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Rights of victims

Victims of an “honour” crime may include the individual who is the direct target of the “honour” crime, as well as her immediate family or dependants. (See: Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, ¶ 8) When drafting provisions on the rights of victims of “honour”-based violence, drafters should take into account that the direct victim’s immediate family or dependants may be the perpetrators or accomplices to the crime. Laws should clearly delineate that, for purposes of the section on victims’ rights, victims do not include any person who perpetrated, authorized, aided, abetted or otherwise solicited the “honour”-based violence, regardless of his or her relationship to the victim.

Drafters should ensure that laws include provision for funding for comprehensive and integrated support services to assist victims and those at risk of “honour” crimes. The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Resolution 1681 (2009) (¶ 4.8) recommends that states provide shelter that is geographically accessible to victims, develop long-term physical and psychological support programs for victims, facilitate economic independence of victims, and provide police protection and a new identify, if needed. Drafters should incorporate the following aspects of assistance to victims:

  • A free, 24 hour hotline that is accessible from anywhere in the country, is untraceable, offers assistance in multiple languages, and is staffed by persons trained in “honour” crimes issues. (See: Crisis Centers and Hotlines, Stop VAW, The Advocates for Human Rights)  In addition, drafters provide for the establishment of an easily-accessible and well-publicized website that provides educational materials about “honour” crimes and victims’ legal rights and lists resources for victims or those at risk of “honour” crimes, including contact information for women’s shelters and law enforcement.
Example: The Allochtone Vrouwentelefoon Oost Nederland hotline provides support assistance to immigrant women. The telephone line is untraceable, free-of-charge, and staffed by volunteers who collectively speak ten languages. (See: Honour Related Violence: European Resource Book and Good Practice, 2005, p. 127) 
  • A shelter for every 10,000 members of the population, located in both rural and urban areas, which can accommodate victims and their children for emergency stays and which will help them to find a refuge for longer stays (See:  Shelters and Safe Houses, Stop VAW, The Advocates for Human Rights)  Such shelters should be established in all regions or provinces, including in rural areas, so that they are accessible to victims throughout the country.  Measures should be taken to keep the locations of such shelters secret.  The decision to stay at a shelters should always be made voluntarily by the victim. Drafters should be aware that shelters may exclude girls under 18 years of age, and they should ensure that special accommodation should be made for girls under 18 years of age at risk for “honour”-based violence. Shelter policies and accommodations should take into account the special needs of immigrant women and girls, including by offering translation services.  Drafters should consider providing for specialized shelters dedicated exclusively to victims of “honour” crimes, thereby enabling such shelters to develop expertise in responding to the unique dynamics of “honour” crimes. (See: Toolkit Against Violence: Combating Honor Related Violence, Forced Marriages and Abandonment, Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies, Flying Team against Violence, May 2012, p.29).  Assistance with long-term housing should also be provided to victims who demonstrate financial need.
CASE STUDY: Where shelters are lacking, some governments have incarcerated victims in prisons to protect them from “honour” crimes. There are no shelters available for women at risk of “honour” crimes in Jordan, and state authorities often place them in involuntary detention in the Jweideh Correctional and Rehabilitation Center. (See: U.S. Department of State Country Human Rights Report: Jordan (2008)) An administrative governor may detain any person in protective custody to protect public safety, without due process, a practice regularly applied to females at-risk of “honour”-based violence. Once detained under the governor’s order, only his consent will secure her release—which is generally granted only when he believes she can leave safely and a male relative agrees to assume responsibility for her. (See: Human Rights Watch, Honoring the Killers: Justice Denied for “Honor” Crimes in Jordan, 2004, pp. 24-27)
  • Drafters should repeal any laws or orders that allow the practice of detaining women victims of violence and instead should provide adequate resources to provide shelters for victims and arrest the perpetrators, rather than the victims. Shelters for domestic violence should also be mandated to receive and assist victims of “honour”-based violence. Drafters should adopt laws ordering the immediate release of victims of “honour”-based violence who have been detained without charge, process or review; repeal laws that precondition a woman’s release to the custody of a male relative or husband; and, upon release, ensure victims’ full protection and facilitate voluntary placement in a shelter for women victims of violence if so desired by the victim.
  • Legislation should ensure that a victim’s personal identifying information (such as her address) is kept confidential at all stages of the legal proceedings.
  • One crisis center for every 50,000 members of the population, with trained staff to provide support, legal advice, and crisis intervention counseling for victims of “honour” crimes, including specialized services for particular groups such as immigrants.  Crisis centers should also have the capability to provide online counseling through a secure, anonymous chat feature, to permit centers to reach victims who may be unable or unwilling to go to the center in person. (See Crisis Centers and Hotlines, Stop VAW, The Advocates for Human Rights)  Ideally, centers should provide, in one location, the full spectrum of services needed by victims, including counseling, shelter, and medical and legal services.  Such centers should be established throughout the country, including in rural and remote areas. Information about these centers and services for victims should be widely disseminated. (See: United Nations Report of the Secretary-General, Intensification of efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women, A/65/208, August 2010)
  • Crisis centers should be prepared, and their personnel should be adequately trained, to deal with victims before, during and after the “honour”-based violence.  These centers should be staffed around the clock, seven days a week.
  • Accreditation standards for the assistance centers described above should be developed in consultation with NGOs and advocates working directly with complainants/survivors. 
  • Access to health care for immediate injuries and long-term care including reproductive health care and HIV prophylaxis, as well as access to mental health care and counseling. (See: Role of Health Care Providers, Confidentiality and Support, Screening and Referral;, Documentation and Reporting;, and Creating a Health Ccare Response, all at Stop VAW, The Advocates for Human Rights)
  •  Health care should be adequately resourced to address the particular injuries, such as burns or disfiguration, that “honour” crime victims may have sustained. “Honour” crime victims who have been raped must be afforded appropriate services and support. Drafters should ensure that laws provide for advocacy crisis centers, with trained counselors to address victims’ safety, explain their rights, address urgent medical needs, obtain medical care, refer victims to other services and maintain confidentiality. (See: Sexual Assault Advocacy Programs, Stop VAW, The Advocates for Human Rights) As with domestic violence, a coordinated community response is an important part of the response to “honour” crimes. (See: Coordinated Crisis Intervention, Stop VAW, The Advocates for Human Rights; the United Nations expert group report entitled "Good practices in legislation on violence against women," Part III,  Section 6 on protection, support, and assistance to survivors)  
  • Guidelines and protocols on hospital and clinic security should be developed. Specifically, security units at hospitals should be charged with responsibility for maintaining the security of patients and their information, and should be notified of potential problems that require visitor restraint, such as potential visitors who may pose a danger to the victim patient. Security should coordinate closely with medical personnel and law enforcement to ensure the victim’s safety in all areas of the hospital from further violence or intimidation by the perpetrators.
  • Access to free legal aid, including to assist the victim in obtaining compensation for injuries and/or an order for protection, if the victim so desires. Legislation should also provide for victim advocates to assist victims in navigating the judicial process.  
  • Aid, including shelter, clothing and food, should also be provided for the children of “honour” crime victims in the shelters described above.
  • A state agency should be assigned to establish the aid centers described above, by providing general guidelines or standards, and a state agency should be mandated to fund all of the above services. Laws should specifically identify and earmark an ongoing and adequate source of funding for these victim aid centers and for financial and other assistance to victims.

