KURDISTAN: Women Activists Condemn Tribal Settlement of Murder Cases

Monday, February 13, 2012
Western Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security
Human Rights
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

In 1990, a man accused his wife, the mother of three children, of having an affair and killed her. His in-laws didn't file any charges against him in court. Instead, they said the death of their daughter was an accident. The man remarried and had two more children.

Kurdistan Women's Union investigated this case and its secretary-general, Vyan Sileman, says, “In 2000, the same man killed his second wife, again accusing her of having an affair.”

The man is currently serving time in prison in Duhok.

“If the man had been punished when he killed his first wife, he wouldn't have had the chance to remarry and kill another woman,” Sileman said.

Sileman blamed tribal methods of solving social issues, saying, “If it was not for tribal-family agreements, the second woman wouldn't have died and five children wouldn't have become orphans.”

"These families seek an agreement because of their social relations with each other."

Often in the Kurdish community, killing women is not taken seriously. Families simply seek a tribal agreement to settle the murder. Sometimes, families give false testimonies in court in order to hide the truth. They report the murder as an accident.

“It is only for God to take lives,” Sileman said. “The court must punish the criminals. These families seek an agreement because of their social relations with each other.”

Sileman believes that one reason people get away with murder is the inefficiency of public prosecution in Kurdistan.

Iraqi laws stipulate that family settlement can be done through the court or outside the court. However, crimes punishable with more than a one-year sentence cannot be resolved through tribal or family agreements.

The court can still take action against murderers even if families want to forgive the crime.

Shwan Sabir, an attorney in the Erbil court, told Rudaw that finding evidence is the most important thing, not testimonies.

“The social associations and tribal elders who seek agreements for murder are against the law,” he said. “Someone who testifies in court but later changes his testimony due to a social agreement should not be allowed to do so unless he admits that he has made false statements.”

Zhilamo Abdulqadir, a police officer who oversees cases of violence against women, believes that tribal settlements no longer have an impact on cases.

“It is different now,” he said. “People cooperate more with the courts. People testify against criminals in court. We had a case where the victim was a woman. One of her brothers testified against his own brother, who killed their sister. The man is now serving time in prison.”

Sileman said families justify their tribal settlement by saying, “She (the murdered woman) is already gone. Let's not ruin someone else's life.”

“Based on this phrase, families get together to bargain for someone's life,” Sileman added. “But based on what right was her life taken from her? Why should the murderers have the right to live? Such tribal and social agreements only encourage murderers.”

"Some families, after they kill their daughter, claim that she is missing or has run away," Sabir said that the court does not only depend on the testimonies of people who claim killings are an accident.

“The court launches its own investigation to collect evidence and find the truth,” Sabir said. “Compromise wouldn't change the degree of the crime. According to the law, anyone who tries to deceive the court will face charges. However, the court standard in Kurdistan is not up to par. The court, public prosecutors and the attorneys have their own weaknesses.”

Sabir admitted that it is not easy to find out the whole truth about these murders, especially when families of the victim and the murderer act together to mislead the authorities.

“Some families, after they kill their daughter, claim that she is missing or has run away,” he said. “They won't say she is dead.”

Sabir added, “The police cannot prevent tribal agreements. In the case of murder, the public prosecutor must launch an investigation. Killings that happen among families are hard to discover because the families don't cooperate.”

In some cases, the police go as far as exhuming a body for autopsy as evidence, Sabir said.