memorandum by Mr Austin, rapporteur
of so-called “honour crimes”
1 So-called “honour crimes“ comprise many types of
crimes. Any form of violence against women and girls, in the name
of traditional codes of honour, is regarded as a so-called “honour
crime“. What distinguishes this form of violence from other forms
of violence against women therefore resides in the fact that the
violence is exercised in the name of traditional codes of honour.
Where the “honour” of the family is at stake, according to the family,
and the woman suffers the consequences, it is proper to speak of
a so‑called “honour crime“.
The authors Welchman and HossainNote
have defined “honour crimes”
“Crimes of ‘honour’
are seen to encompass a variety of manifestations of violence against
women, including ‘honour killings’, assault, confinement or imprisonment,
and interference with choice in marriage, where the publicly articulated ’justification’
is attributed to a social order claimed to require the preservation
of a concept of ‘honour’ vested in male (family and/or conjugal)
control over women and specifically women’s sexual conduct, actual
suspected or potential”.
3 These “crimes” comprise various forms of violence inflicted
on women by members of their families in the name of honour. Murder
is the most extreme form.
4 The perception of what besmirches honour is vast, and above
all extremely subjective, which makes it difficult to categorise.
The notion of “honour” hides a tension between cultural relativism
and the universal application of human rights. Moreover, it is so
subjective and subject to differing interpretation that women are not
safe within their families or communities. In fact, the mere impression
that a woman has breached the code of sexual conduct may be an affront
Thus, men exercise control not only over women’s bodies but
also over their behaviour, all their deeds and actions, their movements
and their speech. More fundamentally, behind this question lies
the issue of the control of women’s sexuality and of reproductive
rights within the family. According to Ms Coomaraswamy, “honour
is generally seen as residing in the bodies of women”Note
In other words, a woman does not have the right to individual self-determination.
6 The role of virginity is also crucial. Hence there is increasing
demand in public hospitals, both from girls and sometimes from their
families, for hymen reconstruction, in anticipation of consensual
or forced marriage. The aim is always to preserve “honour”.
A so-called “honour crime” is often intended to punish a real
or supposed relationship of which the family disapprove and/or “immoral conduct”,
such as a mere exchange of words with a male neighbour. All these
acts may give rise to violent retaliatory measures inflicted on
the woman by the men in her family, often with the support of other
women in the family. These punishments take various forms: the women
may be disowned by their families, cut off from their social surroundings
or exposed to exploitation. They may be confined, abducted or threatened.
Many of them are tortured, mutilated and disfigured for life. Others
are burnt with acid, burnt to death or otherwise killed. In extreme
situations, yet others have no choice but to commit ritual suicideNote
to kill themselvesNote
8 Families believe that they have to preserve their “honour”
by punishing the “guilty” party. This crime has close similarities
to “blood vengeance”. The common denominator of all so-called honour
crimes nonetheless remains that of ill-treatment, violation of human
rights and in some cases murder, generally committed against women
in the name of honour, as defined by the perpetrator(s) of the crime.
9 Forced marriage, even though not in response to a “reprehensible”
act by the woman, may also fall into this category in that parents
exercise a visible or invisible form of violence, psychological
pressure, moral blackmail or physical violence, by not allowing
future spouses to choose their partners.
As recently shown by the personal account of Dr Humayra AbedinNote
, there is a clear crossover between forced
marriage and so-called "honour crime" with the threat or act of
forced marriage often resulting in honour based violence. This young
woman, a doctor of Bangladeshi origin practising in the United Kingdom,
was held captive in Bangladesh and forced to marry. In pursuance
of the UK's new legislation on forced marriagesNote
, and thanks to co-operation with
Bangladesh, she was able to return to the UK, where she is trying
to rebuild her life.
11 This violence also occurs against homosexuals and against
men and boys who, for example, see themselves obliged in the case
of forced marriages, to marry a person they have not chosen since
it is supposedly a matter of honour for the families that the children
should respect the choice that their fathers have made for them.
Men who have had a forbidden amorous relationship with a girl may
also be its victims.
12 In the majority of cases, so-called “honour crimes” are perpetrated
by the husband, father or brother of the woman or the girl regarded
as culpable. Brothers often proclaim themselves to be the guardians
of their sister’s honour. Frequently, the youngest brother, if possible
a minor, is chosen to carry out the crime, so that it will not be
judged too severely by the courts. The family considers that the
woman has sullied their honour and must therefore be punished for
that offence. The fact that women are regarded as objects, as property, contributes
to this form of violence. This idea is firmly rooted in patriarchal
13 Hence, the concept of so-called “honour crimes“ covers any
form of violence against girls and women (and more rarely men and
boys), in the name of traditional codes of honour, carried out by
members of the family, hired criminals or by the victims themselves.
