08/17/2006, 00.00
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Pakistani Catholic Church condemns Hina Saleem's murder

by Qaiser Felix
Respect for human rights is not likely to improve in a society steeped in tribal traditions where the government prefers to brush the issue under the carpet. On average, more than a thousand honour crimes are committed a year, but it is estimated that the number might be ten times.

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Mgr Lawrence John Saldanha, archbishop of Lahore, has condemned the murder of Hina Saleem, which took place in Italy at the hands of her father with the complicity of her entire family. "There is no justification of such killing for the sake for the family's honour," he told AsiaNews. In Pakistan honour killing remains a widespread phenomenon—some 1015 cases were reported last year.

Mohammed Saleem cut his daughter's throat on August 11 because she refused an arranged marriage and instead wanted to integrate into Italian society. Not only did she work in a bar where alcoholic beverages were served but, worse of all, she had entered in a common law relationship with a 30-year-old Italian man. For her family, the scandal was too much to bear.

"It is an old and unjust feudal practice in Pakistan that denies women the right to make decisions on their own," explained Mgr Saldanha, who also heads the Catholic Bishop's Conference of Pakistan. "Because of such a practice, honour killings often occur. Although it is rare, it even happens among Christians".

"Once they reach a certain age, freely choosing one's spouse is s fundamental rights and we cannot deny it," the archbishop added.

Thinking about the integration of Pakistanis living abroad, he stressed that "this type of incidents is earning Pakistan a bad name. People who go to foreign countries should accept to live in an international culture, adhere to international values based on universal human rights. And if they cannot adjust to international values and norms, they should come back to Pakistan."

According to Peter Jacob, executive secretary to the National Commission on Justice and Peace, honour crimes are commonplace in Pakistan and the government is not doing enough to discourage them.

"If this murder happened in Pakistan, the grandfather or the mother of the killed girl would have gone to the police station to report the case against the murderer. This would make them both plaintiffs as well as guardians of the accused. The murderer would be arrested, sent to jail, and after some time, he would be forgiven. This way within a couple of months he would be free."

Jacob and other groups and NGOs have been campaigning to abolish laws that are discriminatory towards minorities and women. But "the government doesn't really listen. Although it implemented some changes in 2004 so that honour killings are now considered common murders, it has failed to apply them".

According to Madadgaar, an organization set up by Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid (LHRLA) and UNICEF, 1015 honour killings occurred in 2005 compared to 1,349 the previous year. But for LHRLA president Zia Ahmed Awan, the figures do not paint the actual picture since it is estimated that only one honour killing in ten gets reported.

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More violence against Catholics and their local church
Bishop Saldanha in Mariamabad says no to attacks against life and the family
Pakistani Church urges government to uphold the constitution against extremism
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