Throughout this knowledge module, reference to certain provisions or sections of a piece of legislation, part of a legal judgment, or aspect of a practice does not imply that the legislation, judgment, or practice is considered in its entirety to be a good example or a promising practice.

Some of the laws cited herein may contain provisions which authorize the death penalty. In light of the United Nations General Assembly resolutions 62/14963/16865/206, and 67/176 calling for a moratorium on and ultimate abolition of capital punishment, the death penalty should not be included in sentencing provisions for crimes of violence against women and girls.

Other Provisions Related to Domestic Violence LawsResources for Developing Legislation on Domestic Violence
Sexual Harassment in Sport Tools for Drafting Sexual Harassment Laws and Policies
Immigration Provisions Resources for developing legislation on sex trafficking of women and girls
Child Protection Provisions Resources on Forced and Child Marriage
Other provisions related to dowry-related and domestic violence laws
Related Tools

Roles and responsibilities of prosecutors

Last edited: February 26, 2011

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  • Laws should clearly state that prosecutors have a duty to investigate all crimes of violence against women and girls, including “honour” crimes and killings. Laws should state that the objectives of prosecutions in “honour” crimes and killings are: (1) to protect the victim, (2) to deter the defendant from further violent acts by holding him accountable for his actions, and (3) to communicate to the community that domestic violence will not be tolerated. (See: Role of Prosecutors, StopVAW, The Advocates for Human Rights)
  • Laws should confer responsibility on prosecutors, not victims or their families, for initiating and prosecuting “honour” crimes and killings. Ex officio prosecution should be exercised in all “honour” crimes and killings regardless of the level or type of injury. Legislation should clearly state the prosecutor’s responsibility to pursue prosecution in “honour” cases independent of any private settlements or compensation paid to the victim's family. Laws should state that private settlements or compensations between the victim’s family and the offender do not preclude government-initiated prosecution in “honour” cases. Drafters in countries with religious or customary ordinances governing forgiveness and compensation should ensure that these laws do not undermine the prosecutor’s accountability to pursue these cases. Where states lack a criminal offense of “honour” crimes or killings, laws should direct prosecutors to use other criminal statutes, such as assault, battery, harassment, kidnapping, rape, threats of violence, and murder, to prosecute the offender. Where specific “honour” crimes or violence against women laws exist, prosecutors should be educated about such laws and should be directed to bring charges under those statutes. (See: Section on Criminalization of “Honour” Crimes and Killings).
  • Because the perpetrators of “honour” crimes are often family members ofthe victim, drafters may wish to provide for absent victim policies, which allow for prosecution without the victim if there is sufficient independent evidence. A victim absent policy should stress the initial gathering of evidence, including the victim's own testimony, and direct prosecutors to work with police in developing and implementing effective strategies to collect additional and supporting evidence. (See: Prosecutorial Reform Efforts, StopVAW, The Advocates for Human Rights) Such evidence should include evidence of the perpetrator’s history of violence, exploitation, or other abuse. At the same time, victims of “honour” crimes should be enabled to testify in court proceedings in a way that protects their privacy and confidentiality, ensures their safety during and after proceedings, and prevents re-victimization. Laws should make clear that victim refusal to testify in “honour” crimes is not an offense. (See: UN Resolution Adopted by the General Assembly, “Crime prevention and criminal justice measures to eliminate violence against women,” 1998,  A/RES/52/86)
  • Laws should require the development of guidelines or protocols for the prosecution of “honour” crimes and killings. The UN Handbook for Legislation on Violence against Women recommends that laws require the appropriate ministerial branch to consult with police, prosecutors, judges, health and education professionals to develop regulations, guidelines and other protocols for implementation of laws on "honour" crimes within a specified timeframe of the laws' entry into force (p. 20-21). Guidelines should state that the overall objective of effective prosecutorial response is to promote the safety of the victim or person at-risk, accomplish the arrest, prosecution and conviction of the perpetrator, and prevent repetition of the crime. The prosecutorial response should be guided by the need to incorporate the needs of “honour” crime victims, respect their dignity and personal integrity, minimize intrusion into their lives, and maintain high standards for collection of evidence. (See: UN Resolution Adopted by the General Assembly, ”Crime prevention and criminal justice measures to eliminate violence against women,” 1998, A/RES/52/86) Protocols or policies may be framed within a domestic violence framework, but should take into account the dynamics particular to “honour”-based violence. "Honour"-based violence often targets women and girls; it may particularly involve immigrant or ethnic populations; it often involves multiple perpetrators within or outside of the family; and it involves more subtle, coercive indicators, such as restrictions on freedom of movement, association and communications, that may not be reflected in a domestic violence law that focuses on physical harm.
