CEDAW: Georgia Failed to Respond to ‘Honor Crime’

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), an independent United Nations body, adopted on October 25 views and recommendations for Georgia regarding a complaint concerning Khanum Jeiranova, an ethnic Azerbaijani woman who died in 2014 shortly after enduring public humiliation and violence in her community.

It said Georgia, a state party, breached several articles of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, holding the state accountable, among others, for failing to investigate and punish those responsible for Jeiranova’s ill-treatment and her death, and for failing to protect her from gender-based discrimination.

The Committee also found Jeiranova, 30, to be a “victim of intersecting discrimination,” while acknowledging the role of honor-based considerations in the abuse.

A story of mistreatment

According to lawyers from Union Sapari and Human Rights Center, Georgian CSOs representing the victim’s family, husband’s relatives publicly humiliated, insulted, and physically assaulted Jeiranova in the streets of Lambalo village of the Kakheti region, accusing her of an extramarital affair.

Several minors, including Jeiranova’s children, reportedly witnessed the woman’s ill-treatment. The victim’s father also arrived at the scene, allegedly insulting and slapping her daughter prior to taking her home. Later, the village governor, together with the police, took her to his own house, but the woman was soon returned to her parents’ place.

Shortly afterward, Jeiranova was found dead at her home. The investigative bodies presumed it was suicide, despite the victim’s earlier reports to the authorities that she faced pressure from relatives to take her own life.

“It often happens that a woman’s murder is staged as a suicide,” Baia Pataraia, head of Sapari, points out, noting that the victim’s body has never undergone any forensic examination.

Pataraia also says that authorities promptly closed the probe, only agreeing to reopen it after the media ramped up attention to the case. The initial media footage featured clear witness accounts of the crime, but these potential witnesses fell silent once the probe was reopened. As a result, the lawyers had to settle for testimonies from minors, including Jeiranova’s own children.

Jairanova’s lawyers say they had long identified the main suspects in “inhuman and degrading” treatment against her, but the investigative authorities have continuously pointed at the unwillingness of witnesses to testify as an obstacle to bringing those responsible to justice.

After years of drawn-out investigation, in 2018 a complaint went to CEDAW. Among other concerns, the applicants claimed the investigative authorities failed to consider honor-based and gender-based discrimination as motives behind the crime.

The CEDAW views

Georgian authorities objected to the review of the case since the domestic legal remedies were not exhausted, but the Committee still found the complaint admissible, citing, among others, “unreasonably prolonged” criminal procedures in seeking remedy for the victim.

In the views adopted, CEDAW said that State authorities “failed to offer effective protection against, and to take all appropriate measures to eliminate, discrimination against Ms. Jeiranova as a woman,” deploring the State reliance “on honor-based considerations.” In this respect, the committee drew attention to authorities putting her in a “situation of extreme danger” by agreeing to return her to the relatives, who urged her to commit suicide.

The UN body further found that the Georgian authorities failed to meet the obligation “to investigate and punish those responsible for the treatment inflicted on Ms. Jeiranova and her death.” Here, the Committee pointed at the failed response from the state while “the identities of those involved appear never to have been contested,” and noted that authorities did not conduct a forensic examination on the woman’s body due to objections from her relatives, “who they knew had told her to take her own life.”

Also, the Committee found Jeiranova to be a victim of “intersecting discrimination related to ethnicity and stereotypical attitudes of the police and judicial authorities.” Along with her ill-treatment and the denial of the autopsy, CEDAW’s arguments here included the Prosecutor’s qualification of Jeiranova’s behavior as “dishonorable” and the termination of the probe upon the conclusion that she took her own life “because of her “shameful” behavior and faithlessness.”

Concluding that the attitude of the authorities “permitted and condoned” the ill-treatment, the Committee issued a long list of recommendations to the state, which include ensuring the necessary remedies to the victim and her family, as well as general legal and policy steps to avert and respond to future violations.

Why this matters?

“It is the first case in Georgia which the [CEDAW] named a crime as one committed in the name of [so-called] honor,” Pataraia said in a press briefing about the document, stressing the adopted views set the precedent.

Various international sources define “honor crimes” as those committed against women by family members or relatives to restore “honor” based on respecting the values shared in a particular – often patriarchal – community. Natia Gamkhitashvili, the Sapari lawyer, told Civil.ge that while such crimes happen in Georgia, they are not recognized in the country’s legislation.

Another important finding was the recognition of Jeiranova as a victim of “intersecting discrimination.” Pataraia noted that authorities failed to investigate the crime “because Khanum Jeiranova was a woman and she was an [ethnically] Azerbaijani woman,” citing the CEDAW views as pointing that women of ethnic minorities in Georgia are subjected to “double discrimination from the state.”

Concept: Intersectional crime

According to the Council of Europe, intersecting, or intersectional discrimination happens “when two or multiple grounds operate simultaneously and interact in an inseparable manner, producing distinct and specific forms of discrimination.”

Both CSOs representing the case welcomed the CEDAW findings, saying they “thoroughly reflect the systemic problem of gender-based discrimination against women living in Georgia, and in particular, in the ethnic minority communities.”

The violence against women has strongly featured on the agenda of Georgian CSOs, activists, and human rights agencies. The Public Defender’s Office has pointed to growing annual numbers of gender-based killings against women (femicides): out of 24 women’s murder cases identified in 2020, 15 were committed by family members, and 17 out of 27 murder attempts on women had domestic origins. The Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, a Georgian CSO, said in March these numbers “show the weakness of prevention-oriented policies on part of the state.”

CEDAW’s general recommendations to the State in relation to the recent complaint include a set of legal and policy measures to prevent and respond to gender-based and honor-based violence, such as the inclusion of honor-related and gender-based violence as an aggravating circumstance, or stressing in criminal proceedings that “honor” cannot justify gender-based violence. While following the recommendations, the UN body called for “specific attention to communities that are isolated, closed and/or where honor-based norms apply.”

Georgia now has six months to submit information on any action taken in light of these recommendations. The CSOs pledge to closely follow the government’s steps in this direction.

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