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In Jordan, the Price of Honor Is Women's Blood

Tuesday, November 14, 2000

In a desert nation of conservative Bedouin tribes, activists are trying to scrap the time-honored law that gives men light sentences for murdering female relatives for offenses to family honor. The new king opposes these "honor killings."

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In a desert nation of conservative Bedouin tribes, activists are trying to scrap the time-honored law that gives men light sentences for murdering female relatives for offenses to family honor. The new king opposes these "honor killings."
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Maha Abu Ayyash and Rana Husseini

ZARQA, Jordan (WOMENSENEWS)--It took Ahmad Ismail two months to track down his teen-age sister Haneen who had fled home with a boyfriend two years ago.

When Ahmad pulled the trigger, 19-year-old Haneen was two months pregnant. Ahmad, now 17, spent one year in jail and then was released to a hero's welcome from his family and neighbors.

"I cleansed our family honor," he said at his family home in the dirt alleyways of this town, 17 miles northeast of the Jordanian capital, Amman.

"She disgraced us," he said. "We are a tribe of thousands of men. It was better that one person die, but not the thousands, of shame."

Ahmad's thankful father, Mahmoud, concurred: "Our neighbors and even relatives had stopped talking to us until Ahmad carried out his heroic act."

"Now, we can walk with our heads held high," he added.

In Jordan, One-Quarter of All Murders Are 'For Honor'

Haneen was one of scores of Jordanian women who face, or faced, family retribution in this conservative, tribal-oriented society where men rule on family matters and women, who constitute 49 percent of the 4.6 million population, have little say.

Official statistics show that 25 women--the majority of them teen-agers--are killed each year in so-called "honor crimes," which constitute 25 percent of the annual homicides in Jordan. Most are buried in unmarked graves, disgraced even in death.



Tuesday night in New York, Human Rights Watch will honor the National Jordanian Campaign Committee to Eliminate Crimes of Honor--11 women and men who are seeking to abolish Article 340 of the Penal Code which provides lenient sentences for "honor" killings. Rana Husseini, a journalist with the English-language Jordan Times, and Maha Abu Ayyash, an artist and educator, will represent the group.


Experts say the phenomenon is widespread among poorer, less educated, tribal societies with a tradition of self-administered justice, like Jordan's, and in underdeveloped countries in the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and South America.

Chief Justice Sheikh Izzeddine al-Tamimi, the highest Muslim authority in the country, said Islam prohibits violence against women and "bars individuals from taking the law into their hands, even if a case of adultery was proven."