Lahore - More than the laws, it is the societal perspective on so-called honour crimes that needs to be changed to end this inhuman practice. This was the conclusion of sitting arranged by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan on Monday.

The consultation titled “Honour, law, rights and wrongs: Searching for a way forward”, was participated by members of civil society, including lawyers, journalists, activists and sociologists.

It was noted that the person who attacks someone for honour gets more sympathy, socially and legally, than the victim.

However, while minds cannot soften to the idea of women being equal citizens, free to make their own choices, the law can be amended to make it clear to judges and courts that murder on the pretext of honour is a crime against the state, with no scope for compromise or waivers.

The main subject of this consultation was to introduce those in attendance to the fact that ‘honour’ killing was declared mandatorily punishable by Criminal Law Amendment Act (No. I) 2005 which introduced amendments mainly for the murder in the name or on the pretext of ‘honour’.

A new Anti-Honour Killings Bill is currently in the Senate to amend further the 2005 amendment. Recommendations were made by participants on the contents of the proposed bill.

The session started with an introduction by HRCP director IA Rehman and former National Commission on Women chairperson Khawar Mumtaz while Human Rights Lawyer Asad Jamal moderated the sitting.

The 2005 Amendment changed the law to include murder in the name of honour as an offence to be necessarily considered as fasad fil arz (mischief on the earth) leading to imprisonment for a term not be less than ten years or life imprisonment or death as tazir (punishment other than qaisas or diyat) even where the offence was waived/forgiven by the legal heirs/walis of the victim.

The amendment took away the discretion of awarding punishment previously vested with the court. However, the change in law has never been implemented. Qandeel Baloch’s murder case may be the first time that there is scope for this amendment to come into use.

What happened that the conviction rate remains low? The reasons as stated by Tehsin Shah (ex-IGP  Police), Azam Nazeer and Abid Saqi (both advocates of the Supreme Court and Members of Pakistan Bar Council), is the prevailing social culture that does not see honour killing as a crime. This culture is the same that judges and police officers subscribe to.

Abid Saqi said that additional session judges are under the compulsion, enforced by former CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry, to decide on a minimum on six death penalty cases. To avoid this, they dismiss or acquit cases relating to honour, using old statutes of compromise and waivers, so that the cases do not turn into cases that require the death penalty by law.

Moreover, Habib Gill, Additional Inspector General of Police (Finance) Punjab, said that the real amendment has to happen in the laws that guide Federal Investigative Report procedures and evidentiary laws, especially section 154 of the PPC.

Forensic evidence is only used as corroboratory evidence, and alone it is not admissible. He said: “With regard to evidence, laws we are still stuck in the 1800s. The FIR needs an alternative, as it is a highly complex and archaic way of submitting direct evidence. Direct evidence by the victim, or those at the scene of the crime has legal precedence over police evidence as well as circumstantial evidence, and this needs to change in today’s age of CCTV cameras and investigative innovations.”

Saadia Gardezi