Luxembourg has made huge progress in recent years to improve gender equality and tackle domestic violence. But when it comes to women being murdered by men some have raised concerns.
Diana Santos, a Portuguese woman in her 40s who had recently moved to Diekirch, Luxembourg, was found brutally murdered and dismembered in Mont-saint-Martin, across the French border in September last year.
Three weeks later, a 20-year-old woman was beaten to death with a hammer at a house in Luxembourg’s capital.
In December 2022, the body of another Portuguese emigrée – 32-year-old Diana Martins Cachapa – was discovered “partially dismembered and mutilated” in her apartment in Bonnevoie.
These horrific deaths sent shockwaves across Luxembourg, a country known for its tiny size, serene landscapes and wealth, boasting one of the largest GDP per capitas in the world.
In other European countries, such murders can be deemed “femicides”. That’s the deliberate killing of a woman motivated by sex-based hate.
Past cases have caused a reckoning among governments and members of the public, with officials trying to confront an epidemic of violence against women.
But not in Luxembourg. Here three women’s deaths were labelled as simple homicides and considered legally no different than any other murder in the country.
While femicide has become part of the mainstream debate around much of Europe, only two European countries currently recognise it as a crime in its own right – Cyprus and Malta.
Still, Luxembourg’s homicide rate is generally much lower than elsewhere in Europe. In 2021, it was 0.6 cases per 100,000 population, while in France the homicide rate was 1.35 per 100,000 people the year before.
“From the perspective of other countries like France, there are not a lot of femicides in Luxembourg,” Emilie Chesné, a French reporter who researched the issue for the Luxembourg Times, told Euronews.
“But for a country like Luxembourg, that it’s so small, it’s a lot.”
Surrounded by Belgium, France and Germany, Luxembourg is one of the smallest countries in Europe, with a population of around 640,000.
“In Luxembourg, we have normally about 1-2 femicides per year,” Andrée Birnbaum, a spokesperson for the domestic violence support group Femmes en Détresse said. “This seems not to be a big number, but it is more or less the same proportion as in France.”
In Luxembourg last year, 2,521 people were affected by physical violence, 2,374 by psychological violence, 150 victims of sexual domestic violence and 264 victims of economic violence – when a partner exerts control through finances – according to data from the government’s Equality Observatory.
Two-thirds of those who suffered domestic violence at the hands of a partner or ex-partner last year in Luxembourg were women.
Is Luxembourg ‘falling short’ when it comes to femicide?
“We are one of the only countries that have a Ministry for Equality,” Gabrielle Antar, a reporter for the Luxembourg Times who has worked with Chesné to bring the issue to the public’s attention, told Euronews.
“On a superficial level, it looks like we’re doing a lot. But when you look at the concrete issues, and what actually needs to be done to tackle them, that’s where you can see that Luxembourg falls short.”
Murders of women in Luxembourg are often interpreted by the media on a case-by-case basis instead of being seen as symptomatic of a wider phenomenon, Antar said.
Though some observers have started to talk about femicides, others have not.
“It’s still a conversation that hasn’t really reached the mainstream yet,” added Antar.
Luxembourg authorities have focused on tackling domestic violence instead – another problem growing in recent years – she continued.
By establishing femicide as a crime in its own right, journalists Antar and Chesné said authorities could collect data on the phenomenon and take action to protect women better.
“The moment you recognise something you are able to collect data on that,” Antar said. “The data for violence against women except for domestic violence is almost nonexistent, even for femicide.”
“It’s a shame that we see these cases as just women being murdered and not women being murdered because they’re women,” she added.
Why recognise femicide as a separate crime?
UN Women estimates that globally 81,000 women and girls were killed in 2020.
Around 47,000 of them – 58 per cent – died at the hands of an intimate partner or a family member.
Some women 2,600 were killed in Europe, according to UN data. “However, the number of victims is much higher as not all cases are recognised as femicides,” a spokesperson from the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) added.
In its recent research on the issue, EIGE has identified the lack of legal recognition of femicide as one of the most important challenges.
“The experts we interviewed noted that recognising femicide as a separate criminal offence could bring numerous benefits,” the spokesperson said. “They pointed out that it could improve awareness raising, prevention and applying the law.”
Experts also mentioned that this change would contribute to making femicide visible and aid prevention by recognising gender-based violence and increasing reporting to the police by victims.
“What does not exist, is also not discussed,” a professional counsellor from Germany told EIGE. “Neither with the investigating authorities nor with the investigating procedures nor with the judges.”
Belgium has recently introduced new legislation which defines different types of femicide and puts focus on data collection.
Is Luxembourg going to recognise femicide as a crime?
At the moment, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg does not intend to recognise femicide as a crime.
In a statement to Euronews, the Ministry of Justice said: “There are currently no plans to create a specific offence of this kind, given that the legal scope of such an offence would be considerably limited.”
Intentional assault and battery against an intimate partner is punishable by 6 months to 5 years imprisonment in Luxembourg. Meanwhile, murder is punishable by life imprisonment, “regardless of the gender of the victim,” the Ministry added.
“The introduction of an offence of femicide would therefore have no legal impact, particularly in terms of sentencing,” it said.
A new law introduced on 28 March this year adds discrimination as an aggravating circumstance for a crime, which the Ministry described as “the most effective way of taking femicide into account in law.”
“This law will enable the courts to find that a person has been killed because of her sex or gender, which will result in an increase in the sentence for offences punishable by prison sentences other than life imprisonment, including assault and battery,” it explained.
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