In which countries are honor killings legal?

Max Planck Institute for Research into Crime, Security and Law

An analysis on the basis of judicially processed cases from 1996 to 2005

The phenomenon of so-called “honor killings” is receiving special attention from the German public against the background of spectacular individual cases and the discussions about the lack of integration of migrants, especially from Islamic countries. Honor killings are ideally understood to be homicides against female family members who, in the eyes of the perpetrator or perpetrators, have violated behavioral norms (especially sexual “purity” and subordination to patriarchal family violence). The killing serves primarily to restore the family honor, which is perceived as threatened, and is partly planned jointly by the relatives. From this perspective, honor killing is not a breach of norms, but on the contrary a sanction that demands the validity of norms. It is not only the concept of (female) honor that appears archaic, but also the legitimation of vigilante justice in families. However, partner killings are particularly common when separation or intent to separate or (suspected) infidelity of the woman is the reason for the violent reaction of the (ex) partner. The assignment of these cases to the term honor killing is controversial and a clear distinction to "normal" partner killings, which also occur in the German majority population, is difficult. The study "Honor killings in Germany" is the first systematic analysis of this phenomenon of violence in Germany based on a broad empirical database. It is based on a full survey of all known cases of honor killings in Germany between 1996 and 2005 and analyzes their central characteristics on the basis of the trial files on 78 cases. Previous studies based on a few cases have not been able to do this. In the empirical analysis, the perpetrator-victim constellation, the course of events, the occasion / motive and the judicial processing were examined in detail. The project is closely related to the family homicides with subsequent suicide project in European countries. The first part of the 2011 study was completed with the publication of the book “Ehrenmorde in Deutschland 1996-2005” in the “Police + Research” series of the BKA. Subsequently, the criminal assessment of honor killings by the jury chambers was the focus of further analyzes as part of Julia Kasselt's dissertation “Honor in the Mirror of Justice”, which was completed in 2014.

Department: Criminology
Organizational status: Single project
Research program criminology: Crime, Social Context, and Social Change
Project status: completed
Project type: Research project
Project languages: German
Project duration: Project start date: 2008
Project end date: 2010
  • Kasselt, J. (2016). Honor in the Mirror of Justice: An investigation into the practice of German jury courts in dealing with the phenomenon of honor killings (Vol. K 172) Series of publications by the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law: Criminological Research Reports. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot.

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  • Kasselt, J., & Oberwittler, D. (2014). The judicial evaluation of honor killings in Germany: an empirical analysis of sanction practice in the period 1996 to 2005. Monthly magazine for criminology and criminal law reform, 97(3), 203-223. doi: 10.1515 / mks-2014-970303

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  • Oberwittler, D., & Kasselt, J. (2014). Honor Killings. In R. Gartner & B. McCarthy (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Gender, Sex, and Crime (pp. 652-670). Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093 / oxfordhb / 9780199838707.013.0033

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  • Oberwittler, D., & Kasselt, J. (2012). Honor killings in Germany: crimes against the right of young migrant women to self-determination. Our youth, (4), 166–175.

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  • Oberwittler, D., & Kasselt, J. (2011). Honor killings in Germany - 1996-2005: an investigation based on trial files (Vol. 42) Police + Research. Cologne: Wolters Kluwer Germany. Retrieved from https://www.bka.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/DE/Publikationen/Publikationsreihen/PolizeiUndForschung/1_42_EhrenmordeInDeutschland.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=3

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  • Kasselt, J. (2016). Honor in the Mirror of Justice: An investigation into the practice of German jury courts in dealing with the phenomenon of honor killings (Vol. K 172) Series of publications by the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law: Criminological Research Reports. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot.

    More BibTex

  • Oberwittler, D., & Kasselt, J. (2011). Honor killings in Germany - 1996-2005: an investigation based on trial files (Vol. 42) Police + Research. Cologne: Wolters Kluwer Germany. Retrieved from https://www.bka.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/DE/Publikationen/Publikationsreihen/PolizeiUndForschung/1_42_EhrenmordeInDeutschland.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=3

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  • Articles in magazines
  • Kasselt, J., & Oberwittler, D. (2014). The judicial evaluation of honor killings in Germany: an empirical analysis of sanction practice in the period 1996 to 2005. Monthly magazine for criminology and criminal law reform, 97(3), 203-223. doi: 10.1515 / mks-2014-970303

    More BibTex Open Access full text

  • Oberwittler, D., & Kasselt, J. (2012). Honor killings in Germany: crimes against the right of young migrant women to self-determination. Our youth, (4), 166–175.

    More BibTex

  • Oberwittler, D., & Kasselt, J. (2014). Honor Killings. In R. Gartner & B. McCarthy (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Gender, Sex, and Crime (pp. 652-670). Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093 / oxfordhb / 9780199838707.013.0033

    More BibTex

  • Kasselt, J. (2016). Honor in the Mirror of Justice: An investigation into the practice of German jury courts in dealing with the phenomenon of honor killings (Vol. K 172) Series of publications by the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law: Criminological Research Reports. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot.

