statistics available on honour killings (BBC 16 June 2010; Human Rights Watch 18 July 2010; Professor 9 Apr. 2013). In a telephone interview with the Research Directorate, a Professor of History at the University of Toronto, who is a specialist in India, explained that statistics for honour crimes are difficult to track because there is no specific definition of honour crimes, and the statistics are kept according to the type of crime (murder, rape, etc.) as opposed to the motive for the crime (Professor 9 Apr. 2013). However, some sources, quoting unnamed studies, indicate that each year there are approximately 900 honour killings (Human Rights Watch 18 July 2010; India Aug. 2012, 5; AP 15 May 2011) or 1,000 honour killings (The Guardian 25 June 2010). According to Human Rights Watch, there are no estimates available on other types of honour crimes, such as physical assaults, forced marriage, or unlawful confinement (18 July 2010).
Sources indicate that many honour crimes are unreported (BBC 16 June 2010; India Aug. 2012, 5; Human Rights Watch 18 July 2010). Sometimes honour killings are reportedly disguised as suicides (ibid.; VFF 12 Apr. 2013; IB Times 16 Jan. 2013), accidents (ibid.), or natural deaths (Human Rights Watch 18 July 2010; VFF 12 Apr. 2013; US 19 Apr. 2013). According to the Law Commission, some honour crimes are not reported due to fear of reprisals (India Aug. 2012, 5).
Sources report that honour crimes occur in all regions of India (Professor 9 Apr. 2013; AHRC 19 Apr. 2013). However, sources also indicate that they are more common in northern regions (IB Times 16 Jan. 2013), such as Haryana (Professor 9 Apr. 2013; BBC 20 Apr. 2011; India Aug. 2012, 3), Punjab (ibid.; BBC 20 Apr. 2011; US 19 Apr. 2013, 41), Rajasthan (India Aug. 2012, 3; The New York Times 8 Oct. 2012), Uttar Pradesh (ibid.; BBC 20 Apr. 2011; India Aug. 2012, 3), and Bihar (ibid.; The New York Times 8 Oct. 2012). Incidents also occur in Delhi (BBC 20 Apr. 2011; India Aug. 2012, 3) and Tamil Nadu (ibid.). According to the US Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012, honour killings account for 10 percent of all killings in Punjab and Haryana (US 19 Apr. 2013, 41).
Media sources reported several cases of honour killings between 2010 and 2013, including in the following states:
Delhi (The Guardian 25 June 2010; BBC 21 June 2010; Dailybhaskar.com 14 June 2011)
Haryana (BBC 20 Apr. 2011; IB Times 16 Jan. 2013)
Uttar Pradesh (AP 15 May 2011; India Blooms News Service 17 Jan. 2012; The Times of India 5 Nov. 2011)
Kolkata [West Bengal] (IB Times 16 Jan. 2013)
Maharashtra (BBC 31 Jan. 2013)
Jammu and Kashmir (Kashmir Monitor 11 Jan. 2013)
Jharkhand (NDTV 4 May 2010)
Tamil Nadu (IBN Live 6 July 2010)
Bihar (BBC 19 Nov. 2012).
While both women and men may be targets of honour crimes (Professor 9 Apr. 2013; AHRC 19 Apr. 2013), some sources indicate that perpetrators more frequently target the woman (ibid.; India Aug. 2012, 1; IB Times 16 Jan. 2013). Media sources report several cases in which both the male and female were targeted (BBC 16 June 2010; IBN Live 6 July 2010; The New York Times 8 Oct. 2012), cases in which only the female was murdered (AP 15 May 2011; IB Times 16 Jan. 2013; Kashmir Monitor 11 Jan. 2013), and cases in which only the male was targeted by the female's relatives (Dailybhaskar.com 14 June 2011; The Times of India 5 Nov. 2011).
