In July 2016, 26-year-old Qandeel Baloch was strangled to death by her brother, who said he killed her because she “brought dishonor” to their family and tribe through her flamboyant online videos and statements.
Qandeel’s case received broad attention because of her celebrity. But Pakistani rights activists estimate that there are about 1,000 “honor killings” in Pakistan every year.
Convictions are rare for many reasons, yet critical is a loophole that allowed the legal heirs of the victim to pardon those responsible – who are usually also a relative.
Qandeel’s killing prompted a widespread outcry in Pakistan, leading to legislative action and the promise of prompt prosecution. Parliament passed a law imposing harsher punishments for “honor killings” and partially eliminated the pardon loophole.
This raised hopes that the case would be a turning point for the Pakistani government, which has tolerated violence against – and even the murder of – women on “honor” grounds.
State prosecutors took the unusual step of charging Qandeel’s three brothers, including the one who confessed to killing her, with a crime against the state. But the trial has dragged on. On August 21, Qandeel’s parents asked the court to “forgive” her brothers, their lawyers arguing that since the anti-honor killing law was passed after Qandeel’s death, it does not apply in her case. The next day, the court rejected the parents’ pardon request.
Still, “honor killings” and pressure to pardon perpetrators seem to have continued unabated since the adoption of the law. There are no credible official figures on “honor killings” because they often go unreported or are passed off as suicide or natural deaths by family members. But as an indication, in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, at least 94 women were murdered by close family members in 2017.
Justice for Pakistani women requires a broader government effort, including more state prosecutions of “honor killings,” reformed criminal laws, and greater access for women and girls to safe emergency shelters and other services when they report risks from their family.
The government should end a system in which a woman’s life is considered worthless and family members can kill with impunity.
Pakistan should not fail Qandeel again.