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U.K.: British Police Launch Offensive Against 'Honor' Killings

British police have launched a new drive aimed at stopping "honor killings" and other domestic crimes directed against women. The authorities are beginning to recognize the extent of such crimes -- usually committed against women who violate very strict cultural norms. In the past, honor crimes were most common in families from South Asia, but police say other countries and cultures have similar deadly traditions.

London, 13 December 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A series of dawn raids on 7 December in London mark the start of what police in Britain are calling a crackdown on "honor killings" and other forms of domestic violence.

Some 150 people were arrested in the raids.

Lawyer Nazir Afzal, spokesman for Britain's Crown Prosecution Service, said that "our job as prosecutors and police officers in this country is to identify those who commit these crimes. To bring them to justice, but at the same time to save people who are really in such an environment, in the hope that nothing ever happens to them."

Afzal said that the aim of the raids was not only to catch the perpetrators of honor crimes but to encourage victims to come forward. He said that, in addition, police are reopening more than 100 cases of women who died under mysterious circumstances going back 10 years.

"We've become aware that the extent of this problem is a lot greater than we thought it was originally," Afzal said. "Over the last 10 years there were something like 117 cases of people who have either been killed or who've disappeared from this country in circumstances that would give rise to us suspecting that they've been killed."

Officials say the victims of such crimes are usually women who stray from strict cultural upbringings. Afzal said, for example, a young woman seeking to divorce an abusive partner might be killed. Or a woman may disappear after deciding to marry someone other than the person her family has chosen.

Afzal said honor crimes are most common in families coming to Britain from India, Pakistan, or other places in southern Asia. But other countries and cultures are involved as well.

"It's become evident the problem isn't limited to South Asia -- India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka -- which is what we originally suspected would be the significant area from where this came," Afzal said. "But it's also from Eastern Europe, from Turkey, from Bosnia, from Albania. Also, some cases from Greece, Italy, and very many from the Middle East."
Officials say the victims of such crimes are usually women who stray from strict cultural upbringings.

The police and the Crown Prosecution Service are being helped by a number of charitable organizations that help women caught in violent situations. One such organization is the Southall Black Sisters. Hannana Siddiqui, principal of the organization, said: "We want to make sure the Crown Prosecution Service is aware of these issues. That they don't accept what is sometimes known as a 'cultural defense' by defendants of killed women on the basis of protecting their honor. And that [government prosecutors] are in a position to challenge these things in court, and ensure there is justice done."

Siddiqui said that, in her opinion, the police are often too soft on such crimes -- not wanting to offend the cultures involved.

"General publicity and education is very important for these victims to come forward," Siddiqui said. "I think one of our problems is that when it comes to minority communities, the police itself is not always responsive to the needs of minority women, because they are too worried about being seen as culturally insensitive or racist."

Siddiqui said that authorities are now trying to raise awareness of such crimes within different ethnic communities, and are having some success.

"We've been involved in a whole range of initiatives in raising awareness, and getting the police to improve their response, working on guidelines with them," Siddiqui said. "Not just the police, but the whole range of agencies."

She said she hopes that, in the end, better education will "turn the tide" against honor killings.