US appeals court: Jordanian woman faces threat at home

Dan Sewell
Associated Press

Cincinnati — A recent U.S. appellate court ruling offers a window on “honor killings,” an ancient practice across the globe that calls for defending a family’s reputation by slaying female relatives who violate traditional taboos.

Three 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges voted this month to block U.S. removal of a Jordanian woman who says a cousin in her homeland has vowed to kill her because she got pregnant out of wedlock. Their unanimous ruling stated that the case record “overwhelmingly supports” her belief she would be persecuted if returned to Jordan, where she would face an honor killing or involuntary incarceration for “protective custody.”

The decision by the Cincinnati-based court sends the case of Olga Jad Kamar, who lives in the Detroit area, back to the Board of Immigration Appeals for further review.

Her attorney, George Mann, called the ruling “a very important step forward not just for our client, but for many similarly situated women. It is a recognition by our courts that these practices are against our values and women who are subjected to what amounts to barbarian practices deserve our protection.”

The Justice Department didn’t respond immediately to a request for comment. Immigration authorities had rejected Kamar’s appeal in 2016.

Kamar, born in Lebanon in 1964 but a Jordan-raised citizen, lost her visiting student status in the United States when she left school, court records show. She was married and had three sons; she divorced and then became pregnant in 2007 before marrying the father.

She and her sister testified in federal immigration proceedings that a first cousin has said it his holy mission to cleanse the family name and restore honor by killing her, following local tribal traditions.

“You understand what the punishment is for a girl like you who brings shame upon your family,” she quoted a letter from her cousin as saying.

The Associated Press reported this year in Amman, Jordan, that Jordan’s main criminal court dealt with nine slayings of women in 2015 that were labeled “honor crimes” and eight more honor killing cases in 2016. Even rape victims have been “punished” in honor crimes, and some Jordanian laws have allowed lenient treatment of those who kill or assault female relatives.

Jordanian legal officials say that Jordanian courts have imposed harsher sentences for honor crimes, and that no convicted killer has received a sentence of less than 10 years since 2010.

Still, women’s rights activists says the actual number of assaults on women is believed to be higher, and that communities prefer to handle such cases through tribal arbitration to avoid public shame. Informal justice typically comes at the expense of the women, activists say.

Jordanian authorities often detain at-risk women in “protective custody.” Kamar contended that would be akin to torture, subjecting her to pain and suffering while having her child taken from her.

United Nations officials have estimated that as many as 5,000 women are killed in a year across the world, including some in Western countries. An Arizona jury in 2011 convicted an Iraqi immigrant of second-degree murder for driving over and killing his 20-year-old daughter, Noor Almaleki. Prosecutors said he wanted her to act like a traditional Iraqi woman, but she refused an arranged marriage, went to college and had a boyfriend.