    More BibTex

  • Kasselt, J., & Oberwittler, D. (2014). The judicial evaluation of honor killings in Germany: an empirical analysis of sanction practice in the period 1996 to 2005. Monthly magazine for criminology and criminal law reform, 97(3), 203-223. doi: 10.1515 / mks-2014-970303

    More BibTex Open Access full text

  • Oberwittler, D., & Kasselt, J. (2012). Honor killings in Germany: crimes against the right of young migrant women to self-determination. Our youth, (4), 166–175.

    More BibTex

  • Oberwittler, D., & Kasselt, J. (2011). Honor killings in Germany - 1996-2005: an investigation based on trial files (Vol. 42) Police + Research. Cologne: Wolters Kluwer Germany. Retrieved from https://www.bka.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/DE/Publikationen/Publikationsreihen/PolizeiUndForschung/1_42_EhrenmordeInDeutschland.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=3

    More BibTex full text

  • Oberwittler, D., & Kasselt, J. (2014). Honor Killings. In R. Gartner & B. McCarthy (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Gender, Sex, and Crime (pp. 652-670). Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi: 10.1093 / oxfordhb / 9780199838707.013.0033

    More BibTex

  • The study is based on the 2006 Federal Criminal Police Office's “Federal-State Query on the Phenomenon of Honor Murders in Germany”, which identified 55 cases. Additional case lists from some state criminal police offices and extensive full-text research in media archives, especially in 90,000 dpa agency reports on homicides, enable a realistic estimate of the total number of honor killings recorded by the judiciary in Germany for the first time. We estimate the possible total number of honor killings at around twelve per year, including three honor killings in the strict sense. This extrapolation also includes partner killings in the gray area between collective family honor and individual male honor, the classification of which as honor killing is doubtful. In view of the total number of around 700 people who die in homicide in Germany each year, including many in families and partnerships, honor killings are quantitatively very rare events.

    Between 1996 and 2005, contrary to fears on the basis of increasing media coverage, there was neither an increase nor a decrease in the frequency of honor killings. A quarter of the 78 investigated cases are honor killings in the narrower sense (killing of young women by their blood relatives), approx. 40% are borderline cases involving the killing of a partner, a further third are borderline cases involving blood revenge and other mixed types. In about a third of the cases, several perpetrators and / or several victims are involved. In honor killings in the narrower sense, 80% of the cases focus on an undesirable love affair with the woman before, outside or after her marriage, while a “Western” lifestyle and striving for autonomy was only the sole cause of the crime in very few cases. The honor killings are often in the context of the phenomenon of "arranged marriages", i. H. either young women violate the norm that their partner should be chosen by the family, or married women want to break free from an unbearable relationship that is the result of an arranged marriage.

    The proportion of male victims is unexpectedly high at 43%. Often the female victims are attacked along with their unwanted partners, and in some cases only these partners.

    The evaluation of the educational and professional status of the perpetrators gives a clear picture of a homogeneous group of poorly educated and low-skilled migrants. Even if honor killings have cultural roots, it should not be overlooked that - as with almost all phenomena of violence - social disadvantages and a lack of education are a major cause. There is no evidence of high participation by second or third generation migrants. There is also no evidence of an increase in honor killings in recent years. These results give hope that honor killings will not become a permanent phenomenon of violence in Germany. All efforts to reduce discrimination against girls and young women and the suppression of their self-determination, especially with regard to their choice of partner, are suitable for reducing the risk of honor killings in Germany.

    Of the legally convicted perpetrators, approx. 37% were convicted of murder, approx. 48% for manslaughter and approx. 15% for bodily harm. The legal assessment was the subject of further in-depth analyzes as part of Julia Kasselt's dissertation.In order to be able to better classify the legal assessment of these acts by the German judiciary, it analyzed a sample of 110 partner killings without a collective honor component in addition to the 78 honor killings. The basis of the legal analyzes for honor killings were 63 convictions for attempted or consummate homicide under adult criminal law. There are 91 convictions from the comparative sample. The study shows that honor killers are punished more severely by German judges than offenders without an honorary background: They are more often sentenced to life imprisonment (38% vs. 23% for partner killings) and more often to long time sentences. This applies in particular to the judgments from 2002 onwards, in which honor killers were given life imprisonment in the majority of cases and thus the maximum penalty in German criminal law. The background to this trend is a ruling by the Federal Court of Justice in February 2002, in which it was decided that acts of honor should generally be assessed as murder for low motives and that conviction for manslaughter is only possible in exceptional cases. In the case of partner killings, however, no trend towards higher penalties can be identified. The tightening of the penalties for honor killings is therefore not due to a general punitive tendency in German jurisprudence.