Posts Tagged ‘islamic law’

Training the next generation of international women human rights defenders

November 17, 2020

Dana Walters, in Harvard Law Today of 16 November 2020 describes how Salma Waheedi partners with gender justice coalitions to advance legal equality in Muslim communities. I repeat the article in full as it contains lots of interesting details:

Since joining Harvard Law School, Salma Waheedi, a clinical instructor and lecturer on law in the International Human Rights Clinic, has devoted a major part of her teaching and clinical legal practice to training students to become effective international women’s rights advocates. A native of Bahrain and a U.S.-trained attorney with a background in constitutional and Islamic Law, Waheedi has led advocacy and social justice-oriented legal projects in partnership with women’s rights activists in Muslim communities. To change the lived experiences of women most acutely, Waheedi and her partners have focused on family law reform.

Salma Waheedi joined Harvard Law School in 2016 as a joint fellow in Islamic Legal Studies and the International Human Rights Clinic. Today, she is a clinical instructor and lecturer in law in the International Human Rights Clinic and associate director of the Program on Law and Society in the Muslim World.

Despite its huge impact on women’s lives, it’s an area that receives relatively little attention in human rights circles,” Waheedi said. “We are talking about a system of laws that govern all aspects of women’s private lives, including marriage, divorce, child custody, matrimonial property, inheritance, as well as freedom of movement and work and protection from violence.”

..Waheedi’s practice focuses on lending legal support to women’s rights advocates working with their local communities, as well as international coalitions working to foster cross-regional collaborations. One key example is Musawah, a global movement advocating for justice and equality in the Muslim family. Musawah takes strong positions against child marriage, forced marriage, and polygamy and calls for equality in spousal rights, custody rights, access to divorce, and inheritance rights. It advocates for these changes through a holistic framework that integrates progressive Islamic legal interpretations, human rights principles, local constitutional guarantees of equality and non-discrimination, and the lived experiences of Muslim women.

“Many current legal provisions are no longer tenable given the lived realities of Muslim women today,” Waheedi said. “Muslim feminist scholarship aims to create a paradigm shift by emphasizing the need to return to the core principles of the Quran, such as justice, equality, and dignity for all, as a basis for an alternative rights-based reading of Islamic legal sources that responds to the contemporary needs of the Muslim family.”

To help conceptualize current reforms and outdated laws, Musawah and Waheedi’s student teams have put together a comprehensive Muslim family law mapping project. The project is a resource for researchers and academics to look comparatively across 31 countries with Muslim majorities or minorities. Importantly, the initiative also outlines positive developments for women’s rights in the Muslim world, celebrating successes, as well as marking lessons for how to continue to advocate for change.

In Fall 2018, Samantha Lint ’20 (middle) traveled to Geneva with Waheedi to work with women’s rights advocates to present a report on Mauritius to UN committees. Lint is seated between advocates Narghis Bundhun (left) and Anushka Virahsawmy (right).

Over the years, Waheedi’s student teams have also collaborated with international coalitions, local organizations, and grassroots activists to develop legal reform proposals and strategic advocacy reports to address gender discrimination in countries including Jordan, Nigeria, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Kenya, Mauritius. Salomé Gómez Upegui LL.M. ’18, who worked with Waheedi in 2017-2018, said working on such advocacy reports required “creative thinking,” asking students to learn and rely on comparative law, alternative interpretations of Islamic law, and human rights standards. After working on the reports, students often worked closely with activists to develop engagement strategies with their local legislatures or at the international level with United Nations mechanisms.

In fall 2018, International Human Rights Clinic alumna Samantha Lint ’20 worked with Waheedi, Musawah, and Mauritian family law expert, Narghis Bundhun, to document gaps in legal protection for married Muslim women. After working on the report, Lint traveled with Waheedi to present the findings to the U.N. Committee on the Convention on the Eliminations of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Lint, who had come to law school after working in women’s empowerment and global reproductive health, learned a tremendous amount about how to “support NGO advocacy in a U.N. treaty review process.” Importantly, she noted, working on the project demonstrated how change is possible within a large and bureaucratic organization like the U.N.