Drafters should ensure that the above-described victim assistance is available and accessible to members of immigrant communities, including by providing intercultural competence training for service providers and by funding organizations within immigrant communities that provide services and outreach to victims.  (See: Korteweg, Anna C., Understanding Honour Killing and Honour-Related Violence in the Immigration Context: Implications for the Legal Profession and Beyond, Canadian Criminal Law Review, Vol. 16, May 2012, p.135) In addition, drafters should make clear that the provision of these services to a victim is not contingent on her willingness to press charges or testify against the perpetrator or to otherwise cooperate with authorities.  (See: Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, Chapter IV  - Protection and Support)

Example: The UK’s Women’s National Commission is a national body that liaises between the women’s sector and government to promote women’s equality. The commission is state-funded yet free to comment on government policy. The Women’s National Commission established a Violence Against Women Working Group, with two sub-groups on sexual violence and domestic violence, which seeks:

1. To promote understanding and awareness of violence against women and effect changes in laws, policy and practice.

2. To monitor implementation of Government Action Plans.

3. To co-ordinate Women’s National Commission member views on violence against women and to ensure that these views are represented to policy-makers.

4. To liaise with other Women’s National Commission Groups on relevant aspects of work.

5. To produce reports in response to national and international developments.

6. To liaise with Government departments, other non-departmental public bodies, and relevant NGO policy working groups.

(See: United Nations Handbook for legislation against women, 3.6.1. (See also: UN Model Code VII B)

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