Media sources also report on cases in which children were killed as a result of honour crimes (BBC 19 Nov. 2012; Mid Day 19 Nov. 2012; The Telegraph 26 Aug. 2012). For example, there was a case in Bihar state in which a couple's young children were targeted and killed in an attack against the couple by the wife's relatives four years after the couple had eloped against her family's wishes (BBC 19 Nov. 2012; Mid Day 19 Nov. 2012; Hindustan Times 22 Nov. 2012). The couple, who had reportedly moved away from their village for three years, had moved back prior to the attack (ibid.; BBC 19 Nov. 2012; Mid Day 19 Nov. 2012). In another 2012 case in Bihar, a woman and her three-year-old daughter were killed by family members who were against her inter-caste marriage (US 19 Apr. 2013, 41; The Telegraph 26 Aug. 2012; Dailybhaskar.com 26 Aug. 2012). Media sources state that their bodies were allegedly cut into pieces and thrown into the river (ibid.; The Telegraph 26 Aug. 2012).
Shakti Vahini found that in 89 percent of the 560 cases in their study, the girl's family was the perpetrator of the threats or violence (n.d., Sec. 5). Media sources report cases of honour crimes that were allegedly committed by the female victim's: brothers (The Guardian 25 June 2010; BBC 30 Mar. 2010; IB Times 16 Jan. 2013); uncles (BBC 30 Mar. 2010; The Washington Post 6 Oct. 2012; Dailybhaskar.com 14 June 2011); cousins (BBC 30 Mar. 2010; The Washington Post 6 Oct. 2012); nephew (BBC 20 Apr. 2011); parents (The Washington Post 6 Oct. 2012); mother (AP 15 May 2011); father (Dailybhaskar.com 14 June 2011); and aunt (The Washington Post 6 Oct. 2012). According to the Professor, male family members are typically the perpetrators, but they are often supported by members of the community, and are sometimes motivated because the victim went against the will of the community as well as the family (9 Apr. 2013).
Sources indicate that honour crimes occur in all sectors of society (Shakti Vahini n.d., Sec. 3; AHRC 19 Apr. 2013). The AHRC interim executive director explained that they occur among all communities, all religions, and all castes (ibid.). The VFF legal researcher and the Professor similarly state that they occur among all religious groups in India (VFF 12 Apr. 2013; Professor 9 Apr. 2013).
Honour crimes reportedly occur in both urban and rural areas (Shakti Vahini n.d., Sec. 3; Professor 9 Apr. 2013; AHRC 19 Apr. 2013), although sources indicate that they are more frequent in rural areas (VFF 12 Apr. 2013; AHRC 19 Apr. 2013; Professor 9 Apr. 2013).
2.2 Rural Areas
Several sources report that khap panchayats play a role in honour crimes that occur in rural areas (Professor 9 Apr. 2013; India Aug. 2012, 4-5; VFF 12 Apr. 2013). Khap panchayats are unelected caste councils that have a lot of local authority in villages (IB Times 16 Jan. 2013; Shakti Vahini n.d., Sec. 1; Professor 9 Apr. 2013). Sources indicate that they have been known to sanction or order honour crimes against young couples for inter-caste marriages, inter-religious marriages and marriages of people within the same gotra (clan) (Professor 9 Apr. 2013; VFF 12 Apr. 2013; Human Rights Watch 18 July 2010). Some media sources note that the khaps issue the orders to "protect the honour of their communities" (The New York Times 8 Oct. 2012) or for "bringing dishonour on the village" (AP 10 May 2011).
The VFF legal researcher describes khap panchayats as groups of 5-6 elderly men (12 Apr. 2013), while Shakti Vahini reports that they consist of 10-15 men (n.d., Sec. 1). Khap panchayats are described as "extrajudicial" (Shakti Vahini n.d., Sec. 1) or "extralegal" (Professor 9 Apr. 2013). The Law Commission of India explains that khap panchayats
. . . assume to themselves the power and authority to declare on and deal with "objectionable" matrimonies and exhibit least regard for life and liberty and are not deterred by the processes of administration of justice. The penal law lacks direct application to the illegal acts of such caste assemblies. Innocent youth are harassed and victimized while such assemblies continue to wield unhindered authority and also seem to resist any suggestion of being subjected to any social control. (India Aug. 2012, 5-6)
According to the Professor, khaps are a "particular problem" in Haryana, where they are dominated by the Jat community, the upper caste land owners (9 Apr. 2013). Shakti Vahini similarly describes the Jats as the "dominating community" that has traditionally held power and land in Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh (n.d., Sec. 1). According to the Professor, the Jat khaps have issued several proclamations against couples, but they have not been taken to court because they are very "powerful and influential" (9 Apr. 2013). The Law Commission of India similarly notes that the caste assemblies are domineering and have the strength to "silence or stifle the investigating and prosecuting agencies" (India Aug. 2012, 4, 5). According to Human Rights Watch, khap panchayats are influential in Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh (16 Apr. 2010).
