Blood feuds: With revenge nobody is the winner

Blood feud and revenge killing

The decision to leave everything behind and flee your country is no doubt the most risky decision I ever took in my life. When I left and said my goodbyes with my family I knew there is a high chance that I will not survive and die somewhere along the way. Knowing this I asked the eldest one of my brothers to watch out for my mom in case anything happens to me. “Make sure she does not think too often about me if I die so she will not be too sad. Remind her that even if she loses me, she still has four sons,” I told the oldest one of my brothers when I was getting ready and tying my shoe laces shortly before leaving.

When you ask people in Europe what they know about the reasons due to which many Afghans are leaving their country the word ‘Taliban” will probably be the word heard most often. While it is true that the Taliban insurgency causes a significant challenge in many Afghan provinces and arguably the extent of it in my eyes is downplayed in Afghan and Western media, it at the same time is not the only reason for escape. A commonly overlooked and far lesser known security concern in my country are blood feuds as well as related revenge and honor killings. It is not my intention to dedicate my website only to my own story or to the voices of people around me in Germany and their experience with me, but to also use it as a means to raise awareness about important issues that affect the daily life and security of Afghans. Europeans are very often interested in why we had to escape, but sometimes simply mentioning the cause is not enough to make people understand. Therefore I decided to explain a cause that is more complex and complicated than commonly known ones, namely blood revenge, in more detail. Blood feuds and revenge killings are one such issue, which have also had a strong impact on my life. In this article I would like to share the views and expertise of well-established institutions and experts that have researched the topic well. In second article you will then learn more about how this challenge has affected my life as well as that of my family over the past few years.

What is a blood feud?

Generally speaking blood feud is defined as a lengthy conflict between families involving a cycle of retaliatory killings or injury”. Most of the times blood feud involve the members of one family killing members of another family in retaliatory acts of vengeance which are based on an ancient code of honor and behavior.Due to the tribal structure of the society in my country (which is also one of the reasons why I believe democracy in my country will not work), blood feuds and revenge killings are still very prevalent. Due to rampant corruption and bad practices of law enforcement authorities, unless you are well-connected in my country, you will have no hope for justice.

Relationships outside of wedlock – a trigger for blood feuds and revenge killings?

A key reason, even though not the only one, for blood feuds and revenge killings is social behavior that is defined as ‘not okay’ or ‘not allowed’. Just like in any other countries, young people in my country also interested in dating and relationships. However, unlike you we are socially not allowed to engage in it. And yet, simply because we are humans like anywhere else in the world quite a few of us still risk it in hope not to be caught. Below you see an excerpt from a report dating April 2016 detailing the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) position and key points concerning blood feuds and revenge killings as concerns so called ‘social crimes’ in relation to Afghanistan:

  • Persons accused of committing crimes against Sharia law, such as apostasy, blasphemy, having consensual same-sex relations, or adultery are at risk not only of prosecution, but also of social rejection and violence at the hands of their families, other community members and the Taliban and other anti-government groups
  • Sexual intercourse outside of marriage is considered as adultery in Afghanistan
  • Even the mere accusations of adultery and other “moral crimes” can elicit “honor killings”
  • Men who are perceived to be acting contrary to prevailing customs may also be at risk of ill-treatment, particularly in situations of accusations of adultery and sexual relations outside of marriage

Based on those considerations UNHCR considers that persons perceived as contravening social mores may, depending on the individual circumstances of the case, might well be in need of international refugee protection on the grounds of religion, their imputed political opinion, membership of a particular social group, or other relevant grounds.

Blood feuds & different ethnicity or religious sects

Based on what I have witness and experienced, if the aforementioned affects to individuals that belong to different ethnicities and religious sects the problem only worsens. This is mostly because as UNHCR further explains: “Ethnic divisions in Afghanistan remain strong. The Peoples under Threat Index compiled by Minority Rights Group International lists Afghanistan as the fourth most dangerous country in the world for ethnic minorities, especially because of targeted attacks against individuals based on their ethnicity and religion. The index refers specifically to the Hazaras, Pashtuns, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmen and Baluchis as ethnic minorities at risk in Afghanistan.”

Based on the foregoing, UNHCR considers that individuals who belong to one of Afghanistan’s minority ethnic groups, particularly in areas where they do not constitute an ethnic majority, may be in need of international refugee protection on the basis of their nationality or ethnicity/race, or other relevant grounds, depending on the individual circumstances of the case. Relevant considerations include the relative power position of the ethnic group in the applicant’s area of origin, and the history of inter-ethnic relations in that area. International protection needs based on ethnicity/race may overlap with those based on religion and/or (imputed) political opinion. Right now those points might sound very abstract to you, but you will come to understand the way this practically affects lives in my later articles that discuss my personal experience.

Duration of blood feuds

Blood feuds can be triggered by murders, but also by other offences, such as the infliction of permanent, serious injury, the kidnapping or violation of married women, or unresolved disputes over land, access to water supplies or property. Blood feuds may give rise to long cycles of retaliatory violence and revenge. When the victim’s family is not in a position to exact revenge, a blood feud may reportedly lie dormant until such time as the victim’s family believes it is capable of taking revenge. Revenge can thus be taken years or even generations after the original offence. Sentencing of the offender in the formal judicial system does not necessarily preclude violent retaliation by the victim’s family: unless a settlement has been reached through a traditional dispute settlement mechanism to end the blood feud, the victim’s family will reportedly still be expected to exact revenge against the offender after he has served his sentence.

Due to that UNHCR considers that persons involved in a blood feud may, depending on the circumstances of the individual case, be in need of international refugee protection on account of membership of a particular social group or other relevant grounds.