In September 2020, ITV plan to screen ‘Honour’, a drama on the so called ‘honour killing’ of Banaz Mahmod, an Iraqi Kurd aged 20, in London in 2006 after being raped, tortured and strangled. Her body was found buried in a suitcase in an abandoned house in Birmingham.
Banaz was murdered by her father, uncle (a powerful community leader) and three other men for leaving her husband, against whom Banaz had alleged rape and violence, and having a boyfriend. The family convened a ‘council of war’ meeting and plotted to kill Banaz in December 2005. They disapproved of Banaz’s desire for a divorce and her choice of boyfriend, who was from a different tribe. They accused her of bringing shame and dishonour on the family and community. These five men were convicted of or pleaded guilty to her murder at the Old Bailey and another was convicted for helping to dispose of the body. In the first case of its kind, two of these men had to be extradited from Iraq to face justice in the UK.
The men had boasted and joked about the killing, which the uncle called, ‘justice’. They were backed by members of the extended family and community who shared their callous ‘code of honour’ by hampering the police investigation and prosecution with either a conspiracy of silence or a web of lies.
On five occasions, Banaz reported alleged rape and violence, threats to kill and an attempt on her life by her father to the police, and even named the suspects who later murdered her. In 2008, the former Independent Police Complaints Commission found serious failings in the police handling of the case. However, to dismay and anger, in two of the ‘worst failings’, a female police officer and her superior, an Inspector, were only issued with ‘words of advice’ by the police disciplinary body.
I welcome the drama. I think my sister’s story needs to be told so that change can take place to prevent more honour killings. It sheds more light on the case and the problem of honour violence; and how the police worked hard to eventually achieve justice.
However, I remain angry at the fact the police failed to protect Banaz when she reported rape, abuse, threats to kill and attempted murder to them so many times. I am particularly disgusted by the failure of the female police officer and the Inspector who dismissed her claims of an attempt on her life by own father. They only got ‘words of advice’ for their serious failures, which amounts to no more than a ‘slap on the wrist’!
I would like to thank Sarah Raymond, my police family liaison officer, and Hannana Siddiqui from Southall Black Sisters who supported me. They were my backbone and God-sends.
I want more services and support for women and girls facing honour violence. Agencies like the police need more regular training and apply their policies, and people generally need to look out for signs and help before it is too late. Organisations like Southall Black Sisters helping women in the community in particular need more funding and support. This way Banaz’s death would not have been in vain.
The drama shows the best of policing and the worst of policing on honour violence. The worst being the serious police failures before her death, and best being in the investigation after her death in achieving justice for Banaz. The convictions give the message that violence against women and girls in minority communities, regardless of the motive or codes of honour, is both unlawful and shameful.
However, in June 2020, Southall Black Sisters saw a 195% rise in its helpline calls during lockdown. We also continue to witness failures in policing and state responses in protecting black and minority, including migrant, victims. This is because of a failure to introduce or implement and enforce the law and best practice, particularly because of ‘cultural and religious sensitivity’ or racism. More specialist services ‘by and for’ black and minority women and increased police and state accountability is urgently needed to prevent more deaths like those of Banaz.
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