Police officials from around Europe met in The Netherlands this week to talk about a growing problem on the continent, honor killings; the killing, usually of women by members of their families, because they have allegedly brought disgrace on the family. Police forces are realizing that many unsolved murders from the past might have been 'honor killings'
According to conference organizers, in England and Wales alone, police are re-investigating nearly 120 murder cases that they believe could have been honor killings. London-based author and researcher Ram Gidoomal has written extensively on the problem, and his research was used at the European police conference.
"Calling it an honor killing is very misleading. Because there is no honor in any killing," he said.
The victims of so called 'honor killings' usually come from South Asian, Arab, African or East European backgrounds. They are usually suspected of having violated strict rules of propriety by dating or marrying a man not approved of by their families, or by commiting adultery. But Mr. Gidoomal says the problem must be addressed in a wider context.
"Is it right to allow practices that drive people to their death? That is unacceptable in any society. And therefore, it must be highlighted, brought out, discussed, debated," he said. "And the police force and social services trained to be better equipped to handle this, and to work together, to share information. You can imagine the scene, a 16-year-old girl walks into a police station, 'My father wants to kill me.' Who would believe her? Who is trained to handle such distress calls?"
Indeed it was the 2002 stabbing death of a 16-year-old Iraqi Kurdish girl by her father that motivated the British police to take action on the issue. Her offense? Dating a Lebanese Christian.
No one quite knows the exact number of people killed this way, but one expert at the conference says the known cases are just the tip of the iceberg.
Police say by re-examining some old murder cases, they hope to learn more about the scale and nature of the problem, and to learn how to prevent it from happening in the future. The police hope that by sharing information across Europe, they can develop an early warning system to fight honor killings, a crime, they admit, they know little about.