Kurdish authorities said they have launched a public awareness campaign to address the soaring rate of honor killings in the autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.
In the past four months, 27 Kurdish women were killed for being involved in illicit relationships. This is in addition to the 97 women who tried to commit suicide, Human Rights Minister Yusuf Mohamed Aziz was quoted as saying by the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi on Tuesday.
Aziz said the Kurdistan government formed a committee to combat various forms of violence against women, honor killings -- also referred to as "killings to wash disgrace away" -- being the most flagrant.
Awareness campaigns have been launched, a human rights course has been included in the school syllabus, and Islamic preachers have condemned the practice as un-Islamic.
The tradition of honor killing arises from the societal conviction that honor is more important than human life. It is widely practiced among Kurds in Iraq, Iran, and Turkey, in tribal Pakistan, and some Arab societies.
Kurdish law stipulates a life sentence or capital punishment on all homicide cases except honor killings, which are punishable by a maximum of three years. The judge also has the right to stay the ruling.
United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) highlighted the problem of honor killings as one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the country.
According to its 2007 report, violence against Kurdish women rose 18 percent between March and May 2006. Statistics showed that in the first quarter of 2007, 15 women were killed with blunt tools, 87 by fire, and 16 from gunshot wounds. In the second quarter, the figures were eight, 108, and 21, respectively.
A report by Kurdistan's Human Rights Ministry said the number of women who committed suicide by self-immolation (setting themselves on fire) was 36 in 2005 and rose to 133 in 2006.
The phenomenon was addressed during the international conference on Kurdish Women for Peace and Equality in Erbil in January, which was organized by the Kurdish National Congress (KNC), a non-governmental organization in North America.
KNC president Dr. Saman Shali called for the establishment of an organization dedicated to helping women in the Kurdistan region.
The Minister of Women's Affairs in the Kurdistan Regional Government, Dr. Janan Kassim, pledged to implement the recommendations from the conference via her ministry.
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid).