Palestinian Authority moves to remove legal loophole that allows judges to reduce sentences in cases of “honor killings”
March is a special month for ladies. There’s International Women’s Day on the 8th and Mother’s Day in the Palestinian territories on the 21st. This March, in particular, is also special for Palestinian women for another reason; that is, no longer will men receive reduced sentences for “honor killings.”
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah announced the introduction of new laws, to be approved by President Mahmoud Abbas, that will prevent men who murder, assault or rape women to evade lengthy prison sentences.
According to protocol, only Abbas can amend the Palestinian legal code, through a presidential decree, as the Palestinian parliament has been defunct since 2007.
A total of 18 Palestinian women were killed in “honor killings” in 2016, according to the Palestinian Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Many of the laws in question were inherited by Palestinians from Jordan, which ruled the West Bank between 1948 and 1967.
The Palestinian Council of Ministers decided to abolish Article 308 of the Penal Code that allows rapists to avoid punishment if he marries the victim within five years. In addition, government officials decided to amend Article 99 of Penal Code No. 16 of 1960 which grants judges the ability to dramatically reduce sentences if the case has “extenuating circumstances,” including the murder of women on grounds of “family honor.”
“Murdering women is a huge red line regardless of the cause, moment of anger or anything else,” Haifa Al-Agha, the Palestinian Minister of Women Affairs told The Media Line.
She explained that modifying Article 99 is extremely important and marks a turning point for Palestinian women, as judges can no longer reduce sentences for murder under any circumstances. Moreover, relatives of the perpetrator of an “honor killing” will no be allowed to ask that the charges against their family member to be dropped.
“We closed the door in front of everybody,” Al-Aha asserted, pointing out that for the past eight months, the Ministry of Women Affairs, Ministry of Justice and other women’s associations and organizations have been intensively preparing the needed evidence and materials to change the laws.
Al-Agha further revealed that Palestinian women will soon be legally afforded more authority over their children, including the ability to open bank accounts for them, request travel documents and passports on their behalf and transfer them from one school to another without permission from the father.
“This is the beginning, there will be more changes, but step by step,” Al-Agha concluded. “We will fight all of the unfair laws against women in Palestine.”
Ali Abu-Diab, the Palestinian Minister of Justice highlighted to The Media Line the establishment of a legal committee to review Palestinian laws that regulate all civilian sectors.
“The committee will work to update and edit the laws,” he explained, adding that the committee will act in accordance with the principles of equality and social justice in order to harmonize the Palestinian legal framework with international treaties and conventions that Palestine is a party to.
“Canceling the mentioned Articles will solve a lot of problems within the Palestinian society,” Abu-Diab affirmed, noting that certain laws have enabled men to take advantage of women. “With the latest move, no party can ease the punishment on any murder under the name of honor in Palestine as no one has that authority anymore.”
In 2011, President Abbas made changes to the Palestinian legal code with the aim of preventing “honor killings,” but some related laws have remained in place, thereby precluding comprehensive change.
Nevertheless, Amal Al-Jobeh, an employee of the Women’s Center for Legal and Administrative Guidance, confirmed that cases of violence against women have decreased since 2011.
“We started feeling that there is a deterrent from killing women in the West Bank,” she elaborated to The Media Line, adding that murder is incentivized when there is minimal legal recourse available to the victims. “In so many cases women have been killed for other reasons like inheritance, but murderers took advantage of the law to get away with it.”
Al-Jobeh also stressed that crimes against women are not exclusively a legal issue, but, rather, have a cultural component. Accordingly, she believes that it is crucial to raise awareness of the plight of women in the Palestinian territories.
To this end, a petition has been circulating for the past six months calling on President Abbas to do away with the measure that allows judges to use their discretion in murder cases that have “extenuating circumstances.” Initiated by Palestinian women’s rights groups, the petition has so far garnered over 12,000 signatures.