“After presenting our report to the CEDAW Committee, several members focused on the issues we raised when questioning the government of Mauritius. The government seemed a bit taken aback, and the committee really emphasized the problems with the lack of clear codified rights for Muslim religious marriages,” Lint said. “I saw that civil society advocates are a huge resource to the Committee, and are key in elevating issues that may otherwise go overlooked.”

Moreover, after presenting the report to the U.N., Lint and her team learned that the “the review process served as a catalyst for on-the-ground discussions and change [in Mauritius].”

Waheedi emphasized that she teaches her students that, as international lawyers, their role is to amplify the voices of local communities and grassroots activists.

She added, “local activists know the situation on the ground best. They are very clear about their priorities and needs. But many of these activists don’t always have the capacity or the resources to manage a full advocacy campaign at the international level. That’s where we come in,” she said. “In those cases, we have been able to work with the advocates to distill issues of concern, articulate proposals for legal reform, formulate advocacy strategies, and help them figure out where to put pressure on certain priority points to make change happen. But at the end, their voices are the ones that must be heard.”

Tarek Zeidan, executive director of the LGBT rights organization, Helem, was a cross-registered Harvard Kennedy School student in the International Human Rights Clinic. Zeidan worked with Waheedi on a project advocating for legal equality and protection of women from violence in Kuwait and Oman, gathering testimonies from local women and learning how to weave such first-hand evidence into documentation for advocacy purposes.

Working on the project gave Zeidan professional insight into how to structure human rights documentation and link it to “existing international legislatures to make the strongest case for equality-oriented legal reforms.”

Zeidan still draws on the lessons he learned with Waheedi as he now leads Helem in Lebanon: “I based a lot of our engagement plans with international organizations like the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights or the United Nations Development Programme on what I learned about appealing to international organizations in the clinic.”

“One of my main objectives is to train lawyers and advocates who would listen mindfully, set aside their assumptions and preconceptions, and work in collaboration with local activists and communities to develop solutions that correspond to their needs and priorities. Strengthening students’ cross-cultural sensitivity and the competency to translate between contexts are key learning goals in all these projects,” Waheedi said.

In 2018, Waheedi was named associate director of the Program on Law and Society in the Muslim World, a research program at Harvard Law School, which has enabled her to foster stronger engagement with scholars and policy experts and to bring contemporary debates on gender, feminism, and legal advocacy in Muslim contexts to HLS.

In late November, Waheedi will participate in Musawah’s global convening on Muslim family law reform, which will bring together activists, scholars, and policy makers from over thirty different countries to strengthen networks of mutual learning and support. Advocates will hold consultations over the course of five days to identify key barriers and challenges to reform in national contexts, share good practices, and work to develop key messaging to build public support for advancing equality and justice and to challenge Islamist and Islamophobic narratives.

The meeting will also celebrate and build upon the recently launched Musawah initiative, the Global Campaign for Justice in Muslim Family Laws. In early October, Waheedi curated a webinar for the Program on Law and Society in the Muslim World to highlight the campaign and the voices of Muslim women activists campaigning for egalitarian reform. The webinar, titled, “Muslim Women Creating New Futures,” featured Zainah Anwar, executive eirector of Musawah; Marwa Sharafelden, Musawah’s MENA region senior expert; and Hala Al-Karib, regional director of the strategic initiative for women in the Horn of Africa, and was moderated by International Human Rights Clinic alum Upegui.

Today, the COVID-19 pandemic has made “the work more relevant and urgent,” says Waheedi. As the UN has observed, the virus has been associated with a “a shadow pandemic,” a rise in violence against women and girls, and has exacerbated inequalities faced by women in the realm of marriage and the family. Musawah’s campaign and Waheedi’s advocacy for women’s rights operate within this context.

