Parliamentary Assembly session : 31 March – 4 April 2003 

Appalled by the extent of “honour crimes”, says Lydie Err

The Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men adopted on 24 February in Budapest a report on the so-called “honour crimes” committed against women by men on family grounds. “We were appalled by the extent of this phenomenon, which we used to believe was marginal,” explained the Chair of the committee, Lydie Err (Luxembourg), who called for energetic measures to combat these practices.

Interview

Question: “Justified” by their perpetrators for the simple reason that their wife or daughter does not submit to their will, “honour crimes” are often committed in the Muslim community both in Europe and in the world at large. Does it strike you that justice still shows itself to be too tolerant of these crimes and violent acts ?

Lydie Err: Many courts, particularly in Turkey, tend to “excuse” these crimes in the name of “tradition”, although Islam has never preached this kind of behaviour. The inquiries which surrounded the drafting of this report show that other countries, for example the United Kingdom or Sweden, are capable of displaying inflexibility. Conversely, we have discovered that “honour crimes” are very often disguised as domestic accidents: we therefore urge the justice authorities to carry out more probing investigations if the case looks dubious to them, and to question people in the victim’s environment more closely rather than just the victim’s family. In addition, the recommendation contained in the report calls upon all states to strengthen their legal and legislative apparatus to prevent and punish these crimes.

Question: Even if the European countries adopt tougher instruments, how can these crimes be prevented from continuing outside their borders?

Lydie Err: There are arrangements for trying culprits in one country for acts committed in another, which should apply to honour crimes. For example, if a crime is committed in Pakistan against a Pakistani female resident in England, it should be possible to prosecute the culprit by proving that the preparation of the offence took place in the United Kingdom. The same applies to an excision performed on a girl living in France, even if carried out while the victim is staying in her country of origin.

Question: Honour crimes are a world-wide reality and the United Nations are trying to respond to them with numerous measures ; what action of its own can the Council of Europe take to positively alter the situation?

Lydie Err: First of all, talking about these crimes will help to arouse public opinion and loosen tongues. Honour crimes are not confined to individual cases, but are societal phenomena that consequently demand a legislative response. It is furthermore necessary to educate the communities where these crimes are still considered “admissible”,. and to provide women – including women who have fled abroad - with the means to speak about and guard against them. We must also state plainly that the “cultural exception” cannot be invoked in order to condone these crimes any longer, for the universal validity of human rights transcends all peculiarities and customs.