UN decides first ‘honour’ crimes case, on death of mother of two in Georgia
Content warning: Violence against women, honour-based violence, suicide
The Georgian authorities’ failure to investigate and prosecute gender and honour-based violence contributed to a woman’s death in 2014, the UN’s women’s rights committee has found.
Khanum Jeiranova was publicly beaten and humiliated by relatives of her husband, in the presence of her children, because they suspected her of having an extramarital affair.
The day after her beating, Khanum was found dead in a presumed suicide. She was 30 years old. Her children were 8 and 11.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) condemned the Georgian authorities’ failure to protect Khanum and its failure to arrest and prosecute her husband’s relatives. On the latter point, they commented that this impunity “contributes significantly to the entrenchment of a culture of acceptance of the most extreme forms of gender-based violence against women in society, which feeds their continued commission”.
“Had the Georgian authorities adequately protected Ms. Jeiranova against the gender-based violence inflicted on her, she would still be alive today.”
CEDAW member Genoveva Tisheva
A complaint was brought before CEDAW by EHRAC and our Tbilisi-based partners Union Sapari and Human Rights Centre, on behalf of Khanum’s children.
“Khanum Jeiranova’s case remained one of the most heartbreaking topics among the members of Sapari due to the severity of inhuman treatment Khanum was subjected to by the members of her community and the utmost failure of domestic authorities to hold the perpetrators accountable.
“The positive decision of the Committee has not only served as a means of redressing Khanum’s and her children’s violated dignity and rights, but it will also assist us in pressuring the Government to take measures necessary for the elimination of gender-based violence in general.”
Natia Gamkhitashvili, lawyer, Union Sapari
Shamed and attacked for breaking the community code of ‘honour’
Khanum Jeiranova, an ethnic Azerbaijani and Georgian national lived in the predominantly Azerbaijani Muslim village of Lambalo. On 16 September 2014, she was seen in a vehicle with a man who was not her husband by a group of her husband’s relatives, who then suspected her of having an extramarital affair.
Six of the relatives forcibly removed Khanum from the car and took her to the village where they insulted and severely beat her, causing her to lose consciousness several times. Her children witnessed her public humiliation and beating. On arriving at the scene, Khanum’s father slapped her and took her to his home.
That night, the village governor was called to the home of Khanum’s father, where police officers were present. Khanum informed the governor and police that her family members had told her to drink rat poison, and asked them for help. The police had to restrain her father from continuing to slap her.
She was then taken to the governor’s house by the police and the governor, prompted by their fear for her safety. When Khanum repeatedly asked the governor and police officers in Azeri why they were not bringing the men who beat her to justice, the governor did not translate her pleas to the officer, who did not speak Azeri.
Khanum was returned to her parents’ house the following morning by her mother, the police allowing her to return merely on the basis of a written undertaking that she would not be harmed. The next morning, Khanum was found dead by her mother, by hanging. Her mother informed the governor that she had died in an apparent suicide. The police opened an investigation into her death.
On the basis of her family’s refusal to allow a forensic examination, none was conducted. The mullahs (Islamic clergy members) who prepared her body for burial noted she had been “beaten to a pulp”, was covered in bruises and had a deep wound and scratches around her neck.
On 24 September 2014, her parents wrote to the Georgian authorities outlining the violence she had suffered leading up to her death, and requesting a criminal investigation.
An investigation was opened but terminated within days, with the prosecutors concluding that Khanum had taken her own life on the basis of her “shameful” behaviour and unfaithfulness.
Media interest in the case caused it to be re-opened, but despite repeated calls from Khanum’s family the investigation remained pending and no one was charged for eight years.
In 2018, EHRAC and our partners Union Sapari and Human Rights Centre brought a complaint to the CEDAW on behalf of Khanum’s children.
In the complaint, we argued that Khanum’s treatment by her relatives, community and law enforcement evidenced discrimination based on her gender and ethnicity, in breach of the anti-discrimination provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (the ‘CEDAW Convention’)
We argued that Khanum’s beating was an honour crime punishing her as a woman for “inappropriate” behaviour deemed to bring disgrace on her family, and as such it was gender-based violence; that the police and village governor had been on notice of the threat to her life; that they took no legal protective measures; and that there was no effective investigation into her death.
We also argued that entrenched attitudes of gender-bias within the community and law enforcement and as evidenced in wider Georgian society caused and/or contributed to her death. In support of our submissions, we obtained an expert opinion on the nature and context of honour-based violence from Professor Aisha Gill, a global expert in this field.
CEDAW finds authorities’ actions contributed to death and based on discriminatory attitudes
In its Views published in November 2021, CEDAW found that the state’s failure to investigate the gender and honour-based violence inflicted on Khanum, and prosecute those responsible, contributed towards her death.
The Committee noted the devasting impact of such impunity, and found that the Georgian authorities had failed to provide any other effective protection to Khanum or to take appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against her. The written undertaking relied on by the police was criticised by the Committee as “devoid of legal value” and not providing any protection for victims of gender-based violence.
The Committee was unequivocal that the ill-treatment suffered by Khanum, the failure to conduct an autopsy on the basis of the objections of relatives who posed a known threat to Khanum, the prosecutor’s description of her conduct as “dishonourable”, and the decision to close the investigation based on the conclusion that she had committed suicide because of her “shameful” behaviour, all confirm that she “was the victim of intersecting discrimination related to ethnicity and stereotypical attitudes of the police and judicial authorities”.
In light of the conduct and attitudes of the authorities, which “permitted and condoned” the treatment suffered by Khanum, the Committee found violations of Khanum’s rights under the CEDAW Convention.
The Committee called on Georgia to carry out a prompt, thorough and independent investigation into her treatment and death, and prosecute and sanction those responsible. It also recommended that her children receive adequate compensation, as well as an official apology from the state.
In its recommendations targeted at the wider legislative and policy context, the Committee urged Georgia to update all legislation, policies and measures on domestic violence to ensure they include provisions to prevent and address honour-based violence, and to strengthen measures to protect women’s rights, paying “special attention to communities that are isolated, closed and where honour-based norms apply.”
Breaking new ground
As well as providing recognition of the state’s conduct which failed to protect Khanum and prevent her death, the Committee’s findings set two important legal precedents: it is the first decision from an international human rights body to establish substantive violations of international human rights law arising from honour-based violence; and it is the first explicit finding of intersectional discrimination by an international human rights body.
It is also the first time that the Georgian government has been asked to provide a public apology (as a distinct form of reparation under international law) to victims of human rights violations.
EHRAC and our Georgian partners are continuing to work on implementing the Committee’s recommendations.