So-called “honour crimes” are a serious violation of the rights
of the person subjected to them.
2 Scope and specifics
of the phenomenon
In Western countries, there used to be a tendency
to believe that so-called “honour crimes” occurred exclusively in
certain Asian countries, such as PakistanNote
, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, some African
countries and the Middle East. However, over the last twenty years,
there is no denying that so-called “honour crimes” have become increasingly
common in Europe, particularly in France, Sweden, the Netherlands,
Germany, the United KingdomNote
Since the 2003 Committee reportNote
which raised the issue of the growth in so-called “honour crimes”, the
problem has not been resolved and has in fact spread. That is why
I wished to return to the matter. For fear of being accused of cultural
imperialism or intolerance, some people do not condemn these crimes.
However, it is not a question of imperialism but of condemning serious
violations of the fundamental rights of the human being. The hearing
on this subject organised by the Committee on 6 June 2008Note
was of excellent quality, and I
shall refer to it as appropriate below.
16 To take just one example, let us recall the murder of Banaz
Mahmod Babakir Agha in Birmingham in April 2006. She was 20 years
of age, and had been raped and tortured before being strangled,
on the orders of her father and with the help of her uncle, because
she loved a man who was not destined for her. Her requests for help
went unheeded, which means we need to look at the ways in which
the member States of the Council of Europe ought to respond to this
issue, and at the awareness-raising that needs to be conducted among
young people in particular.
17 So-called “honour crimes” occur everywhere in Europe. These
crimes are committed in all milieux, not only in rural but also
in urban areas and in “educated” environments. However, a report
on "honour killings" in Turkey in 2007 points out that more such
murders tend to take place in less well-educated groups (see paragraph
22 below). They are particularly prevalent among some minority ethnic
communities. This phenomenon may be explained – but not excused
– by the fact that immigrants and their families, who are often poorly
integrated into the host country, fall back on, and may even reinforce,
the customs and traditions of their countries of origin, in order
to safeguard their own identity.
These acts are being reported with increasing frequency in
the press. For example, there has been a report that six women were
found dead in Chechnya, apparently killed by those close to them
on grounds of honourNote
The Austrian Minister for WomenNote
has reported that in Austria,
women have been the victims of genital mutilation, forced marriage
and crimes of “honour”. In Germany, newspapers echo these crimesNote
The situation is similar in the United KingdomNote
In Turkey, proposals have been put forward to tackle the issueNote
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that
the world total of murders on grounds of honour may be as high as
5000 victims a year, concentrated in Muslim countries and communitiesNote
. However, this figure merely covers the
tip of the iceberg because it only accounts for homicides, and does
not therefore include other forms of violence inflicted in the name
However, as Ms Asma Jahangir points outNote
it is practically impossible to assess precisely the number of so-called
“honour crimes”. The feeling of shame and threats from within the
community (combined with the fact that some victims of domestic
violence do not speak out because they may not be aware that a crime
has been committed) and the fact that they are emotionally and economically
dependent on the aggressor, lead them to believe wrongly that they
“deserve” the punishment, added to which few witnesses come forward
and deaths are generally classified as accidents or suicides.
Although most recorded “honour crimes” are perpetrated in
Muslim countries or within Muslim communities they also occur in
many other communities. There have been recorded crimes of honour
based violence in Hindu, Sikh and Christian communities. This patriarchal
violence often stems from fundamentalist beliefs and conservative
traditions, the main object of which is to control women’s freedom
. Whilst many “honour
crimes” appear to be rooted in strongly held religious belief, the
paradox is that none of the major world religions advocates the
death penalty for misconduct linked to honour and many religious leaders
and scholars condemn this practice and affirm that it has no religious
The 2007 “Human Rights Report of Turkey” said that there had
been 231 "honour killings" in the country in 2007Note
. The report refers to the many different
reasons for these crimes, namely economic, social and cultural.
In geographical terms, they are most frequent in large cities, with
167 such killings having occurred in Istanbul in the previous five
years, and 144 in Ankara. The number had doubled in a year in Istanbul,
from 27 in 2006 to 53 in 2007. It would seem that the high rate
of immigration into these cities combined with the immigrants' socioeconomic
problems and their difficulty in adapting to their new urban environment
reinforced the cultures and traditions of their origins. The report
also points out that the number of "honour killings" is higher in
the less well-educated population groups.