Example: The UK Crown Prosecution Service has promulgated Guidance on Prosecuting Cases of Domestic Violence, which encompasses “honour” crimes and directs prosecutors to establish links between domestic violence and “honour” crimes. See also: CPS Policy on Prosecuting Cases of Domestic Violence, Crown Prosecution Service.
  • Guidelines and protocols for prosecutors should use a clear definition of “honour” crimes and killings that comports with a national definition. Where there is no national definition, policies may define “honour” crimes and killings as “any form of violence against women and girls, in the name of traditional codes of so-called “honour”.” (See: Section on Defining “Honour” Crimes and Honour Killings)
  • Prosecutors should keep victims informed, throughout all stages of the criminal justice process and in a language the victims understand, of their rights, legal proceedings—including the opportunity to participate, scheduling, progress and outcome--services and other support measures, possibilities for seeking reparations, and the release of the offender from detention or prison. Laws should require prosecutors to provide an explanation to the victim in cases where the prosecutor drops prosecution of an “honour” crimes case. (See: United Nations expert group report entitled "Good practices in legislation on violence against women, p. 41)
  • Drafters should designate specialist prosecutors in each of the local areas, who oversee and are the primary responsible authorities on “honour” crimes and killings. At the same time, all prosecutors should undergo trainings on: the dynamics of violence against women, domestic violence, and “honour” crimes and killings; victim and witness care and protection and local support agencies; cultural context and sensitivities, where applicable; coordination with and advising law enforcement; and the risks associated with “honour” crimes and killings, such as use of interpreters, identifying potential victims and contributing to risk assessments. Trainings for prosecutors should be conducted in coordination with trainings for law enforcement and judges to enable identification of “honour” cases within the same framework and facilitate communication and to establish a unified, multisectoral approach to “honour” crimes.        
  • Laws should direct prosecutors to work in coordination with advocates, health care providers, police, child protection services, local businesses, the media, employers, religious leaders, health care providers, clergy and organizations working with victims and immigrant communities. (See: Coordinated Community Response, StopVAW,The Advocates for Human Rights)
Example: The Fourth Judicial District Court of Hennepin County in Minnesota, United States, established a Domestic Abuse Service Center to serve as a centralized location for “people who are victims of violence caused by a family or household member,” including actual or threatened violence. The Service Center is staffed by District Court personnel who can assist a victim complete the paperwork necessary for temporary legal protection from an abuser. The Service Center also houses other city, county and advocacy organization staff, who are available to help victims of domestic violence with other legal and related needs. Hennepin County’s Service Center was the first such center of its kind in the United States when it was started in 1994; it has since been replicated in several other locations. Such centers are believed to reduce bureaucratic and other barriers to women seeking protection from abusers, including addressing the difficulty and confusion associated with traveling to several different offices for needed services. 
  • Laws should establish a monitoring system for “honour” crimes and killings for prosecutors. Monitoring indicators should include ethnicity, age, sex, disability, religion and use of weapons or other substances. Any cases of criminal offenses involving threatening behavior, violence or abuse, committed against a family member or cohabitant as an “honour” crime, should be flagged as both an “honour” crime case and a domestic violence case. All flagged cases should be transmitted to the specialist prosecutor for a final review and confirmation. (See: Monitoring of Laws on Violence against Women) Information sharing systems should also provide information on issued protection and restraining orders so that prosecutors can determine whether such an order is in force. 

(See: CPS Pilot on Forced Marriage and So-called ‘Honour’ Crime – Findings, Crown Prosecution Service, 2008; Recommendations on Future Work on Forced Marriage and So-called ‘Honour’ Crime, Crown Prosecution Service, 2008)

Example: In 2009, UK prosecutors successfully prosecuted a father for murdering his daughter in an “honour” killing. Although neither her body nor a murder weapon were ever found, authorities deemed her missing long enough to be dead, and the jury drew the conclusion that the victim was murdered based on the known facts. The prosecution used testimony from the victim’s family members; a letter written under duress by the victim; expert testimony on “honour”-based violence; and evidence as to the defendant’s character in relation to his previous conviction for grievous bodily harm for attacks on other people. The victim’s father was sentenced to life imprisonment, and the victim’s uncles were acquitted. (See: Father Convicted of 1999 ‘Honour’ Killing of His Daughter, Crown Prosecution Service, December 17, 2009)