2.3 Urban Areas
The Professor of History explained that large cities offer more autonomy and less community interference than villages and small towns, and that honour crimes in urban areas do not occur at the same rate or level as those in rural areas (Professor 9 Apr. 2013). According to the VFF legal researcher, honour crimes may still occur in urban areas among traditional families of any religion (VFF 12 Apr. 2013). The AHRC interim executive director said that the perpetrators of honour crimes in urban areas tend to be upper-class or middle-class families rather than poor families (AHRC 19 Apr. 2013). The Professor noted that young couples fleeing from Haryana to Delhi have not been safe there, as some have been found and killed (9 Apr. 2013). This information could not be corroborated among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.
3. State Protection
Sources indicate that there is no legislation specific to the issue of honour crimes (Professor 9 Apr. 2013; India Aug. 2012, 16). The Professor explained that honour crimes "would be addressed through other legislation, such as the Criminal Code, or possibly the Domestic Violence Act, the Caste Atrocities Act or the recently passed Rape Act, depending on the type of crime and the target" (9 Apr. 2013). She noted that the Rape Act calls for punishments of life imprisonment or the death penalty for different types of attacks against women, but that it is too early to know whether the legislation will be effective (Professor 9 Apr. 2013).
In 2012, as an attempt to thwart the power of khap panchayats, the Law Commission proposed a law banning congregation for the purpose of condemning a lawful marriage (India Aug. 2012, 26). The Professor noted that there has been debate about passing legislation to specifically address honour crimes or to outlaw caste panchayats, but that nothing has been passed (9 Apr. 2013).
Several sources describe the police as ineffective in protecting people who fear becoming victims of honour crimes (AHRC 19 Apr. 2013; Professor 9 Apr. 2013; VFF 12 Apr. 2013). Sources indicate that the police are reluctant to register the complaints (AHRC 19 Apr. 2013; VFF 12 Apr. 2013) or carry out investigations (Human Rights Watch 18 July 2010). According to Shakti Vahini, the police do not enforce the laws and Supreme Court guidelines to protect runaway couples (n.d., Sec. 5), and "remain a mute witness to the crimes and seldom act against the offender" (Shakti Vahini 2013, 9). Describing the police in India as "riddled with corruption and nepotism," the interim executive director of the AHRC explained that the complaint will only be registered if the complainant is influential or has money (19 Apr. 2013). The Professor similarly stated that the police are influenced by money and power, and are "recalcitrant to take action against powerful families" (9 Apr. 2013). She noted that powerful families who are perpetrators of honour crimes are often released a couple of days after being arrested (Professor 9 Apr. 2013). This information could not be corroborated among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.
According to the VFF legal researcher, many of the police officers are "biased" and have "traditional patriarchal values" (12 Apr. 2013). In interviews with 300 police officers in Haryana, Punjab and Western Uttar Pradesh, Shakti Vahini found that 85 percent are against same-Gotra marriages, 70 percent are against inter-caste marriages, and 62 percent said they would "react strongly" if an inter-caste marriage occurred in their family (n.d., Sec. 5). Human Rights Watch states that some local officials have been "sympathetic" to khap panchayat orders, "implicitly supporting the violence" (18 July 2010). One media source reports of an honour killing in which a Delhi police officer was one of the perpetrators; he was reportedly sentenced to life imprisonment and fined (The Pioneer 14 June 2011; The Times of India 14 June 2011; Dailybhaskar.com 14 June 2011).
According to Shakti Vahini and Human Rights Watch, family members of a runaway couple sometimes file false charges of kidnapping against the groom, and the police play a role in tracking down the couple (Shakti Vahini n.d., Sec. 5; Human Rights Watch 18 July 2010).
Shakti Vahini provides several examples in which law enforcement authorities failed to protect honour crime victims (Shakti Vahini n.d., Sec. 5).
In one example, when the bride's cousins were against her marriage to someone from the same village, they opened fire on the wedding procession in New Delhi, wounding the couple and killing one of couple's friends (ibid.). Two of the four suspects were charged and detained, but one got released on bail and allegedly killed the groom's brother (ibid.). The other detained suspect was also released, despite having made threats to kill the couple and the groom's family (ibid.).