23 In Europe, I fear that we have for too long closed our eyes
to these patriarchal and cultural forms of violence, which may not
have been easy to apprehend even a few years ago but can today no
longer be ignored. These women and girls have the right, like any
human being, to live their lives freely in a modern multicultural
society. They wish, like all modern women, to choose and to live
their own lives.
The attacks perpetrated against them are attacks on the societies
in which we liveNote
. We cannot
tolerate these infringements of fundamental rights, such as freedom
of movement and freedom of expression, or equality between women
25 Obviously, this violence cannot be legitimated by the codes
of honour of the perpetrators. Its particular form and roots also
call for particular treatment, both protection for the victims and
prevention and punishment of the perpetrators. I entirely concur
with the description “shame killings” given by the former Secretary
General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, to “harmful traditional
practices such as so-called ‘honour killings’” (2000).
3 Proposal for measures
to protect victims and prevent so-called “honour crimes”
26 It is pleasing to note that so-called “honour crimes”
are increasingly recognised by certain countries as a genuine blot
on their society, and that the decision-making authorities in some
countries, such as Turkey and Pakistan, have taken steps to prevent
these crimes and to punish them more severely. However, there is
no escaping the finding that there is as yet little or no awareness
within the populations concerned.
27 The prevention of so-called “honour crimes” must take place
on two levels, on the domestic level within each country, and on
the international level.
Within each country, action needs to be taken both at national
and at regional level, since the phenomenon is sometimes more prevalent
in certain regions. The population must be made aware of the issue if
it is to be prevented and appropriately punished with an awareness
of the extreme gravity of the crime that has been committed. Police
officers and the judiciary must be trained in the specifics of the
offences and crimes committed in the name of honour. Education professionals,
teachers and child-minding staff, and those caring for young people,
must be made aware of the question so that early symptoms can be
identified, the steps to be taken can be appropriately determined,
and girls and women can be directed to a body that will provide shelter
and support. Specialised reception, counselling and help agencies,
and emergency refuges for girls and women threatened with “honour
crimes”, must be established. The victims of “honour crimes” need
to be supported physically and psychologically. As they are often
cast out by their families, they need shelter to help them rebuild
their lives. They need to be informed of their rights and offered
legal support. According to Ms NammiNote
, Director of the International Campaign
against honour killings, victims should never be sent back to their
families, and often have only one chance.
29 NGOs supporting and defending women’s rights need to be given
financial support by the national authorities.
Dialogue with the religious authorities is also crucial, even
may express scepticism
as to the ability of authoritarian religious leaders to adopt a
progressive attitude. States should introduce a complete database
or statistics to take account of the concept of “honour crimes”;
this is needed if the problem is to be understood more thoroughly.
31 States need to create mechanisms allowing victims and others
to report these crimes in complete safety and in strict confidence,
by strengthening existing mechanisms or establishing new ones.
States need to draw up and put into effect national action
plans to combat violence against women, including violence committed
in the name of so-called “honour”Note
they have not already done so.
33 At the European level, I propose that the Committee of Ministers
devise a global strategy aimed at putting an end to so-called “honour
crimes”. This strategy will be based on the elimination of every
form of legislative justification mitigating or removing the criminal
liability of the perpetrators of “honour crimes”. It will aim to
destroy the social acceptance of “honour crimes”. It will need to
stress that Islam requires respect for the life and liberty of everyone,
and that no religion advocates “honour crimes”. It will ask the
national authorities to set up and financially support refuge and
counselling centres for potential victims.
I support the positive initiative of Ms Hagberg, who suggests
the creation of a national or international network to combat “honour
I wish to refer back to the list of recommendations made by
Ms Nammi, which I regard as pertinent: creation of specialist police
units, implementation of public awareness campaigns, establishment
of protection schemes to provide victims with new identities and
histories, training for all organisations and services such as police,
social services, teachers, child protection services and women’s
organisations, evaluation of risks to survivors and their protection
by the police, appropriate housing for survivors in Europe, a long-term programme
of physical and psychological support for survivors, financial resources
and security measures for victim support organisations, the giving
of consideration to fear of “honour crimes” in the awarding of asylum, and
support for women who have no access to public fundsNote
In the light of the experience of the lawyer Usha SoodNote
, I wish
to emphasise the training of police and law officers, in both preventative
investigation and prosecution.
