Honour” killing was declared mandatorily punishable by Criminal Law Amendment Act (No. I) 2004, as a specific crime in itself. A new Anti-Honour Killings Bill 2014 is in the Senate that will make further amendments to the 2004 amendment. This new proposal has been deemed necessary not because the 2004 Act did not make the killings a crime, but because part of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC XLV of 1860) and Code of Criminal Procedures (V of 1989), need further clarification so that the judicial system finds it difficult to interpret the law in a manner that supports forgiveness or compromise.

The 2004 Amendment changed the law to include murder in the name of “honour” as fasad fil arz (mischief on the earth) leading to imprisonment from ten years to life, or death as tazir (punishment other than qaisas or diyat), even where the offence was forgiven by the legal heirs/walis. The court thus had little option but to award punishment as is instituted in the amended law.

This change in law has not yet been implemented and Qandeel Baloch’s murder case may be the first time that there is scope for it to come into use. The state has been patting itself on the back for saying that it is a party to the case, that the murder is a crime against the state, but by law, all honour killings are crimes against society and the state. The confusion may have arisen from the fact that the PPC puts these laws under the heading “offences against the person”, which does not mean they are not also offences against state and society.

Why hasn’t anything changed since 2004? The prevailing social culture does not see honour killing as a crime. Judges and police officers subscribe to the same culture of impunity. This is compounded by the issue of outdated laws, including laws that guide First Investigation Report (FIR) procedures and evidentiary laws, especially Section 154 of the PPC. According to these, forensic evidence is only used as corroboratory evidence, and alone it is not admissible. With regard to evidence laws we are still stuck in the 1800s. Direct evidence has legal precedence over circumstantial evidence, and this needs to change in today’s age of CCTV cameras and investigative innovations.

Judges make the heirs party to the cases even before they have reached a decision about conviction or acquittal, thus the interest of the heir takes precedence over that of victim. The legality of this practice must be clarified by legislators and judges. Courts have also been allowing compensation to the heirs, even when the heir is a blood relative of the culprit, in contradiction of existing law.

If women were treated as equal citizens socially and legally, the law would not need any more amendments. The laws are open to some interpretation, but deriving the meaning that killing for honour is not punishable by the state is a gross disservice to public justice.