In another example, in 2009, the police tracked down a runaway couple in their 20s, arrested the groom on the charge of kidnapping a minor, and detained him for 32 days until releasing him on bail (ibid.). The bride's family reportedly informed the police that their daughter died of natural causes, and the police did not initially investigate the death (ibid.; Human Rights Watch 18 July 2010).
According to Shakti Vahini, for runaway couples to receive police protection against honour crimes, they must first petition the High Court (n.d., Sec. 5). Sources indicate that some people under threat of honour crimes were killed despite having police protection (VFF 12 Apr. 2013; Shakti Vahini n.d., Sec. 5). Shakti Vahini provides an example in which a man who had eloped with his wife against the orders of the khap panchayat was lynched and killed by a mob of villagers when he tried to retrieve his wife from her village in Haryana (n.d., Sec. 5). He reportedly had an order from the Haryana High Court and was escorted by four police officers, who reportedly failed to protect him from the mob (Shakti Vahini n.d., Sec. 5).
While the Professor said that police are frequently unsupportive towards victims, she also noted that there are special police cells for crimes against women where women who are victims of honour crimes can access and that these "are a little bit more effective" (9 Apr. 2013). According to the Delhi Police, they offer women crime cells in all the police districts of Delhi, as well as a 24-hour hotline with a mobile team for "women in distress" (India , 1, 4).
The Supreme Court of India has reportedly instructed courts to make honour killings a capital offence (BBC 10 May 2011; AP 10 May 2011; India Aug. 2012, 25-26). In a 2011 decision, the Supreme Court reportedly stated that "[i]t is time to stamp out these barbaric, feudal practices which are a slur on our nation" (BBC 10 May 2011; AP 10 May 2011; The New York Times 8 Oct. 2012) and that "[a]ll persons who are planning to perpetrate 'honour' killings should know that the gallows await them" (BBC 10 May 2011; India Aug. 2012, 25). Sources report that following that decision, several perpetrators of honour killings were sentenced to death (The New York Times 8 Oct. 2012; The Washington Post 6 Oct. 2012; India Aug. 2012, 25). According to the Law Commission, copies of the decision were disbursed throughout the high courts and sessions courts, and since that time "almost all of the accused in the so-called honour killing murder cases were sentenced to death" (ibid.). The Commission warned against such a "blanket decision," emphasizing that each case "must be judged by the facts and circumstances emerging in that case" (ibid., 25-26).
In 2010, in response to a petition that said authorities "failed to prevent killings of couples and individuals in the name of honour," the Supreme Court demanded explanations from state authorities in Punjab, Haryana, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh of what was being done to protect young couples who were being threatened by family and community members (BBC 21 June 2010). In 2011, the Supreme Court instructed police and district officials to offer protection to inter-caste and inter-religious couples who are threatened or harassed and to take actions against the perpetrators (AP 10 May 2011).
According to the Professor, the state has recently introduced fast-track courts to try high priority cases within two months (9 Apr. 2013). She noted that these courts will have the power "to mete out stiff penalties very quickly," but that it is too early to know whether they will be effective (9 Apr. 2013).
This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). 19 April 2013. Telephone interview with the interim executive director.