“It is important to recognize that there are no quick wins in this line of work, yet my students and I are always motivated and inspired by the dedication and perseverance of our partners in the most challenging of circumstances. We are energized by positive changes that are achieved through the relentless work of grassroots activists and organizers—from family law reforms in Jordan and Morocco to passing a law against domestic violence in Kuwait this year to banning triple talaq in India in a 2017 Constitutional Court victory. Change is not only possible; it is inevitable.”

Saudi Arabia criticises Norway over human rights record: that is news..

April 30, 2014

Saudi Arabia has criticised Norway’s human rights record, accusing the country of failing to protect its Muslim citizens and not doing enough to counter criticism of the prophet Mohammed. The gulf state and other islamic countries called for all criticism of religions and of prophet Mohammed to be made illegal  in Norway. It also expressed concern at “increasing cases of domestic violence, rape crimes and inequality in riches” and noted a continuation of hate crimes against Muslims in the country. Russia also called for Norway to clamp down on expressions of religious intolerance and and criticised the country’s child welfare system. They also recommended that Norway improve its correctional facilities for those applying for asylum status. All this happened when Norway submitted itself to scrutiny during the current session of the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review.

The criticism may sound incongruent for those who know how often Russia and Saudi Arabia figure in reports from human rights defenders, including ib this blog, but – as the Norwegian Foreign Minister, Børge Brende, in Geneva told Norway’s NTB newswire prior to the hearing –  “… that is the United Nations.

Saudi Arabia criticises Norway over human rights record – News – The Independent.

Afghan women human rights defenders in the picture today

February 11, 2014

Human rights of women in Afghanistan were at the forefront of the international agenda after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Thirteen years later, nine Afghan women human rights defenders working at the front line reflect on the progress that has been made over the last years, as well as on the risks they have faced because of their work. Today, new challenges arise, as the lack of commitment at national and international level endangers past achievements and the continuation of progress in the near future. Dublin-based Frontline Defenders published the following video in 2 parts:Frontline NEWlogos-1 condensed version - cropped

part 1:

part 2:

Malaysia should reverse ban against leading human rights coalition COMANGO

January 13, 2014

Several NGOs, including the International Service for Human Rights from which I the took the statement of 12 January, 2014, have asked the Malaysian authorities to immediately reverse a ban issued against a leading coalition of human rights organisations. On 8 January 2014 the Malaysian Home Ministry issued a statement that it had declared the Coalition of Malaysian NGOs [COMANGO] to be illegal on the basis that it deviates from the Islamic faith through its support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. The Ministry further justified the ban on the basis that members of the coalition are not registered under he Malaysian Societies Act 1966.The move to ban COMANGO is a clear violation of the rights to freedom of association and assembly, said ISHR Director Phil Lynch, adding the suspicious circumstance that the ban was issued in response to COMANGO submitting a report to the UN Human Rights Council on Malaysia’s human rights record in March 2013, which makes it look like a case of reprisals against human rights defenders. For more info contact: Phil Lynch, Director, on p.lynch[at]ishr.ch.

via Malaysia must reverse ban against leading human rights coalition | ISHR.

Imam Baba Leigh writes impressively how opposing the death penalty in Gambia forced him into exile

November 5, 2013

Imam Baba Leigh

A huge social media campaign was mounted on behalf of Imam Baba Leigh during his incarceration [Twitter].

Just a few days ago, on 22 October, I was given an award from the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network. I was not expecting it, which makes me all the more happy and appreciative. Sadly, I was not allowed to go and receive it in my home country, The Gambia, because there was a chance I could be arrested there. My responsibility, as a Muslim and as a scholar, is to ensure people enjoy their human rights, regardless of colour, race, gender, religion, tradition, economic status or anything else. We are all human beings at the end of the day. As a human rights activist receiving such a prestigious award is wonderful. You feel your work is recognised and encouraged.

