People hold placards during a protest against honor killings in Islamabad, Pakistan | Photo: EPA/T. Mughal
People hold placards during a protest against honor killings in Islamabad, Pakistan | Photo: EPA/T. Mughal

Italy's Supreme Court of Cassation has ruled that people fleeing their country of origin to escape honor crimes are worthy of international protection.

The Italian supreme Court of Cassation ruled on January 22 that refugee status should be granted to those who flee their home country because their lives are at risk after they failed to abide by local customs. 

The first migrant to benefit from this new form of protection -- after many cases in which fear of revenge was not considered as an element of risk in order to be granted international protection -- was a 30-year-old Pakistani man, identified as Mahmoud A. in court papers. 

Previous court ruling overturned

The man had had a relationship with a young woman of a higher social class. Her family wanted the woman to marry a manfrom the same. She committed suicide after her family forced her to end her liaison with Mahmoud. Her family considered Mahmoud to be responsible for her suicide and obtained an authorization to vindicate her death from the local traditional authority, the Jirga.

In the sentence, the Court of Cassation wrote that "revenge had already been announced in repeated threats by the girl's brother who had gone to the home of Mahmood's mother for this purpose." 

The supreme court overturned a ruling issued by a court of first instance in Bologna which had deemed ''the phenomenon of honor killings in Pakistan'' not relevant to grant refugee status to Mahmoud. 

Mahmoud had applied for protection, citing an increase in the number of honor killings, "which affects women in 70% of cases and men in 30%," according to court papers.

Subsidiary protection for those who fled honor killing

The Court of Cassation found that Mahmoud was entitled to subsidiary protection in Italy because his ex-girlfriend's family posed a threat to his life. In its ruling, the court stated that "men who are threatened with potential revenge by family groups whose honor has been offended are able to escape the threat by leaving their place of origin, offering sums of money or by offering in marriage to the offended family a woman who belongs to their own family group." 

According to the supreme court, such practices "clearly harm the most elementary human rights" and in this specific case "can't be connected, if Mahmood's version of the story is true, to any behavior that has harmed the woman's dignity." On the contrary, the practice went against her right "to freely form her own family." 

The judges ruled that, for this reason, "regarding the theme of international protection of a foreigner, acts of revenge and retaliation that are threatened or carried out by a family group who believe their honor has been harmed due to an existing or previous relationship with one of its members" are relevant for the "recognition of subsidiary protection."

An appeals court must now re-examine the case, based on the Cassation's ruling.


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