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Saturday, 01 January 2005 00:12

Cases of "Honour Crimes" on the Rise Across Europe: British Police

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LONDON (AFP) - Known cases of murder and rape committed to protect a family's honour are on the rise across Europe, forcing police to explore the reasons behind such crimes and how to stop them, officials said.


At a two-day conference in London, British police spearheaded a campaign to fight so-called honour-based violence, typically committed against women to protect a family's reputation.

The problem is greatest in Islamic communities in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa, but it has spread as families migrate, bringing their traditional values with them.

"This is a long, long journey that we are embarking on," said Laura Richards, head of the homicide prevention unit at London's Metropolitan Police. "We have taken the first step of that journey but there are barriers," she told reporters on the sidelines of the conference, organised by the police and Britain's interior ministry, that concluded Tuesday.

British authorities have started to properly recognise honour crimes over the past three years, but it is a problem that affects countries throughout Europe, where police are only just becoming aware, according to Richards.

"It is in all communities, all cultures, so we have got to start to get upstream with it not just in the UK but across the board," she said.

"We know from the case studies that (honour-based violence in Europe) has increased fairly significantly."

Sweden, which like Britain has a large immigrant population, is the only other country with an advanced system to tackle honour-based violence, but an increasing number of governments are expressing an interest.

"Denmark, Norway and certain other countries are just starting... to look at their own information to see if there is a problem," said Richards.

"Previously, people have said that there is not a problem, but I would challenge that and say: 'Have you actually looked?'," she said. "If you look you will see very different things going on to what you thought initially."

The British police are studying 109 possible honour killings, including one in Sweden, to try to understand the complex nature of a crime, which is usually perpetrated by families against relatives who are believed to have caused them shame often by breaking a community's strict moral codes.

They are working on guidelines to train officers on how to spot signs of honour-linked violence, including domestic violence, forced marriage, suspicious suicides and traffic accidents and missing persons.

The conference provided further impetus to compile evidence-based models on the issue and how to tackle it, said Metropolitan Police Commander Andre Baker.

"We will now sit down, see where we are with some colleagues and how we will move forward," Baker told AFP at the end of the gathering. The police would also explore how to engage with the perpetrators, he said.

Baker added that he would raise the subject at a major meeting of police from across the 25-nation European Union in the Hague in June. In London alone, the Metropolitan Police reported 492 cases linked to forced marriage, but Richards said the data only told a fraction of the story.

"I think we are just at the tip on the iceberg," she said. Police in the past have often dismissed fears from women of honour-based violence as a domestic issue due to cultural and religious sensitivities, but Richards is determined to treat such crimes for what they are.

"Murder is murder," she said. "There is a professional and moral duty to deal with criminals irrespective of whether they seek to blur the issues behind a smoke-screen of cultural sensitivity."

Attended by police officers from Britain, Sweden and Denmark as well as academics and human rights experts, the International Conference on Honour Based Violence aimed to raise awareness about a practice that claims some 5,000 lives worldwide each year.

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