University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Laws against ‘honour-related’ crimes overkill, dissertation concludes

Politics — Danish legislation aimed at preventing so-called honour-related crimes is largely ineffective, according to the findings of a recent doctoral dissertation

Since 2003, the Folketing has passed an increasing number of laws making acts such as female genital mutilation, forced marriages and requiring women to cover their faces in public illegal. But, in a dissertation successfully defended in August, Sabba Mirza concludes that these types of acts are already covered by existing laws.

“Generally speaking, my dissertation shows that laws aimed at combatting honour-related crimes are unnecessary and have had unintended consequences,” Mirza, who is currently an external lecturer at the university, says.

The laws, she found, arose from a charged political climate, spurred on by intense media coverage.

Hard to ignore

Mirza’s dissertation, titled ‘Honour-Related Crimes: Criminal perspectives’, has already caught the attention of legal professionals. One of them, Leif Donbæk, an assistant attorney, recently used it as the subject of a blog posting  for Berlingske, a leading news outlet, titled ‘When honour hurts’.

“Mirza presents 300 pages [her dissertation is 302 pages, ed] of examples of bad legislative technique. As a solicitor, it’s hard not agree with her when she recommends that we ought to drop laws specifically aimed at honour-related crimes and instead write ‘honour’ into the criminal code as an aggravating circumstance of existing crimes,” Donbæk wrote.

Reform, rather than repeal

Mirza doesn’t expect that laws singling out honour-related crimes would be taken out of the criminal code.

“It would be too big of admission for the legislature to roll back laws it’s already passed, so that’s unlikely. Instead, I propose that lawmakers revise the laws so they line up with the recommendations of UN bodies and the Council of Europe, as well as the laws that other countries have on their books.”

Her research shows that there is no legislation addressing psychological pressure in cases of forced marriage and forced veiling.

Unintended consequence

One unintended consequence of laws singling out honour-related crimes, she found, was increased suspicion amongst public officials that families were subjecting their daughters to FGM.

Highly relevant research

In an article on the Faculty of Law’s website, law professor Hanne Petersen, the head of the assessment committee for Mirza’s PhD defence, writes:

“The dissertation addresses a relevant and timely social and judicial problem area. The thorough analytic approach to the three sections of the criminal code in question incorporate the entire process, including Folketing hearings, media coverage etc, that led up to the legislation being passed. This is highly relevant; law and politics cannot be entirely separated from each other. It takes academic courage address as politically charged a topic as honour-related crimes.”

“My research showed that since 2003 there have only been two convictions for FGM. What has happened is that he police have increasingly asked for gynaecological exams of underage girls. Those exams were requested based on the recommendation of the local council, which believed the parents had forced the girls to undergo the procedure. In none of the cases did the accusation hold true,” Mirza says.

In Norway and Sweden, such accusations, Mirza’s dissertation states, have resulted in discrimination lawsuits being brought against the local officials involved.

In order to avoid such situations, she recommends that defending a family’s honour be added to the criminal code as an aggravating circumstance when prosecuting other types of crimes.

Mirza reckons that her dissertation is the first to look into the impact of laws specifically aimed at honour-related crime. Though this provided her with a unique opportunity, she says this presented a number of challenges for the research she hopes to conduct into topic in the future.

“My master’s thesis was about the criminal code and forced marriage. During the research I met with representatives from the Child and Social Affairs Ministry and the national police. What I heard from them was that they were concerned about the lack of research. That was the inspiration for my dissertation. There was a need for it,” she says.

Mirza came up with her own project description, and it was accepted by the Faculty of Law. Today, she hopes scholars in other faculties might take an interest in the topic.

“Since no-one has looked into this before it would be rewarding to work with someone who also works with honour-related crimes,” she says.