Iraq: Protect Iraqi Women's Rights in Family Laws

WLUML strongly urges you to join Iraqi women's efforts and take action to oppose the Iraqi Governing Council's (IGC) 'Resolution 137' dated 29 December 2003 that proposes the introduction of Sharia law in personal status matters and to cancel all laws which are incompatible with this decision.
The 1959 Iraqi Law of Personal Status, which is considered one of the most progressive family laws in the Middle East and which was achieved through the struggle of the Iraqi people for much of the past century, will be abolished if Resolution 137 is upheld.

It is important to act immediately: the 'Resolution' will come into effect if it is validated by Paul Bremer, the Chief US Administrator.

WLUML regards 'Resolution 137' as a major retreat from previous rights that were guaranteed to women under Iraqi law.

Apart from Iraqi women themselves and their feminist allies across the world, this development has been largely ignored by international media.

The process behind this 'Resolution' by the IGC has lacked transparency and was not part of any democratic or consultative process. It was taken without being publicly debated and subjected to the scrutiny of experts on social and legal issues. It was, furthermore, apparently a proposal by a minority of the IGC.

Since the Iraqi Governing Council was appointed directly by the United States, it is in effect an organ of the Occupation Authority in Iraq. If this proposed 'Resolution' is validated by Paul Bremer it will be a contravention of the 1907 Hague Regulations (Convention IV) for it would change civil law in an occupied territory. The IGC is an appointed interim body and under the Hague Conventions should only deal with restoring public order and safety.

WLUML is deeply concerned that any proposal to replace Iraq's personal status law for Muslims with Sharia as interpreted by each sect will threaten the fabric of Iraqi civil society. The current law does not distinguish between sects. Such a decision would establish sectarianism as an organizing principle of social and political life in Iraq. Moreover, it will give social and political power to those who monopolise the interpretation of religion.

Please act immediately to ensure that Iraqi women's rights are protected.

Below follow details of action needed, relevant addresses, detailed background information and sample letters.

In solidarity,
Women Living Under Muslim Laws
International Coordination Office
a) Impact upon Society

The Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) has reportedly taken a decision recently to abolish Iraq's personal status law, which was applied uniformly to all Iraqi Muslims.

Under a proposal referred to as 'Resolution 137', passed apparently by a minority of IGC members, Sharia laws are to be implemented in matters relating to marriage, divorce, maintenance, custody, inheritance and all other personal status matters, according to the provisions of the sect to which the parties belong. The 'Resolution' cancels all laws, decisions, instructions, statements and articles which are incompatible with the above decision.

If implemented in this uncodified form, the new provisions could bring sweeping and negative changes in areas such as age of marriage, polygyny, a woman's right to marry without her guardian's permission, the reintroduction of repudiation (talaq), women's access to divorce, women's custody rights, and a wife's right to work, etc.

'Resolution 137' would introduce legal chaos. There would be conflicting decisions since there are differences between and even within the various sects of Islam regarding family law matters. The rules governing spouses from different sects would be uncertain. Potentially massive litigation could arise as parties seek to have old cases re-opened. In the experience of WLUML, such situations of confusion usually work against women's rights and interests. It is unclear how these new provisions would be implemented. If there is any lack of clarity regarding the requirement of Sharia, Muslim clerical councils and other non-judicial bodies could overrule decisions by the Iraqi courts.

b) The Role of the IGC and US Authorities

The Resolution was signed on the 29 December 2003 by Sayid Abdel Aziz Al-Hakim who was acting head of the IGC.

Appointed by the US Occupation Authority in Iraq, the IGC is subject to Convention (IV) of the 1907 Hague Conventions. Under Section III, Article 43 an occupying authority shall take all the measures in its power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country. Article 46 also requires an occupying authority to respect family honour and rights, the lives of persons, and private property, as well as religious convictions and practice. Resolution 137 appears to have violated these provisions. Irrespective of whether people regard the US occupation of Iraq as legal or not, the US authorities and the IGC are currently playing a role in Iraq. This alert calls upon them to respect the Hague Conventions.

All decisions passed by the Governing Council must be ratified by chief US administrator Paul Bremer in order to come into effect. Mr. Bremer's position regarding Resolution 137 has not been made public. However, there are fears that Iraqi women's rights may be used as a political bargaining tool with powerful forces outside the IGC. Women across the world must come together with their Iraqi sisters to ensure that no such proposal is approved either now or in the future, either by design or by default.

c) Iraqi Women Respond


In the days following the announcement of 'Resolution 137' there have been several demonstrations by women in Iraq against the order, which they say "repeals women's rights" in Iraq.

Iraqi women activists representing scores of women's organizations in Iraq (including the female Interim Minister of Public Works, Nasreen Barwari) gathered to protest against the IGC Resolution. Ms. Barwari complained about the lack of transparency and lack of democratic consultation in the promulgation of the 'Resolution' by the IGC. Protesters carried placards with phrases like "No to discrimination, No to differentiating women and men in our New Iraq" and "We reject Resolution 137 which sanctifies religious communalism". Activist Zakiyah Khalifah complained that the law would weaken Iraqi families.

Last week, more than 50 Iraqi women's organisations came together to form a new coalition, the Iraqi Women Network, which is demanding guarantees of women's political participation and representation, and which has protested against 'Resolution 137'.

A group of Iraqi women activists has met with the current head of the IGC, Mr. Adnan Pachachi, to press these demands and to present a memorandum opposing 'Resolution 137', arguing that it violates women's and men's rights.

Further Information

The following is an interesting website on IGC members but provides no contact details -