Problems for me started when, in August 2012, our head of state President Jammeh promised to execute several inmates. So I went to talk to The Standard newspaper and urged the President to forgive them. “Forgiveness is part of faith and they are no longer a threat to the security of the nation,” I said quoting the holy Qur’an. A week after the executions, the Islamic Council of The Gambia made a declaration that the executions were Islamic. I gave a Friday sermon at the mosque and replied the executions had nothing to do with Islam. They were un-Islamic. Even though the holy Qur’an mentions executions, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) valued forgiveness. My comments caused a lot of commotion. The newspaper was shut down. I started receiving intimidating calls…

On 3 December, I was arriving home after a funeral when I found two men from the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) there waiting for me. “You are wanted [at the NIA offices] to answer some questions,” they said…I was then put in a jail until around 1.00am. Then they started beating, hitting and kicking me. For nine days I suffered a lot. You never know how important and valuable freedom is until it is taken from you. I used to struggle trying to get people out of jail. Trying to bring peace. Trying to bring peaceful coexistence. I didn’t know this is the way things are until the day I was detained. You can understand ending up in prison if you commit a crime, if you are taken to a judge and sentenced. At least then you would know why you are being held, and for how long. I was abducted and then held incommunicado – I couldn’t see anybody, I couldn’t hear anybody.

I had not committed any crime and my conscience was clean. After nine days, they told me I was going home and they put me in another car. The man taking me said “we are taking you home”, but they drove to a hidden place called Bambadinka, which means “hole of dragons”. There I was put in a very small, very filthy, dirty room. I spent five months there. I was kept in a dark, small room where I couldn’t see or hear anything, only rats and spiders. After five months and 17 days, I was released. Some people say that I am now free. But this is not freedom. Freedom is to be able to go home when you want to. I’m just in a bigger jail.

My ambition is to speak for those who have no pulpit, no opportunity for themselves. And to pass the peaceful message of Islam and other religions. I’m urging people in position of authority, presidents and kings alike, to embrace the freedom of their people and to protect it. You can be a president today, you can be a leader today, you can be an authority today, but things change very quickly. You can find yourself fall from the presidency into prison. Then you will need the work of Amnesty International.”

[Imam Baba Leigh is currently in the USA where he has been receiving medical treatment] 

‘This is Not Freedom … I’m Just in a Bigger Jail’: Imam Baba Leigh Takes us into his Gambian Nightmare – IBTimes UK.

Gaza protesters demand maintaining death penalty while NGOs discuss abolishing

October 14, 2013

Palestinian families in the Gaza Strip, protest in support of executing criminals in Gaza City, on October
9, 2013. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)
Human Rights defenders at an Abolish the Death Penalty meeting in Gaza were confronted with a demonstration of death penalty supporters days after Hamas hanged a convicted murderer. “The death penalty is Islamic law – implement it against all criminals,” one banner read. Mohammed Shurab, spokesman for Gaza’s “Families of the Victims” movement, urged “the government in Gaza to continue carrying out the death sentence against those who are killing our sons.” But speakers at the conference said the death penalty went against both international humanitarian law and the principles of Islam. “Islam doesn’t allow the death penalty or the killing of anyone,” said Suleiman Awda, a lecturer in Islamic law at Gaza’s Al-Azhar University. “It is a religion of forgiveness.” This position has been defended rigorously by several scholars including MEA 2009 Laureate Emad Baghi.

UN experts warned it was “not possible to correct a mistake… There’s no going back once the death penalty has been carried out.”

Last week’s hanging was the first time since July 2012 that Hamas has carried out capital punishment for murder. But on June 22, the Islamist movement hanged two men accused of collaborating with Israel. Under Palestinian law, collaboration with Israel, murder and drug trafficking are all punishable by death. Hamas has executed 17 people since taking over Gaza in 2007, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

via Gaza protesters demand death penalty as anti-NGOs meet | Maan News Agency.