In the United Kingdom, a specialist unit of the Crown Prosecution
Service has been set up to address “honour crimes” so that every
individual involved in acts of violence is investigatedNote
Moreover, this unit will deal with requests for extradition, so
that crimes do not remain unpunished if the perpetrators flee.
4 Prosecution of
perpetrators of so-called “honour crimes” and their accomplices
38 As I said by way of introduction, the notion of honour
is subjective since it derives from a subjective assessment by the
perpetrator of the so-called “honour crime” or by the family that
has ordered the crime. In criminal cases, a whole bundle of indicators
should enable investigators and courts to assess the specific nature
of actions that constitute an offence.
39 The question that arises is therefore whether special legislation
is needed to punish “honour crimes”.
Some writers hold that specific legislation is not needed
for so-called “honour crimes”, but that the judicial system needs
to make clear that such crimes are regarded as murder where the
victim is killed. Unfortunately, there are still some prosecution
services and courts, in the most enlightened countries, which accept
cultural arguments as grounds for dismissing an aggravating motive
or ruling out premeditation. Some of them regard defence of honour
as an attenuating circumstanceNote
. In Europe, a court has even
acquitted those who carried out the beating of a girl on grounds
has deplored the fact that
the courts categorise acts as “honour crimes” in accordance with the
community from which the perpetrator comes, rather than in accordance
with the nature of the act itself.
42 Given the above errors and differences in interpretation,
it therefore seems to me to be necessary to call for greater rigour
in defining offences and specifying the persons involved in carrying
out “honour crimes”. The creation of a specific offence offers one
solution to this problem.
In this regard, Turkey offers a topical example of awareness
of the problem by the authorities. The new Article 82 of the Criminal
Code provides that “honour crimes” which would previously have benefited
from attenuating circumstances are to be punished by a more severe
In Belgium, a proposed resolution aimed at combating supposed
honour crimes was tabled on 8 April 2008Note
the primary intention being that current legislation, which is held
to be adequate, should be applied to “honour crimes”.
45 Where it is not proved that a specific offence is an “honour
crime”, the general criminal law will apply in the courts concerned.
46 In respecting cultural differences between human
beings, and affirming that “honour crimes” are an inadmissible violation
of women’s fundamental rights, including the right not to be subjected
to violence, it has to be accepted that cultures can and must change
in order to respect human rights.
47 In the light of this specific problem of so-called “honour
crimes”, I believe it is essential to take specific steps both through
legislation and measures to protect and support victims, and through
prevention and punishment.
48 In particular, the Parliamentary Assembly should ask national
parliaments whether there is not a case to criminalise any “honour
crime” and to punish it severely in accordance with the gravity
of the acts committed, and to include the accomplices and procurers
of the said crime in the field of application of that legislation.
The law should also provide for the introduction of measures to
offer protection and support to victims, including potential victims.
49 The Assembly should ask the member States of the Council of
Europe to give priority to increasing public awareness of the problem
of “honour crimes”, especially by carrying out targeted activities
among children, girls and boys, young women and young men in order
to familiarise them with these crimes and their harmful effects, and
to promote the freedom of everyone to live their lives free from
discrimination or oppression on grounds of gender or sexual orientation.
The objective is to challenge human rights abuses that result from
a system of domination based upon patriarchy and to change outlooks
and the behaviour that results from it.
States should in particular:
- raise awareness among professionals concerned with childhood,
education and schooling, and train them in respect for tolerance
and equality between girls and boys, and women and men;
- raise awareness of “honour crimes” among police officers,
the courts and prosecution services, of how to carry out investigations
so as to collect as much evidence as possible on the specific nature
of the offence and to establish the facts securely, of the need
to prosecute these offences, and of how to try them, in accordance
with the law;
- raise awareness among social and medical staff of the
issue of “honour crimes” and of forced marriages;
- engage in dialogue with the religious authorities and
request them to respect the equality between women and men and to
condemn “honour crimes” and any form of violence against women.
51 Lastly, the Assembly should recommend to the Committee of
Ministers that it draw up a global strategy for the elimination
of “honour crimes”, to include a study of “honour crimes” that will
make it possible to address effectively the fundamental causes of
this form of violence against women.
52 In conclusion, in the light of the developments described
above, I therefore submit for adoption by the Assembly the above
draft resolution and draft recommendation. I propose that these
be examined during the June 2009 part-session of the Assembly (22-26