Associated Press (AP). 15 May 2011. Nirmala George. "Police: Mothers Strangle Their 2 Newly Married Daughters in Honor Killing in Northern India." (Factiva)
_____. 10 May 2011. Nirmala George. "India's Top Court Urges Death Penalty for Honor Killings, Calling Them 'Slur on Our Nation'." (Factiva)
BBC. 31 January 2013. Zubair Ahmed. "Five Held for 'Honour Killings' of Dalit Men in Maharashtra." [Accessed 26 Mar. 2013]
______. 19 November 2012. Amarnath Tewary. "Three Die in India 'Honour' Killing in Bihar." [Accessed 26 Mar. 2013]
_____. 10 May 2011. "Indian 'Honour" Killers Should Hang, Supreme Court Says." [Accessed 26 Mar. 2013]
______. 20 April 2011. "India Court Calls for 'Stamping Out Honour Killing'." [Accessed 26 Mar. 2013]
______. 21 June 2010. "India Court Seeks 'Honour Killing" Response." [Accessed 3 Apr. 2013]
______. 16 June 2010. Geeta Pandey. "Indian Community Torn Apart by 'Honour Killings'." [Accessed 26 Mar. 2013]
_____. 30 March 2010. "Death Penalty in India 'Honour Killings' Case." [Accessed 26 Mar. 2013]
Dailybhaskar.com. 26 August 2012. "Bihar Shamed: Man Chops off Sister, Niece for Honour." (Factiva)
_____. 14 June 2011. "Brothers Get Life Imprisonment for Murdering Youth." (Factiva)
The Guardian. 25 June 2010. Jason Burke. "Triple Murder in India Highlights Increase in 'Honour Killings'." [Accessed 3 Apr. 2013]
Hindustan Times. 22 November 2012. Prasun K. Mishra. "Father-in-law Kills Man, Grandkids Too." (Factiva)
Human Rights Watch. 18 July 2010. "India: Prosecute Rampant 'Honour' Killings." [Accessed 26 Mar. 2013]
IBN Live. 6 July 2010. "Honour Killing in TN? Girl's Lover Murdered." [Accessed 3 Apr. 2013]
India. August 2012. Law Commission of India. Prevention with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances (in the Name of Honour and Tradition): A Suggested Legal Framework. Report No. 242. [Accessed 3 Apr. 2013]
_____. . Delhi Police. "Special Police Unit for Women and Children." [Accessed 26 Apr. 2013]
_____. N.d. Law Commission of India. "The Twentieth Law Commission." [Accessed 26 Apr. 2013]
India Blooms News Service. 17 January 2012. "Honour Killing: Noida Brothers Murder Sister." (Factiva)
International Business (IB) Times. 16 January 2013. Palash R. Ghosh. "Caste-Council 'Explains' Honor Killings, While India Still Reels from Gang-Rape Tragedy." [Accessed 5 Apr. 2013]
Kashmir Monitor. 11 January 2013. "3 More Accused in Kupwara Honor Killing Arrested." (Factiva)
Mid Day. 19 November 2012. "Honour Killing: Man, Two Little Kids Brutally Killed." (Factiva)
New Delhi Television (NDTV). 4 May 2010. "Journalist's Mother Arrested for Alleged Honour Killing." [Accessed 3 Apr. 2013]
The New York Times. 8 October 2012. Niharika Mandhana. "Debating the Death Sentence for 'Honor' Killings." (Factiva)
The Pioneer. 14 June 2011. "Honour Killing: Life for Delhi Cop, Brothers." (Factiva)
Professor of History, University of Toronto. 9 April 2013. Telephone interview.
Shakti Vahini. 2013. Leading India's Fight Against Human Trafficking. [Accessed 3 Apr. 2013]
_____. N.d. "Honour Killings." [Accessed 3 Apr. 2013]
The Telegraph. 26 August 2012. "Honour Killing Whiff in Barh." (Factiva)
Times of India. 5 November 2011. "Two Held for 'Honour Killing'." (Factiva)
_____. 14 June 2011. "Life-term for 4 Brothers." (Factiva)
United States (US). 19 April 2013. Department of State. "India." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012. [Accessed 26 Apr. 2013]
Voices for Freedom (VFF). 12 April 2013. Telephone interview with a legal researcher.
The Washington Post. 6 October 2012. Olga Khazan. "Indian Honor Killing Family Gets the Death Penalty; the Sentence Comes after India's Supreme Court Ruled that Honor Killings are a Capital Offense." (Factiva)
Additional Sources Consulted
Oral sources: Attempts to contact the following persons and organizations were unsuccessful: Shakti Vahini; Lawyer's Collective Women's Rights Initiative; Navsarjan; People's Union for Civil Liberties; South Asia Forum for Human Rights; National Commission for Women; UN Women; professors at University of Windsor, University of Victoria and University of Winnipeg. A professor at Jawaharlal Nerhu University was unable to provide information.
Internet sites, including: Amnesty International; Asian Centre for Human Rights; Asia Society; Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative; ecoi.net; Human Rights First; India — Haryana Police, Ministry of Law and Justice, National Human Rights Commission, National Commission for Women, Punjab Police, Uttar Pradesh Police; International Crisis Group; International Federation for Human Rights; Journal of South Asia Women Studies; United Nations — Refworld, UN Women.
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