A statement from the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation and the International Campaign Against Honour Killings 14 July 2008

On 7 April 2007 a teenager called Du’a Khalil Aswad was stoned to death, in a brutal and savage attack by her uncle and cousins, watched by a crowd of hundreds of men and boys gleefully relishing the opportunity for male bonding as the girl was kicked and beaten, pelted with stones and finally killed by a concrete block which was dropped on her face, pulverizing it into a bleeding pulp as the crowd roared their approval. This was a so-called ‘honour’ killing, although a lynching might be a more accurate description.

Du’a was a Kurd from the Yezidi religion. Her crime had been to try and elope with a young man of her own choosing; for this she was brutally, publicly murdered in a scene which would not been out of place in Old Testament times, if it were not for the jostling observers recording the event on their mobile phones, trying to get a better angle as they recorded her death agonies. These gruesome home videos found their way onto the Internet where they aroused a wave of revulsion at the murder and sympathy for Du’a Khalil and the countless other victims of ‘honour’ killing and ‘honour’ violence in the world. Within the ideology of ‘honour’, daughters are the possessions of their fathers and male relatives, and that their lives are conditional upon obeying the patriarchal order. This conception of women as possessions is a common feature of classical patriarchy, the patriarchy of agrarian tribes. It is this conception of women as possessions that cost Du’a her life; it is this same conception that may mean that justice may not be served in her case.

Tribal Kurdish culture is shown by the reliance of many Kurds on komelayati, a structure run by elderly, religious, political and tribal representatives who hear disputes to achieve reconciliation (solih). As their structure suggests, they are deeply patriarchal and although they often resolve issues by financial solutions, they may also order women and minor girls into forced marriage and call for ‘honour’ killings to be carried out.

In the Kurdish newspaper Aweena, it was announced that the Aswads, Du’a’s parents, had accepted 40 million Iraqi Dinars as blood money in such a solih and had agreed to forgive the murderers. The Aswads have suffered enormously over the murder of their daughter, and no doubt they deserve 40 million dinars of compensation if not more; the Aswads still live in Bashiqa, and no doubt choosing to forgive the murderers is necessary for them if they wish to live peacefully in their community. In the aftermath of the murder, several Yezidi men were executed by members of Al Qaeda who have issued a fatwa declaring the murder of Yezidi as permissible. The Yezidi people have suffered a great deal of violence and prejudice since the stoning, and it is with this in mind that the solih was reached, with Christian, Yezidi and high-profile Muslim leaders working together to raise the money and to make the agreement to restore peace between Bashiqa’s ethnic groups.

However, on the scales of justice, the forgiveness of the parents should weigh nothing. Children are not their parent’s possessions, and a father or mother has no more right to forgive their killers on their behalf than they do to force them into marriage or kill them. The ‘honour’ killing of Du’a Khalil was not a crime against her family; it was a crime against her, and a crime against humanity. If the parents wish to forgive her murderers it is a private affair: this must have no bearing on the prosecution and pursuit of the guilty. Of the seventeen men who took an active role in her stoning, five are currently imprisoned, and of the remaining twelve, two are in hiding and cannot be found by the authorities. The guilty must be tried and sentenced, and the fugitives must be brought to justice, irrespective of this deal.

Kurdish authorities do not have a good reputation for seeking justice for murdered women. Take for example the case of Mohabad Abdullah, who was unfortunate enough to catch the eye of Saleh ‘Machine Gun’ Ahmed Sharif. In 2001, after she refused to marry him, he abducted, raped and murdered her. He was prosecuted for this crime and imprisoned: however with the active help of the PUK (of which group Sharif was a member) a deal was brokered to pay ‘blood money’ to the Abduallah tribe to release the murderer. Sharif is also suspected of murdering Mohabad’s sister Jiwan, who testified against him, and yet walks free in Sulemaniya.

Take, for another example, the recent murder of Kurdistan Aziz, another teenager also stoned to death by her family for elopement. Both parties were appealed to for help; both refused to protect the young woman, and there does not seem to have been any attempt to serve justice upon her killers. ‘Honour’ killings and female suicides are at epidemic proportions (with 11 women dying from these two causes in just 7 days in the Arbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, according to doctors at Rizgari hospital).

Du’a’s murder has become deeply meaningful for young Kurds, for Kurdish women’s rights activists and across the global community, with excerpts of her brutal death aired on CNN and Al Jazeera attracting attention and sympathy from tens of thousands of people. The anniversary of her death was memorialized with seminars and events across the world. She will be continued to be remembered, as symbol of the power of love and the brutality of patriarchy, standing for the hundreds of Kurdish women and girls killed for ‘honour’ every year. Punitive justice against her murderers will send a clear message throughout the region and to the entire world that these patriarchal murders will not be tolerated.

Human life is priceless. No amount of money will cleanse the stones of Kurdistan from Du’a’s blood. Only justice can do that.


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