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2.13. Individuals perceived to transgress moral codes

Last updated: January 2021

This profile includes individuals at risk of honour-based violence, persons transgressing cultural, social or religious norms, persons in inter-sect marriages, and persons displaying westernised behaviour. See also Women working in the public sphere. For further guidance on violence against women and children see also the profiles Women and Children.

COI summary

a. Honour-based violence and tribal sanctions
[Targeting, 3.1.1, 3.5.3, 3.6; Key socio-economic indicators 2019, 10.5.3; Actors of protection, 6.4, 9.1.]

Transgressions of family honour, linked to cultural beliefs about women’s virginity or purity, have led to families and tribes carrying out honour-based violence against family members, usually females. Perpetrators are often male relatives or family members, who carry out honour killings for a range of ‘crimes’, such as sexual relations outside marriage, including instances of rape or other forms of sexual violence, refusing to marry a man chosen by the family or marrying against the family’s wishes, to inappropriate appearances or unacceptable contact with males outside the family, among others.

Although the scale of honour killings in Iraq is unknown due to severe underreporting, the estimates are that several hundreds of girls and women become victims of honour killings each year. In 2017, there were 272 honour crimes reported to police and sent to court; up from 224 in 2016. Honour killings are rarely investigated and punished.

This issue affects all parts of the country, cutting through religious and ethnic divides, with a strong tribal element and linked with the strong patriarchal society.

Iraq lacks comprehensive legislation to protect from and punish violence against women, and it allows for honour as a mitigating circumstance. The Iraqi Penal Code of 1969 states, under Article 409, ‘[a]ny person who surprises his wife in the act of adultery or finds his girlfriend in bed with her lover and kills them immediately or one of them or assaults one of them so that he or she dies or is left permanently disabled is punishable by a period of detention not exceeding 3 years. It is not permissible to exercise the right of legal defence against any person who uses this excuse nor do the rules of aggravating circumstance apply against him’. This article was suspended in the KRI in 2000. However, implementation of the laws regulating honour crimes in KRI is impeded by the patriarchal mentality of the society, as well as the discriminatory mindset of the judiciary towards women.

There are reports that persons who transgress cultural, social or religious norms face harsh punishment by their tribes. It has, for example, been reported that behaviour on social media, such as clicking on a ‘like’ button of an ‘objectionable’ Facebook page, could lead to tribal sanctions, including significant financial compensation; according to the source, there is agreement amongst various tribes in southern Iraq on the subject.

Tribes in a number of governorates have also forcibly evicted families associated with ISIL and confiscated their property (see the profile Persons perceived to be associated with ISIL).

Persons who do not comply with the will of their tribe may be killed, ostracised or disowned and expelled from the tribe and be forbidden to reside in specific areas.

With regard to tribal feuds and conflict resolution, see the profile Persons involved in and affected by blood feuds in the context of tribal conflict.

b. Persons in inter-sect marriages
[Targeting, 3.10, 3.11]

Inter-sect marriages between Sunni and Shia were and continue to be common in Iraq. Due to the politicisation of sectarian differences since 2006, there has been a decrease in Sunni-Shia marriages. However, they are still not unusual. There are incidents of violence due to inter-sect marriages, although the reasons for it are often intertwined with other causes, such as honour-based violence.

Marriages between Arabs and Kurds are very rare, especially in northern Iraq, where sectarian and ethnic tensions are high. Arab-Kurdish couples are stigmatised by both Arabs and Kurds. Nevertheless, due to displacement in the context of the ISIL crisis, it has become slightly more common.

In the KRI, especially women may be victims of honour killing due to being in a mixed marriage.

c. Persons displaying westernised behaviour
[Targeting, 1.1.2, 1.14, 3.12]

Persons who are seen as not conforming with the local social and cultural norms by displaying ‘westernised’ behaviour have been the subjected to threats and attacks by individuals in society, as well as by militia groups. PMU are targeting people that show signs of deviating morality according to their interpretation of Shia norms, sometimes with the support of the Shia community. LGBTIQ persons, Christians, alcohol sellers and artists are among those reportedly targeted.

Men and especially women face pressure to conform to conservative standards on personal appearances. Shia militias in Baghdad and Basrah seek to enforce strict dress codes and are responsible for violent attacks on women whose dress styles are considered inappropriate. Women have been targeted for assassination by militias, for example, due to wearing the ‘wrong’ clothes, or (allegedly) being connected to prostitution. According to a 2017 report, ‘some Muslims continued to threaten women and girls, regardless of their religious affiliation, for refusing to wear the hijab, for dressing in Western-style clothing, or for not adhering to strict interpretations of Islamic norms governing public behaviour’.

Alcohol vendors in particular may be subject to assassination, death threats or forced out of their community. Yazidis and Christians, being the main importers and sellers of alcohol, are mostly affected.

Risk analysis

The acts to which individuals under this profile could be exposed are of such severe nature that they would amount to persecution (e.g. violent attacks, killings).

Not all individuals under this profile would face the level of risk required to establish a well-founded fear of persecution. The individual assessment of whether or not there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: gender (the risk is higher for women), conservative environment, perception of traditional gender roles by the family and society, etc.

Nexus to a reason for persecution

Available information indicates that for this profile, the individual circumstances of the applicant need to be taken into account to determine whether or not a nexus to a reason for persecution can be substantiated.

In the cases of inter-sect marriages, as well as in individual cases of persons targeted by Shia militias, persecution may be for reasons of religion.

In the case of persons transgressing social norms, persecution may also be for reasons of membership of a particular social group, based on their common background which cannot be changed (perceived past behaviour) and/or a shared characteristic or belief that is so fundamental to identity or conscience that they should not be forced to renounce it (opposition to cultural, social or religious norms and the unwillingness to comply with them). They may also be considered to have a distinct identity in the context of Iraq, because they may be perceived as being different by the surrounding society.

 A thorough individual assessment should take place to whether the particular characteristic or belief is fundamental to the identity or conscience of the applicant.