Do you deserve to die by stoning if you happen to fall in love with someone who belongs to another religious sect?
It sounds crazy in the truest sense of the word, but it's true. This is what happened to Du'a Khalil Aswad, a 17-year-old girl belonging to the Yezidi religious minority in Northern Iraq, who was killed by a group of at least eight men in the presence of a large crowd in the town of Bashika, near the city of Mosul, on April 7, 2007.
Worse is that some of her relatives had participated in the gruesome killing when they learned that the teenage girl was having a relationship with a Sunni Muslim teenage boy after she failed to go home one night. Reports said she was given shelter in the house of a Yezidi tribal leader in Bashika, but her relatives have forced their way into the leader's house and took her outside and stoned to death. Accordingly, the stoning lasted for half an hour and was recorded on video film, allegedly in the presence of law enforcement authorities.
In some Middle East countries, especially in Iraq, they call this practice "Honor Killing." This type of crime is common in some Muslim countries where many families still cling to their old traditions where religious values are considered sacred. And violations of family traditions could result to harsh punishments perpetrated by relatives themselves.
The incident drew ire from people all over the world after part of the video was shown on international television. One of the human rights organizations that immediately reacted to the "honor killing" was the London-based Amnesty International, who strongly condemned the murder of Du'a Khalil Aswad. In retaliation, some Sunni armed men attacked 23 Yezidi workers and killed them, after their bus was stopped between Mosul and Bashika. They were told to disembark and summarily executed them.
Amnesty International, therefore, called on he Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to "take immediate steps to identify and bring to justice, through fair trials and without recourse to the death penalty, the perpetrators of these killings."
The human rights organization has also called on the Iraqi government to find out if law enforcement officials were present when the girl's stoning to death took place, but did not do anything to stop the perpetrators. It likewise asked the Iraqi government to craft urgent measures, through legislative reforms, to protect those at risk of becoming victims of so-called "honor crimes."
In embattled Iraq, "honor crimes" are a common occurrence, especially in the Kurdish province. Reports said most of the victims are women and girls who are considered by their male relatives and others to have shamed the women's families by their immoral behavior.
But Amnesty International has documented that some of these "honor crimes" were based on rumors and false accusations, which makes them horrible. Family members believed that by resorting to "honor crimes", they are able to restore family honor.
Since last year, a total of 11 women and two men were already sentenced to death by stoning them in public for committing adultery, says The Stop Stoning Forever Campaign, a campaign activist group that is monitoring "honor crimes" developments worldwide. Of the 11 women victims, only four were acquitted and released after a thorough investigation was conducted. These women were identified only as Parisa A., who served at Adel-Abad Prizon in Shiraz; Hajieh Esmail-Vand--Jolfa Prison, Jolfa; Zahra Rezali--Rajaii Shahr Prison, Karaj; and Najaf A.--Adel Abad Prison, Shiraz.
Human rights organizations reported that there are already existing laws that prohibit "honor crimes" in some countries. Yet, some extra-conservative families continue to practice this kind of punishment towards women and girls, even if the accusations were based on rumors. And law enforcement authorities have been found to be helpless in curbing the proliferation of these gruesome killings that already claimed the lives of many innocent victims.
Perhaps, it is about time that the United Nations would initiate a concrete move that will inevitably allow concerned governments to take actions necessary to stop, once and for all, "honor crimes" in the world.