Column One:
Eye on Unmarried America

November 5,  2007  



Hundreds die from 'honor' killings in Iraq

By Thomas F. Coleman


Many Americans who are unmarried complain about marital status discrimination in employment, housing, insurance, and taxes, as well as the failure of federal law to protect them from such business practices.  And their complaints are justified.

But the financial hardships experienced by many single people in the United States pale in comparison to the manner in which the unmarried are treated in Iraq.

According to a recent story in The Times of London about human rights violations against unmarried residents of northern Iraq, some "598 women have been burnt, beaten, shot, strangled, thrown from tall buildings, force-fed with lethal drugs, crushed by vehicles, drowned, decapitated or made to kill themselves so far this year, exceeding the 553 recorded for the whole of 2006."

This is in addition to the torture and killing of an unspecified number of unmarried men.

And just what have these single people done to merit such cruel and inhuman treatment? Being seen in public with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a young woman refusing to enter into an arranged marriage with an old man selected by her father.

Several months ago I wrote a column about unmarried people experiencing human rights abuses in many parts of the world.  (Unmarried need global human rights monitor.)  But when I read the new story in The Times, I knew that the problem in Iraq needed more exposure.

The story in The Times was prompted by the so-called "honor" killing of Du'aa Aswad, a 17 year-old girl in northern Iraq, by her relatives and other angry villagers. 

According to the story, "Du’aa was stoned to death by a mob in the Kurdish hillside village of Basshiqa, northern Iraq, after being found with her 19-year-old boyfriend, Muhannad Ummayad, in an olive grove."  The two never had intimate relations, as an autopsy of Du'aa would later confirm.

Mobile phone video clips taken at the time of the mob's attack on Du'aa show her being taken from a village leader's home in a headlock, resisting and screaming as police watched in silence.  In the marketplace, she was stoned to death by the mob.

The story explains that even though the method of stoning rarely occurs, "honor killing is rampant, particularly in Kurdish areas of Iraq and Iran. Kurdish women are killed almost every day for 'dishonouring' their families."

To evade a 2002 law against honor killings -- a law which is rarely enforced -- perpetrators often force unmarried women to kill themselves, making it appear to be an accident or a suicide.

But those who die are the tip of the iceberg, because there are untold numbers of unmarried women who flee from their homes and towns in order to escape from the threat of violence. 

Hala Jabir, author of the story in The Times, tells how 12 unmarried women are hiding in a secret location in Iraq in order to avoid being victims. 

One victim explained that she fled her home when her father ordered her to marry an old man.  Her boyfriend was shot to death by her father and brother.

Another young woman did follow orders to marry an old man, but later was discovered to be speaking with her former boyfriend.  She fled after her nose was cut off and his ear was severed.

The solution to the problem of "honor" killings is evasive.

None of the few perpetrators of these crimes who are imprisoned expressed any remorse when they were interviewed by Hala Jabir. 

And social acceptance of "honor" killings is prevalent in many parts of Iraq.  Families who do not go along with the practice are ostracized and themselves become a target of violence.

So, for now, the most that a human rights advocate for the unmarried can do is to shed further light on the problem and hope that international condemnation of such practices will grow stronger and louder.


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© Unmarried America 2007

Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.  Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried America. E-mail: Unmarried America is a nonprofit information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and voters.