Report on ‘honor killings’ reveals dozens of female victims in Russian republics
The Chechen Minister for National Policy, External Relations, Press and Information stated that human rights organizations have been targeting the region for a long time to get "publicity on much-hyped issues they make up themselves."
The Legal Initiative project released a report on so-called honor killings – this is how people in the North Caucasus refer to a murder by male relatives of women they suspect of ‘inappropriate’ sexual behavior. The study entitled Killed By Gossip can be found on the website of the organization. Chechnya has hastened to dub the report "an attempt to present the region as some sort of cave community."
The sociological survey was conducted in Dagestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya, the Russian republics. The report notes that killing women on the grounds of ‘honor’ is one of the most brutal forms of violence against females; it is family violence and sex discrimination. Often, the murders are committed on the basis of rumors or slander.
Moreover, the vast majority of honor killings remain hidden. People don’t speak about them, relatives hush them up, law enforcement agencies do not react to them or choose soft punishments of the perpetrators. The countries where the practice is most common include Pakistan, Iran and Palestine, according to international human rights activists. Russia is never mentioned in their reports, but it does not mean that there are no honor killings in the country.
According to the report, there were 33 incidents with 39 people killed between 2008 and 2017. 36 women and three men became the victims in the crimes. Those are young unmarried or divorced women, sometimes married ones, between 20 and 30 years of age. They were the murderers’ daughters, sisters, wives, nieces, and stepdaughters. Only 14 of those 33 incidents have been taken to court.
Contrary to the popular belief, it is not Muslim tradition, but arbitrariness and self-will of authoritative family members that become the grounds for honor killings. There is also public opinion and gossip that put an enormous pressure on the families.
"How can you do without that? Those are the rules"
In the course of their work, the researchers encountered difficulties in gathering information, since such killings are often considered a private family affair, and there is no official statistics on such practices or their prevalence. The real number of honor killings is much higher than what was included in the report.
“When you come across it often enough, you stop to think about it, and you see that it is actually an issue. But the issue is of such nature... A very personal one. People don’t interfere. I’m not going to delve into this topic much,” a journalist from Chechnya said. "How can you do without that? Those are the rules" a Chechen public figure said. "It happens. But it rarely comes to surface. Families hush it all up. Even if something leaks out, the family will be hiding it still," a villager from Ingushetia told the activists.
The researchers interviewed 44 respondents and 26 experts and they all have heard that honor killings are committed in the area where they live.
"A man of our family killed his daughter and another man. It happened a few years ago. He served a time (a relative, Dagestan). "This is the way a woman of our family was killed" (a relative, Dagestan). “A few years ago, one of our men committed a crime, he killed his sister” (a relative, Dagestan). "Murders of this kind do happen in the area. I heard about this, too, that a brother killed a sister. There were rumors, of course. People noticed that she was gone" (a fellow villager, Chechnya). "Such a terrible thing. Killed so violently. All of them" (a fellow villager, Ingushetia).
Some of the respondents noted that the peak of honor killings was in the 1990s, and now they are almost unheard of. Meanwhile, there are those who believe that the "tradition" should be revived since "it is very good for the community." At the same time, others said they have noticed no such decrease, and if anything, there are even more killings nowadays.
Honor killings is a tabooed topic and there is no wide discussion about it, so people are extremely reluctant to go into particulars; it seems dangerous to them.
Causes of honor killings
Due to the traditional nature of Caucasian society, the autonomy of a woman in it is much lower than that of a man, and her whole life is fully controlled by her relatives and members of the community. At the same time, a woman bears many important functions such as the preservation of her personal and collective "honor." "The honor of a woman is the honor of a clan, and the honor of the community", people in the Caucasus believe. Therefore, the honor of a woman must be immaculate.
“We heard that in the village of Nechaevka, such murders are often committed, when they kill girls quietly, silently, if their relatives did not like their behavior, and this whole act is held secret. A girl can be hanged, drowned, poisoned, etc.” (from the case file of Maryam Magomedova).
The overwhelming majority of respondents believe that honor killings carry out several important functions for society. Namely, they act as a punishment for violation of traditional norms; become an act of purification, they "wash off the shame." They are committed in an attempt to restore honor; they also serve as the edification for women, for their deterrence in the future.
