Press release 20 March 2007

Women from the London-based Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation have been attending the trial of Mahmod and Ari Mahmod, father and uncle of Banaz Mahmod Babakir Agha. The two men are accused of murdering Banaz in the name of so-called ‘honour’.

Rehmat Suleimani, a Kurd from Iran, gave his tearful account, and showed a film recorded on his mobile phone in which Banaz herself accuses her father of trying to murder her. Her father and uncle remained stone-faced.

Rehmat himself reports harassment and threats by members of the London Kurdish community. Mohamed Hama, who has lodged a guilty plea, apparently abducted Mr Suleimani on the day when Banaz was murdered, saying, “We’re going to kill you and Banaz, because we’re Muslim and Kurdish. We’re not like the English where you can be boyfriend and girlfriend.” For murderers like Hama and so many others that follow the brutalising doctrine of ‘honour’, being Muslim and Kurdish is more important than being human, and to be a Muslim Kurdish woman is to have no rights at all, not even the right to life.

One angle which the media have not so far covered is the poor performance of London’s Metropolitan Police in helping Banaz, who approached them four times before her death. Jasvinder Sanghera, founder of the Karma Nirvana network for South Asian women who face forced marriage and ‘honour’ killing, calls for a ‘one chance rule.’ Agencies must help women in danger on the first occasion they call for help, she explains, because they may never get a second chance. In Banaz’s case, the police missed not just the first chance, but several chances. Her shameful and brutal death is all the more tragic for the knowledge that it could have been avoided. On New Year’s Eve 2005, Banaz fled her home barefoot and distressed, after a murder attempt by her father. When she expressed her fears to police they instead threatened to prosecute her for criminal damage relating to the windows she broke in escaping. On the 22 January 2006, two days before her disappearance, she gave a statement to police, which should have led them to find safe housing and protection for her. Instead it is now another piece of evidence in a murder trial, along with a letter she wrote to the police naming the men now standing trial. These are just the final acts in a catalogue of failures to protect her.

IKWRO has been assisting women and young girls at risk of ‘honour’ killing since 2002, and in 2006 we helped 12 women and girls and two young men to find protection and safety. If the police had contacted us we could have assisted Banaz and her boyfriend and it is possible that the couple could be together now. Instead Banaz is dead, strangled and buried in a suitcase in a garden belonging to a relative, while her tearful boyfriend stands in the witness stalls at the Old Bailey.

While we regret the police’s failure to protect Banaz, we also assert that the responsibility for this crime lies not with the police, nor merely with the killers but with the complicity of backward and evil mentalities still prevalent in some of our communities. Justice must be served to challenge this perverted idea of ‘honour’. There must be no reduction in sentence on the grounds of ‘cultural difference’ as happened in the case of Abdallah Yunes after he stabbed his sixteen-year-old daughter Heshu to death. Human rights are, or should be, universal, and the right to life of a Kurdish and Muslim woman is equivalent to any other individual. Reducing the sentence under such grounds sends the message that, like the countries from which so many so-called ‘honour’ killers come, Britain is prepared to turn a blind eye rather than offend the sensibilities of patriarchal communities.

We ask you to support the Justice for Banaz campaign to demand that the police treat minority women in the UK with seriousness and sensitivity with respect to so-called ‘honour’ crime. We hope to convince the police to hold a full investigation into mistakes made, and to introduce the concept of ‘honour’ into their training. If Kurdish women can find no protection in their communities against this most heinous act of barbarism they should be at least entitled to protection under British law.

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