We, the Iranian & Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO) are heartbroken at the news of the recent death of Rahmat Sulemani, the love of Banaz Mahmod’s life.
On 20th March 2016, Rahmat, who for ten years since the “honour” killing of Banaz in 2006, has been living under witness protection, sent a text to a neighbour telling them that he was going to commit suicide, before hanging himself. He was discovered at his home in a coma and died in hospital five days later.
Banaz Mahmod was a 20 year old British-Kurdish woman from Mitcham, South London. She had come to the UK as a young child with her family from Kurdistan-Iraq, having already suffered female genital mutilation. When she was still a child, aged 17, her family forced her to marry an older man. Banaz suffered extreme domestic violence and rape from her husband. When she sought help from her family, they insisted that she stay within the marriage, prioritising their perceived honour and reputation among the community, over Banaz’s own safety and well-being. Eventually Banaz was able to get away from her husband and divorce him and she returned to her family home.
Rahmat would visit the family and sometimes have dinner with them. He and Banaz developed a friendship which grew into love. He said:
We became close friends and at first it was just a normal friendship. Then it kept on going. The more we knew about each other the stronger our feelings were.
Fearing Banaz’s family’s’ reaction, they tried to kept their relationship secret, but were discovered. They were under extreme pressure to stop the relationship but could not. Rahmat said:
My life depended on her. She was my present, my future, my hope. She was the best thing that had ever happened to me.
During this time Banaz repeatedly sought help from the police. She contacted them five times, even setting out for them who she predicted would murder her, but she was not taken seriously and her case was not properly investigated. In January 2006 Banaz was gang-raped and murdered by male family and community members. Her body was placed in a suitcase, driven to Birmingham and buried in a back garden. Rahmat, whose own life was at high risk, gave evidence at Banaz’s trial. He said:
My life went away when Banaz died. There is no life. The only thing which was keeping me going was the moment to see justice being done for Banaz.
IKWRO’s Executive Director Diana Nammi attended the trial and we too were determined to ensure justice was done, so we launched the Justice For Banaz campaign and succeeded in securing the first extradition from Iraqi-Kurdistan to the UK of two of the gang rapists and murderers. The campaign continues and in December 2013 the seventh perpetrator was convicted, the man who had driven Banaz’s body to Birmingham.
Diana Nammi, IKWRO’s Executive Director said:
Although we have made progress in fighting for justice for Banaz, the colossal devastation of so called “honour” killing has again been laid bare and her murder has taken another victim. Once again it is shown that there is no honour in violence and murder, only loss and pain. We will never cease to challenge the mentality that puts “honour” before the lives and happiness of a human being.
I am personally deeply saddened by the loss of Rahmat. He called me after Banaz’s trial and I know how utterly heartbroken he was. I wanted to support him but this was not permitted because he was under witness protection. Rahmat must have felt incredibly isolated in his grief, away from specialist support.
At IKWRO our counselling teams specialise in supporting victims and survivors through the lifelong impacts of “honour” killing and “honour” based violence and it is clear from our extensive experience that mainstream mental health services are not fit for purpose, still often lacking proper understanding of the psychological impacts of “honour” based violence.
We must ensure that every person affected by “honour” killing and “honour” based violence receives the mental health support they need and we call for an investigation to ensure this is achieved.
IKWRO also calls for an investigation into Rahmat’s death and more broadly into how witness protection programmes support victims and survivors of “honour” based violence and “honour” killing.
Every death related to “honour”, including through suicide, must and can be prevented.