"The honor of a woman is not only her honor, it is also that of her family. For example, in the Caucasus, a person is not separated from the whole world... Blood feud is a huge deterrent. When you fear not for your one’s life, but for that of others. This is a huge deterrent, and I am all for blood feud. An honor killing is also a deterrent... For example, I can say with confidence that I have achieved what I wanted in life, what can possibly be achieved, but I would be willing to go to prison if need be, I am willing to sacrifice my life, because for me, the honor and an honor killing are more important than my own career, than my own life" (a historian, Chechnya).
To commit a murder, just an allegation is enough. Whether the suspicion is true or not does not matter: the honor of a man is affected merely by the fact that there might be an assumption that it is not immaculate.
"She was killed over gossip. She got a text message and it became the reason to murder her. A very nice girl. Just a text in her phone. It’s just her uncles" (a relative, Dagestan). "He was in a group of people, and someone made a comment about the behavior of his sisters" (a fellow villager, Dagestan). "Must be because of some rumors. The brothers conspired, called her to go to the sea and drowned her in a remote place" (a relative, Dagestan). “Her cousin was against her colored nails and short sleeves” (a relative, Dagestan).
The researchers found that if people in the Caucasus believe that there is a shame on your family, whether it is a real or a made-up thing (confirmed by no one and nothing), it will affect the lives of all other relatives and generations: the women will not marry, the men will not be able to find good wives or land a job, etc. On the one hand, they believe that if you commit a murder, you can wash off the shame by getting rid of the girl, and thus proving that you no longer have anything to do with her or her "guilt". On the other hand, the respondents noted that such a murder "becomes a recognition of shame and sin" by the family. They killed her, so she was guilty after all."
"What kind of man are you, if you haven’t killed her yet?"
In addition to all of the aforesaid, the social pressure is colossal. "What kind of a man are you? What kind of a mountaineer, if you allow this behavior and haven’t killed her yet!", quite a few of the murderers must have heard before they became ones, the respondents say.
In most cases, the women’s fathers or brothers become the murderers in the name of "honor", while more rarely they become victims of other relatives or husbands. The crime is usually committed in a remote place (outside the city, by a river or sea, in the mountains, in the woods). If it happens at home, the body of the murdered woman is carried away and hid. Many women who are killed in this way are said to have gone somewhere, but they are never reported missing to law enforcement agencies.
There is a variety of ways to kill an ‘immoral’ woman; from strangling and axing to drowning in the sea and poisoning. Most commonly, the killings are done with knives and axes. Sometimes women are forced to commit suicide.
“I didn’t kill, I took her life, so that she no longer dishonors her father and family”
If it comes to investigating an honor killing after all, there are many impediments, such as a law enforcement officer turning out to be a member of the family and therefore in agreement with it in blaming the victim.
“Only a few of such cases make it to court. Usually, we try to resolve domestic issues (honor killings, kidnapping of brides, rapes, etc.) through negotiations, an internal settlement. People don’t bring it to the public eye (an investigator, Dagestan).
Of 33 cases, only 14 reached the court, and in 13 cases the accused was convicted, while in one of them, the man was acquitted. The murderers were sentenced to terms ranging from 6 to 15 years.
The report cites a lawyer in one of the honor killing trials. "The thing is that Daurbekov did not take his daughter’s life, he did not kill her. This is how we should put it: he led her out of her life so that she would no longer dishonor herself, her father and all her close relatives. This will be right. A father, who killed his daughter after twenty years of putting up with her insulting behavior, an immoral behavior of a Muslim daughter, he just cannot be held liable for violating Art. 105," the lawyer said.
Chechen Minister: this is an attempt to present the region as some cave community
The Chechen authorities have already commented on the Legal Initiative report. The Minister for National Policy, External Relations, Press and Information, Dzhambulat Umarov, told the radio station Govorit Moskva that human rights organizations have been targeting the region for a long time to get "publicity on much-hyped issues they make up themselves."
"I see it all as fake news... This is yet another attempt to libel our region, to present it as some sort of cave community with executions, reprisals and violation of human rights," Umarov said.
"I think this must be the last agony of the so-called liberal forces. It is time to put an end to all of the provocations. We are fighting with this, always have and always will, to the end, until that hydra... loses her many heads," he threatened.
It should be noted that the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, had previously stated that after the end of the trial of Oyub Titiev, the Chechen Memorial leader, the republic would become a forbidden territory for human rights activists. Subsequently, Umarov said that Kadyrov had made no such threats against human rights defenders, and what he meant was unscrupulous journalists.