‘Honour’ Killing Victim Could Have Been Saved
Women from the London-based Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation have been attending the trial currently in session at Court 10 of London’s Central Criminal Court. Mahmod Mahmod, father to Banaz Mahmod Babakir Agha, and Ari Mahmod Babakir Agha, a wealthy business man and her uncle, are accused of her murder in the name of so-called ‘honour’. The case has been much covered by the media over its first few days. Banaz’s boyfriend, Rehmat Suleimani, a Kurd from Iran, has given his account, including a heartbreaking video recorded on his mobile phone in which Banaz herself accuses her father of trying to murder her, which reduced her former lover to tears. Her father and uncle remained stone-faced.
Rehmat himself reports harassment and threats by members of the London Kurdish community. Mohamed Hama, who has lodged a guilty plea, apparently abducted Mr Suleimani on the day when Banaz was murdered, saying, “We’re going to kill you and Banaz, because we’re Muslim and Kurdish. We’re not like the English where you can be boyfriend and girlfriend.” For murderers like Hama and so many others that follow the brutalising doctrine of ‘honour’, being Muslim and Kurdish is more important than being human, and to be a Muslim Kurdish woman is to have no human rights whatsoever, not even the right to life. This despicable justification illustrates how nationalist and religious sentiments are used to reinforce the brutality of a system based in the subjugation of women, whose very lives are conditional upon their acceptance of their oppression, where defiance is punished with death and where men’s ‘honour’ is written in women’s tears and women’s blood.
One angle which the media have not so far covered is the poor performance of London’s Metropolitan Police. Jasvinder Sanghera, founder of the Karma Nirvana network of shelters for South Asian women who also face the crimes of forced marriage and so-called ‘honour’ killing, calls for a ‘one chance rule.’ Agencies must help women in at danger of so-called ‘honour’ killing on the first occasion they call for help, she explains, because they may never get a second chance. In the case of Banaz, the London Met missed not just the first chance, or the second chance, but several chances. Her shameful and brutal death is all the more tragic for the knowledge that it could easily have been avoided.
IKWRO have a great deal of experience in assisting women and young girls at the risk of so-called ‘honour’ killing: in 2006, we enabled twelve women and girls and two young men to find protection and safety. If the police had contacted us, then we could have done our best to assist Banaz and her boyfriend; it is possible that with our intervention the couple could be together now. However Banaz is dead, strangled and buried in a suitcase in a garden belonging to a relative, while her tearful lover stands in the witness stalls at the Old Bailey. On New Year’s Eve 2005, Banaz fled her home barefoot and distressed, after what she believed to be a murder attempt by her father: despite expressing her fears to police they instead threatened to prosecute her for criminal damage relating to the windows she broke in escaping. On the 22nd of January 2006, two days before her disappearance, she gave a statement to police, a statement which should have led to the police finding safe housing and protection for her, but which instead is now another piece of evidence in a murder trial, along with a letter she wrote to the police naming the men now standing trial as plotting to kill her. These are just the final acts in a catalogue of failures to protect her.
IKWRO will also be campaigning for the extradition of two suspects currently at large to be brought back to the UK to face justice. While we regret the police’s failure to protect Banaz, we also vociferously and unequivocally assert that the responsibility for this crime lies not with the police, nor merely with the killer or killers but with the complicity of backward and evil mentalities still prevalent in some of our communities. Justice must be served to challenge this perverted ideas of ‘honour’ which glorify murder as a sacred duty and punish women’s autonomy with death, with no reduction of sentence on the grounds of ‘cultural difference’; as happened in the case of Abdallah Yunes, who stabbed his sixteen-year-old daughter to death. Human rights are, or should be, universal, and the right to life of a Kurdish and Muslim woman is equivalent to any other individual. Reducing the sentence under such grounds sends the message that, like the countries from which so many so-called ‘honour’ killers come, Britain is prepared to turn a blind eye rather than offend the sensibilities of patriarchal communities.
We ask you to support the Justice for Banaz campaign to demand that the police treat minority women in Britain with seriousness and sensitivity with respect to so-called ‘honour’ crime. We hope to convince the police to hold a full investigation into mistakes made, and to introduce the concept of ‘honour’ as it affects minority communities into their training. If Kurdish women can find no protection in their communities against this most heinous act of barbarism they should be at least entitled to protection under British law.