A leading international rights group urged Jordan on Tuesday to treat so-called honor crimes as other killings under the law, and impose tougher penalties for them rather than deal with the cases by setting up special tribunals. An average of 20 Jordanian women are killed each year in slayings known as honor killings - when a male family member or relative kills a woman perceived as having disobeyed her family by having a relationship with a man that is deemed inappropriate. The perpetrators claim their actions restore their family's respect in the community. Jordan maintains it is trying to battle honor killings with harsher sentences and has set up a special court to hear the cases since July. The tribunal has reportedly reduced trial length from 18 to two months but critics argue that some perpetrators still receive lenient sentences. The New York-based Human Rights Watch urged the kingdom to adopt new legislation in a press statement released Tuesday. Nadya Khalife, a women's rights researcher with HRW, said Jordan's current law is "nothing less than an endorsement for murdering women and girls." "Jordan should send a strong message to perpetrators that they can no longer get away with murder," by changing its laws to reflect the seriousness of these crimes and treat them as other killings, she urged. "The women of Jordan need protection from these vicious acts." Honor crimes occur not just in conservative areas of Jordan but also elsewhere in the Middle East where tradition disapproves of women having any relationship with an unrelated man believing it reflects negatively on the woman's family. In its statement, HRW warned that the special tribunals were not the right solution, "when discriminatory penal code provisions effectively sanction the violence with exemptions and lighter sentences for honor crimes." In Jordan, premeditated murder carries the death penalty. Three years ago, the government abolished the section of the penal code that allowed those convicted of honor killings to receive sentences as lenient as six months in prison. The judiciary has not, however, put them on an equal footing with other homicides, which are punishable by up to 15 years in jail. Honor crime offenders typically get anywhere between seven-and-a-half years in jail to commuted sentences after being pardoned by the slain woman's parents, which is usually their own family.