Flagrante Delicto: The Roots of Honour Killings
“Flagrante Delicto” is Latin for “in blazing offence.” In more colloquial terms, “caught in the act.” Flagrante delicto is the legal term using in various legislation around the world, to justify and legalize honour killings.
Increased immigration to Canada from countries where honour killing is either legal or silently condoned, and the increased independence of immigrant woman once in Canada, is reported as an influencing factor in its increased incidence here. The Calgary police are now including honor killings in their education and training program.
Honour killings and extreme punishments are about power and control. They originate from the belief that a woman’s chastity is the property of her families, and that her reproductive power must be controlled. They are acts of vengeance, usually death, usually committed by male family members against female ones, who are held to have brought dishonor upon the family.
While committing adultery is the greatest perceived justification for assault, a woman can be targeted for refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being in a relationship not condoned by the family, and even dressing inappropriately. Men can also be the victims of honor killings if committing the act of adultery with a targeted adulterous woman. Also, there is some evidence that homosexual men have been targets of honour killings in Turkey, Jordan, Brazil and Agentina.
The roots of honour killings cut across most of the world’s societies. In Ancient Roman law a woman found guilty of adultery could be killed by her husband in whatever manner desired. In Babylonian societies, women suspected of adultery had to throw themselves into a river to prove their innocence. In Egyptian culture, imprisonment, flogging, or mutilation were common punishments. In Chinese culture, husbands cut off the hair of adulterous women and lead them to their death by an elephant trained to kill. Some Native American tribes punished adulterous women by cutting off their limbs and mutilating their bodies. In Persia, adulterous women were placed into a well and left to die.
With globalization and ease of immigration and mobility, the new status of women has also been used to explain the increased occurrences of honor killings. Women from patriarchal cultures who have gained economic independence from their families go against their male-dominated culture. Male family members act in oppressive and violent ways to regain authority.
Followers of Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity have used their religions as a rationale to commit honour killings, however as noted by University of Toronto professor Shahrzad Mob, honor killings don’t have any definite connection with religion. Honor killing was practiced before any major religion came into existence.
Countries that allow men to kill female relatives or wives, providing inflagrante delicto, and no premeditation, include Haiti, Jordan, and Morroco and Syria. Countries where it’s illegal, but known to still occur, are Italy, Turkey, Pakistan and Egypt.