Whitewashing Sharia councils in the UK?

04 July 2016

EFD Senior Fellow Elham Manea is mentioned in an Open Letter to the UK Home Secretary where hundreds of women’s human rights organisations and campaigners warn against a further slide towards privatised justice and parallel legal systems. The letter has been signed also by EFD Fellow Tehmina Kazi.

Open letter to the Home Secretary

As a group of women’s human rights organisations and campaigners, we express our profound concern and disappointment with the terms of reference and recent appointments to the government’s 'independent review' on Sharia councils and arbitration forums in the UK. We attach previous correspondence on the issue.

For several years, we have been highly critical of the ways in which, in the name of religious tolerance and freedom, the government and state institutions have kow-towed to demands made by leaders and spokespersons of the religious-right. This has resulted in the accommodation of arbitration systems based on minority religious personal laws. We have been alarmed at the growing acceptance of such personal laws to govern private and family matters: areas where, arguably, the greatest human rights violations of minority women in the UK take place.

There is considerable evidence to show how these parallel religious ‘legal’, mediation and arbitration systems operate in ways that violate the fundamental principles of protection, equality and non-discrimination in respect of women’s rights in relation to marriage, divorce, children, property and inheritance. See for example: "Women and Sharia Law: The Impact of Legal Pluralism in the UK" by Elham Manea published in May 2016, which documents the harmful and even life threatening consequences for vulnerable minority women who are denied the right to equality before the law.

Precisely for these reasons, we had welcomed the 'independent review', believing it to be a genuine attempt to look at the work of Sharia councils and Muslim arbitration tribunals in the UK in the context of rising religious extremism and fundamentalism and its impact on the human rights of black and minority women. Nevertheless it is evident from the limited terms of reference and the makeup of the review panel that the review is in danger of becoming seriously compromised and as such, we fear that it will command little or no confidence.

This article is in English and can be read here.