Tribal traditions and three girls’ gruesome demise

Tribal traditions and three girls’ gruesome demise

ISLAMABAD — Their only offence was to try to marry the men they loved. Their tribe, however, saw it as an affront to its honour. The three teenage girls were kidnapped, taken to a remote area, and shot. Then, still alive, they were dragged bleeding to a ditch, where they were covered in earth and stones, suffocating the remaining life out of them.

Although so-called honour killings are not unusual, burying the victims alive is extreme even by Pakistani tribal standards. The brutal treatment meted out to the girls, aged between 16 and 18, was meant not only to revive the respect of the Umrani tribe, but serve as a warning.

“A proper burial is considered very important. Depriving them [the girls] of an honourable burial is to make sure others learn the lesson,” said Samar Minallah, a human-rights activist who investigated the killings. “But never in Pakistan’s history have we seen the perpetrators of such crimes punished.”

Under tribal tradition, marriages are carefully arranged by elders. Marrying without permission is considered an insult to the honour of the tribe.

Although news of the gruesome killings has only just filtered out from Baluchistan, a remote and lawless province, 1½ months has passed since the girls’ deaths and no one has been arrested. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an independent organization, said that for a month the local police refused its attempts to register a criminal complaint over the case.

A cover-up is suspected. According to several accounts, the brother of a provincial minister, a member of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, oversaw the killings, and the girls were abducted by a group of men driving Baluchistan government vehicles. Local grandees officiate over tribal “justice,” the same notables who are typically members of parliament in rural Pakistan.

In Pakistan’s national parliament, the killings were defended by several male legislators from Baluchistan. A senator from Baluchistan, Israrullah Zehri, said on Friday that “this action was carried out according to tribal traditions,” a view backed up by others, who attacked a woman senator who had raised the case.

“These are centuries-old traditions and I will continue to defend them,” Mr. Zehri added over the weekend. “Only those who indulge in immoral acts should be afraid.”

The girls were killed in the Naseerabad district of Baluchistan. Human Rights Watch, the international campaigning group, has conducted its own probe.

“This is a heinous criminal offence,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, of Human Rights Watch. “We have corroborated it and cross-corroborated it, but the second the police admit it happened, it would trigger an investigation.”