Crimes of Honor

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crimes, usually by men against women, committed in the name of honor.

The terms crimes of honor and crimes committed in the name of honor are commonly used to refer to violence with a claimed or imputed motivation related to honor. Recent regional and international attention to crimes of honor pays most attention to honor killings, which are documented across communities in different parts of the Middle East, including Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, and Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as elsewhere in the world. The honor that is claimed or assumed to be behind the murder is family honor rather than the fidelity of a woman to her husband. The majority of victims are female and the majority of perpetrators are male. Family honor may be held to be impugned by sexual "misconduct" on the part of a womanthat is, intimate relationships with a man to whom she is not married. Honor killings thus typically involve the murder of a woman by a male blood relative who claims as motivation or defense her actual or suspected sexual activities outside marriage.

A number of civil organizations in the Middle East, particularly women's groups, conduct research, support, and advocacy activities related to crimes of honor. One target of their efforts is legislative and judicial policy. In some Arab states, there remains a partial defense in law (in Jordan, it is an absolute defense) in the event that a man surprises his wife or one of his close female relatives in the act of adultery and kills her and/or her partner in the act. Such provisions have antecedents in both French and Ottoman penal codes of the nineteenth century. Recent research shows that, in defending their actions, perpetrators rely on other partial defenses available in the law, notably that they acted in a "fit of fury" and in defense of their honor. Sentences may be substantially reduced in such cases. Research also shows that husbands as well as natal family members have recourse to arguments of honor in seeking reduced sentences for murder.

Among activists seeking to eliminate crimes of honor, there is deep discomfort over the apparent meaning of honor in the construction crimes of honor, since it implies that women embody the honor of males and seems to endorse violence against women. Using the term honor killing risks endorsing the description articulated by the perpetrator and obscuring (as may be the intention on the part of the perpetrator) the real motivation for the crime, which may be related to property disputes or other family or nonfamily matters.

Attention to crimes o f honor has increased in recent years across the region, enhanced by regional networking among women's organizations, and has been matched by growing attention among international organizations and at the United Nations.

see also gender: gender and health; gender: gender and law; gender: gender and politics; harem; hijab; husseini, rana; khader, asma.


Abu Odeh, Lama. "Comparatively Speaking: The 'Honor' of the 'East' and the 'Passion' of the 'West.'" Utah Law Review no. 2 (1997): 287307.

"Annotated Bibliography: 'Crimes of Honor.'" CIMEL/Interights. Available from <>.

Moghaizel, Laure. "The Arab and Mediterranean World: Legislation towards Crimes of Honor." In Empowerment and the Law: Strategies of Third World Women, edited by Margaret Schuler. Washington, DC: OEF International, 1986.

Pervizat, Leyla. "'Honor Killings' in Turkey: Stories of Extra-Judicial Executions." International Children's Rights Monitor 15, no. 1 (2002): 1821.

Shalhoub-Kevorkian, Nadera. "Femicide and the Palestinian Criminal Justice System: Seeds of Change in the Context of State-Building." Law and Society Review 36 (2002): 577599.

Lynn Welchman