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During a discussion on the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action at the Human Rights Council this week, IHEU representative, Roy Brown, highlighted the obligation of all states to ensure the full and equal enjoyment by women of all human rights. Within this context Brown raised the issue of Sharia law being used as a form of arbitration in a number of European states.

From the cover of a report by One Law For All

Detail from the cover of a report “Sharia Law In Britain” by One Law For All

Although the right to voluntary arbitration is a freedom we may all enjoy, it is not an absolute right and cannot be granted without limits and responsibilities, in particular if it comes into conflict with principles of equality and non-discrimination. Sharia law is a system, Brown noted, which often leaves children vulnerable and discriminates openly against women, potentially undermining their legal and political equality. There is increasing concern surrounding its use as a grounds for alternative dispute resolution. He accused European states of turning a blind eye to the injustices that go on within the arbitration system, urging governments to ensure that the law is fully observed and called for more scrutiny of this issue in order to ensure better protection of women and guarantee their equality and rights within all areas of the justice system.

The full text of Roy’s oral statement follows below:

United Nations Human Rights Council, 25th Session (3rd – 28th March 2014)
Agenda item 8: Follow up to the VDPA, 24 March 2014
Speaker: IHEU Representative, Roy W Brown, 

State Discrimination against Women

Mr President,

While the Vienna Declaration urges the full and equal enjoyment by women of all human rights and calls for the elimination of discrimination against women in the area of justice[1], the reality for many women, is very different. Women still suffer from legalised discrimination and institutionalised misogyny within many Islamic states.[2]

We now see deeply worrying signs that Islamic law which denies the basic principles of one law for all and equality under the law, is making inroads into many western states.[3]

In the United Kingdom, Sharia courts and Islamic tribunals have been illegally administering Islamic justice in family matters without challenge by the authorities who seem paralysed by fear and terrified of losing “the Muslim vote”.[4] Just last week, the Law Society issued guidelines to lawyers on how to advise clients in creating Sharia-compliant wills, effectively imposing the inherent inequality of Islamic inheritance law on British Muslims.[5]

Islamic justice is also making inroads into Germany.[6]

In Denmark an Islamist group has declared a district of Copenhagen a “sharia law zone” with other districts to follow. It remains to be seen whether the Danish government will turn a blind eye or will act to arrest anyone attempting to enforce that declaration.

Mr President, European governments must act to ensure that no Muslim woman is deprived of her equal rights as enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms through government inaction.

Thank you Mr President.

[Notes]

[1] http://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/vienna.aspx, §36

[2] In many Islamic states under Sharia law, there is unequal division of estates between male and females, and only men have the right to unilateral divorce. In the event of divorce, boys can be removed from their mother and given to their father at the age of seven, with girls being removed at puberty, regardless of the best interest of the child, and the male guardian has a power to impose a marriage on a young girl without her knowledge or consent.

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