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Eviction of entire clan of a murder suspect ‘outrageous violation of human rights’

By Laila Azzeh - Jan 19,2016 - Last updated at Jan 20,2016

Illustration by Ahmad Jemzawi

AMMAN — Forced relocation is likely the fate of entire Jordanian families belonging to a tribe if a relative kills a person from another tribe, even in an urban context.

The relocation, or jalwa, is deemed by some tribal leaders and legal experts "outrageous" and irrelevant in the 21st century. 

"Jalwa", a term first coined by tribes, entails the forced relocation of a clan if one of its members murders someone, in a bid to avoid friction between the two tribes, both of the victim’s and the killer’s, if they were living in the same area. 

The measure was applied last week in Karak against the tribe of a 34-year-old man suspected of killing Turki Sarairah, a 40-year-old trader and father of two who was shot dead earlier this month at his shop in Karak's Mutah town by a masked man, who was arrested and allegedly confessed to the crime.

As a result, dozens of families belonging to the suspect’s tribe evacuated their homes in Karak and headed to Tafileh Governorate, leaving behind their homes, jobs, businesses, schools and farms. 

The Karak jalwa was part of a government-sponsored “confession atwa”, an initial agreement brokered by mediators who acknowledged that the suspect committed the crime and gave guarantees that the conditions of the victim’s family be met. These were:  sentencing the killer to death, dropping the right of the suspect to hire a defence lawyer, evacuating the suspect's tribe (all those related to the suspect through the fifth paternal ancestor) and giving the victim's clan the right to kill the perpetrator's father, children, grandchildren, uncles, and their children if they pass by Mutah town at any time. 


Although lawmakers say that these conditions violate the law and the Constitution, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education Mohammad Thneibat led the atwa delegation, drawing criticism from reformists. 

“What happened on Friday is a clear indication of the failure of the state’s institutions. The idea of jalwa was first introduced when there were no state and government institutions to enforce the law. The tribes used to resort to this measure to prevent bloodshed, because otherwise, revenge would take more lives,” said tribal leader and judge Talal Madi, who is also secretary general of the Unified Jordanian Front Party. 

Madi added that with the emergence of prisons, security apparatuses and penal codes, tribes should no longer stick to traditions that violate the core concept of the civil state. 

“Tribes should blend into a civil state, but the weakness of state apparatuses concerned with the safety and security of citizens is not helping this process move forward,” said Madi, who criticised having a member of the government lead an atwa that “resulted in the relocation of tens of innocent people”.

“This requires a white revolution” to stop such injustices, he said.

Madi’s words were echoed by a man who was forced to follow such a tribal ruling two years ago because of a crime he did not commit.

Salem, whose full name was withheld upon his request, drank from the bitter cup, having to leave home, farmland and other belongings in the northern governorate of Irbid after his brother committed homicide.  

He was made to leave with his sons and daughters as well as his four brothers.

They all moved to Amman, where “life has become more expensive in terms of cost of living, including rent and education for my grandchildren”.  

“We can’t rent out houses back home or benefit from our farmland because of the conditions of the jalwa document,” said Salem, regading the document which was issued after his brother was found guilty of killing his business partner over a business dispute.

Salem said although he loves Amman, he still dreams of returning to his home village one day and to be buried there. 

“The evacuated tribe cannot benefit from anything left behind, even the olive trees they planted back home,” Madi lamented. 

Tribal leader Barjas Al Hadid believes that while jalwa might cause injustices to a lot of people, it is for the best interests of the two parties. However, he said, it should be applied according to “very strict rules”. 

“For example, if the families of the victims and perpetrators live in the same street, it is for the best interests of the killer’s family to relocate. Otherwise, their lives would become hell,” he told The Jordan Times. 

Hadid disagreed with the recent Karak jalwa for stipulating the evacuation of large numbers of the perpetrator’s clan, who include descendants of the suspect’s fifth paternal grandfather. 

He cited an agreement signed by tribal leaders recently limiting the jalwa, or evacuation, to the persons listed in the family registration book, meaning direct family members, and not the entire clan, stressing that the “ultimate purpose of the measure is to protect the innocent and protect them from any harm that might result from crimes they did not commit”. 

“Jalwa is only applied in cases of premeditated murder and rape and when the two parties, the victim and the perpetrator, are neighbours,” Hadid said, adding that late King Hussein has issued orders to limit the effect of jalwa only to the immediate family of the perpetrator. 

Last week, Interior Minister Salameh Hammad said the new 2016 Crime Prevention Law limits the jalwa to the father and children of the killer and gives the authority of specifying the diyeh (blood money) to the chief Islamic justice. 

He underlined that the law seeks to “safeguard the status of the country and the interests of the people”.

In remarks he made late last year, Hammad, who himself belongs to a major bedouin tribe, underlined the importance of arriving at an agreement on legal measures to be respected in cases of tribal disputes to safeguard social harmony and to ensure respect of the rule of law.

At a meeting with tribal figures and representatives, he noted that violations and unacceptable acts are sometimes committed under the pretext of tribal norms and customs, stressing that there should be a binding agreement on legal measures to be observed in such issues.

He said reconciliation should be reached regarding tribal-related issues and serious offences, including honour crimes and the killing of someone from one’s own tribe. 

‘Civil law vs tribal customs’ 

While acknowledging that jalwa might prevent bloodshed in light of the exclusive features of tribal society, it violates the law in many areas, particularly since it involves a collective punishment, according to lawyer and constitutional law expert, Omar Jazi. 

“Jalwa remains a very controversial act. In one part, it is considered a norm in the tribal traditions, but it does not make any sense in a civil system. The state, not the tribe, should have the power to protect individuals in a civil state,” he said. 

Jazi added that while the civil law and tribal customs “meet” in many issues, they stand contradictory when it comes to jalwa. 

On the other hand, the legal expert noted that the conditions of the atwa, including the recent one, include provisions that violate the Constitution, such as requesting the family of the perpetrator to waive his right for legal representation. 

Expert Fadi Al Qadi, former spokesperson for Human Rights Watch in the Middle East and North Africa, strongly condemned Friday’s jalwa, saying that it showed the “failure of the state in applying the rule of the law”.

“The message it gave us is that the state institutions are incapable of protecting civilians and that tribes should step up to do their job,” he told The Jordan Times, adding that the forced displacement of innocent people violates their basic human rights. 

He added that those harmed by the jalwa have the right to file lawsuits against the state for failing to protect them and their interests. 

“It has been proven by this act that we are still far from being a civil country. Assigning the education minister to lead the atwa and agree on its terms on behalf of the state cannot take place in a civil society,” said Al Qadi. 

In previous remarks, veteran MP Mahmoud Kharabsheh said tribal traditions have their positive side as they are supposed to help in enforcing the law and safeguarding the stability and safety of the society. 

The MP, who is also a jurist and a retired security general, said that historically, Jordan has had a tribal law before, but it was abolished, and there was another law governing the issue of bedouin settlement, which was also cancelled. 

His Majesty the late King Hussein, he added, oversaw the adoption of a “document” that regulated tribal traditions, including the so-called tribal judicial system. Both the law and the document, he said, were also restricted to specific types of crimes.

Madi noted that principles of tolerance and forgiveness, once distinct features of Arab tribes and norms, “no longer exist” and therefore tribal rulings might cause more harm than good. 


“The Koran says: ‘and no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another’. Where are these norms from what Islam dictates?” he asked. 

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